Thursday, September 18, 2014

Remembering the Oak Lawn Round-Up

By Andrea Malquist 
(5th annual Oak Lawn Round-Up program, 1953)
The return of troops at the end of World War II saw a significant increase in birth rates, and the subsequent “Baby Boom” resulted in many new families throughout the nation, including in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.  As part of this growth, Oak Lawn was quickly transitioning from a small, sleepy town to a developed suburb – just one of several in the area vying for the attention of young families in search of homes.  One way these communities sought their interest was through festivals.  In 1949, Oak Lawn stepped up to the challenge of attracting new home buyers and businesses with an annual event that came to be one of the largest in the village’s history, the Round-Up Days.     

Well-known Western films, radio, and television programs, such as The Adventures of Cyclone Malone and Red Ryder (based on a comic strip of the same name), gave influence to the theme of Round-Up.  Many participants and visitors donned cowboy hats, boots, and belt buckles like this one:  
(Belt buckle worn during the Oak Lawn Round-Up, circa 1955)
A popular element of the Round-Up was the Mystery Rider. Typically, a prominent resident would be chosen to play the part of the rider.  He or she would travel on horseback throughout Oak Lawn, trying not to reveal their identity.  A contest was held at the end of the festival to guess who the Mystery Rider was; those with the wittiest answers were given prizes.

(Round-Up Mystery Rider, 1952)

Visitors also witnessed mock robberies near Ninety-fifth Street and Raymond Avenue. Thieves on horseback would circle around a Pony Express stagecoach or train, hold up the rider or conductor while their posse grabbed the spoils, and then quickly ride off. 

(Mock robbery on Cook Avenue, circa 1954)

(Round-Up Parade, circa 1952)

The annual parade down Ninety-fifth Street was certainly a favorite of Round-Up spectators, and a wide variety of creative floats were featured each year.  Some parades saw as many as 100 floats, 400 horses, with other wagons, buggies, and fire engines as well!

(Click on the link above to view footage of the parade!)

The Round-Up become such a popular event that it was once televised on WGN and hosted by Chicago sports commentator Jack Brickhouse.  By 1958, the rapidly increasing size, an escalation in crime, rising costs, and falling revenue led to the discontinuation of the Oak Lawn Round-Up.  

Although the Round-Up tradition came to an end, Oak Lawn still had cause for celebration.  In August 1959, a Golden Jubilee was held in honor of the village's 50th anniversary.  Approximately 100,000 people attended the week long event, making it one of the most successful festivities in Oak Lawn's history.

(Golden Jubilee Parade, 1959)

Do you have any Round-Up or Golden Jubilee memories? Share in the comments below!