Welcome back to what is possibly the most disaster-filled entry in my series on the history of Mundelein! At the end of my last entry, Mundelein was on top of the world: with miles of newly paved roads, the addition of another railroad line running through the town, and Samuel Insull himself giving the dedication speech for the town’s second village hall. The boom years were about to come to an end however, as the stock market crash of October 29, 1929 brought about hardships that would throw into sharp relief just how “good” the good times had been.
The people of Mundelein did not immediately feel the effects of the Great Depression. One of the first signs that something was not right came in May 1930, when the Independent Register published a sixty two-page list of delinquent taxes, its longest ever. As more and more residents of Mundelein lost their jobs, real estate sales began to slow and construction on subdivisions meant for Insull’s envisioned “commuter town” was suspended. By May 2, 1932, the Village began to have trouble coming up with money to service its debt, forcing it to cut all services and to turn off streetlights to save what little money was left. As the situation became more serious, any hope that Samuel Insull would come to the rescue of his “chosen people” were dashed when the former business magnate, now bankrupt and under investigation for embezzlement, fled to France June 1932 to avoid prosecution.
One of the few businesses in Mundelein that managed to keep their doors open following the crash was the State Bank of Mundelein. Despite the bank’s staff having little actual banking to do, it quickly became a target for a series of robberies as described in my previous post, Three Robberies and a Clerk.
If darkened streets, swelling relief rolls, and a string of surprisingly bold bank robberies were not enough, between 1934 and 1937 residents of Mundelein also had to contend with a series of weather related disasters that badly damaged an economy still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. The first was a drought that lasted from April to late July 1934, with temperatures reaching as high as 110 °F in some places. During this punishing drought, Diamond Lake reached its lowest level on record and local farms endured hundreds of dollars worth of damage to their crops.
Then, during the first few months of 1936, Mundelein endured what representatives of the North Shore Line called one of the worst winters on record. Snowdrifts, some of which were 8 to 10 feet deep, halted trains and rendered many state roads impassable for over a week, leading to shortages of many goods. As temperatures dropped to record lows of – 32 °F, the Village of Mundelein, already in dire financial straits due to ever shrinking revenue, struggled to find the money to pay snowplows to clear the roads. Even when snowplows were available, strong winds meant that the snow would soon drift back to where it had been, once again making the roads impassable.
The last in this string of natural disasters to afflict Mundelein were two floods that left the drenched residents of Mundelein to bail out their houses and salvage what they could. The first was the “great flood” that occurred on September 27, 1936. The weeks preceding it had made it the third-wettest September on record, with a monthly total of 8.92 inches of rain that left the ground waterlogged and unable to absorb any more moisture. Because of this, when it rained an additional 1.33 inches on September 27, the people of Mundelein found themselves facing the worst flood in their history. Cars stalled on roads that had become rivers, forcing passengers to get out and slosh through the almost foot of water that covered Mundelein’s main street at the intersection of North Lake street and East Hawley Street.
The second flood came a year later on June 21, 1937. Once again, heavy rains inundated Mundelein and high winds downed power lines. Some of the worst flooding in Mundelein was on Route 45, also known as Lake Street, in front of the Rouse Bros. Dairy and the Mundelein Garage, which was closed for two days. As residents used buckets to try to bail out flooded basements, some people in low-lying areas used rowboats for “ferry service.” Damage from this second flood was estimated to be almost $1 million, money that the Village, still struggling with high unemployment, was hard pressed to find.
Despite disastrous weather, darkened streets, and high levels of unemployment, there were some bright spots for the people of Mundelein during the 1930’s. Although many struggled just to make ends meet, there was always enough for a trip to Dietz’s Stables or the Ray Brothers Pavilion. Built in 1876 at the corner of Routes 176 and 60, the Stables offered the people of Mundelein the chance to enjoy dinner along with barn dancing in an actual barn. The Ray Brothers Pavilion, located just off Diamond Lake, was a popular tourist attraction that included a dance hall, ice cream parlor (which was badly damaged by fire on March 10, 1938), summer cottages, and free movie nights. Another bright spot was an animal trainer who trained animals for circuses and carnivals. Working out of his house on Route 45, passersby could watch him work with elephants, zebras, and a monkey who he taught to ride a bicycle.
Perhaps the brightest moment during the dark days of the Great Depression came on March 4, 1933, when the people of Mundelein gathered around their radios to listen to their newly elected president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, speak about his “New Deal” for the American people. The various job programs created by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration such as the Civil Works Administration helped to alleviate some of the worst unemployment in Mundelein. These ranged from the Civil Works Administration (CWA) employing some thirty to thirty-five men to work on improvements to Lake Street in October 1934 to providing families with additional food such as bags of sweet corn to supplement what they were able to purchase.
