Atlas Obscura is a site that features articles about unusual events and people past and present as well as locations around the world. Recently, they expanded to include city-based branches that organize events. This past Saturday afternoon, I took one of the tours that Atlas Obscura Chicago arranged. It was entitled “Ray Bradbury’s Waukegan,” and was led by Ty Rohrer, Manager of Cultural Arts for the Waukegan Park District.
Bradbury was born in Waukegan on August 22, 1920 and lived there until he was fourteen years old, when his family moved to California. But he always remembered his birthplace, which he renamed Green Town and featured in novels such as Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. During the hour-long walking tour, we visited some of the places Bradbury would’ve known as a child, such as the Genesee Theater, the Carnegie Library, and Powell Park, which was renamed Ray Bradbury Park in 1990. It’s a small neighborhood park, which contains the eerie ravine mentioned in Dandelion Wine. When we gathered there, Tour Guide Ty read the excerpt in which one of the characters encounters the killer known as “The Lonely One.” Then we walked that same path, now named Dandelion Trail: down jagged flagstone steps, across a short wooden bridge that spanned a narrow stream, then up the steep stone flight described in the excerpt. The place is lovely in daytime, but Bradbury’s nighttime description renders it quite the opposite. The darkness. The uneven footing. Racing thoughts of a killer on the loose.
We also visited the Waukegan Public Library’s Stimson Sculpture Garden, which contains several figures that celebrate the joy of reading. The library also possesses some Bradbury memorabilia, including his last typewriter.
After the tour, we visited the future site of the Ray Bradbury Experience Museum, which in addition to some memorabilia will feature interactive exhibits based on The Martian Chronicles and other works. I signed up for updates about the museum, which is scheduled to open in 2020, the 100th anniversary of Bradbury’s birth.
After dumping rain off and on for several days, the weather decided to cooperate for the duration of the tour. It was chilly, but the liquid stopped falling from the sky and for a short time watery sunlight pushed back the gloom. I learned of the tour on Atlas Obscura Chicago’s Facebook page, and I’m glad I went. I’ve read a number of Bradbury’s short stories over the years, but none of his novels. Something Wicked This Way Comes, about which Stephen King waxed lyrical in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre, is near the top of the TBR pile. I think I need to move it up. Then there’s Dandelion Wine. I really need to read that, too.