Sock Monkey Madness
Rockford, Ill. celebrates a cottage industry
By Jen Danzinger
5th Annual Sock Monkey Madness: Under the Big Top
March 7-8, 2009
Admission: $7 for adults
$4 for children and students
Free for museum members
Midway Village Museum
6799 Guilford Road
Rockford, IL 61107
This March, more than 1,500 people from across the United States will arrive in Rockford to celebrate a unique part of America’s history: the sock monkey. The Midway Village Museum hosts an annual weekend-long festival where crafty fans, young and old, can participate in themed events about the beloved stuffed animal.
“The Sock Monkey Madness Festival has enriched the Rockford region by educating the public regarding this special part of forgotten local history, thus giving the city national attention as ‘The Home of the Sock Monkey,’” says Mark Herman, Curator of Education at the Midway Village Museum.
What brings the sock monkey enthusiasts, Herman says, “is a combination of nostalgia because this is something that’s been going on for generations. They might have had one as a child, or their grandmother made them one. It’s unique to Rockford and has a little touch of history to it. People are coming back to the roots of where it all started.”
From 1932 until 1992, Rockford was home to the Nelson Knitting Company, the only manufacturer of Red Heel Socks (necessary for the signature red mouth and behind of the sock monkey). While sock dolls had long been a staple of Americana folk art, it was the inclusion of the official pattern with every package of Red Heels that made the sock monkey a national star in the 1950s.
“The interest in creating a uniquely American handmade doll is still around to this day,” Herman says.
Since many of the sock monkeys from the 1950s were designed as clowns and acrobats, “Under the Big Top,” was chosen as this year’s theme. Circus-themed monkeys, as well as other animals, such as the sock elephant, will be in their element under indoor tents and surrounded by circus decorations and music.
Highlights include an international film festival, featuring short movies starring creatures of the sock persuasion. Sick monkeys in need of repair can get a free check up at the Sockford General Hospital. A new event this year is book signings by several authors of sock monkey books.
Monkeys of all ages (and their owners) are welcome to show off their personalities, talents or good looks in the Mr/Ms Sockford Pageant. Last year’s youth division winner was Monkey Jackson, “with a great dance number to the song ‘Billie Jean,’ complete with moon walking, a fedora hat and a single silver glove,” recalls Herman.
One of the most popular items on the weekend agenda is the “Make-A-Monkey” workshop. Guided by expert Midway Village “Monkey Mavens,” participants will learn how to make their very own sock monkey from scratch.
Not up to the challenge of sewing one together in the matter of a couple hours? Fully-formed sock monkeys manufactured from official Red Heel Socks will be for sale, along with many accoutrements, such as hats, clothes and sock monkey themed items hand crafted by visiting vendors.
Don’t miss your chance to monkey around at the Midway Village Museum!
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