Category: Arts & Culture

Novelist With Maywood Ties Explores Suffocating Reality of Race

Marian Thomas photo.jpg

Marian L. Thomas takes a break from a book signing and discussion inside of AfriWare Books in Maywood on Saturday to talk about her most recent novel, “I Believe in Butterflies.” | Michael Romain/VFP

Monday, June 5, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

In the opening scene of Marian L. Thomas’s new novel, “I Believe in Butterflies,” Emma Lee Baker, one of the lead characters, is standing on a bridge “during the heat of the day” and staring at fish.

“I ain’t crazy. I just like staring at freedom,” Baker says through the book’s first-person narration. Moments later, the reader finds out the 76-year-old woman’s grim discovery — the body of a young girl who appears to be no older than 14, her blonde hair “wrapped around her neck like it was the thing that choked the poor life out of her.”

Thomas flips the script, so to speak, on a very familiar literary occurrence — instead of a black male found dead, the victim of a lynching; here is white innocence itself, a young blonde female teen, symbolically lynched by the very standard of beauty and power meant to be her protection. Before long, racism makes victims of us all, Thomas’s novel proposes.

Race and its many, suffocating complications, loom over much of the author’s body of work, which includes a children’s book, a play and six novels.

But it took leaving relatively integrated Oak Park and moving to Atlanta for Thomas to start working through those many complications.


In Oak Park, Thomas lived with her maternal grandparents, who were one of two black homeowners on the block, she said. The reality of race here, however, wasn’t quite as domineering as it was in Atlanta.

For the most part, Thomas’s grandparents lived the American Dream, which they earned through a degree of thrift that’s rare nowadays. Thomas’s grandmother, a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital and her grandfather, a baker, bought their Oak Park house and their Cadillacs in cash.

“They drove Cadillacs that were paid for and they would drive a car until it just fell apart,” Thomas, 45, recalled during a recent interview after a book signing event held Saturday at AfriWare Books in Maywood.

 “We don’t do that today, but that was them. They paid cash for everything,” she said of her grandparents. “They didn’t believe in credit cards. In the book, Emma Lee Baker talks about how her husband was able to afford the home she still lives in and how it was unheard of for African Americans to own a home.”

In 1988, Thomas moved to Atlanta with her father and stepmother. She was only one of two black seniors in her high school’s graduating class. Thomas said her father now lives in Maywood.

“Growing up in Oak Park, I didn’t really understand the whole black, white, interracial dynamic until I moved to the South, which is a very different culture,” she said. “It was an eye-opener.”

If moving to the South sparked an awareness of grand themes that would define her work, Thomas’s time in Oak Park fertilized her passion for storytelling. It was in the library at Oak Park and River Forest High School where she wrote he first short story, which became the basis for her first novel, “Color Me Jazzmyne” — published two decades and many rewrites later.

The book climbed to the top of the Amazon bestseller’s list and won a Sankofa Literary Society award.

Thomas had by then graduated from college magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business. She said she was pushed by an old boss to rework her high school short story into a novel.

Now, Thomas, who works full-time as a digital marketing professional, is experiencing a fresh surge in popularity and appeal. Her message, though, is as age-old as her grandparents’ thriftiness.

“Emma talks about her fish and why she loves her fish, which she call ‘freedom,’” Thomas said. “That’s because that’s how God meant for all of us to be [just as fish are fish, people are people]. We should focus on being men and women. Race shouldn’t be the first thing we think about. The message in the book is to treat each other as humans.” VFP

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Village People: Cassie Dodd, 28, is Feeling Free

Cassie Dodd models her work

Maywood native and fashion designer Cassie Dodd wears a gown she created. Below, she poses with models donning her clothing line, which includes gowns she’s designed for prom. | Submitted photos 

Cassie Dodd along with other modelsWednesday, May 17, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Cassie Dodd, a Maywood native, actress and full-time fashion designer, recently hosted a show in Chicago that featured the spring collection of her C. Marie Designs fashion line. Her clothing has also been featured during Black Fashion Week USA, among other platforms.

