Explore the Gorgeous Artwork of Vintage Ravinia Program Books

By J.J. Sedelmaier

A bit of history: Ravinia 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 a 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

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 the 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 [though not by the modern definition], stadium, music pavilion, and a theater that hosted 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, Ravinia has been presenting concerts 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 Fourth of July!

The covers of Ravinia’s programs from its opening in 1904 through the 1930s were gorgeous “mini-posters” 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.


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.

1914 - James McCracken

Book illustrated by James McCracken

1915 - Stark Davis

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

1916 – James McCracken

1917 – Hamilton King

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, calendars, and ads from 1910 to 1913.



1920 (Harner?)








1930 – Hal Foster


1939 – With a design by Dale Nichols, 1939 saw the return of imagery to the Ravinia program cover, the festival having just reopened in 1936 following four years of being shuttered by the Depression.

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

This article originally appeared in PrintMag and has been reprinted with the permission of the author. Read the original article here.