The Dredge Tips Hats to the Chicago History Museum




By Judy Carmack Bross




Guild of the Chicago History Museum Program Chair Karen Zupko with Tommy the Real Elf


The Guild of the Chicago History Museum celebrated a true Chicago tradition recently by welcoming the Great Lakes Dredge & Philharmonic Society known as the Dredge back for a holiday performance of carols, wassailing songs, medleys, sing-alongs and a show-stopping “Twelve Days of Christmas,” mixing in magic from Tommy the Elf and seasonal cheer.


Today, on this magical morning, we would love to share their cheer, and if we can’t send along their songs for you, we can show you how much enchantment those men in their signature stovepipe hats and holiday scarves brought to Guild guests.





The Museum honored esteemed the holiday troubadours with a top hat salute—an exhibition from their costume collection of historic hats for guests to preview before the concert.  Surely soignee was a woman’s silk top hat with veil worn by Lucy McCormick Blair Linn, founder of the Junior League of Chicago and the Casino, who wore it while riding sidesaddle in France before World War I.


Costume Collections Manager Jessica Pushor displays some of the top hats in their Chicago History Museum collection


Abraham Lincoln’s own top hat resides at the Chicago History Museum.





Pushor also shared a group of Christmas cards, well over 100 years old, from the Museum’s collection.


History Museum’s Vice President for External Engagement and Development Michael Anderson, Guild President Jill Kirk and Donald Lassere, President and CEO of CHM


Guild President Jill Kirk told us:

“The Guild happily welcomed back the Dredge, for what we hope is now an annual event!  It was a great evening, with voices lifted in song, and families and friends gathering to celebrate the season.  The Guild also highlighted our most recent efforts to help care for CHM’s collections — the restoration of the 1893 L Car, the centerpiece of the museum’s crossroads exhibit which once took visitors to the World’s Fair.  The Guild has pledged to raise $200,000 toward the restoration, which is scheduled to be completed by museum staff by spring 2024.”


Guild members Elizabeth Richter, Lynn Orschel, Connie Barkley, Mary Kay Wysham, and Sally Sprowl


“The Great Lakes Dredge & Philharmonic Society was delighted to sing at the Chicago History Museum again the year. It was so appropriate to celebrate our 90th Christmas season this year at the Chicago History Museum. We always look forward to bringing the joy of the Christmas season to those that gather at the Museum for this annual event,” Jim Dickerson, the Dredge’s Managing Director who who has sung with the beloved group for almost 50 years told us. He shared a little of the Dredge’s history: 


“The Great Lakes Dredge & Philharmonic Society was founded by eight gentlemen in 1934 as a men’s chorus devoted to Christmas music. Architects John Root, Walter Frazier, Noel Flint and John Cromelin, stock broker Paget Cady, real estate executives Louis Sudler and John Winterbotham, and retail great Earl Kribben met over a meal at The Tavern Club in Chicago to find a way to brighten the dark days of the Great Depression. It was serendipity that at a crucial moment the participants saw a Great Lakes dredge boat out on the lake pass by their window. The singing group was named.”


In earlier times Dredgers sang through the Gold Coast neighborhood at houses where candles were lit to welcome them


Through the years the Dredge, now with 75 members, has expanded repertoire and locations, from caroling outside Gold Coast homes to performing at hospitals, cultural institutions, senior facilities, and children’s wards. Several singers are now non-residents but return to Chicago each holiday season to perform. Under the direction of Classically trained music director Dan Robinson and choirmaster and accompanist Roger Stanley, author of many of their marvelous medleys, the group make weekly rehearsals, beginning each October, count.



Dredge historian Bob Wittebort has written, “Ranging from the boisterous to reverential, The Dredge has sung in unison and in six parts or more, sometimes intentionally, in English, Latin, French, German, Italian and, in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ at least nine other languages. The season’s bountiful musical tradition offers treasures aplenty for singers.”



In celebration of its 90th season, the Dredge has recorded an album of their repertoire. It is available for streaming and download.




To learn more about the Chicago History Museum visit: