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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Somonauk museum holds treasures

By Barry Schrader.................................Feburary 8, 2011

Now that the blizzard is behind us, it’s time to think of outings the family can take until the snow melts (which could take some time).
I discovered a real gem in Somonauk while researching the authenticity of the 1858 Abraham Lincoln photo from Ottawa that hangs in the Marie Louise Olmstead Memorial Museum, which is on the second floor of a business building at 100 S. Depot St.
Three rooms comprising some 5,000 square feet are packed full of artifacts and antiques that could be featured on “Antiques Roadshow.”
I met two of the board members, Jim Gerlick and Jim Meyer, there recently and got a taste of the breadth of its holdings. Hundreds of Native American relics, cases of fossils, Civil War memorabilia including

This stuffed two-headed calf is a favorite among youngsters visiting the Marie Louise Olmstead Memorial Museum in Somonauk. (Barry Schrader photo)

letters from Union soldiers, the largest firearms collection anywhere in the county, Colonial-era household items and clothing, World War I and World War II mementos and many miscellaneous collections that were donated over the years.
It sort of reminds me of a miniature Smithsonian all in one building. They even have animals and birds that have been stuffed. When you first climb up those 21 steps to the second floor you will see a large case with a family of wolves – stuffed, of course.
One of the highlights I spotted was the 32-pound flintlock (later converted to percussion-lock) rifle reportedly presented to Chief Shabbona at the signing of the peace treaty at Prairie du Chien in 1829. A large birchbark canoe is displayed in another room, and hundreds of artifacts collected by local residents from Native American tribes who lived in this area over the centuries are in another area. In the Colonial Room is a large loom used for weaving cloth and carpets, plus an 1825 piano, baby carriage, early day cord bedstead and numerous household items from pioneer days.
On top of one display case is a full-size, two-headed calf. This is something you would expect to see only in a circus sideshow. The calf obviously died in its first few months of life, and Meyer explained it came from a farm south of town once owned by Edmund Rumney and farmed by Jess and Clara Erickson. He added that it is the most popular attraction in the museum when second-grade classes come to visit. They even bring their parents back to see this freak of nature.
The founder of the Olmstead Museum is the late attorney L. B. Olmstead (1857-1951), who named it in honor of his deceased wife. He had been a collector of relics and antiques since his youth and added a building to house the collection at his home in Somonauk. But in the early 1940s the collection had outgrown the space, so he decided to relocate it to the second floor of the bank building. Upon his death, it was turned over to the community and a board of directors now operates it.
It is open once a week, from 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays, but groups can request a special tour by calling 815-498-3537 during museum hours. Or Meyer can be reached anytime at 815-498-2417.
It is well worth the time to drive there, but you will likely need several trips to cover the thousands of items spread throughout the three rooms.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115