The largest collection of sock monkeys in the world? Guinness declares it's in Long Grove
Sock Monkeys are counted by Guinness World Records representatives Chloe McCarthy, left, and Hannah Ortman at the Sock Monkey Museum in Long Grove on Thursday. The museum officially set the world record with 2,098 sock monkeys. John Starks | Staff Photographer
Sock Monkeys are recorded by Guinness World Records adjudicator Hannah Ortman at the Sock Monkey Museum in Long Grove on Thursday. John Starks | Staff Photographer
A sock monkey filled with sawdust from the 1930s is one of the oldest at the Sock Monkey Museum in Long Grove. John Starks | Staff Photographer
Arlene Okun displays two of her designs Thursday at the Sock Monkey Museum in Long Grove. John Starks | Staff Photographer
One of several rooms at the Sock Monkey Museum in Long Grove, which set a record Thursday for the largest homemade sock money collection in the world. John Starks | Staff Photographer
Guinness representative Hannah Ortman, left, with Arlene Okun and the plaque certifying a new Guinness World Record for the Sock Monkey Museum in Long Grove. Courtesy of Michael Okun.
Sock monkeys were hanging from the rafters Thursday at the Sock Monkey Museum in Long Grove.
They also were spilling out of barrels, hanging from decorative trees and tucked into innumerable nooks, crannies and display cases throughout Michael and Arlene Okun's museum at 210 Robert Parker Coffin Road.
And now the monkeys are in the Guinness World Records.
Guinness representatives Hannah Ortman and Chloe McCarthy were at the museum Thursday counting sock monkeys and adding up the total. The result was a world record in a new category: the largest collection of handmade sock monkeys in the world.
The museum far exceeded the benchmark of 1,000 set by Guinness, with 2,098 official sock monkeys.
One wouldn't blame the Okuns from repairing to Mike's nearby Chatterbox of Long Grove to celebrate by lifting a pint of Guinness. It was a satisfying culmination to an odyssey that began for the Hawthorn Woods couple in 2006.
"We were traveling across the country in an RV, and we stopped at a Cracker Barrel, and I bought my first one," Arlene said. The sock monkey became their mascot on the road.
Not satisfied with taking cute pictures with the monkey, "I started to look into the history, and I found that they are tied to not only Americana but also Illinois," she said.
That history is lovingly traced at the museum in displays that include artifacts such as a vintage sewing machine and an antique radio.
The museum tells the story of John Nelson, who came to the U.S. from Sweden and settled in Rockford in 1857. In 1865, he began work on improving an automatic sock knitting machine, and in 1880, he started the Nelson Knitting Company, which later began adorning its socks with its trademark red heels.
During the Great Depression, families fashioned homemade toys for children from the socks with the red heels, creating dolls by stuffing them with household items such as sawdust, nylons, rice or foam. The red heels became the mouth of each sock monkey.
The Okuns grew their collection over the years through visits to estate sales, garage sales and antique stores.
The museum opened last year in the former location of the Pine Cone Christmas Shop. Virtually every available space is filled with sock monkeys of seemingly every variety the imagination can conceive.
There's even an entire display of Mayberry-themed sock monkeys from "The Andy Griffith Show," including an Aunt Bee sock monkey with Colonel Harvey's elixir.
"I needed to get these out of the house," Michael said, explaining the museum's genesis. "(Arlene) was, like, 'Can you put an addition on the house?' I said, 'No, but there are some buildings in Long Grove that would be a perfect museum for you.'"
The idea of going for the record, he said, stemmed from the realization that his wife probably had more sock monkeys than anyone else on the planet.
"That's when I reached out to Guinness. And it took a year and a half, because they literally had to open a category," he said.Guidelines: