Hangin’ with Sue’s Cousin at the Burpee Museum

What:  Burpee Museum of Natural History

Where:  737 N. Main Street, Rockford, IL  (815) 489-7970

When:  Seven days a week, 10am-5pm

Adults: $8
Children 4-7: $7
Children 3 and under: FREE
Members: FREE


I had never heard of the Burpee Museum, but Charles wanted to check it out, and chose it as one of a couple stops in the much-maligned city of Rockford. The name Burpee made me think of Burpee seeds and wonder if it was some kind of plant or farming museum. Apparently it’s named after furniture maker Harry Burpee, no relation to the tomato empire.


Opened in 1942 with funds from Harry Burpee and the Works Progress Administration, the Burpee Museum is four floors of natural history exhibits. Its current star attraction is Jane, the world’s most complete and best preserved juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex in the exhibit Jane: Diary of a Dinosaur. Discovered in Montana in 2001, Jane’s bones have been reconstructed into a fully restored 21 foot skeleton. Jane is about half the size of Sue, the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton housed at Chicago’s Field Museum.

NIU researchers made important discoveries about the juvenile behavior of young T. rexes through the bite wounds on Jane’s nose. “When we looked at the jaw and teeth of Jane, we realized her bite would have produced a very close match to the injuries on her own face,” NIU researcher Joe Peterson said. “That leads us to believe she was attacked by a member of the same species that was about the same age. Because the wound had healed, we think this happened when Jane was possibly a few years younger.” In other words, if I understand correctly, T. rexes may have rumbled with each other to practice their fighting techniques like common house cats.



There was much to learn about dinosaurs. Another exhibit was Homer’s Odyssey: From Badlands to Burpee, which recreates the life of another “teenaged” dinosaur, this time a Triceratops. There was an entire wall covered with different species of Triceratops skulls; I had no idea there was so many, The museum also had exhibits on the Ordovician Sea which millions of years ago covered the land now called Rockford, the living habits of indigenous people, and the local flora and fauna. The top floor had interactive panels that shot out the scent of local flowers and the sounds of local birds. Located as it was right on the Rock River, there was a lovely view out the window of what looked like some kind of outdoor concert area (I could only guess at its purpose as it was way too cold for outdoor shenanigans when we visited).


Homer the Triceratops


The multifaceted Triceratops family

I have to say it was extremely dead the day we visited. We practically had the place to ourselves, which was a little spooky. I don’t know if it’s not a high traffic museum or we just went on an off day (Charles’ Facebook check said there was a Bears game that day). Apparently local legend Rick Nielsen’s exhibit there a couple years back was a big hit


The view out the window of the Rock River

The Burpee Museum has many educational programs for adults and kids, including science workshops for home schooled students, programs for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, as well as virtual field trips for non-locals.


Princeton, Illinois Homestead Festival and Lovejoy Homestead Tour


Lovejoy Homestead, exterior

On Saturday, September 13, I traveled to Princeton, Illinois, for its 43rd annual Homestead Festival.  The festival is named for Princeton’s Lovejoy Homestead, a stop on the historic Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th Century slaves escaping to freedom in the North.  The Homestead is one of five Underground Railroad stops in Illinois.  (Click here for the National Park Service’s interactive map of the Underground Railroad).  The festival commemorates the 1971 restoration of the homestead.

Saturday’s Festival activities started off with the Underground Railroad 5K race at 7 a.m. and rounded out with ‘80s tribute band Hairbanger’s Ball playing ‘til 12:30 a.m.  Other events throughout the day included tours of the high school and library, barbecue courtesy of the Bureau County 4-H Clubs, a blues concert with James Armstrong, and a celebration of Princeton-born screen actor Richard Widmark, including a screening of his biography with a moderated discussion afterward.


Bureau County 4-H Clubs BBQ sandwich

My friend and I mostly wandered the booths at the Beta Sigma Phi Arts and Crafts show.  There was a wide range of offerings, including beautiful handmade wooden furniture, a small (as in, one booth) farmer’s market, a children’s author selling books and associated toys, as well as the best caramel popcorn I’ve ever had (sorry, Garrett’s; though to be fair, you’re a distant memory).  It was fresh, with coating light enough that you could still appreciate the natural popcorn texture.


Produce booth, Beta Sigma Phi Arts and Crafts show

We also checked out the Homestead Festival Parade.  My friend warned we should get seats early, and the fest’s website says, “Parade starts at 1:30 but the lawn chairs start to appear on Friday!”  Being accustomed to city-sized parades, the setup seemed rather spacious to me, with plenty of room for everyone.  It was small enough that parade marchers passing out leaflets handed them directly to individual crowd members.  Lasting about an hour and a half, there was the usual parade fare of local businesses and politicians, local school marching bands, as well as Chicago’s South Shore Drill Team.  Going along with the home/homecoming theme, there were an impressive array of Princeton High School graduation class floats; I spotted at least six, ranging from the ‘60s up to 2009.


Local preschool’s “barrels of fun” float


Local drill team (not the South Shore Drill Team; they showed up later when camera phone was out of juice)


Little candy catcher

After the parade, we stopped at the Lovejoy Homestead.  They’d had a busy day with the festival going on, and we’d arrived when they only had about an hour left.  The actual building is the small, single family home once occupied by the abolitionist, Reverend Owen Lovejoy, his wife Eunice, and their nine children (six of their own and three from her previous marriage).  A paid staff member in each room gave a history of the room’s setup and how daily life was carried out there.

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