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Explosions, Fires, Deaths and Floods

Disasters in Grayslake's history were the focus of a recent program hosted by The Grayslake Historical Society.

It was just an ordinary night in Grayslake in 1978 for Evelyn Cole Kaht until her family home exploded.

“The hands of Richard Cole’s clock are stuck at 10:28," Kaht wrote in a story about the local disaster. "It is the only clock of the several he owned, cleaned and tinkered with that has never been repaired. The clock ticked its final seconds on Tuesday evening, October 10, 1978. I was a senior at Grayslake Community High School that year and it was the week of homecoming. We lived at 160 Park Place, in a home that was owned by Ruth Pester.”

This was the first paragraph of Kaht's story, which recalled the fateful night when her Grayslake home exploded.

Kaht could not attend the function but graciously contributed her heart warming story. Her penned remembrance ended with a thank you to all the people in Grayslake who helped the family. 

Members of the United Protestant Church donated meals; Parkway Foods contributed groceries; the Harris and Loftus families helped with housing; and her list went on.

Moderator Charlotte Renehan then turned the topic to fires. The lumber company burned three times in 1899, 1955 and 1970. A fatality was incurred and the fire department was organized after the first  fire.

Johnny D’s Restaurant burned in 1988. Hillside Restaurant is now at that location on Barron Boulevard (Route 83). The Electra Restaurant burned in 1980. Centennial Park on Center Street is the location of the former Electra Restaurant. A member of the discussion group was hesitant to tell more, but the newspaper headline at that time said it all: “Arson In Fire At The Electra Not Ruled Out.”

Other fires which were remembered included the bowling alley and BVI. During the discussion, the storm of 2011 was mentioned as was the flood of 1938. The flood was described in a previous Patch story "Fish Swimming Down Center Street." Click here to read the full story.

When a member of the Reminsce group asked if there was ever a tornado in Grayslake, an oral history from the Society archives was read that described a tornado which passed through Hainesville in the 1920s.

Many instances of human events were noted. There is a memorial plaque at the southwest corner of Seymour and Center Streets. It honors the four public works employees who were overcome with gas in a Grayslake lift station. The men - James Pech, John Hertel, Tom Dungan and Wayne Alesi - died trying to help one another.   

Other stories of sad events and memories were shared. Bob Rockenbach was killed when a front-end loader fell on him. A young boy was killed when a road grader backed over him. A high school student was electrocuted behind the school. Several people drowned. One person met death sniffing Pam and another was playing “chicken” on the railroad tracks. 

Throughout the years, Grayslake has had its share of disasters. The has noted these and other disasters in a notebook for the public to read. The public is also invited to add stories to the notebook. 

This Reminisce session was the fifth in a series of round table discussions which are held quarterly. On Friday, April 27 in East Peoria, the Grayslake Historical Society was recognized by the Illnois State Historical Society for this program and received a Certificate of Excellence for educational programing.

The next regular program of the Society is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 9 in the Community Room of the Grayslake Heritage Center. At that time, Frank Sulliivan will tell about the former Sullivan Manufacturing Compsny which was located on Pine Street in Grayslake. Refreshments will be served. All programs of the Grayslake Historical Society are free.

The archives of the Grayslake Historical Society are located in the lower level of the . The Museum is open Wednesday through Saturdays from noon to four and during downtown Grayslake events. 

- Contributed by the Grayslake Historical Society.

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