Even as the worst days of the Great Depression began to recede into memory, the war was beginning in Europe and the Empire of Japan was looking to further expand its territory. One can imagine the shock and horror that residents of Mundelein felt, particularly members of Ray family whose son Gordon Keith was stationed in Hawaii, when on December 7, 1941 they heard on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Less than twenty-four hours later, America, and the people of Mundelein, were at war, although the Ray family would have to wait until December 22 to learn that Gordon Keith was, in his own words, “all right, why not?” (Ray, p. 104).
By late 1942, young men in uniform walking around Mundelein were a familiar sight as Mundelein’s young men, including Harold Tritz, Homer Rogers, Herb Dolph, and Bob Wilson, to name just a few, enlisted to fight for their country. Although far from either the European or the Pacific theaters of war, the people of Mundelein kept busy with blackout drills, Red Cross drives, and patriotic meetings. The gardens that had appeared during the worst days of the Great Depression became “victory gardens.” At the Ray Brothers Pavilion, a “V for victory” sign made out of pictures of local service men went up to commemorate their sacrifices. The brothers also found the time to publish The Rays, a newsletter comprised of letters, illustrations, and news from family and friends of Mundelein residents who were stationed overseas. Common goods became harder to find as rationing came into effect and as Gordon Ray commented in his autobiography, for every “five girls there seemed to be only one boy.”
When World War II ended on September 2, 1945, the people of Mundelein celebrated. A party held at the Ray Brothers Pavilion on September 14th featured food, music from a Wurlitzer jukebox, and a fifteen-foot tunnel filled with wet towels, a horsehair blanket, potato chips, and other “interesting” items. It proved so successful that the teenagers in attendance requested a repeat celebration, called the “atomic blowout,” for the following year. Although the Rays declined to host the “atomic blowout”, the following year the first Mundelein Community Days was celebrated. As veterans returned from overseas, the houses that had stood vacant during the Great Depression were sold and businesses like New Buehlman-Seagren Paint (1947) and Abernathy’s Department Store (1948) began to appear.
In 1945, the Village sold the by-then twenty year-old Stoughton fire truck, a gift by Cardinal George Mundelein, replacing it with a newer Chevolet fire engine. Two years later in 1947, the Village “purchased” land at the corner of Seymour Ave. and Division Street from A.C Kracklauer, president of the Sparkler Manufacturing Company who also donated land for a park that still bears his name, for $1.00 (the equivalent of $10.92 today). When completed, the station boasted four bays for the Village’s firetrucks in addition to an office. On January 1, 1948, the Mundelein Fire Department merged with the Countryside Fire Department, becoming the Mundelein-Countryside Fire Department.
By 1950, the population of Mundelein reached 3,186. With a growing population and a newfound sense of optimism, the people of Mundelein began to look ahead to a future that seemed incredibly bright. The future, however, is never quite what you expect it to be. So join us next time as we see the beginnings of the Fremont Public Library, the Mundelein Expo of ’79, and the last train to Mundelein!
“The big dates in the history of Mundelein.” Independent-Register (Libertyville), June 28, 1984, sec. 2, p. 2-6.
“Fire destroys part of Ray Bros. Pavilion.” Independent Register (Libertyville), March 10, 1938. Microform.
History of Mundelein 1829-1939. MS, Library History Collection, Cook Memorial Public Library District.
Killackey, Shawn P. Mundelein. Images of America. Chicago, IL: Arcadia Publishing, 2009.
“Mundelein Fire Department History.” Mundelein Fire Department (web log). Accessed May 3, 2017. http://www.mundeleinfire.org/Department_history.html.
“Mundelein may eliminate more street lights.” Independent Register (Libertyville), November 10, 1932. Microform.
Photographs courtesy of the Village of Mundelein, the Cook Memorial Public Library District, the Lake County Discovery Museum, with special thanks to the Ray family.
Purcell, Connie, and Ricki Mandell. Memories of Mundelein. Fox Lake, IL: Mandell and Associates, 1984.
Ray, Gordon. Gordon Ray: his life and times (1893-1987): an autobiography. Illinois: G.K. Ray, 1992.
Ray, Gordon, and Lloyd Ray. The Rays, Labor Day Edition, September 1944. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lakecoun001/id/950/rec/869.
Speck, Eugene (March 16, 1934). “All Europe Hunting Insull.” Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 1.
“Taxes are only half collected.” Independent Register (Libertyville), May 22, 1930. Microform.
United States of America. Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002. Accessed March 21, 2017. https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/interactive/6224/4584610_00034?backurl=http%3a%2f%2fsearch.ancestrylibrary.com%2fsearch%2fdb.aspx%3fdbid%3d6224%26path%3d&ssrc=&backlabel=ReturnBrowsing.
United States of America. Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth census of the United States: 1930 : Unemployment. By George B. Arner and Leon E. Truesdell. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Publishing Office, 1931. 291-321. Accessed April 3, 2017. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007426796/Home.
Village of Mundelein Historical Timeline. Timeline, Mundelein.
“Worst storm in years hits Lake County.” Independent Register (Libertyville), June 24, 1937. Microform.