Little Arcola, Illinois, remembers its favorite son each year during the Original Raggedy Ann & Andy Festival.
By Eva Ridenour
Black button eyes, a red triangle nose, red yarn hair, and a happy smile describe the beloved Raggedy Ann doll. Each year in mid-May, Raggedy Ann and her brother, Raggedy Andy, seem to come alive in the tiny town of Arcola, Illinois, birthplace of their creator and the site of a museum that fondly remembers all three.
Arcola may very well have been where Raggedy Ann originated. It is known that a rag doll belonged to the mother of illustrator and writer Johnny Gruelle (Grew-EL). Years later, Johnny is said to have pulled his mother’s doll from the attic to entertain his ailing daughter, Marcella. He adorned it with the familiar Raggedy Ann face and invented stories about the doll to entertain Marcella. When she passed away in 1915 at the age of 13, this same rag doll consoled the grieving father and became the inspiration for the stories that have delighted children throughout the world.
The Gruelle family moved from Arcola when Johnny was just 2. Regardless, Arcola “” population 2,700 “” has the only festival in the United States to honor its favorite son. The event is for anyone who loves the little rag doll that became a member of the Toy Hall of Fame in 2002.
When the 15th Original Raggedy Ann & Andy Festival opens on May 22, 2004, Raggedy lovers from all over the world will be on hand to buy books, attend the parade and festivities, and admire Raggedy memorabilia collected by fellow Raggedy lovers.
In addition to a huge collection of Raggedy memorabilia, visitors can meet members of the Gruelle family, who also are artists. They carry on the art started by their grandfather and great-grandfather.
Festival activities begin Saturday, May 22, when nearly 100 arts and crafts booths open. An area called Adventureland also will be open for kids, featuring games, carnival rides, puppet shows, pony rides, and more. In addition, games of footbag, a kicking sport, will be led by footbag champion Andy Linder.
Also on Saturday, you can join in a 5K or 10K recreational walk, and reserve a tea time at 10:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. for Raggedy Ann’s Circus Tea Party. Souvenir prizes will be a teacup and china. The tea party will be held again Sunday at 1:30 p.m. This event is as popular among adults as it is with kids.
The festival’s Toyland Parade begins at 3:00 p.m. Saturday. It’s a treat to watch as Raggedy characters come marching down the street.
On Sunday, you can attend a brunch that includes souvenirs and door prizes, and meet members of the Gruelle family. Throughout the festival Gruelle family members are on hand to sign books and visit with Raggedy lovers. Remember that the walk, brunch, and tea require reservations and payment, so plan ahead: Contact the Arcola Chamber of Commerce (see the information below) to reserve your spot for one or more of these activities.
While you’re in Arcola, stop at the Johnny Gruelle Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum, the only officially licensed Raggedy museum in the world. Created by Johnny Gruelle’s granddaughter, Joni Gruelle Wannamaker, and her husband, Tom, the museum opened in 1999. The Wannamakers fell in love with Arcola after attending a couple of the early Raggedy festivals, so they sold their home in Georgia and moved into town. The 2,000-square-foot museum is located in the middle of the festival area downtown. Its exhibits trace the history of Johnny Gruelle and the heartwarming story of the doll that was probably named after “Raggedy Man,” a character created by poet James Whitcomb Riley.
Raggedy memorabilia fills display cases down the center of the main portion of the museum. On the right side, one can see a re-creation of Marcella’s playroom. Although it contains no original toys, the room’s design is based on the playrooms drawn in the Raggedy books. Another display depicts Johnny Gruelle’s workroom, including his favorite hat, a phonograph, unfinished artwork on his desk, magazines containing his published works, and other original works that were never published.
By trade, Johnny Gruelle, a cartoonist and illustrator, was successful in many endeavors, especially in newspapers. He was just one of many artists in the family: the museum also displays artwork created by five generations of the Gruelles, including Johnny’s father, brother and sister, sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
According to the museum, Johnny Gruelle also painted murals. On one wall, the only Raggedy Ann murals known to still exist are exhibited. These 4-foot-by-6-foot artworks were created for a candy store in Ashland, Oregon. Several years ago they were found in the basement of the candy store owner’s summer home in Vermont, where they had been in storage for several years. Although the murals had sustained water damage, they have been being restored to their original quality.
Many Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls of all sizes and shapes are on display (but not for sale), and complete the main portion of the museum. One corner of the Raggedy Ann gift shop is filled with a display of Raggedy Ann dolls and products made in Japan, as well as traditional Japanese dolls. The people of Japan love the story of Marcella and the doll created for her. They have embraced the Raggedy culture as no other group. In recent years they, too, have staged a Raggedy Ann festival, and a large delegation of Japanese people attend the Arcola festival. These donated dolls are not for sale.
You can purchase an array of official Raggedy souvenirs at the gift shop. The museum and gift shop are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and closed on major holidays. Between January 1 and March 15, museum hours are by appointment. A dollar donation is requested for each visitor age 12 and older. For more information about the museum, phone (217) 268-4908 or visit www.raggedyann-museum.org.
