The Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival organization in the United States. It’s located in Highland Park, Illinois about 25 miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. The park was created in 1904 by A.C. Frost , the owner of the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railway (precursor to the North Shore Line, mentioned in my previous blog) which traveled through the area. Frost figured that building a place for the masses to gather could only benefit his railroad’s business.
- C&ME RR map from Ravinia program circa 1906
Unfortunately, by 1911 Frost’s venture confronted financial woes and Ravinia was looking bankruptcy square in the face. A local group of residents formed an organization to purchase and operate the park and except for a brief gap during the Great Depression, the Ravinia Festival has taken place every year from 1904 to the present day ! From Enrico Caruso to Steve Martin, the festival has hosted and presented stellar talent and performances of all kinds. When I was a kid, it was also one of the best places to go for fireworks every 4th of July !
The festival programs from the 1904 through to the 1930’s were gorgeous “mini-posters” and designed by well known Chicago area illustrators. I’d run across them in used bookstores and junk shops where they were usually mixed in with old magazines and comicbooks. By the time I left for college I’d been able to gather together most of the run. You’ll notice names like Hamilton King, James McCracken, Stark Davis, and intaglio artist Allan Weary. . . There’s also a 1930 program cover designed/illustrated by then Chicagoan Hal Foster, who was between Tarzan strip assignments. . .
If anyone has additional info on any of the covers, artists etc., please add a comment below !
I’ve also included a poster done by Arthur A. Johnson for the CNS&M railroad in 1925 – you’d think that if anything would be misspelled it WOULDN’T be the name of the park itself ! (I’ll be doing a separate featured article on this series of posters in the near future).