ELMHURST – The COVID-19 pandemic may have prevented families from racking up the miles on summer road trips, but a new exhibit at the Elmhurst History Museum aims to relieve that nagging feeling to escape for the summer months.
The Great Midwestern Road Trip exhibit has been keeping the museum staff busy for years as staff members tossed around ideas on what it may look like, Executive Director Dave Oberg said. The timing of the exhibit, however, happened to align with a time when families are looking for ways to travel without quite traveling, he said.
“We couldn’t have planned the timing better despite hard times,” Oberg said. “We’re really hoping families can live vicariously through the exhibit, and who knows? Maybe 2020 will be the rebirth of the family road trip.”
The exhibit at the museum, 120 E. Park Ave. in downtown Elmhurst, explores the history of the classic family road trip from the 1940s through the 1970s and was inspired by the popular community saying that “All roads lead to Elmhurst.” Oberg said a staff road trip down Route 66 in September 2019 helped inspire many of the design elements in the exhibit.
The exhibit includes historic accounts of the birth of the chain motel and interstate system. There is a mock Texaco station that Oberg said evokes feelings of the 1950s and 1960s.
“Asking me to pick my favorite part of the exhibit is like asking me to pick my favorite child,” he said.
While the exhibit is designed to bring about feelings of fun and nostalgia, Oberg said it also highlights some deeper discussions in post-World War II vacation history.
One example, he said, is a discussion on the “Green Book,” a travel guide written during the Jim Crowe era that detailed where Black families could expect to receive relatively safe service on their vacations.
“There’s some serious meat and history to this exhibit, [and] it really evolved as our team researched it,” Oberg said. “We’ve got a tremendous team that really planned this together holistically, and so we ended up getting a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”
Online reservations are required to attend the exhibit, and visits are capped at one hour. Parties are limited to five people, and only 15 visitors are allowed in the museum per hour to help keep visitors safe and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidelines. All visitors are required to wear face masks for entry.
If residents aren’t feeling secure enough to stop by, the museum is providing online programming. Oberg said the hope is that the exhibit will scratch the travel itch for those ready to come by but also will be inclusive for those wishing to stay home.
“You don’t have to come to the gallery to experience it,” he said. “We’re having a lot of fun with this one, and [we’re] trying to make this a group experience for anyone who wants to be part of it.”
Museum hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The museum is closed Monday.