‘Play Ball!’ opening day is March 30

Galena & U.S. Grant Museum’s exhibit features regional baseball history

Wear your Cubs jersey, your Cardinals cap or any other favorite baseball attire on opening day March 30 and get half-price admission to the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum’s “Play Ball! Our Regional Story.”

A Rockford Peach gets ready for a play. Photo courtesy of the Midway Village Museum, Rockford, IL.

The special exhibit drives home baseball’s story with oral histories, research on local African American teams, 1930s-vintage uniforms, a ball, cleats and glove, and photos of the Rockford Peaches, the mid-century women’s baseball team featured in the movie “A League of Their Own.” All these exhibit pieces pitch a story about how we have played, watched, agonized over and cheered “America’s Pastime” in the Galena area.

The Galena & U.S. Grant Museum is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Regular admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $8 for youth ages 10-18 and free for those under the age of 10.

In 1910, male spectators would have paid 25 cents to watch a regional baseball game between rival town teams, said curator Shelby Miller. Women paid just 15 cents.

That’s just one of many surprises Miller has found as she’s pulled together a team of photographs, artifacts and information. ““Baseball really explains a lot of different stories, like the story of transportation, of leisure, of the burgeoning middle class,” Miller said.

Miller has come across accounts of early 20th century games forfeited by visiting teams because they had to catch the last train back home. Baseball scored new fans as people gained money and time to spend on entertainment, and America’s pastime struck out when the economy contracted.

Visitors should “expect to see local involvement in baseball in Jo Daviess County and Galena, photos and newspaper articles,” Miller said. “Expect to learn more about African American baseball, specifically pre-Jackie Robinson, the Illinois-Wisconsin League, and about women in baseball with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Really, it’s an overview of regional baseball history, the different groups and their level of involvement.”

Rockford Peaches photos are on loan from the Midway Village and Museum Center in Rockford, and the uniforms are on loan from the Johnson family. The exhibit also draws on Galena Historian Scott Wolfe’s research on African-American teams and on the work of authors Don Korte and Jim Carter. Visitors have the museum’s 2018 annual appeal donors to thank for sponsoring the exhibit.

Listen to Bill Swing’s memories of sneaking into a forbidden Sunday game as a child, only to commit an error in sharing a detail of the game with his family. In the exhibit, visitors can listen to stories with their phones by accessing five oral histories.

The circa-1980 oral histories recall regional baseball stories from decades earlier.

Miller is the museum’s curator and director of education and outreach. The Lynchburg College graduate and Indiana native brought energy and passion to the exhibit as a third-generation Chicago Cubs fan. Like many Galenians, she describes herself as a “borderline obsessive” Cubs fan who cried with joy at their 2016 World Series win.

Local baseball historian shares highlights at free March 17 program

For a first inning of local baseball history, catch baseball scholar Cory Ritterbusch’s free presentation at 3 p.m. March 17 at the Galena Middle School, part of the Galena-Jo Daviess Historical Society’s winter program series called History Matters.

“Play Ball! Our Regional Story” will be on display at the museum for the coming year. Next up to bat at the museum is an exhibit on women’s suffrage, which will open later this spring, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Illinois’ ratification of the 19th amendment in June.

Contact us

For more information, contact the Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society at 815-777-9131 or go to galenahistory.org. Visit the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum at 211 S. Bench St., Galena, IL, 61036.