Dodd, who graduated from Northern Illinois University, learned to sew at Proviso East High School, her other alma mater.

In a recent email, Dodd explained her motivation and her journey in the world of design.

I learned the basics of sewing at Proviso East, but later I taught myself everything else about sewing and fashion. The class, fashion tech, was so much fun. Other than English, it was one of my favorite classes.

Although I got my bachelor’s degree in political science and public law, and community leadership and civic engagement in advocacy, I transitioned into sewing after college because my desire is to design. I’ve always been creative. As I saw members of my family going off to prom, the more I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I can make their dresses.’ So, in 2014, when one of my nieces started getting ready for prom, I took advantage of the opportunity to show what I could do. It went extremely well.

Cassie Dodd designs

Right now, I design full-time and work as an extra on TV shows that film in Chicago like “Chicago PD,” “Chicago Justice,” “Chicago Fire,” “Empire” and others (to name a few).

On April 29, I hosted the first show, called The Emancipation of C. Marie Designs, to feature only my designs at the Douglas Park Ballroom in Chicago. I displayed my bridal collection, summer wear and couture looks.

I drew my inspiration from ancient queendoms and Nubian warriors. When I create, I’m naturally drawn to patterns and colors that reflect my African ancestors. I love sequin and all things glam, but African prints are my favorite. As Maya Angelou said, “I come as one but I stand as 10,000.”

I came as one, but people need to know that I am standing on the shoulders of the thousands that came before me. The ones who died for all of my opportunities to be educated, fearlessly creative and unapologetically me. VFP

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‘Tendu, Plié, Voilà!’ Alvin Ailey Dancer Leads Maywood Fine Arts’ ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Rehearsals


Christopher Jackson and Maywood Fine Arts dancers during a rehearsal for ‘Sleeping Beauty’ on Saturday inside of Stairway of the Stars in Maywood. |  William Camargo/Wednesday Journal 

maywooddancers_AWN_032217_1March 20, 2017 || By Community Editor || @maywoodnews

Alvin Ailey instructor and Chicago native Christopher Jackson guided Maywood Fine Arts dancers through a rehearsal of “Sleeping Beauty’s” third act on Saturday.

The dancers will perform the classical ballet (with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky), alongside professional guest artists from Chicago and New York, at Trinity High School in River Forest on March 25.

The performance will commemorate the 10th anniversary of Maywood Fine Arts’ Classical Ballet for New Audiences.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for children. They can be purchased at the door or in advance at Stairway of the Stars, 20 N. 5th Ave. in Maywood. Call (708) 681-2788 or click here for more information.







At 100, Gwendolyn Brooks Still Inspires

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The late poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize. | Photo by Nora Brooks Blakely

Golden Shovel book .jpgTuesday, March 14, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

The poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who died in 2000 at the age of 83, would have been 100 years old this year. In Illinois, particularly in the Chicago area, Brooks has become something of an institution. There are no fewer than five schools across the state named after the late poet.

Last month, the Art Institute of Chicago’s Rubloff Auditorium hosted all five living African-American winners of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the Chicago Tribune reported. The night climaxed with the tony crowd chanting Brook’s famous 1959 poem, “We Real Cool.” And that was just the start of a spate of Brooks centenary celebrations happening all over the state this year.

Beyond Illinois, however, the legacy of Brooks — the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first black woman to be appointed a Poet Laureate, a position she held in Illinois from 1969 until her death — can still sometimes seem unjustly underappreciated, says Peter Kahn, Oak Park and River Forest High School English teacher and Spoken Word Club sponsor.

That’s partly why Kahn set out to compile hundreds of poems, written by poets both famous and up-and-coming (including around 20 OPRF alums), based on lines from several Brooks poems, including “We Real Cool.”

The result is The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks, which was published this year by the University of Arkansas Press.

“Golden Shovel” was inspired by a poem written less than a decade ago by National Book Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes called “The Golden Shovel.” The last words of each line in Hayes’ work are words from at least one line pulled from Brooks’ “We Real Cool.”

According to a description that appears on the jacket of the anthology, “The poems are, in a way, secretly encoded to enable both a horizontal reading of the new poem and vertical reading down the right-hand margin of Brooks’ original.”

Hayes writes the forward for the book and his “Golden Shovel” is the first poem in a collection of at least 200 other Golden Shovel poems by some of the greatest living poets in the country, including Brooks admirers like Nikki Giovanni and Rita Dove — herself a Pulitzer Prize winner and the first African American U.S. Poet Laureate.

Kahn said it took approximately three years of frequent emails and follow-ups to compile the book, which he co-edited along with poets Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith. The fact that he’s a teacher, he added, may have helped ease his pitch.

“In some instances, people would send me a poem on the day I requested it,” Kahn said last week. “In other instances, I emailed three or four times over the course of 2-3 years. I think mentioning that students were involved was helpful.”

The Golden Shovel poems by Kahn — whose poem, “Gray,” is based on a line from Brooks’ “Kitchenette Building” — and two dozen of his former students are also featured in the book.

For Chicago poet Asia Calcagno, who said Kahn introduced her to poetry while she was a student at OPRF roughly a decade ago, the anthology was as much an ode to Brooks’ life work as it is to her poetry.

“I think Peter cared a lot about getting different generations involved in the book, similar to how Gwendolyn cared about youth and the arts,” said Calcagno. “Peter didn’t just want popular poets but also young poets who are starting to come into their own voice.”

Calcagno’s poem, “Gravestones,” is based on a line from Brooks’ poem, “Riot,” about a linen and wool-clad, Jaguar-owning white man named John Cabot, “out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,” who stumbles upon a group of “black and loud” blacks during a domestic disturbance.

One of the poem’s last lines, “You are a desperate man, and the desperate die expensively today,” runs down the left margins of Calcagno’s poem about a deep, philosophical conversation she once had with a friend during a smoke break.

“I don’t think I realized how profound [Brooks] was until I was starting college,” Calcagno, a former school teacher, said. “Her being a woman of color from Chicago who had a deep appreciation for youth and education and the arts — everything in my life has revolved around those things.”

Adam Levin, another of Kahn’s former students and his current Spoken Word teaching assistant at OPRF, said the opportunity to be published beside poets like Billy Collins, the former U.S. Poet Laureate, was “incredibly humbling.”

“I think it’s a testament to Peter, that he’d be willing to do that for his former students,” Levin said. “People like me almost never submit poems to anything for publication. He asked me to do it and stayed on me, having me re-write drafts until I had something worth being in the book.”

Kahn said he was simply taking his cues from Brooks, whom he met three times when the poet was still alive. Each time, he said, the poet exhibited the kind of humility and openness that endeared her to so many poets and non-poets alike.

“I was always blown away at her combination of being so humble, yet so fierce and so accessible and so genius,” said Kahn. “Those are words you wouldn’t normally associate with one another. She was extremely generous with her time and her own money. I think that’s partly why we were able to get so many people like Nikki Giovanni, who looked up to Brooks, I imagine, not just as a writer but also a mentor.”

Those qualities in the late poet may be what makes Levin’s Golden Shovel poem, “We were gonna go through with it, and then we lost it,” so profound. He borrows part of the last line from Brooks’ “The Mother.”

“Believe me, I loved you all,” writes Brooks. “Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you all.” VFP

P A I D  A D V E R T I S E M EN T 


Maywood Library Club Produces 13-Year-Old Chess Champion


Gordon Hanson, center, with Rickover tournament participants (left to right): Kaitlyn Franco, Jocelyn Gutierrez, Roslyn Gutierrez, Dimitri Stubblefield, Jalen Jones, Yanni Smith and Carter Dawson. | Submitted photo

Thursday, February 16, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || UPDATED: 2 p.m.

The Maywood Library Chess Club meets every week at the Maywood Public Library under the direction of former library trustee Gordon Hanson, the club’s founder, and coach. They are old and young, but mostly young — one as young as seven.

The meetings, Hanson noted in a recent interview, are often marked by pizza and some laughs. But don’t let the levity fool you. These kids are serious, Hanson says.

“They’re really passionate about the game of chess,” he said. “They don’t give me an ounce of trouble.”

That discipline is starting to pay dividends. Hanson said that Irving Middle School 7th-grader Jalen Jones, 13, took first place at a recent chess tournament co-sponsored by the Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago and held at Hyman Rickover Naval Academy High School in Chicago on Feb. 11.

“Jalen is a very smart kid, and so are the other members,” Hanson said. “I have seven kids, including three girls, and they all did very well at the tournament.”

Hanson said that his kids shined in a competition that featured nearly 400 participants who came from all over the Chicago area — from as far away as Aurora and Schaumburg.

Since its founding last April, Hanson said, the Maywood Chess Club has produced three tournament champions. In addition to Jones, Carter Dawson and Miguel Moreno have also won tournaments in their respective categories.

Hanson said that he hopes that the club can become financially sustainable. He’s received funding from Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley in the past, he said, but for the most part, he’s been supporting the organization with his own funds.

The club meets on Wednesdays, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the Maywood Public Library, 121 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood. The chess club is designed for all skill levels — from the beginners to the strategically advanced.

“Chess is not only enjoyable but helps develop numerous skills in thinking and strategy formation,” the club’s website notes.

For more information, or to make a tax-deductible donation to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit club, contact Hanson at (773) 600-2187 or You can also visit the club’s web page here. VFP

CORRECTION: This post has been revised to reflect Jones’ correct age. He is 13 years old and in 7th grade, not 12 years old and in the 6th grade. VFP regrets the error.

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Big Events Around Town During Black History Month

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A group of students from Emerson Elementary School in Maywood tour the West Town Museum of Cultural History as the museum’s curator, Jeri Stenson, shows one of the the facility’s many historic objects. | District 89 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 || By Community Editor || @maywoodnews

Throughout February, fourth grade students from various schools in District 89 have been celebrating Black History Month by visiting the West Town Museum of Cultural History in Maywood.

The coming days are stocked with similarly great Black History Month events (among the coolest of all is a Michael Jackson Laser Light Show hosted by Triton’s Cernan Earth and Space Center).

You’ll also find events that cater to your body, mind and pocket book. Scroll below to see what appeals to you and your loved ones.


Photo: Carnegie Science Center

Michael Jackson Laser Light Show || Saturdays and Sundays throughout February || Show times vary || Triton College’s Cernan Earth and Space Center || RIVER GROVE

You don’t have to be able to moonwalk to enjoy this Cosmic Concert featuring a variety of Michael Jackson’s musical masterpieces set to moving laser light.

Practice your ABCs, brave the Thriller and admire the Man in the Mirror in this tribute to the legendary performer.

Click here to learn more about show times and prices. Call (708) 583-3100 for a recording about the current schedule. Call (708) 456-0300 ext. 3372 for group reservations and other inquiries. Cernan Earth and Space Center is located on the campus of Triton College, 2000 5th Avenue River Grove.

PTMAN Black History Month breakfast || Saturday, Feb. 11 || 8:30 a.m. || God’s House of Brotherly Love Church || BELLWOOD

The Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance’s monthly breakfast will take place on Feb. 11 at God’s House of Brotherly Love Church, 425 Bohland Ave. in Bellwood.

To RSVP for this meeting, which will focus on Black History Month, click here. Contact PTMAN Chairman Bishop Reginald Saffo at (708) 397-6944 for more info.


Book signing with Tasleem Jamila || Saturday, Feb. 11 || 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. || Afri-Ware Books, Gifts & Cultural Events || MAYWOOD

Internationally renowned poet Tasleem Jamila, (pictured), will read from her book “Black Baptist Muslim Mystic.”

