As the weather and humidity in central Illinois make it feel more and more like the temperature is over 100°F outside, the IDHH is highlighting the proverbial “dog days” of summer. While the phrase “dog days” or “dog days of summer” might be somewhat familiar, just what are these days and how did this expression enter our cultural lexicon? From an astronomical point of view, the phrase refers to the annual phenomenon in which the bright star Sirius rises into the sky at the same time as the Sun. This heliacal rising allows viewers to see both the Sun and the Sirius star simultaneously, leading to the belief that Sirius intensified or added to the Sun’s heat. In the Northern Hemisphere, this simultaneous rising may be seen during the hottest months of the year, in July and August.
Hellenistic astrologers in the Mediterranean were aware of the star Sirius, calling it the “Dog Star” due to the way it followed the constellation Orion into the night sky. The sweltering and humid weather in the Mediterranean during these months would often cause people to fall ill, and so the connection was made between Sirius’ heliacal rising and its effect on the populations below. A variety of detrimental effects to human activities were attributed with Sirius’ rising such as lethargy, fever, and bad luck, as well as the belief that this hot period brought out madness in dogs, further reinforcing the notion of the “dog days”. While we may no longer blame a summer fever on the “dog days of summer”, there is no denying the potent influence of a heat wave in July to inspire lazy dreams of a nice afternoon spent on the water. Between numerous lakes and ponds, miles of river, and spots like Navy Pier on the shores of Lake Michigan, Illinoisians have plenty of ways to cool down during the hot summer.
Below are a few of our favorite items highlighting ways to enjoy the “dog days of summer” and beat the heat:
As temperatures warm and days get ever longer, the sounds of bees buzzing past and birds chirping in the trees indicate not only the arrival of summer, but also the height of the plant pollination period. June 1st marked the beginning of National Pollinators Month, recognizing these creatures and the crucial role they play in the larger system of plant reproduction and proliferation. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, encompassing such diverse animals as insects, birds, and even some mammals. These animals travel from one flower or plant to another, carrying pollen as they go, and fertilizing flora with each new plant they visit. The symbiotic dynamic between these plants and pollinators is vital to both groups, as pollinators eat the pollen or nectar for its nutritional content, while the plants rely on the pollinators to spread their pollen, aiding in reproduction.
The importance of this intricate process and the players within it has captivated human populations for centuries as butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators have been ascribed cultural significance and symbolism in various communities around the world. Such cultural significance persists today as we create entertainment like The Bee Movie that foregrounds pollinators, hold events such as the Aurora Pollinator Festival that highlight the role of pollinators, and design outdoor environments that offer ideal conditions for these animals. Indeed, as our climate changes there is a greater need than ever to create pollinator-friendly landscapes using pollinator-friendly practices. By providing habitats conducive to pollinator animals, we can simultaneously safeguard this essential process and beautify the natural world around us.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring one of the most popular pollinators – the honey bee:
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On January 28, 1969, an underwater oil well drilled off the coast of Santa Barbara, California suffered a blowout six miles from the coastline. Oil seeped out of the ocean floor bedrock at a rapid rate, creating an oil slick that would extend across dozens of square miles. The largest oil spill in American waters at the time, an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Santa Barbara Channel over the course of the next month. The impact on the local marine environment was extreme as thousands of sea birds and marine animals were killed, and the clean-up efforts took months to address the damage of the spill. The enormity of this environmental disaster, and the increased awareness among Americans in the 60’s of environmental concerns generally, would prompt President Nixon to sign the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 and inspire the creation of an annual Earth Day.
Held on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was conceived as an “environmental teach-in” that would educate citizens about the importance of environmental conservation. The product of collaboration between Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelsen and activist Denis Hayes, the day eventually abandoned the “teach-in” model and saw numerous demonstrations and protests across the United States as more than 20 million people organized in city streets, which is still the largest organized demonstration in American history today. Over fifty years later, Earth Day is an annual reminder on April 22 to support efforts protecting our ever-changing environment and to contribute to a more sustainable world.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring early Earth Day celebrations in Illinois as well as the beautiful nature of Illinois:
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For the ancient Romans, the Ides functioned as one of three fixed points occurring each month that helped them keep track of the current date in the Roman calendar. The Ides landed around the 13th day in most months, but took place on the 15th day in a few months of the year such as March. The Ides of March is particularly infamous due to its association with the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE by Roman senators. Marking the end of the Roman Republic, Caesar’s downfall during the Ides of March would be chronicled by Greek-Roman writer Plutarch in his work Parallel Lives, eventually inspiring a number of adaptations and artworks over the centuries depicting this historical event.
