Kane County History: Geneva’s Swedish Days Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary
- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum
Geneva is celebrating the 70th anniversary of Swedish Days this year!
Geneva’s Swedish Days festival began in 1949, when the Geneva Chamber of Commerce decided to host a summer festival to attract visitors. The festival was named for the community’s rich Swedish heritage and was planned to coincide with Good Templar Park’s annual one-day midsummer celebration known as Svenskarnas Dag or Swedish Day.
The festival changed names and themes over the next decade until 1958, when the Swedish theme was revived and continues to be a regular event.
Geneva History Museum selected the following photographs and artifacts from its collection to highlight Swedish Days events throughout the decades:
The Chamber of Commerce began a summer festival in 1948 named Geneva Days.
To add a twist to this successful venture, the following year they adopted the Swedish theme because the majority of people in the area were of Swedish origin. Prize contests were held for the best Swedish costumes, both authentic and originals.
More recently, the festival has featured more of the Swedish theme by hosting Sweden Väst.
In 1952, the festival was simply called Geneva Days (without the Swedish theme) and was promoted as a gigantic midsummer sale. Silk screen signs advertising Geneva Days were put up in all display windows along with the store’s bargains, contests and giveaways.
The Merra-Lee Shop window display encouraged people to guess the number of hangers in their five windows for a chance to win a Holmes and Edwards silverware set.
The contest that attracted the most attention was sponsored by Wayne Drug Store. It featured peculiar written messages which druggists had received.
The person who interpreted the most notes correctly won a Wedgewood china set. The messages included “ecsh Leksx” which was guessed correctly as “Ex Lax” and “bottl Madked Ackhull” which was guessed correctly as “Bottle of Medicated Alcohol.”
Today, merchants continue to entice festival attendees with special sale events, including a one-evening shopping experience called Moonlight Madness.
During the 1959 and 1960 festivals, blue and yellow, souvenir buttons with the Swedish Days’ logo and date could be purchased for 25 cents at participating stores and street booths.
Each pin was numbered and many visitors tried to obtain their favorite numbers. In recent years, the Chamber of Commerce has given souvenir bags at its information booth.
After the Illinois State Fair canceled their annual band competition in 1969, Herb and JoAnne Granquist approached the Geneva Chamber of Commerce to host a music competition in conjunction with Swedish Days.
The first Swedish Days Music Competition began in 1970. In the late 1980s, it was renamed the Granquist Music Competition in honor of Herb, who was a gifted musician and proprietor of Imperial School of Music for 53 years.
Contestants of all ages, all instruments and vocals came from all over Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana to participate and at its prime, there were 2,500 contestants.
This annual competition continues as a favorite festival event drawing nearly 10,000 people each year.
The first Swedish Days Art Show began in 1960. The Kane County Courthouse lawn was transformed into an open-air art gallery. The Art Show was eventually combined with the craft show and continued to be a crowd pleaser for decades.
After a hiatus, the Chamber of Commerce is bringing back the Art & Craft show this year, and it will be located on South Second and James streets.
The first carnival during Swedish Days was announced in 1964. It was held in the parking lot at the corner of State and North Fourth Streets.
It eventually transitioned to the Kane County Courthouse parking lot and continues to be a favorite attraction for kids.
In 2008, the U. S. Postal Service granted the Geneva Chamber of Commerce a commemorative postmark to commemorate Swedish Days Festival. The first 50 people at the event received a free Geneva postcard with a Swedish Days commemorative postmark.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary, be sure to visit the Geneva History Museum for a special Swedish Days history display.
As we approach the final year of the 2010s, celebrate the longevity of this Grandaddy of Illinois festivals by taking a Geneva History Museum guided trolley tour where you can learn more about Geneva and Swedish Days history.
Tours depart from Third and James streets every hour frp, 11 a.m.– to 4 p.m., Tuesday, June 18, thtpugh Thursday, June 20. Admission is $10 per person and includes a free museum pass and goodie bag of offerings from Geneva shops and restaurants.
For more information about the trolley tours, visit www.GenevaHistoryMuseum.org.
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