Beer buckets show Belleville knew how to party

News-DemocratJune 4, 2014 

While Belleville is busy celebrating its 200th birthday, the St. Clair County Historical Society is looking back at how city residents celebrated previous milestones.

"Belleville Celebrates" is the new exhibit on display in the Richard "Pete" Kern Memorial Gallery at the society's Victorian Home Museum at 701 E. Washington St. in Belleville.

The exhibit is open free of charge from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, on Museum Open House Day in conjunction with Old Belleville Street Fair.

William P. Shannon IV, curator for the museum, said the idea grew out of the "Belleville Bicentennial Exhibition: 200" he helped organize at the William and Florence Schmidt Art Center, which opens July 3.

"I saw all these things people had kept and I wondered in the midst of celebrating this bicentennial, how did we do this in the past?" he said.

Since the historical society was centrally involved in some of the other celebrations, he began looking at what items the society had from them.

"We have a lot of memorabilia from those occasions, things that haven't seen the light of day for a while," Shannon said.

"What does how people celebrate commemorations in the past have to say about them?" he wondered. "You get a sense of how people thought of their history then. We're viewing the world through the lens of celebration.

"It seems to be a part of human nature to want to celebrate this stuff."

One item Shannon found from the 100th anniversary was a canister that once contained a movie of the centennial pageant of 1914.

"If only the film was in there," he lamented. "The label says it was not to be opened until 1939. I have looked and found nothing about it. I would like to know if it was."

He also has some printing plates from the book Reflections, printed during the 150th celebration in 1964.

"We considered printing it again, but decided that ground had already been covered," he said.

Another great item is an enameled beer bucket from the 150th celebration.

"What one thing could be more Belleville?" he said. "I have had so many people tell me about taking a bucket to saloons when they were kids to get beer for their families.

"I think the fact that they made beer buckets for a celebration speaks to what kind of people they were."

There are photos, including an aerial photo of the Belleville Public Square in 1964 and parade photos, because it isn't an official Belleville event without a parade.

"The souvenirs were a good way to get people involved in the celebrations," Shannon said. "I think what they made and what they kept says a lot about us as a people."

Shannon said the approach he likes is the worm's eye view of history involving everyday people, not just the great and noble. He stressed to the people donating items to the Schmidt exhibit how important the items they were bringing might be.

"We make history everyday," he said. "What the city is doing now may be part of an exhibit in the future. You people are making history now."

He said "Belleville Celebrates" probably will be on exhibit through the end of the year and he may add items as the year progresses.

Regular hours at the museum are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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