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Bradbury’s biographer wants a museum in Waukegan, Ill.

(MCT) — Waukegan, Ill., has two festivals, a park and a library conference room named after Ray Bradbury. But what the town still needs, according to the late author’s biographer, is a Ray Bradbury museum.

Sam Weller, a professor at Columbia College in Chicago who has written two books about the author, said Bradbury had badly wanted a personal museum established in the city where he spent his early years. They had spoken about the subject not long before Bradbury died Tuesday, Weller said.

“Ray Bradbury put Waukegan in many ways on the map,” he said. “There really should be some sort of place that will house his things that could bring people from around the world to reflect on his legacy.”

As it happens, something like that has been in the works. Waukegan Main Street, a nonprofit economic development group that is working to restore the city’s downtown, plans to turn the long-closed Carnegie Library — the brick and limestone building where Bradbury’s childhood imagination got much of its fuel — into a visitors center that would include a section dedicated to the author.

“We know that having Ray Bradbury from here is a real gift and a real draw for Waukegan,” said Violet Ricker, the group’s executive director.

She said the restoration would probably cost several million dollars. The Carnegie Library is no longer in the city’s budget, said Waukegan spokesman David Motley.

Ricker said Waukegan Main Street is now trying to raise money for the project though government and foundation grants.

Museums dedicated to writers and artists have a mixed record in the Chicago area. For 17 years, Woodstock was home to a Dick Tracy museum — its creator, Chester Gould, had been a resident of the McHenry County town — but it closed in 2008 after its popularity ebbed. Rudy Clay, the former mayor of Gary, had pushed for a $300 million museum complex honoring Michael Jackson, but new Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is not pursuing the project, a city spokeswoman said.

In Oak Park, though, the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway and a museum dedicated to the writer attract up to 10,000 visitors a year, said Allison Sansone, administrative director of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park. She said the exhibits can cast a potent spell on visitors.

“We get a lot of school groups (at the birthplace) and tell people, ‘This was the first place where he put pen to paper,’” Sansone said. “This is where he started out and look where he ended up.”

eller envisioned much the same for a center dedicated to Bradbury. He said he would be willing to raise money for it, hitting up wealthy authors and Hollywood filmmakers who have cited Bradbury’s influence on their own work.

He added that he had been newly inspired by a comment on his blog Thursday. A young writer said she had heard Weller giving a radio interview and was inspired to check out Bradbury’s books.

“A museum would be yet another avenue to introduce this man’s life and legacy and monumental accomplishments to kids,” Weller said. “He’s a blueprint to young children who may have (little money) to make something of their lives. That’s what he did; they can do it, too. That would be really cool.”


©2012 Chicago Tribune

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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