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Historical society showcases ‘boughs and bows’

GRAYSLAKE – The Grayslake Historical Society and Museum has indeed decked its halls.

On Nov. 24, it invited the public to come view its holiday décor.

Since 2013, the historical society has been hosting a silent auction for “giving trees” – Christmas trees decorated and donated to the society by local nonprofit businesses and organizations. The society displays the trees for public viewing, allowing community members to submit bids in a silent auction. Once the winning bid is announced at the society’s annual holiday open house, the proceeds are split between the organization and the historical society.

As the holidays approached this year, members of the historical society quickly realized they had to put a new spin on an old tradition. Record-setting rainfall in July caused major flooding throughout Lake County, including Grayslake. The historical society suffered thousands of dollars of damage when its basement was flooded with more than 6 feet of water. In addition to the damage to the private collection housed in the basement, the water took the building’s elevator out of commission, making it virtually impossible for members to install multiple Giving Trees on the second floor of the building without significant damage to their decorations.

Historical society and museum interim director Michelle Poe said the society saw it as a unique opportunity to think outside the box and get a little creative for this year’s Giving Tree season, and the inaugural “Boughs and Bows” was born.

Now, instead of trees, the public can view the society’s “giving wreaths” on display in the historical society’s windows lining the walkway up to the front door.

“This year, we thought it would be easier to do something a little more portable,” Poe said. “It’s great for [these organizations] to have a place at the museum [and] have them be able to showcase what they’re doing. A lot of the organizations that have been here helped us out during the flooding, so it’s great to be able to go back and forth that way.”

Charlotte Renehan, historical society and museum president, said she was excited to see how the wreaths would be received by the public.

“Wreaths were suggested years ago, so it was put on the back-burner,” she said. “This gave us an opportunity to pull it to the front burner. … It’s quite possible that in the future we have wreaths and trees. You never know what’s going to evolve from this new experience.”

More than 900 people wove their way through the historical society Nov. 24 to view the wreaths, submit their bids and enjoy the small group of local vendors selling handcrafted holiday gifts and decorations. Renehan said in a phone interview Nov. 27 that she was blown away by the “unbelievable” turnout.

Nine wreaths were donated to the society by local organizations, including the Grayslake Arts Alliance, the Village of Grayslake Pageant and the Grayslake Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Grayslake Chamber of Commerce and Industry has participated in the historical society’s “Giving Tree” event since its inception and Executive Director Karen Christian-Smith said in a phone interview that the Chamber welcomed this year’s challenge of creating a wreath instead.

“[This event] puts everyone in the holiday mood, and it helps bring cheer to the community,” she said.

Christian-Smith added that the Chamber enjoys a long-standing relationship with the historical society and was eager to participate in the event this year, given the difficult times the society has faced.

Repairs are ongoing at the historical society, and Renehan said progress is slow but positive.

“It’s moving,” she said. “It’s time-consuming. Still overwhelming, but we’re moving.”

Bidding on the wreaths will remain open until the society’s annual Holiday Open House on Dec. 10, when the society will announce the winners.

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