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  • Janet Miller

Stories of Nettie: Hinsdale's Re-Life Li'l Sebastian

If you're a fan of the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, you may remember the recurring character Li'l Sebastian: a mini-horse that is practically the town's mascot. Well, Hinsdale had its own real donkey mascot: Nettie!


Dr. and Mrs. Lawton and their 8 children lived in the house on the west side of Washington Street just north of Chicago Avenue. In 1910, Dr. Lawton bought a donkey named Nettie as a pet for his children. For the next 22 years, Nettie was a part of village life. She seemed to be everywhere--hauling the Lawton children on errands, delivering laundry, decked out for the 4th of July parade, or just taking happy youngsters up and down the street in her small cart.


Mary Lawton seated on Nettie at the Lawton home, circa 1910. Photo from the Hinsdale Historical Society's Archives.
Mary Lawton seated on Nettie at the Lawton home, circa 1910. Photo from the Hinsdale Historical Society's Archives.

Timmy Lawton with Nettie at the 1920 4th of July parade. Photo from the Hinsdale Historical Society's Archives.
Timmy Lawton with Nettie at the 1920 4th of July parade. Photo from the Hinsdale Historical Society's Archives.

The Lawton boys taught Nettie tricks: their favorite being that of having her play dead and not rise until they told her to. Several times they had Nettie “die” (play dead) at the intersection of Washington and Chicago Avenue while they disappeared for lunch.


Nettie playing dead at the intersection of Washington and Chicago Avenue in 1912. Photo from the Hinsdale Historical Society's Archives.
Nettie playing dead at the intersection of Washington and Chicago Avenue in 1912. Photo from the Hinsdale Historical Society's Archives.

Once some enthusiastic boys borrowed Nettie for a program to be held in the 3rd floor gymnasium of Garfield School. When she went upstairs, Nettie was all docile. For the descent, well, as everybody learned sooner or later, when Nettie did not deign to move, she did not move. As the audience filed out, Nettie sat on her haunches at the top of the stairs and brayed at them. The boys puzzled over the matter until someone suggested they get some wrestling mats and coax her onto one of them. This was done, and Nattie was laboriously, but rather royally, slid down both flights of stairs.



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