If you trick-or-treated as a kid along Bartram Road in Riverside prior to 2007, you might remember one of the homeowners asking if you’d like to sign their Halloween guest book.
Many, many children did just that – for 60 years. Whether written in early-grade scrawl or with Palmer method panache, the book’s pages are a Riverside roll call of familiar names — Henninger, Dvorak, Novak, Lewe, O’Brien, Hullihan, Creadon.
In early years – the first pages date from 1946 – names are written in columns. Later, starting in the late 1960s, naturally, the format is more free-form and the pages start to include art — some drawn by hand and others, clipped from newspapers, taped onto pages.
The 1966 signature page, for example, is paired with John T. McCutcheon’s cartoon “Injun Summer,” which used to be an annual staple in the Sunday Chicago Tribune magazine. Halloween of 1976 is introduced by a two-page art spread — a hand-drawn jack-o’-lantern paired with a Halloween-related “Peanuts” comic strip.
Through the end of 2018, you can relive the Bartram Road Halloweens of your youth or glimpse a slice of Riverside neighborhood history by leafing through the book, which is on display every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Riverside Historical Museum, right next to the water tower in Centennial Park at Longcommon Road and Forest Avenue.
Riverside Historical Commission Chairwoman Connie Guardi said the museum just recently acquired the book from local developer Jack Shay, who renovated the home at 272 Bartram Road, whose owners kept up the book-signing tradition from 1946 to 2006.
Shay had received the book from a member of the Shurtleff family, who owned the home from 1959 until 2016. Karin Crain, the daughter of longtime homeowners Joan and John Shurtleff, attended an open house earlier this year at her remodeled childhood home.
After chatting with him, she offered to give the book to Shay for the new owner in case they wanted to restart the tradition.
“I thought it was so cool, so small-town U.S.A.,” Shay said. “I thought, this is something the village should have. I’m excited people can walk in and see it, and I think they will.”
Joan Shurtleff now lives at Cantata Adult Care Services in Brookfield, and according to Crain, the book was an important part of Halloween, even after the Shurtleff kids grew up.
“It meant a lot to my mom to keep it going,” Crain said.
In the ’50s and ’60s kids thought nothing of coming inside the home to chat and sign the book, but as the years went on, there was less enthusiasm on the part of trick-or-treaters and their parents.
“In later years, people weren’t willing to do it,” Crain said.
Halloween was a big day in the Shurtleff household, Crain said, with her dad playing spooky music to greet visitors. Her mom, meanwhile, became known as the neighborhood “costume lady,” because she never threw away costumes and neighborhood kids could find one they liked at the Shurtleff house.
“It was my favorite holiday,” Crain said.
While the Shurtleffs were enthusiastic Halloween signature seekers at 272 Bartram Road, they weren’t the first.
The book was actually started in 1946 by the Dr. Joseph E. and Helen Barss, who owned the home from 1929 to 1959. The son of a Canadian Baptist missionary, Dr. Barrs was born in India, grew up in Nova Scotia and later fought with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force during World War I and was wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915.
He later attended the University of Michigan, where he received his medical degree and also served as the first head coach of the University of Michigan men’s ice hockey team.
After moving to Riverside, he became chief of surgery at Hines V.A. Hospital and had a medical practice in Oak Park. He died in 1971.
The book attracted the notice of local columnist Valerie Kunz, who wrote for the Suburban Life, in 1994. At the time, she predicted that one day the book would end up at the historical museum and that “Barb Bower will be able to learn that in 1953, at age 5, she signed her name ‘Barie Borwer.'”
And, now, Barb can do just that.