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For historical society, it’s a door to recovery

Grayslake Historical Society and Museum President Charlotte Renehan hooks a finger through the chain link wall of what was once the society’s archives, located in the basement of the building. She pulls her hand back and rubs her fingers together. 

“This was all covered in hydraulic oil from the elevator,” she says. 

The floors, she says, had to be covered with cat litter and sand to absorb the oil from the ground before anyone could walk safely on it.

The rains from this past July hit the historical society hard: Six feet of water flooded the basement, submerging practically the entire collection of artifacts, books, records and paintings that had been stored down there in one of two large, walk-in archives and collection cages that were open to the public. 

Renehan indicates an alcove opposite the archive cage: This had been a reading nook lined with shelves. Guests were welcome to come down, peruse the shelves and pull any title off the shelf for further examination. 

The fate of the collection is still up in the air now: The historical society is still waiting to see what can be recovered or restored – and how much all that will cost. 

“It has been very emotional It has been emotional because people trusted the society to watch over the artifacts,” she says. 

According to Dave Oberge, executive director of the heritage center and historical society, approximately 120 volunteers from 20 different organizations stepped in immediately to remove artifacts from the flooded basement. Paper records and archives were professionally freeze-dried and Oberge says the society will be able to view these items in about three weeks to see how much of it can be restored. Oberge says much of the textile artifacts were successfully evacuated from the flooded area before being irreparably damaged.

In a situation where every second counted, Oberge says the aid of these volunteers was invaluable.

“If we had any doubt that the people in this community loved us,” he says, “boy, we don’t anymore.”

Once an estimate cost for restorations is established, Renehan says the historical society will reach out to its community for fundraising to help cover these costs.  One organization, however, is already stepping in to do whatever they can to help.  

The Grayslake Arts Alliance is very proud of the relationship it maintains with the historical society and when it saw the society needed help, its members immediately stepped in to lend a hand. 

Artists Marie Hines of Grayslake and Heather Toser of Round Lake Beach stand among fellow artists, studying a large, brown door leaning against the wall. The door has certainly seen better days: its brown paint is peeling and chipped virtually all over it. Where many would see a broken door destined for the dumpster, however, these artists see a blank canvas and an opportunity to help a historical society in need. 

In their first collaborative art project, the Grayslake Arts Alliance will decorate this door and donate it to the historical society’s Nov. 10 fundraiser to raise money for restorations and reparations. 

“(The historical society has) been good to us,” Hines says. “They’ve had many of our art shows here and this is a way to, once again, show them how much we appreciate them supporting us. They’ve been fantastic partners for us and this is the least we can do to give back to them.”

In her hands, Hines holds a strip of paper depicting an abstract painting of fall colors, reds bleeding into oranges bleeding into yellows bleeding into browns. She holds it up against the door in various places, trying to determine where it should go. 

“This is our first collaborative art project,” she adds as she settles on a place for her paper and begins to decoupage it to the door. “We’ve got all kinds of supplies here; we’ve got pieces that people are dropping off. Our photographers are going to provide us photographs, water colorists are going to do watercolors. We have a woman who does stained glass, she’s going to do a sun catcher.”

After the artists spend the day working on the door in the basement, a call will go out to all members of the arts alliance for anyone interested to contribute to the project. Then, the finished project will go up for auction at an upcoming fundraiser for the historical society. 

Oberge says he is extremely grateful for the continued support the community has shown the heritage center. 


“It’s been a tough couple months, but I will tell you, we love this community and they’ve given us a great outpouring of support. This is just one more great example right there,” he says. 


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