Waukegan celebrates Ray Bradbury’s 102nd birthday

The influence of world-renowned author and Waukegan native Ray Bradbury is felt across the city and it will be amplified on Saturday with three events in honor of his 102nd birthday on Monday.

A literary walk with live actors in downtown Waukegan, photo ops at the Ray Bradbury Experience Museum on Genesee Street, and the Dandelion Wine Arts and Music Festival in Bowen Park will offer different insights into the late author’s creativity .

While these events are happening, the monthly ArtWauk will also be taking place in downtown Waukegan as well as the Afro Fest with African American entertainment on Waukegan Beach.

In addition to several block parties across the city, Mayor Ann Taylor said she is hosting 12 events on Saturday — a record since taking office — and plans to dedicate time to each.

“It’s a great opportunity to see your neighbors and get together with people,” Taylor said. “I’ll do anything, especially the Carnegie,” she added, referring to the former home of the Waukegan Public Library, now owned by the Waukegan Park District.

The Carnegie Library, located on the northwest corner of Sheridan Road and Washington Street, is one of five stops on the Park District’s Literary Walk at downtown locations between 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday . Live actors will portray scenes from the Bradbury books.

Park District director of cultural arts Ty Rohrer said this would be the last chance for the public to see the building before it is renovated and becomes the new home of the Waukegan History Museum.

Rohrer said a scene from “Something Wicked This Way Comes” will be performed in a play that had a major influence on Bradbury as a child. It takes place in the fictional town of Green Town, inspired by the Waukegan of the late author’s youth.

“This is the room where Ray Bradbury fell in love with reading,” Rohrer said.

At Ray Bradbury Park — located near Park Avenue and Washington — Rohrer said people will see storyteller Megan Wells playing Lavinia Nebbs, a character from Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine,” also located in Green Town.

“It’s a national literary landmark,” Rohrer said. “The Ravine Steps are the ones Ray Bradbury walked as a boy.”

A scene from “Fahrenheit 451,” a novel written by Bradbury in 1953 that became a movie in 2018, will be played in the courtyard of the Waukegan Public Library, just south of a 12-foot statue of the author at aboard a spaceship.

A block east of the library in Jack Benny Plaza, Rohrer said two actors will portray a scene from Bradbury’s 1950 “The Martian Chronicles.” Written more than 20 years before Americans landed on the Moon is the story of the landing of humans on Mars.

“Two astronauts land on Mars and say, ‘This looks a lot like Green Town on Earth,'” Rohrer said.

Rohrer said the literary walk’s fifth stop is at Academy Square, just north of Jack Benny Plaza on Genesee. Rather than describing something from Bradbury’s work, a narrator will talk about the author’s childhood with a quarter-string playing in the background.

Also sponsored by the Park District, the Dandelion Wine Arts and Music Festival takes place between noon and 4 p.m. in Bowen Park with a variety of musicians, art projects and vendors offering a variety of items.

Park District cultural affairs specialist Angela Marcum said the event began in 1999 but has not taken place for the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic. While honoring Bradbury’s birthday, she sought out a diverse group of performers.

Marcum said Jerom Bay, a Ugandan dancer, will perform an indigenous dance and Zion Ari will bring his acoustic guitar music which is heavy with storytelling. There will be approximately 10 artists showing their work as well as family art projects.

“They will bring a variety of art from the LGBTQ, Hispanic and other communities,” Marcum said.

The Ray Bradbury Experience Museum will present “Imagination on Fire” from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sandy Petroshius, chair of the museum’s committee, said fire is a good way to portray the late author’s imagination. People will be able to take photos with themselves and life-size cut-outs of Bradbury’s books.

“People think fire is destructive like burning books,” Petroshius said, referring to the “Fahrenheit 451” topic. “Ray Bradbury’s mind burned with the fire of imagination.”

Petroshius said characters from “Fahrenheit 451,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and a dinosaur will be among the cutouts.

ArtWauk, the monthly celebration of art in Waukegan, takes place from 5-9 p.m. at various locations in downtown Waukegan. David Motley, the city’s public relations director, said some of the highlights are an exhibit at Dandelion Gallery, another at Kapheim Studio, and pop-up booths at Art Park near Washington and Genesee.

For those who want to experience Lake County’s biggest gathering of African-American music, Motley said they can attend Afro Fest between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. at the Stiner Pavilion in Waukegan Beach.

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