Petition drive seeks to honor Trailside museum legend Virginia Moe

By Bill Dwyer For Chronicle Media

Virginia Moe

For 52 years, Virginia Moe worked and lived in the three-story, nine-room brick Italianate building nestled among the trees on forest preserve land near the corner of Thatcher Avenue and Chicago Avenue in River Forest.

To the many who knew her, Moe was the face of Trailside. But for all her many years of devotion and service to the museum, it is not her name that graces the building, but a former county commissioner who, many say, had little to do with the facility. It is time, they insist, to correct a mistake and to properly honor Moe’s legacy by renaming the site after her.

More than 600 people have signed a petition on the website, created by River Forest resident Jane Morocco. ( It urges the Cook County Forest Preserve District to make a formal name change. A commission appointed by Forest Preserve General Superintendent Arnold Randall is currently working on developing general guidelines and standards for proposed renaming of Forest Preserve District sites.

By any objective standard, Moe’s service to the museum is unparalleled. A native of Gary, Indiana and the daughter of a man who helped turn the Indiana Dunes into a wildlife and nature preserve center, Moe first visited the newly opened Trailside Museum in 1932. Five years later she was named its curator. She immediately set out to transform the facility into a “living museum” that doubled as an animal hospital.

Thousands of children over five decades thrilled to Moe’s talks at the museum, where numerous wild animals of all sorts would be on the mend at any given time, several of which were allowed to roam free, to the children’s delight. Moe even wrote a book about her experiences with the animals, entitled “Animal Inn,” in 1946.

One of those children, Ron Hines, was so influenced by Moe’s work and example as a 9-year-old that he became a veterinarian.

“Virginia Moe was a lady of few words, but she was the most important influence in my life,” Dr. Hines writes on his website. “She set me on a path from which I have never deviated.”

By the late 1980s, the Trailside building, erected in the 1870s, had deteriorated, and the county board proposed closing the museum rather than pay for costly renovations. Faced with a tsunami of protest, the board withdrew its plans and committed to eventually funding improvements.

Hal Tyrrell Trailside Museum of Natural History, 738 Thatcher Ave., River Forest. (Photo courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Cook County)

In April 1991, as the $500,000 renovation of the building was underway, Moe died at age 84 following a fall. Her ashes were scattered around the property to which she had been so devoted. It would have been a no-brainer to name the building after her.

“We would all be pressed to name an individual associated with an organization for 54 years, excluding family business or inherited wealth,” former River Forest Historic Preservation Commission Chairperson Laurel E McMahon wrote to Randall in May. “Yet Virginia Moe was such an individual.”

But the museum had recently been named for someone else. Harold “Hal” Tyrrell, a veteran county board member and a noted fiscal watchdog, had no connection to Trailside. But in 1989, he was appointed to a board committee tasked with overseeing spending on the renovation project.

In February 1990, Tyrrell suffered a fatal heart attack, and soon after, his board colleagues voted to name the building after him. Moe’s legion of admirers had to content themselves with an honorary street sign designating the 700 block of Thatcher as “Virginia Moe Way.”

Now, the name change has attracted some influential supporters, including the son of the late radio broadcast legend Paul Harvey, Paul Harvey Jr. who lives in River Forest. Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri wrote a letter to the district about his past experiences at Trailside.

River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci lauded Moe’s indispensable role in making Trailside what it was, writing, “The continuing legacy of Trailside would not have been possible without the vision of its longtime curator, Virginia Moe.”

Morocco, who worked with Moe at Trailside for 10 years as a girl and young woman, also filed a “permanent renaming application” with the Cook County Forest Preserve Board. Last May she had a Zoom conference with Randall. She said Randall told her he would appoint a committee to assess the idea. That committee then asked a second group, the Equity, Cultural Sensitivity, and Inclusion Site Name Task Force, or ECSI, to create a point system for determining the renaming of Forest Preserve District properties.


Morocco noted that the existing forest preserve district policy is “to give preference and top priority to naming/renaming of properties based on natural, cultural, ecological or historical significance, which included the promotion of the local heritage, history, traditions, and or reflect local geography and character.”

“This renaming request is perfectly suited for this policy,” she said.

McMahon warns that Moe’s legacy is at risk of being lost and her name forgotten. She noted that “During the recent (90th) anniversary celebration, it was very disturbing to read no mention of Virginia Moe. Surely there is a way to celebrate what we have become without forgetting what we were … .”Morocco says that what Moe was to the museum will never be replicated.

“There’ll never be another like her. I don’t want people to forget about her, and that there was a place like that, once upon a time.”