— The Halloween Tree
We had pulled into town the night before, beat from a day in Chicago. Our first experiences with Bradbury’s birthplace were a few strip malls, a hotel interior, and a coyote that crossed the street in front of the hotel to disappear into the tall weeds.
Later that night, during a thunderstorm…well, I’ve told that story already. First thing on our docket the next morning, though, was to revisit the park and its very special ravine to see it in the light of day.
Ray Bradbury Park was originally named Powell Park in 1891, after a former mayor and seashell dealer who gave the land to the city. In 1990, they renamed it Ray Bradbury Park (Powell already had a second park named after him). Ray Bradbury Park is small, has a playground, and is bordered on three sides by houses. A low, wooden sign proclaims its name, a sign behind which Bradbury himself stood for a photo op during the dedication.
A cement path leads to the back of the park, where a series of cement steps descend into a ravine that Bradbury crossed many times as a boy and which he featured in both The Halloween Tree and Dandelion Wine, among other stories. A large placard at the top of the steps tell the story of the park and Bradbury’s connection to it. A few steps away was a plaque on a low rock that honored, “This voice of imagination that speaks for Green Town and for the universe.”
In the night, the ravine had been a monstrous abyss. In the daylight, the creek and bridge and steep steps up the opposite slope looked welcoming. A small wooden sign at the base of the crumbling old steps read, “Dandelion Trail.” Looking up at them, I couldn’t understand how I’d made it up and down in the dark the previous night. In the rain. With smooth-soled shoes. Maybe I’d died there. Maybe I was a ghost that morning. Maybe I should leave the stories to Ray Bradbury. Maybe I should leave the park…and head to the author’s birth home.
But that wasn’t Bradbury’s library, anyway. This building was built in 1965, about three decades after Bradbury had become an Angelino. Bradbury’s childhood library is an abandoned but grand edifice a couple of streets over. It dates to 1902 and is one of the famous Carnegie libraries. I could still see evidence of its past life in the windows, boxes of books and posters that encouraged reading. A group is right now attempting to transform the derelict building into a museum of sorts called the Ray Bradbury Playhouse of the Mind.
The way I see it, Waukegan, Illinois, exists in three ways. The way it was during Ray Bradbury’s time. The way it is today. And the way Ray Bradbury envisioned it. You can visit the latter anytime by picking up one of his books. You can visit the middle version by just traveling there. And the first, well, you’ll need a time machine for that one. Just don’t step on any butterflies when you go.
Live forever, Ray Bradbury.
- Ray Bradbury Park: North Park Ave.
- Bradbury Birth Home: 11 South St. James St.
- Home of Bradbury’s Grandparents: 619 Washington St.
- Carnegie Library: 1 North Sheridan Rd.
- Genesee Theatre: 203 North Genesee St.
- Academy Theatre Site: 202 N. Genesee St.
- Waukegan Mural: Genesee St. and W. Clayton St.
- Walk of Stars: Haig Paravonian Park, N. Sheridan Rd.
- Train Mural: N. Sheridan Rd. and W. Clayton St.
- Green Town Tavern: 110 S. Genesee St.