Plays for Chicago Orphans at Lincoln Park, 1953

The orphanage that I lived in was Mooseheart Child City, about 40 miles west of Chicago. It is owned by the Loyal Order of Moose, and although it's no longer limited to orphans, it's still operating.

I believe the summer that I described was in 1953, but the outing became an annual event for at least several more years.

Sometime that summer a marvelous thing happened. Without any warning, we were awakened at 4:00 am and instructed to dress in our best clothes. We then boarded huge buses, with seats upstairs on both sides starting about halfway back (called a "story and a half"), and while it was still dark, headed for downtown Chicago. There must have been six or eight buses in our group, but as we got closer to Chicago more buses kept joining the line until we couldn't see far enough to count them all.

Then when we got to the Chicago City limits we were met by swarms of motorcycle cops who surrounded the buses with their sirens blaring, and their lights flashing! As there were no freeways back then and we were going all the way to Lake Michigan, the police escorted us at high speed, through one red light after another, all the way across town to Lincoln Park, which borders the lake. It was nonstop thrilling for over an hour. I recall all of us jumping around from seat to seat, trying to take it all in, while the grown-ups kept yelling at us to "sit down and behave!"

We must have gotten there around 8:00 am, and were each given a colored tag on a string with a large number printed on the tag. This was tied into a shirt buttonhole to indicate the group to which we belonged. There were dozens of buses with hundreds of kids from all over the Greater Chicago area, and we were in for a treat.

As it turned out, the American Automobile Association was sponsoring an orphans' picnic, with carnival rides, ice cream, soda pop, hot dogs, cotton candy, etc., all for free, and a live performance by Dick Baker, who was the host of a local kids' television show called Two Ton Baker and the Happy Pirates. We had all competed to be first in learning his crazy songs from the television show, and had used our socks to imitate Bubbles, his puppet sidekick. We were all thrilled beyond description, and at the end of the show, Two Ton Baker gave each of us a large plastic bag filled with even more candy, popcorn, and all sorts of little toys and prizes. Then we were divided into small groups of five or six kids with each adult, and roamed all over Lincoln Park, enjoying all the carnival rides, boat rides on the lagoon, and a tour of the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Around 5:00 pm, exhausted and deliriously happy, we boarded the buses for the trip back. It turned out to be just as exciting as before, with the motorcycles and sirens all the way to the City Limits, and I'm sure we were all fast asleep by then. There have been times in my adult life when I have taken charter bus rides and, especially right as the bus first takes off, I almost always compare them to the excitement of that trip to Lincoln Park. Of course, they never merit the police escort.

An afterthought:

I just remembered that the station where Two Ton got his start in radio [see Part 2 of this biography], WJJD, was founded in 1924 at Mooseheart, and that the call letters were the initials of James J. Davis, the founder of Mooseheart. Mr. Davis went on to become Secretary of Labor of the United States in the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations, and then served in the U.S. Senate.

—Mark Williams, July 2015

Women's building and station WJJD at Mooseheart

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