Arcola residents are proud of their connection with Raggedy Ann, but they also are happy to find themselves at the eastern edge of a large Amish community. Less than a block from the Raggedy Ann museum is the Illinois Amish Interpretive Center (111 S. Locust St.). Visit this facility to learn more about the Amish people who first came to the area in 1865.
An 18-minute video based on the book Visit to Amish Country by Raymond Bial tells about the lives of the “Plain People.” Visitors watch the movie while sitting on the same kind of benches the Amish use in their home churches. Afterward, they can tour the museum displays of Amish clothing; a 100-year-old buggy; a re-creation of an Amish barn; and a fully furnished Amish house. One can admire many quilts made by Amish women and learn about the hardships this sect has faced because of its religion.
One room is devoted to a bookstore and gift shop, including books about the Amish way of life, as well as Amish food and other products. Visitors also may schedule guided excursions through Amish country; meals in Amish homes; and home and farm tours. Admission to the Illinois Amish Interpretive Center is $2.75 for adults, $2.50 for seniors 62 and older, and $2.25 for children ages 6 to 11. It is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. between March and November, and by appointment from December through February. Special tours and meals are available by reservation, so be sure to contact the center in advance: phone (888) 452-6474 or see them described at www.amishcenter.com.
A restored Illinois Central Railroad depot is located on North Oak Street in Arcola. Built in 1884, the building was saved from demolition by local residents in the 1980s. Today it is the home of the Arcola Chamber of Commerce and also houses a small museum. Go inside to find railroad memorabilia; a Raggedy Ann doll collection; and the Louis Klein collection of antique brooms and brushes “” the largest of its kind in the United States. Also among local artifacts are cups from the once-famous Arrol’s Drug Store Coffee Club.
To join the club, an individual had to consume 100 cups of coffee at the drugstore, which was located at the southeast corner of Oak and Main streets. Once the coffee drinker was in the club, druggist Robert Arrol painted his or her name on a coffee cup and stored it on a special shelf he had built. The shelf held only 162 cups; therefore, membership was also limited by space. The coffee club put the drugstore on the map, making it the subject of many news feature stories over its nearly 50-year existence.
Since the town’s welcome center also is at the depot, you can obtain more information about the area there. No admission fee is charged to tour the museum. The depot is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. The chamber offices are usually closed on Sunday but will be open during the Raggedy Ann festival.
Next door to the depot, the one and only Hippie Memorial has found a permanent home. Robert Moomaw, a resident, railroad employee, and sign painter, was also an artist. Moomaw once explained that his work, a 58-foot-long sculpture originally built on a fence on West Main Street, is a salute to his life. The memorial now stands as a tribute to the artist, who died in 1998.
In addition to all of these sights and the original Raggedy Ann & Andy Festival, you may like to see Rockome Gardens while you’re in the area. The rock gardens were constructed in the 1930s and are 5 miles west of Arcola. Today visitors can stroll through flower gardens; buy Amish-made furniture and crafts shown in 15 specialty shops; take a buggy ride; attend a quilt show (June 24 to July 18 this year); and partake of Amish food at the Rockome family-style restaurant.
Admission to the gardens is free (except on music festival dates in August and September), and so is parking. Small fees are charged for extra attractions such as the buggy ride or a visit to an Amish home. The gardens open for the season April 17 on weekends only, and then Wednesday through Sunday from April 18 to May 18. From May 19 through August 22, the park is open seven days a week. For more information, phone Rockome Gardens at (217) 268-4106 or visit www.rockome.com.
Arcola also hosts the Broomcorn Festival each year the weekend after Labor Day (September 10, 11, and 12 in 2004). The town once was considered the “Broomcorn Capital of the World,” and the long-running festival attracts crowds estimated at 50,000 to 60,000. Among the activities is a 90-minute parade that typically features the famous Arcola Lawn Rangers, a precision lawn mower drill team. Sunday entertainment this year will feature Buddy Jewell, winner of a country music talent search.
Shopping also attracts people to downtown Arcola, where a variety of shops are filled with Amish-made furniture; crafts; and antiques. In-town restaurants include The Dutch Kitchen, Korner Kafe, the Hen House, Daily Knead, and Pappy’s Paradise.
Whether you visit Arcola for this year’s 15th Original Raggedy Ann & Andy Festival, or simply to learn more about Amish culture, do some shopping, and see the town, it is well worth a stop.
Camping is available near downtown Arcola at the Arcola Camper Stop, located at 472 Davis St. The campground offers electricity, water, rest rooms, hot showers, a dump station, a pay phone, and free cable TV. Phone (217) 268-4616.
Arcola is located approximately 35 miles south of the Champaign-Urbana metro area via Interstate 57 (exit 203). For more information, contact:
Arcola Chamber of Commerce
135 N. Oak St.
P.O. Box 274
Arcola, IL 61910