Cemetery walk part of this year’s Raggedy Rally in Arcola | Local News

ARCOLA — Johnny Gruelle, who created the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls in the early part of the last century, will return to Arcola with his wife, Myrtle, on Saturday.

At least in spirit.

Jim and Sheila Gustafson of Alton will portray the Gruelles during a cemetery walk as part of the Douglas County community’s annual Raggedy Rally.

The Gruelle family was a creative bunch, with one being a newspaper editor in Arcola, another a famous impressionist artist and another a singer, vaudeville artist and cartoonist.

Rides to the cemetery walk at Arcola Township Cemetery will leave the Best Western parking lot at 2, 3 and 4 pm

John Barton Gruelle, born Dec. 24, 1880, in Arcola, drew the black eyes, red-triangle nose and separated mouth on a rag doll that his daughter, Marcella, found in her grandmother’s attic. The doll, which he called “Raggedy Ann,” was so popular with his daughter that he patented it in 1915.

The dolls and some of their friends came to life in stories that Gruelle told his daughter. He later wrote children’s books featuring the characters.

Gruelle was an illustrator for an Indianapolis tabloid, won a national comic-drawing contest and went to work for The New York Herald. He drew the popular Sunday “Mr. Twee Deedle” comic.

Roberta Brennan, a member of the cemetery-walk committee, said people were checking into hotels as early as Tuesday for the Raggedy event, which doesn’t start until Thursday.

There are some avid Raggedy Ann and Andy fans out there. Think “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” fans, Brennan said, although the passage of time might have dampened some of the Raggedy fandom’s zeal.

Thursday will include an early-bird get-together where people can grab food and meet at the Arcola downtown pavilion on Oak Street.

Friday events include a nickle auction at 2 pm at the downtown pavilion and a banquet dinner at 6 pm at Yoder’s Kitchen in Arcola.

On Saturday, the raggedy market will be open from 9 am to 2 pm at The Arcola Center.

This marks the first year for the afternoon cemetery walk. The former Rockome Gardens train, now owned by Steve Kauffman, will provide rides to the cemetery from the Arcola Best Western. The ride is free, although donations will be accepted.

Other members of the talented Gruelle family will be represented at the walk. One will be John Marshall Gruelle, former editor of the Arcola Record, portrayed by Greg Saunders.

Mike Brennan and Linda Glenn will portray Richard Buckner Gruelle, who was known as “RB,” and his wife, Alice.

“RB was very well known,” Brennan said. “He was one of The Hoosier Group” — five well-known impressionist painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Brennan said RB initially worked as a house painter before becoming well known as a landscape artist. Some of his paintings are featured in Indiana museums.

“He was a self-taught artist,” Brennan said.

Another member of the Gruelle family, Prudence Jeanette Gruelle Brown, will be portrayed by Carolyn Cloyd. Brown was a singer, cartoonist and former vaudeville performer.

Issy Spracklen will portray Marcella Delight Gruelle, daughter of Johnny and Myrtle Gruelle. It was for Marcella that her father made the first Raggedy Ann doll. She died at age 13.

The rally is sponsored by the Arcola Chamber of Commerce.

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