Tasleem’s words are a fusion of hip hop, spirituals, mystical chants and lyrical soul. She has shared her works across the United States, Africa, Europe, and Canada. She continues to tour worldwide.

This event, held at Afri-Ware, 1701 S. 1st Ave., Maywood (Eisenhower Tower), is free and open to the public. Donations are welcome.

‘Pirate Pride’ film screening || Saturday, Feb. 11 || Doors open: 6 p.m. | Screening starts: 7 p.m. || West Town Museum of Cultural History || MAYWOOD 

Come and support a fundraiser for Maywood’s own West Town Museum of Cultural History that features a special screening of the award-winning documentary, “Pirate Pride: The Winning Tradition of Proviso East Basketball.”

The screening will take place at the West Town Museum of Cultural History, 104 S. 5th Ave., Maywood.

Adult admission is only $5 and children $3 (donations and yearly memberships to the museum are highly encouraged).

Anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Filmmakers Derek Grace and David Grace will be present for a discussion of the film.

Grace, incidentally, captured this great photo of the Proviso East varsity basketball team being greeted to a hero’s welcome after their second-place finish at the State Championship tournament in 2012.

Pirate Parade.jpg

You can also support the West Town while treating yourself to Krispy Kreme donuts during the museum’s Black History Month/President’s Day Krispy Kreme Donut Drive.

West Town officials are taking orders until Wednesday, Feb. 15, with a delivery date set for Saturday, Feb. 18.

The cost of specialty donuts (raspberry, creme or lemon filled, and chocolate iced) is $10 per dozen. Traditional glazed donuts are $8 per dozen. Please contact the Uplift Center, 104 S. 5th Ave., at (708) 516-2637 to place your order.

Milestones of African American athletes || Monday, Feb. 13 || 11 a.m. || Triton College Library || RIVER GROVE

Join Triton College sociology faculty member Victor McCullum for a discussion on the role sport plays in social activism. Athletes featured in the presentation — which will take place on Feb. 13 inside of the library (Building A) on the campus of Triton College, 2000 S. 5th Ave. in River Grove — include Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali. For more info, contact Dr. Robert Connor at

Blood Pressure Screening || Monday, Feb. 13 || 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. || Maywood Public Library || MAYWOOD

The Maywood Public Library, 121 S. 5th Ave., will host a Blood Pressure Screening on Feb. 13 inside of Room 202. For more info, call (708) 343-1847.

African American Cemetery Safari || Wednesday, Feb. 15 || 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. || Bellwood Public Library || BELLWOOD

Celebrate Black History Month with an evening of photos and stories of the final resting places of influential blacks., including Gene Baker, Emmett Till, Dred Scott and Augustus Tolton, among other African Americans buried in Chicagoland and Illinois cemeteries.


Emmett Till’s casket is carried out of Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago in 1955. | Chicago Tribune

This event, presented by Hillside residents Jim and Paula Hantak, will take place at the Bellwood Public Library, 600 Bohland Ave. Registration is required. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sign up by calling the library at (708) 547-7393 ext. 4.

Black Man’s Perspectives Fashion Show || Thursday, Feb. 16 || 7 p.m. || St. Eulalia Parish || MAYWOOD

With the goal of making the community more healthy, the Maywood-based Black Man’s Perspective organization is hosting a fashion show for all ages, along with a healthy and beauty contest for women ages 40 to 79.


This event will take place at St. Eulalia Parish on Feb. 16., 1832 S. 8th Ave. in Maywood. Contestants in both events will consist of African-American and Hispanic individuals from Maywood and Melrose Park.

The health contest will focus on how well the contestant takes care of their health. They will mention foods that they eat and exercises they do, as well as talk about the positive attitude they have in life.

Free Proviso Township Tax Day || Saturday, Feb. 18 || Appointment times based on schedule || Maywood Multipurpose Building || MAYWOOD

The Village of Maywood, the Monroe Foundation’s Stable Project, Proviso Township, U.S. Bank and PNC Bank will be hosting a free tax prep day on Feb. 18 at the Maywood Multipurpose Building, 200 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood.

Free tax prep services will be provided to individuals with incomes of no more than $30,000 and to households with incomes of no more than $50,000. Sign up for an appointment by clicking here or call (312) 252-0280.

For more info, contact Otis Monroe at:, or call (708) 315-9720.

Healthy Lives Matter fitness class || Saturday, Feb. 18 || 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. ||Proviso Math and Science Academy || FOREST PARK

Since the start of 2017, State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) has been hosting a monthly Healthy Lives Matter fitness class at various locations. The next class will take place at PMSA, 8601 W. Roosevelt Rd. in Forest Park.

Welch physical fitness.jpg

The next one, on March 18, will also take place at PMSA (same time). Proviso West in Hillside will host classes on April 15, May 20 and June 17.

For more dates and info, or to RSVP, call Rep. Welch’s constituent service office at (708) 450-1000 or email

Photo: Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

The Importance of Senior Ministry || Wednesday, Feb. 22 || Refreshments served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. | Speaker begins at 1 p.m. || Rock of Ages Baptist Church || MAYWOOD

Learn the importance of a senior ministry from the Honorable Patricia Banks, Judge of Elder Law & Miscellaneous Remedies Division, Circuit Court of Cook County.

This free event will take place on Feb. 22 at Rock of Ages Baptist Church, 1309 Madison St. in Maywood. Please RSVP by Feb. 15 by emailing or by calling (708) 344-0474 ext. 758.

Youth Summer Internship Musical || Sunday, Feb. 26 || Dinner: 2 p.m. | Concert: 3 p.m. || Greater Hope Baptist Ministries || MAYWOOD

This Musical will be an event of inspiration and information featuring fine arts, singing and a presentation of the 4-4-4 plan for a Summer Youth Employment Internship Program sponsored by the Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance.

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West Side choir members sing during a rehearsal last year. | William Camargo/Austin Weekly News

Your church has a total of seven minutes to stage up and perform (sing, dance, recite poetry, spoken word, etc.). Let us know what your church is doing by Feb. 12. Contact (708) 397-6944.

Dinner ($6 per person) will be served before the concert at Greater Hope Baptist Ministries, 1427 S. 18th Ave., Maywood.

Black History Closing Event || Tuesday, Feb. 28 || 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. || Triton College || RIVER GROVE

Join us as we salute creativity in Black History. Enjoy performances from Bellwood District 88’s Roosevelt Middle School band and a combined choir from Provisos East and West.

This free event will take place at Triton College, 2000 S. 5th Ave., inside of the Robert M. Collins Auditorium (R Building). For more info, contact Freida Spiller-Iverson at

District 89 Black History Month Presentation || Tuesday, Feb. 28 || 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. || Jane Addams School || MELROSE PARK

A group of District 89 teachers have organized a district-wide Black History Month presentation, which will take place on Feb. 28 at Jan Addams, 910 Division St., Melrose Park, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

To submit a Big Event, email information to 

Check Out This Cool History of Melrose Park’s Kiddieland

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Kiddieland’s Little Dipper. | The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal

Monday, January 30, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal recently posted a rather exhaustive history of that late, great icon of all things suburban nostalgia — Kiddieland in Melrose Park.

The park was the Depression-era creation of builder/contractor Arthur E. Fritz, who figured he would try his hand at family entertainment in order to make some money and, perhaps, reverse his misfortune.

“Fritz felt that in spite of hard times, parents still would try to save a few dimes for a little family entertainment,” the digital history notes. “His pony rides soon proved to be a popular attraction that allowed parents to forget their troubles temporarily while they watched their children smile and have a little fun.”

The rest, of course, would become local history. Read and see more by clicking here. The photos alone are worth your time. VFP

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