One of the more well-known adaptations of Plutarch’s writing on Julius Caesar is William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. First produced in 1599, perhaps for the opening of the Globe Theatre that same year, Shakespeare dramatizes the events surrounding Caesar’s assassination to pose questions about authority, political power, and fate. The tragedy play has had a varied production history over the last 423 years, as political regimes and movements have found the work’s themes sympathetic or contrary to their cause. Illinois theatres have hosted a number of historic productions of the piece, including a three-week run in 1888 at the Chicago Opera House featuring in the lead role of Brutus the actor Edwin Booth, brother of actor John Wilkes Booth infamous for assassinating Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Though during his attack John Wilkes Booth credits himself as shouting “Sic semper tyrannis!” — a phrase which his brother Edwin would cry in his role as Brutus — it is the words the soothsayer character uses to warn Caesar that we repeat today: “Beware the Ides of March.”
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
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March is Women’s History Month and March 8th marks International Women’s Day. The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on February 28, 1909 by the Socialist Party of America in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York. While this was the first official observance of any kind, the movement for women’s rights was born much earlier in 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott held the first women’s rights convention in the US. From that convention in 1848, this celebration of the vital role of women in American history would progress over the next 139 years from an official day to an official week, to finally being a federally designated month in 1987. In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, the IDHH is featuring Jane Addams, an agent of change in Illinois history.
Born in Cedarville, Illinois in 1860, Jane Addams was an influential social reformer and activist who established the historic Chicago settlement house Hull House in 1889 with Ellen Gates Starr. Jane Addams would build Hull House into a hub of social and cultural opportunities for the largely immigrant residents on the Near West side of the city. In addition to her efforts with Hull House, Jane Addams worked with reform groups towards creating the first juvenile-court law, establishing an eight-hour working day for women, and advancing the cause of women’s suffrage. She would eventually help form the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919, serving as the inaugural president of the international organization. In recognition of her unwavering dedication to the ideal and objective of world peace, Jane Addams was the co-winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize, the second woman to ever receive the Prize.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring Jane Addams and her pioneering work with Hull House:
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In recognition of Black History Month, the IDHH would like to highlight the vibrant history of the black musicians of the historic Maxwell Street Market, the birthplace of Chicago blues. Between 1916 and 1970, six million African Americans moved from the rural Southern United States to the more urban Northeast, Midwest, and West in the Great Migration. Bringing new life to industrial cities like Chicago, one of the many areas in which these new Chicagoans landed was that of Maxwell Street, part of the Near West Side of the city. A bustling residential district, Maxwell Street first appeared on a city map in 1847 and over the next 75 years would become an increasingly diverse neighborhood, earning itself the nickname “Ellis Island of the Midwest”. By the 1920s, the area’s residents were predominantly African American, and these new migrants brought with them the sound of blues music.
In the 1930s and ‘40s, Maxwell Street became known as a place where black musicians could be heard by the greatest number of people as shoppers browsed the wares in the open-air market or inside stores. These street musicians played the acoustic blues of the South, but soon realized that amplification was needed so that they could be heard above the din of the noisy market. Setting up near storefronts, they began to play a blues music using electric guitar and the harmonica, both heavily amplified, often to the point of distortion. Over several decades, the featuring of these instruments and the blending of musical genres gave birth to an electrified, industrial blues, later coined, “Chicago Blues.” Made famous by black musicians on Maxwell Street such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bo Diddley, Chicago blues would find mass appeal through Chicago blues record labels like Chess Records and have a significant influence on early rock musicians like The Rolling Stones.
