A Few Fun Finds: Benton House History Project Update

Not sure what was going on in this Benton House play, but it looks fun.

Not sure what was going on in this Benton House play, but it looks fun.

At this point in the archiving game, we are taking inventory, which means we're not supposed to be spending too much time fawning over the material. However, combing through the documents, it's next to impossible not to "stop and smell the flowers" every now and then. I thought I'd share our few indulgences.

Plenty of exclamation marks to go around ! ! !

Plenty of exclamation marks to go around ! ! !

We found many fascinating and amusing photos, flyers and paper clippings. The highlight for me was found in a big box of "Program Narratives" from the 1940's. In this box, there are many write-ups by program coordinators describing their activities. A report titled simply "Little Girls -- Age 7 - 9" by Anelle Miller and Virginia Pratt was particularly cheeky. Some excerpts:

 

 

 

There were only two cases of athlete's foot! I'd hate to see a bad year.

In the middle of the afternoon it was the time for showers...Only two of our girls had athlete’s foot during the summer...
The children are dears regardless of how terrifically angry they make you many times in eight weeks. They know just when to do some cherishable [sic] thing so that they can get back “in good” with you. They know about how far they can go and still get by...The first week of summer program they were an unmanageable mass of nervous human energy, screaming, clawing, fighting, spitting — female hoodlums...Great are the changes thereof.
We have failed however to draw some of the girls from their shells, and they have never performed for the group. Some, like Patsy, and Jackie, have, which is quite encouraging. Gerry Yanke has improved to the point of boldly facing the audience by herself, instead of hanging her head as she formerly did.

 

 

I like to imagine that the woman who wrote this would be my friend if we grew up in the same era.

Finally comes the inevitable — lunch. At first, the whole period of lunch was a horrible nightmare, but now it is just a bad dream.

 

 

 

It's not all bad, though, and you start to get a sense how much the instructors cared for the childrens' well-being.

At the museum, the children behaved remarkably well — they kept their shouting and yelling to a minimum, and none of the children were lost for more than a few minutes...On the way over to the beach, going through the tunnels, one way we have found to eliminate the nerve-wracking screeching is to have them sing a song as we go through the tunnel.
We believe the outstanding example of any success we may have had this summer is Patsy. She is a highly retarded child and has improved greatly over the summer. Patsy can now run about like a normal child, can skip, can crayon, can cut out paper...Our biggest trouble with Patsy was her “I can’t do that” attitude whenever something new was suggested. We tried to help her get rid of this attitude, and she did make attempts at most everything and had some pretty good results, as her fingerpainting, which we considered the best in the group...Another girl...is Jackie. Jackie never got over being stubborn to the nth degree. It seems quite evident that Jackie is dreadfully neglected, and wants and needs attention, which she attempts to get by doing things that she knows are wrong.
One child who is a complete turn-around from the usual pattern is Donna. At the start of the summer, Donna was very, very shy and quiet and sort of mousy, never raising her voice above a whisper. We can proudly say now that she is somewhat out of her shell, and is, in fact, one of the little organizers of mischief in the crowd. Whether that is to be commended or condemned is a question.

"The last suggestion -- more of a plea -- is that something should be done along the line of tolerance toward other religions and nationalities and colors, perhaps a project about the different countries of the world, but something, for the place to squelch prejudice is in the little children."

This is a booklet put together in 1955. It includes letters of complaint written to Richard J. Daley by residents of Bridgeport. They are complaints about the rock quarry (which is now Palmisano Park).

This is a booklet put together in 1955. It includes letters of complaint written to Richard J. Daley by residents of Bridgeport. They are complaints about the rock quarry (which is now Palmisano Park).

A graph depicting the dramatic increase in pounds of dynamite used per blast at the rock quarry (from 40 lbs to upwards of 900 lbs). There are many letters detailing individuals being hit by falling chunks of their ceilings, items broken in houses by the explosions, residents having to keep windows closed because of the dust, and rubble flying a block away from the quarry.

A graph depicting the dramatic increase in pounds of dynamite used per blast at the rock quarry (from 40 lbs to upwards of 900 lbs). There are many letters detailing individuals being hit by falling chunks of their ceilings, items broken in houses by the explosions, residents having to keep windows closed because of the dust, and rubble flying a block away from the quarry.

To receive regular updates on the Benton House History project, please email historyprojectupdates@bentonhouse.org. To get involved in the project, e-mail historyproject@bentonhouse.org. To donate something on our wishlist, or just a few bucks, click here!