Crowded into the meeting room at the Blake-Lamb Funeral Home, Oak Lawn Village President Harvey Wick carefully examined the pile of trinkets and souvenirs gathered before him. Across the hall, Trustee and future mayor Fred Dumke met with reporters from the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, eager to announce his town’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebration.
“The spirit of our Golden Jubilee is not only good for Oak Lawn to stimulate business, but will show our visitors that this is a fine community in which to live,” Dumke told the media.
Since its founding as a farming community on the outskirts of Chicago, the first half century of Oak Lawn’s story witnessed countless transformations. From humble beginnings as a cluster of homes gathered around a prairie dirt road, the town had morphed into a bustling suburb in the heart of Southland.
Village officials were quick to identify the upcoming milestone as an opportunity to promote Oak Lawn as the perfect place to raise a family. Business leaders and prominent residents formed a Jubilee Committee and named Dumke its overall chairman. Dumke, who had previously helped organize the city’s popular Western-themed “Round-Up Days," set a bold goal of attracting at least 100,000 visitors during the week-long event.
Gathering a crack team of marketing and public relations professionals, Harvey and Dumke spared no expense as they rallied the entire town behind the festival. Special orders were placed for thousands of village T-shirts and decorative plates. The Oak Lawn Post Office issued a limited-edition stamp commemorating the celebration. Social groups, from the YMCA to the Oak Lawn Lions, donated their time and money to making the event possible.
With festivities planned for August 23th through the 30th, it was clear on the first day that the months of preparation had not been in vain. Getting into the spirit of their community’s historic past, residents donned Victorian clothing and acted as unofficial greeters to curious tourists.
Noting the amazing enthusiasm that pulsed through town, Wick proclaimed to reporters from the Chicago Sun-Times that “jubilee has caught the interest of the townspeople like nothing before. We have a lot to be proud of in our little community".
A two-hour long parade featuring floats, marching bands, and sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Academy slowly moved down 95th Street and past a reviewing stand along Southwest Highway. Before the teeming crowds, little Amy Sue McQuaham was named the “Golden Jubilee Baby," for being the infant born exactly 50 years after the town’s incorporation on Feburary 9th, 1909.
Games of chance, food vendors, and attractions of all kinds lined 95th Street and down to Cicero Avenue. WGN radio personality Wally Phillips and sports commentator Jack Brickhouse signed autographs for eager fans while a local barbershop quartet serenaded visitors with their smooth voices and playful antics.
Later in the week, Robert R. Stoh, a local pipefitter, was crowned as the winner of the Jubilee’s beard-growing contest. As her scraggly-looking husband accepted his trophy, a bemused Mrs. Stoh quipped to reporters that “now that he has won, tonight is barber night for him. That three-month growth will be gone by tomorrow morning!”
But of all the attractions, none were as popular as the community-directed production of New Horizons. With a cast and crew of over 300 amateur and professional actors, the wildly popular play ran every night of the week to rave reviews. Lauded in brochures as a way to “help recall the glorious days of the past and salute the present," the play detailed Oak Lawn’s rise as a modern city. From its numerous musical numbers to its impressive dance routines, the production’s success was a true collaborative effort.
As the crowds finally thinned towards the end of the festival, the Jubilee’s success had surpassed even the expectations of Dumke and Wick. Within weeks, there was a renewed interest by outsiders in Oak Lawn. More homes were sold as new families moved from the surrounding areas. Coupled with the upcoming 1959 Round-Up event, Oak Lawn had once again established its reputation as the one of the most energetic and caring communities in all of Southland.
This account of the Oak Lawn's 50th anniversary celebration has been culminated from period newspaper accounts, historic artifacts and original materials availiable at the Oak Lawn Public Library.
For more information on the Golden Oak Lawn Jubilee, visit the Local History Room of the Oak Lawn Public Library.