A Close look at the Distant Past: Uniform Research Report by Chris Nicklas

Chris Nicklas is a local high school student with a passion for history. This summer, we gave him access to one of our uniforms and all the accompanying information. He then traced the uniform’s history through the past and wrote a report on his findings. A big thank you to Chris for his time and energy this summer!


The artifact box that contained the uniform had a card that stated that Frank Garner wore the uniform. The card also stated that Mrs. J. Frank Garner had donated the uniform in 1950. Genealogy research located J. Frank Garner, who was born in New York in 1860.

According to The Biennial Report of the Adjutant General of Illinois to the Governor and Commander-in-Chief 1891 and 1892 Springfield, Illinois: H.W. Bokker, State Printer and Binder. 1893., J. Frank Garner was in the National Guard of Illinois. On June 7, 1886 he was a Private. On June 6, 1889 he was a Sergeant. On June 10, 1889 he re-enlisted. On March 20, 1892 he was a First Lieutenant. He served with the 3rd Infantry Regiment, L Company. There is no record of him serving in any wars.

The Illinois State Marriage Index indicates that J. Frank Garner married Mina (Minnie) S. Beckman on June 13, 1898 in Kankakee. (Found in Volume 00C 00006567).

According to the 1900-1940 censuses, J. Frank Garner lived in Kankakee with his wife Minnie.

In 1924, he was a Post Master of Kankakee Lodge 389 according to the Kankakee Freemason Website.

On December 20 1949, J. Frank Garner died in Kankakee. Minnie died within the year on December 18, 1950. J. Frank Garner is buried in Mound Grove Cemetery, Kankakee, Illinois in Section 19, Lot 79. (Death Certificate #0050503).


The uniform was not a standard-issue uniform. On the tag of the uniform it reads “John G Knecht Kankakee”. Mr. Knecht was a tailor who emigrated from Germany. John Knecht had a large store in Kankakee. The store initially opened in 1857 and burned down in February 1869. He was able to rebuild on the southeast corner of Court Street and East Avenue. It appears the uniform was made by a tailor from John G. Knecht & Co. (1867 Kankakee Illinois Ledger).

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The uniform was triple-breasted. For the time period it was not a common style, except for musicians. The uniform had shoulder straps with the number 3 flanked by a bar on each side. The bar represents the rank of First Lieutenant, while the number 3 represents the regiment number. The front of the uniform has three rows of nine identical buttons each. The cuffs have three buttons each on top of a white trim. (This trim pattern indicates the Infantry branch.) The back of the uniform also has buttons. The collar of the uniform has one button on each side. Also, each shoulder knot has one button near the collar. The pattern of the buttons on the collar is different from the buttons on the rest of the uniform. All of the buttons had eagles on them, however, the eagle on the collar had a different orientation and the shield was offset to the left.


The helmet is an 1881 pattern helmet but has the number 4 on the front eagle plate. The number on the helmet indicates the regiment number, but it conflicts with the number 3 on the shoulder knot and information that he served with the 3rd Infantry.

Throughout all of my research, the only photo of a similar uniform is in a photo of Charles Livingston from Kankakee, who was also in the Illinois National Guard. It is photograph number P1346 in the Kankakee County Museum Photographic Collection. The only difference is a chevron on the sleeve. The portrait of Livingston was taken in 1896, close to the time that J. Frank Garner served (1886-1892).

Insight from an Intern

Here at the museum we have a wide range of volunteer opportunities. As a small historical museum, we would be lost without the help of our volunteers. From cataloging photographs to working festival events, the possibilities are endless, and we always welcome more help. As a curator spending most of my time in the back, I have found that working with the special project interns is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. Special project interns are usually college students volunteering during a school semester or summer break. Projects range from accessioning artifacts to helping install new exhibits. These students bring fresh eyes to every project, different approaches to each obstacle and enthusiasm that often spurs on my own passion for museum work.

One of our summer projects was to catalog every single artifact in the Doctor Small home. Some of our interns, namely Aimee Clayton, took on the near impossible task. She accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time. All the staff had a great time working with her, and we are confident in her abilities to go very far in the museum field. Aimee took the time to write about her experience at the Kankakee County Museum. Thanks again, Aimee!

My Experience with the Kankakee County Museum

Aimee Clayton, Studying Visual Arts Management at Columbia College Chicago

Despite this past summer being my last chance of freedom from being a full-fledged, post-college adult, I, for some reason, felt the need to work, take a summer course, and intern with a local museum. I was fortunate enough to land an opportunity to work in collections with the Kankakee County Museum. As someone looking to work in the museum industry after school, it’s a big deal to have experience in a collections department.

I began in May and was asked to help accession items in the Dr. Small house located on campus. In all honesty it was a daunting task with no promise of being completed before my time there was up, but I loved every second of it. I was given a unique opportunity to explore items from the past at my own pace, all while entering their information into a larger database. Every day I learned about artifacts I never even knew existed and I got to look into Kankakee County’s past. To be given this opportunity to work hands-on with these objects was a gift in itself, but as time passed I began to realize how special this area was and how much potential it still holds. I quickly realized that I lived here my entire life and knew nothing about its story. It was then that I realized that my time at the museum wasn’t just about completing a job. It was learning about the area and understanding why it was so important to preserve.

If the work wasn’t enough to be thankful about, I have to say that I was very fortunate in working with such a happy, motivated, and supportive team. In this particular industry you’ll come across many museums that work beyond their given means to fund what they do best. Their efforts to preserve the past and educate the public are admirable and something every museum should aim to do, no matter their size or nature. I felt so honored to work alongside individuals that valued this little part of the world. Not only do they work tirelessly to safeguard the stories our past, they work to help represent the area as a great place to visit and live. Seeing their passion and supportiveness of one another also reassured me about where I was going career-wise.

It took me just about the entire summer to get through the house. I’ve had a lot of people ask why I chose to work over enjoying my time off from school and I’ll tell you this: when you find something you love doing, you’ll never find it to be extra work or a waste of your time. I wanted the opportunity to help preserve the past a little bit so that future visitors could enjoy it, and the Kankakee County Museum gave me that chance. My time with this organization was unfortunately short-lived, however I cannot even begin to list the ways this experience has helped to develop me both as a person and a professional. Thanks to the Kankakee County Museum I have a newfound appreciation for my home, experience that will give me momentum as I move forward in my line of work, and a revitalized love for the museum world.

Kankakee County Museum’s Guest Curator Project

The Kankakee County Museum is looking for Guest Curators for
our Virtual Museum. Guest Curators are responsible for choosing a
subject relative to Kankakee County, researching and composing a
clear interpretation of the material, and providing photos related to
their subject. To submit your idea, email the Curator of Exhibits at


  • Materials must be relevant to Kankakee County
  • Photo Content: 15-20 photos (Photos must be captioned with what is displayed in the photo and where it was obtained. The Kankakee County Historical Society reserves the right to refuse any guest curator concept for any reason. Curators whose entries are chosen must visit the museum to fill out appropriate paperwork.)
  • Exhibit Content: 1000-1500 words

Please check out the Virtual Museum @ http://www.kankakeecountymuseum.com for ideas on what we are looking for!