Graphics from an old-school music festival

A look at creatively designed posters and programs from America's original outdoor concert organization

By J.J. Sedelmaier

Published August 23, 2011 1:01AM (EDT)

The Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival organization in the United States. It's located in Highland Park, Ill., about 25 miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. The park was created in 1904 by A.C. Frost, the owner of the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railway (precursor to the North Shore Line, mentioned in my previous blog), which traveled through the area. Frost figured that building a place for the masses to gather could only benefit his railroad's business.

C&ME RR map from Ravinia program. Circa 1906

Main entrance to Ravinia from railroad tracks. 1910

One piece of the porcelain china set made for use at Ravinia. 1904-1911

Special Ravinia train announcement. 1920

Pre-1911 view facing south with entrance to park on left. (Note slide in background right)

Another pre-1911 postcard shot facing northeast and photographed from top of the Toboggan Slide in the preceding photo. Ravinia Park was serviced by two railroads: the Chicago & North Western steam railroad in the foreground and the C&ME, which pulled up closest to the entrance.

When it was originally built, besides including an amusement park, Ravinia offered a casino, grandstand, music pavilion, and a theater that showed live performances as well as motion pictures. Postcards circa 1909

Unfortunately, by 1911 Frost's venture confronted financial woes and Ravinia was looking bankruptcy square in the face. A local group of residents formed an organization to purchase and operate the park and except for a brief gap during the Great Depression, the Ravinia Festival has taken place every year from 1904 to the present day! From Enrico Caruso to Steve Martin, the festival has hosted and presented stellar talent and performances of all kinds. When I was a kid, it was also one of the best places to go for fireworks every 4th of July!

The festival programs from 1904 through to the 1930s were gorgeous "mini-posters" and designed by well-known Chicago area illustrators. I'd run across them in used bookstores and junk shops where they were usually mixed in with old magazines and comic books. By the time I left for college I'd been able to gather together most of the run. You'll notice names like Hamilton King, James McCracken, Stark Davis and intaglio artist Allan Weary ... There's also a 1930 program cover designed/illustrated by then Chicagoan Hal Foster, who was between Tarzan strip assignments.

If anyone has additional info on any of the covers, artists, etc., please add a comment below !

1906 - Designed by Ward & DeLay and showing views of the pavilion and casino.

1909 - Designed and printed by Barnes & Crosby Co.

Ad for Barnes & Crosby Co.

James McCracken - 1914

Book illustrated by James McCracken

Stark Davis - 1915

Stark Davis illustration used on cover of rare Fortune Magazine prototype (Davis did a stint at the Walt Disney Studios as well).

James McCracken - 1916

Hamilton King - 1917

Coca-Cola tray with illustration by Hamilton King. King was the first illustrator whose signature was used by Coke in advertising/marketing. He created the "Coca-Cola Girl" images used on serving/coin trays, calenders and ads from 1910-1913.



1920 (Harner ?)

1921 (Harner ?)




M. Gundlach - 1925



Allan M. Weary - 1929

Hal Foster - 1930


Designed by Dale Nichols -1939 saw the return of the Ravinia Festival after an 8-year "Depression" gap

I've also included a poster done by Arthur A. Johnson for the CNS&M railroad in 1925 -- you'd think that if anything would be misspelled it WOULDN'T be the name of the park itself! (I'll be doing a separate featured article on this series of posters in the near future).

1925 "Ravina Park" CNS&M poster by Arthur A. Johnson

Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

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J.J. Sedelmaier

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