County museum intertwines history with holidays

By Dave Fidlin For Chronicle Media

The McLean County Museum of History gets decked out for the holidays as it invites visitors for special events, such as the Christmas at the Courthouse held on Dec. 1, and to view regular exhibits. (Photo courtesy of McLean County Museum of History)

The McLean County Museum of History is among the local organizations pulling out all the stops this month in the hopes of bringing festive holiday cheer to residents and visitors alike.

In the weeks ahead, the museum and its Cruisin’ with Lincoln on 66 Visitors Center, 200 N. Main St., Bloomington, have on tap a half-dozen seasonal programs, Jeff Woodard, director of marketing and community relations, said.

A number of the upcoming events — including the annual Once Upon a Holiday window vignette displays during First Fridays — have become museum staples and time-honored traditions.

But Woodard said other offerings this month are new, including the next installment in the museum’s Lunch and Learn series, which this month will give attendees a glimpse into the ways McLean county residents of years past celebrated the holidays.

Regardless of the specific offering, Woodard said there is a common thread between most of the upcoming events — partnerships with other outside organizations made them possible.

“Any nonprofit that’s worth its weight in salt today is going to have to collaborate to stay relevant,” Woodard said.

Case in point: The museum’s participation in the window vignettes, which are designed to pay homage to retailers’ ornate displays of years past, is the result of an effort with the Downtown Bloomington Association.

Each month, the association hosts its First Fridays program in the hopes of tailoring monthly events around the city’s downtown business community. The next First Fridays event, with the museum’s participation, is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7.

The McLean County Museum of History will be aglow once again for the Once Upon a Holiday event this Friday, Dec. 7 in downtown Bloomington. (Photo courtesy of

In addition to the Once Upon a Holiday displays, the museum itself will offer up a range of its own activities during the next First Fridays, Woodard said, including music, refreshments, a model railroad and readings of two winning essays from a prior contest.

The museum also is teaming up again this holiday season with the Miller Park Zoo, 1020 S. Morris Ave., for the annual Wild Lights event slated for 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. Woodard said the museum will have a booth at this year’s Wild Lights event, and it will tie into Illinois’ bicentennial.

One of the museum’s new yuletide offerings is an installment of the monthly Lunch and Learn series that began this fall. Since its introduction in October, experts have been visiting the museum and giving talks on topics of local relevance and interest.

Eva Ferguson

The next Lunch and Learn installment, slated for noon Thursday, Dec. 13, will include a talk with a faculty member at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Eva Ferguson of IWU’s School of Music will be headlining the upcoming Lunch and Learn program, sharing her insight on Christmas traditions from her native country of Slovakia and discussing some of the challenges of keeping Christmas alive in a region that had been marked by communist anti-Christian ideology.

While the museum is pulling out all the stops this month to celebrate the holidays, Woodard said many of the organization’s regular, ongoing features and exhibits will continue as well, including the new Working for a Living exhibit that was launched in September.

The exhibit, Woodard said, came to light with the help of guest curator Mike Matejka and has been well received since its launch early this fall.

In a statement, Matejka outlined some of his inspiration behind the exhibit, which arguably could tie into the spirit of the holidays — or the ways the human spirit resonates throughout the rest of the year.

“By looking at individuals, we are able to tell some unique stories” Matejka said in the statement. “Through looking at individual stories, we are able to trace those very human stories over the last 180 years.”

For a full itinerary of what’s coming up in the weeks ahead at the McLean County Museum of History, visit