Here are a few of our favorite items from IDHH collections featuring the music of the famous Maxwell Street Market:
As a native Texan, I have always regarded winter sports with a healthy amount of both respect and fear. However, an exception to this innate mindset was made every four years with the performance of the Winter Olympics. For those few weeks, I was awed by the grace of the figure skaters, the fearlessness of the luge racers, and the gravity-defying feats of snowboarders in the half-pipe. With the winter season in full swing here in Illinois, and the 2022 Winter Olympics just around the corner, the IDHH would like to feature a staple winter sport: ice skating.
Ice skating is believed to have developed in Scandinavia as early as 1000 BCE, using skates initially made from the bones of elk, oxen, reindeer, and other animals. While it is not exactly known when metal blades were introduced in the construction of ice skates , Dutch paintings from the 17th century clearly depict skaters gliding along on metal blades. Gaining in popularity as a recreational pastime in the 1800s, the activity eventually reached North America and a number of skating clubs were established in major cities in the Northern Hemisphere. Toward the end of the century, the sport would be indelibly changed in 1876 with the creation of the first rink using artificially frozen ice – the Glaciarium in London. The artificial ice rink in Madison Square Gardens opened soon after in 1879 and the innovation of creating artificial rinks led to the rise of various skating sports and a desire for ice shows as popular entertainment. Eventually, ice skating would make its debut in the 1908 Summer Olympics, with speed skating to follow as an event at the first official winter games in 1924.
Whether a newcomer to skating or a veteran of the ice, please enjoy a few of our favorite ice skating items from the collection:
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As another year comes to a close and 2022 looms large on the horizon, the IDHH would like to devote a post to the ways in which we reconnect, recharge, and renew ourselves during these busy holiday weeks. As a nod to the ways in which we all might choose to close out this year, we have featured a few forms of togetherness and entertainment from years past.
Invented by American Thomas Edison in 1877, the phonograph was the first sound machine that could both record and reproduce sound. The earliest “record player”, these devices consisted of a stylus or needle which traced the grooves etched upon a rotating cylinder and then amplified the sound waves through a flared horn. By 1890, record manufacturers had begun to mass-produce their product, allowing consumers to assemble their own record collections and share their favorite music with friends and family.
While previous generations may not have had the ability to binge-watch an entire season of TV together over the course of a weekend, they could enjoy dazzling depictions of scenes and far-off places from the comfort of their very own homes using a magic lantern. Widely accepted to have been invented by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century, the magic lantern created large-scale projections from images on transparent glass plates by manipulating one or more lenses and a light source. With these larger images, a magic lantern was preferable for large groups of viewers and was commonly used for entertainment purposes from the 18th century until the mid-20th century.
However we choose to spend these last moments of 2021 together – whether that’s listening to music, dancing with our favorite dance partner, or watching a feel-good movie – the IDHH wishes everyone a joyous holiday season and a wonderful New Year!
“As American as apple pie.” While the first recorded recipe for apple pie was written in England in 1381, this quotation has become synonymous with Americana and speaks to a country’s love of the versatile baked dish. Centuries before this catchy phrase was featured in advertisements of the Roaring Twenties, colonists of the fledgling United States found their wheat from England unsuited to North American soil and instead channeled their small amount of grain for use in pies rather than bread. With their flourishing New England apple orchards, this environment sowed the seeds for a nation’s embrace of the pie as a culinary favorite and cultural signifier.
From springtime fairs to end-of-the-year holidays and festivals, it’s difficult to think of an event or season in which some kind of pie would not be welcome. The dessert is so ubiquitous that ten U.S. states claim a pie as their “official” state dessert, state treat, or state pie. Maine even lists two iconic pies for the state, claiming blueberry pie as the state dessert and whoopie pie as the state treat (though the whoopie pie is not quite a pie and more a type of soft cookie). The IDHH’s own state of Illinois proudly lists the pumpkin pie as the state pie and today produces the most pumpkins used for processed pie filling.
While eating pies may be the more traditional way to enjoy the classic American dessert, some of our favorite items from the collection below show more inventive uses of the dish, from thrown projectile to animal treat: