Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History

What do Shemp, Moe, and Curly Howard from the Three Stooges; the violinist, Jascha Heifetz; the American, singers Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen; and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, all have in common?  The answer is that all of these men have Litvak, or Lithuanian Jewish, decent.

According to the World Jewish Congress, today (in 2021), approximately 2,700 to 6,500 Jews live in Lithuania.  However, as the map from the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center indicates in the photo below, prior to World War II, Lithuania once had approximately 168,000 Jews.  By the end of WWII, in 1945, approximately 143,000 Jewish people had been murdered in Lithuania during the Holocaust, making the death rate over 90%.  Many of those deaths occurred in and around Lithuania’s capital of Vilnius (also known as Vilna), since 45% of that city’s population used to be Jewish. In fact, Vilnius used to be called “the Jerusalem of Lithuania.”  Sadly, Lithuania had a higher percentage of local people who collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust than did most of the other Nazi-controlled countries during WWII.

This is a section of a map at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center entitled, “Destruction of the Jewish Communities during the Holocaust.”

After WWII, Lithuania fell into the hands of the Soviet Union, making it closed off to the rest of the world.  However, Lithuania gained its independence in 1990, with the fall of the Soviet Union.  In 1989, a year before gaining its independence, Lithuania opened a museum in Vilnius dedicated to preserving Lithuania’s Jewish history.  Strangely, I am having trouble finding out what the original name of the museum was, but in 1997, it became the Vilna Gaon State Museum.  That is because 1997 marked the 200-year anniversary of the death of the Vilna Gaon.  The Vilna Gaon was, perhaps, Lithuania’s most famous Jewish resident.  He was an eighteenth-century Jewish scholar with a photographic memory.  In 2020, the Vilna Gaon State Museum again renamed itself.  Now, it is called the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History.

This is the Tolerance Center building of the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History.

I had the wonderful privilege of visiting the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History’s main building, called the Tolerance Center, in 2017.  This large building has historically belonged to the Jewish community for over a century, and was even a Jewish theater at one point.

In my opinion, the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History’s highlight is a display of objects that still exist from the Great Synagogue of Vilna.  Built in the 1630s, the Great Synagogue was lamentably demolished by the Soviets in the 1950s.  Although the Soviets built a school over it, a team of archaeologists recently began excavating the surrounding area in 2016.  In November of 2020, I was able to watch a pre-screening of the first half of a new documentary called The Secrets of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, which is about the excavations.  The full documentary is scheduled for release this spring (of 2021). From the documentary, I learned that much of the Great Synagogue was built below the ground, meaning that people descended into the sanctuary. This allowed the sanctuary to look huge from the inside, while still following building regulations in which a synagogue could not be taller than a church.

These were the doors of the Torah’s ark at the Great Synagogue of Vilna.

Another major exhibit at the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History is an area full of panels describing the history of Lithuanian Jewry.  The only downside to this particular exhibit is that there is a lot of text to read.  After a while, I became tired looking up at all of the panels, so I eventually sped read through it.  Other parts of the museum include a short documentary that you can watch, and photos of Jewish life in Lithuania prior to WWII.

In addition to the Tolerance Center, the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History owns several other buildings as well.  Most of these buildings’ exhibits are not ready for the public yet but will focus on different aspects of Lithuania’s Jewish history.  The Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History also owns the Memorial Museum of Paneriai, which is a mass grave where the Nazis murdered many of Vilnius’ Jews.  I wanted to visit Paneriai, but, unfortunately, did not have the time.

Only one synagogue out of Vilnius’ 100 still remains. This is the Choral Synagogue, which was built in 1903. Unfortunately, its entrance had scaffolding when I visited.

When I went to visit Lithuania, I honestly had low expectations, but the country exceeded my expectations.  Not only is Vilnius a GORGEOUS city, but I saw more Jewish history publicly displayed there than I had anticipated that I would.

Sources and Further Reading
David, Jono. “Virtual Jewish World: Vilnius (Vilna), Lithuania.” Jewish Virtual Library. (accessed January 22, 2021).

Levin, Don. “Lithuania.” The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Translated by Rami Hann. (accessed January 22, 2021).

“Lithuania.” World Jewish Congress. (accessed January 22, 2021).

Nadler, Allan. “Litvak.” The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. (accessed January 22, 2021).

“The Secrets of the Great Synagogue of Vilna.” The Vilna Shul. (accessed January 22, 2021).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Lithuania.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. (accessed January 22, 2021).

Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History. (accessed January 22, 2021).

“Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.” Association of European Jewish Museums. (accessed January 22, 2021).

“Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum to be Known as the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History.” Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History. May 4, 2020. (accessed January 22, 2021).

Wein, Berel and Yaakov Astor. “The Gaon of Vilna.” Jewish History. (accessed January 22, 2021).

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birth Home

Since it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States this coming Monday, and since it is his birthday, I wanted to write about his birth home.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.  He lived in the home of his birth for the first twelve years of his life.  Today, the home is owned by the National Park Service, where park rangers give free, 30-minute tours to visitors.  Although people cannot visit the home in person currently, because of COVID-19, park rangers are providing free virtual tours to organized groups.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his prominent role in the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  His work helped pave the way for the U.S. government to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Not everyone appreciated his activism.  On April 4, 1968, a man named James Earl Ray assassinated King in Memphis, Tennessee.

King’s home is a popular tourist destination, so those wanting a free tour should come early in the morning.  Only fifteen people can join a tour at a time, and it is based on a first-come, first-served basis.  My tour guide tried his best to give my group a personal experience.  Before we began, he asked each of us on the tour where we were from, perhaps to help us feel more comfortable to ask questions.

As we went through the two-story home, we learned more about the history of the King family, especially regarding King’s childhood.  My tour guide informed us that the stories he told us were based on what he had learned from speaking with King’s older sister, Christine, who is still alive today (as of January, 2021).  The way the National Park decorated the home is also based on Christine’s memories.  She has been an invaluable resource to them.

About a block away from King’s home is the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King’s grandfather and father both served as pastors.  King also co-served there with his father when he was younger.  Eventually, King earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University, and then became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  Like King’s birth home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church is also owned by the National Park Service.  Visitors are welcome to enter it.  King gave his first sermon there, and his funeral was also held there.  Today, this historic church is only used on special occasions, while a newer building across the street is typically used by the congregation instead.  King’s sister is still a member of that congregation.

In addition to King’s birth home and church, the National Park Service also maintains a visitor center, which has a little museum that tells the story of King and the Civil Rights movement.  Not far from there are the graves of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King.  A fountain surrounds their graves, providing a peaceful resting place to a man who lived during turbulent times.

Sources and Further Reading
“Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home.” National Park Service. (accessed January 13, 2021).

“Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home Tours.” National Park Service. (accessed January 13, 2021).

“Martin Luther King, Jr. Current Conditions.” National Park Service. (accessed January 13, 2021).

“Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site.,Auburn%20Avenue%20and%20Jackson%20Street. National Park Service. (accessed January 13, 2021).

Northwestern’s University and Deering Libraries

Founded in 1851 in Evanston, Illinois (a Chicago suburb), Northwestern University ranks among the top universities in the United States.  In the tradition of all great universities, Northwestern has an amazing library system of over six million electronic and print resources.  The main library building, University Library, was built in 1970, although it is connected to the original 1933 library, the Charles Deering Memorial Library.  In addition to the main library complex, Northwestern also has a few other libraries (e.g. a law library, a theological library, etc.) located at its main Evanston campus and its other campuses.  Since I have only visited the University Library/Deering Library, this post will only be about that.

Northwestern’s University Library is in the background.

The University Library is a huge five-story building.  There are computers and public spaces on the first two floors, and even a café.  Additionally, the second floor has a nice study space area that overlooks both a campus pond and Lake Michigan.  However, finding your way into that space, as well as most other areas in the library, can be difficult.  The Library is somewhat like a maze.  Once you enter the library stacks, where the books are, the situation does not improve much.  Most of the books are in circular rooms, making it hard to tell where the entrances and exits are.  Each circular room is dedicated to a different subject.  For instance, one room is solely dedicated to history, so all of the books’ spines are labeled in the 900s range of the Dewey Decimal classification system, whereas another room is solely dedicated to literature, etc.  To make matters more confusing, I noticed that the newer books are being categorized in the Library of Congress classification system, while the older books are still in the Dewey Decimal system.  The fifth floor of the library houses two specialized collections: the Transportation Library and the Melville J. Herskovitz Library of African Studies.

This is one of the archways at the front entrance to the Deering Memorial Library. I believe the designs include scenes from Aesop’s fables.

The University Library connects to the Deering Library from the third floor, and I think from the main floor as well (but I cannot remember if this 100% true).  This beautiful building houses the Music collection (in scary windowless rooms), the Art collection, and the McCormick Library of Special Collections and University Archives.  I tried to visit the Special Collections the last time I was at the Deering Library, but unfortunately, the old building was plagued with water damage, so the collections were temporarily moved elsewhere.  However, I did see the Special Collections reading room.  The Special Collections apparently houses the Leopold and Loeb Collections (see my post about Rosehill Cemetery to learn more about them), the Manzanar Relocation Camp Collection (a Japanese internment camp in the U.S. during WWII), a Spanish Civil War collection, and many other collections.  Although I was not able to see any items from the Special Collections, a friendly librarian did give my friends and I a tour of the University Archives.  That collection is solely dedicated to the history of Northwestern University.

This fireplace is in the Special Collections’ reading room. Read the two lines on the left together, and the two lines on the right together. Otherwise, it might sound like the library burns books!
This is the reading room of the Deering Memorial Library.

One time, a coworker and I needed to learn more about mold control and conservation efforts for books at our library, so we contacted Northwestern University’s conservation lab.  The staff there were amazing.  They invited us to their lab, which is in the lower level of the University Library, and gave us a tour.  They then gave us pointers on how to best take care of our old books.  The goal of conservation is to increase a book’s lifespan for as long as possible.  While we were at the lab, we witnessed someone slowly removing tape from a book using heat, because adhesive residue from tape can eventually cause damage to paper.  We also saw someone removing photos from an old scrapbook for the same reason.  Damaged books from both the circulating collections as well as the special collections are ultimately sent to the conservation lab for repairs.  As I watched a staff member try to restore an old book, I realized that a conservationist needs to have both patience and artistic skills in order to succeed.

This is the main entryway of the Deering Memorial Library, which includes a replica of the Guttenberg Press (I think to the right).

Because it is an interest of mine, I would like to note that the University Library is one of two sites in the state of Illinois that provides people with access to the 52,000 video testimonies about the Holocaust conducted by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation from 1994-1999.  The other Illinois site is Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Illinois, although the library at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie does provide visitors with access to the 2,000 testimonies conducted in the United States’ Midwest.  Included in the full database that is accessible at Northwestern are the testimonies of people from other genocides as well, such as the Armenian Genocide, the Nanjing Massacre in China, and the Rwandan Genocide.

I am assuming that this dictionary is still chained to the shelf as a tribute to the days before the internet, when a dictionary was still a valuable reference.

Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, the University Library is not functioning as it normally would.  However, during normal times, visitors can receive guest passes at the front entrance.

Sources and Further Reading
“Carmel Catholic High School.” USC Shoah Foundation. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Collection Highlights.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Conservation.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Leopold and Loeb Collection.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Northwestern Libraries.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Northwestern University.” U.S. News & World Report. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Spanish Civil War Collection.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Transportation Library.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Collection.” Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Visual History Archive from the Shoah Foundation Institute: Home.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

Circle Studio, Inc. in Chicago

From the Gothic cathedrals of Western Europe, to the Tiffany stained glass of the United States, to the simple design of raised glass on a door, we can all appreciate the beauty of glass artists.  Although I usually write about museums or libraries, for my first post of the new year, I would like to write about a stained glass art studio that I visited.

Circle Studio, Inc. is one of the few stained glass art studios in the Chicago area, and even in the United States.  This is because stained glass is not as popular as it once was.  The peak of its popularity in the United States was during the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.  However, despite its waning popularity, it is still universally regarded as a beautiful style of art.

Joseph Badalpour, an Assyrian from Iran, founded Circle Studio, Inc. in 1975.  He is likely the only Assyrian who works with stained glass as a career.  In 2020, Mr. Badalpour was kind enough to give me a personal tour of his studio!

Mr. Badalpour opened Circle Studio, Inc. right after he received a Fine Arts degree from the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where he specialized in painting.  He took the skills that he learned from painting and applied them to stained glass.  He has had stained glass studios in different locations in the past but is currently at 3928 N. Elston Ave. in Chicago.  His clients have included the Oak Park Temple, the Assyrian Christian Church, and the Assyrian Cultural Foundation (where he serves as the Fine Arts Director), as well as many other religious institutions, private homes, and businesses.

When I entered Circle Studio, Inc., the beautiful variety of color immediately caught my attention.  Stained glass pieces surround the entire space, hanging from the walls and ceiling.  There are even several stained glass lamps on display at the studio.  All of the glass pieces were created by Mr. Badalpour and his team, although several of the pieces are actually antiques that Circle Studio restored.

As we walked through the studio, Mr. Badalpour explained to me the process of creating stained glass.  First, he talks about the idea of a piece with his client and sketches out the design during the process.  Once the client approves of the sketch, he creates a detailed sketch on paper, using the exact dimensions of the anticipated glass piece.

He ultimately uses that sketch as the blueprint for creating the stained glass.  This involves cutting out pieces of glass into different shapes like a puzzle, and then sticking them together in a process called soldering.

Some works are made from different pieces of colored glass, while other works require Mr. Badalpour to hand-paint colorful designs onto the glass.  Not all glass pieces contain color.  Sometimes, Mr. Badalpour bevels the glass, meaning that he carefully carves out designs onto the glass itself.  Beveling can look nice on both colorful and clear glass.

This is the supply of glass sheets at Circle Studio, Inc.
This floral design was hand-painted onto the glass.

If you are interested in watching a video filmed at Circle Studio, here is a 2-part interview or Mr. Badalpour, produced by the Assyrian Cultural Foundation.  However, unless you know Assyrian (neo-Aramaic), you will not understand what they are saying in the interview!

Joseph Badalpour Interview Part 1

Joseph Badalpour Interview Part 2

The above stained glass window can be found at the Assyrian Cultural Foundation’s Ashurbanipal Library in Chicago. It is surrounded by Ancient Near Eastern motifs. In the center is the Ancient Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal, the founder of the first systematic library in the world. To the left of him is a cuneiform table, like the ones discovered in his library. To the right is a Bible with two verses about Assyria written in Syriac: Isaiah 19:24-25 and Luke 11:32.

Click here to read my post about a related topic: the Halim Time and Glass Museum.

Click here to read my post about the Assyrian Cultural Foundation’s (formerly, the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foudnation) Ashurbanipal Library in Chicago.

Sources and Further Reading
“About Us.” Circle Studio. (accessed January 2, 2021).

Assyrian Cultural Foundation. “Interview with Joseph Badalpour Part1.” YouTube, August 21, 2018. Video, 31:17. (accessed January 2, 2021).

Assyrian Cultural Foundation. “Interview with Joseph Badalpour Part2.” YouTube, August 21, 2018. Video, 31:17. (accessed January 2, 2021).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in Skokie

Unlike many briefly popular seasonal stories, Rudolph’s fame grows and spreads each year.  The rudy-schnozzed animal is more popular in Canada than in this country (if that be possible).  And he is going abroad, too.  England and Australia are taking the shy little critter to heart, and any day now, Rudolph will be speaking Spanish with a Chicago accent and making his way to Cuba and points south.  It is doubtful, however, that even heart-winning Rudolph can make the grade across the iron curtain, and spread a rosy glow in Joe Stalin’s bedroom on Christmas eve.

The above quote comes from a December 15, 1950 Chicago Tribune article called “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer: Surprised Chicagoan Sees His Christmas Poem Become a Legend – and a Gold Mine.”  Although some aspects of this seventy-year article, such as the reference to Cold War tensions between the United States and the U.S.S.R., are no longer true, it is still true that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s fame has never stopped since its creation in 1939.  In fact, puppets from the 1964 stop motion film based on the book sold for $368,000 at an auction last month (November 13, 2020).

Despite its obvious fame, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s popularity came as a surprise.  In 1939, Robert L. May worked as an advertising copyrighter at the now defunct Chicago department store, Montgomery Ward.  For Christmas that year, the store asked May (who was ironically Jewish) to create a children’s Christmas story to give away to its customers.  Due to high demand, the store ultimately gave away over 2 million copies of the book in 1939.  You can access photos of the original book, as well as listen to May’s daughter read it, on NPR’s website.

Although Montgomery Ward benefitted from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it generously gave the rights away to May after World War II, to help him pay off his deceased wife’s medical bills.  May worked with Maxton Books to republish Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1947.  Then, in 1948, Max Fleischer (another Jewish man) created an 8-minute animated film based on the book.  However, the story’s popularity boomed the following year when the singer, Gene Autry, recorded a song based on the story.  The now-famous song was created by Johnny Marks, who had married May’s sister.  Marks (who was also Jewish) wrote several other Christmas songs as well including “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”  The final boost in Rudolph’s popularity came in 1964, when the stop animation version of the film first premiered on television.  This film is now the longest running television Christmas special of all time.

I recently learned that Robert L. May used the proceeds from Rudolph to build his own home in Skokie, Illinois (a northern suburb of Chicago).  Construction began in 1949, but the house was completed in 1950.  The following photos are of how the house currently looks, as of December, 2020.  It appears as if the home’s current owners fully embrace their home’s heritage!

Sources and Further Reading
Bentley, William. “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer: Surprised Chicagoan Sees His Christmas Poem Become a Legend – and a Gold Mine.” Chicago Tribune. December 17, 1950.

Bloom, Nate. “All Those Holiday/Christmas Songs: So Many Jewish Songwriters!” Jewish World Review. December 22, 2014. (accessed December 24, 2020).

Bloom, Nate. “Shining a Light on the Largely Untold Story of the Origins of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Interfaith Family. December 20, 2011. (accessed December 24, 2020).

Cronin, Brian. “Did Montgomery Ward Give the Rights to ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ Back to the Story’s Author for Free?” Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed. December 20, 2012. (accessed December 24, 2020).

Delgado, Michelle. “The Magical Animation of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’” Smithsonian Magazine. December 23, 2019. (accessed December 24, 2020).

The Ed Sullivan Show. “Gene Autry ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ on the Ed Sullivan Show.” YouTube, November 5, 2020. Video, 2:39. (accessed December 24, 2020).

Gibbard, M. Daniel. “Towns United in Unusual Way.” Chicago Tribune. August 31, 2004. (accessed December 24, 2020).

Pupovac, Jessica. “Writing ‘Rudolph’” The Original Red-Nosed Manuscript.National Public Radio. (accessed December 24, 2020).

“Rudolph in Rauner.” Rauner Special Collections Library. December 18, 2009. (accessed December 24, 2020).

“Rudolph, Santa Figures from ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ Sell at Auction for $368,000.” USA Today. November 15, 2020. (accessed December 24, 2020).

“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Chicagology. (accessed December 24, 2020).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Directed by Larry Romer. New York: CBS, 1964.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: With Christmas Greetings from Montgomery Ward. Directed by Max Fleischer. 1948. (accessed December 24, 2020).

“What Is Skevanston?” It’s Skokie. (accessed December 24, 2020).

Greenwich’s Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum

If you only had one more day to spend in London, and had already seen many of its major museums, where would you go?  When I encountered this dilemma in 2010, I decided to take the Tube (the British subway system) to Greenwich, a borough of London, to see the Royal Observatory.

Britain’s King Charles II decided that Britain ought to have its own astronomical research center.  As Britain continued to increase its presence in the international scene, it needed to simultaneously remain technologically advanced.  Thus, in 1675, work began to build the Royal Observatory on the ruins of Greenwich Castle, which had once served as King Henry VIII’s hunting lodge.  John Flamsteed became Britain’s first Astronomer Royal, and lived at the Royal Observatory, where he performed astronomical research.  The Royal Observatory continued to serve as Britain’s primary astronomical research center until after World War II, when it moved to Herstmonceux and then to Cambridge.  It eventually dissolved in 1998.  However, the original Greenwich Royal Observatory functions as a free museum today.

In the 19th century, as international travel increased, especially with the advent of the railroad, the need for a standardized international time zone system arose.  Therefore, in 1884, twenty-five nations met in Washington D.C. to decide that Greenwich, England would be the location of the Prime Meridian.  This spot was chosen because it had already been represented as the Prime Meridian on many British maps that were used throughout the world (since the Royal Observatory was there), and because the United States had already used the Prime Meridian as the basis for its time zones.  The Prime Meridian is the longitudinal line on a map that measures 0 degrees.  Theoretically, every 15 degrees east or west of the Prime Meridian is one hour earlier or later than the time in Greenwich.

When you visit the Royal Observatory today, you can stand on the Prime Meridian, right outside the building. While I was there, I saw tourists from all over the world taking turns standing on it.  Inside the Royal Observatory, you can learn about the history of astronomy, navigation, and time, and look at a variety of old instruments that have been used in these fields.

After seeing the Royal Observatory, I walked next door to the National Maritime Museum, which is also free.  It documents the history of British seafaring.  The exhibits include a huge collection of maritime paintings, tools used in navigation, and the jacket that Admiral Nelson died in at the Battle of Trafalgar.  Because the museums is housed in a beautiful building, it has been used for the set of several films including the live-action 101 Dalmatians film from 1996.

The Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum merged with two other museums in 2012 to form the Royal Museums Greenwich.  The other museums in this group are the Queen’s House, a 17th century home built for the wife of King James I and now used to display art, and Cutty Sark.  I do no remember seeing the Queen’s House when I was in Greenwich, nor did I see Cutty Sark.  Cutty Sark is a Victorian ship that visited every major port city in the nineteenth century.  Unfortunately, when I was in Greenwich, it was undergoing repairs from fire damage, which is why I did not see it. Apparently, there is also a planeterium at Greenwich, but I do not remember it.

Although the Prime Meridian is a man-made concept, it is still a fun place to visit.

Sources and Further Reading
Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. “Greenwich Meridian.” Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020. (accessed December 19, 2020).

Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. “Royal Greenwich Observatory.” Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020. (accessed December 19, 2020).

“History of Cutty Sark.” Royal Museums Greenwich. (accessed December 19, 2020).

“History of the National Maritime Museum.” Royal Museums Greenwich. (accessed December 19, 2020).

“History of the Queen’s House.” Royal Museums Greenwich. (accessed December 19, 2020).

“History of the Royal Observatory.” Royal Museums Greenwich. (accessed December 19, 2020).

“What Is Greenwich Mean Time?.” Royal Museums Greenwich. (accessed December 19, 2020).

“What Is the Prime Meridian and Why Is It in Greenwich?.” Royal Museums Greenwich. (accessed December 19, 2020).

Halim Time and Glass Museum

The Halim Time & Glass Museum in Evanston, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) is one of the most beautiful museums that I have ever visited.  Unfortunately, when I went, I was not writing this blog yet, so did not take photos to prove it.  The museum contains approximately 1,100 timepieces in addition to a gorgeous collection of stained glass windows.

The Halim Time & Glass Museum was founded in 2017 by Cameel Halim, an Egyptian immigrant who became wealthy by working in the real estate industry.  Always fascinated with clocks, he only began collecting them about twenty years ago.  His collection includes 200 timepieces that he purchased for $5 million from the collection of the late Seth Atwood.  Atwood’s collection of 1,550 timepieces used to be on display at his Time Museum in Rockford, Illinois, from 1971 until its closing in 1999.  Unfortunately, I never visited the Time Museum, which was once one of the largest museums about the history of time in the world.  After the museum closed, the collection was displayed at the Science and Industry Museum in Chicago for a few years, but then was sadly auctioned off to different bidders, including Halim.

Halim originally planned to open his museum in 2012, however, the Victorian mansion that would have housed the museum burned down in 2011.  Fortunately, none of Halim’s collections were inside the home yet.  However, the fire meant that he had to create a new building for his museum.

When you enter the Halim Museum, you find yourself in the stained glass exhibit, which takes up the entire first floor.  The glass displays include works by a variety of artists including the famous American, Louis Comfort Tiffany.  I am not sure if it is a permanent exhibit, but when I visited the museum, there was a room specifically dedicated to Tiffany and his work.  While going through the stained glass exhibit, you will learn how European stained glass artists usually painted the glass, whereas American styles that evolved in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used new techniques to design glass.  This included layering pieces of colored glass to create different textures and colors in the design.

The remainder of the museum is dedicated to the history of time.  This exhibit begins chronologically, with the oldest clocks first.  The timepieces are from all over the world, although most are European.  There are cuckoo clocks, pocket watches, grandfather clocks, sun dials, chronometers, and many other types of timepieces.  For some of the more unusual clocks, there are screens next to them so that you can click to see a video of how that specific clock looks while it is running.  None of the clocks are currently running at the museum because that would potentially be too loud.  The most elaborate and bejeweled clocks in the museum are those that the British made as gifts for the Chinese emperors during the eighteenth century.  These include clocks that look like bird cages, with the clock part located on the outside bottom of the cage.

The Halim Museum is a little pricey, with regular adult admission being $20.  However, seniors and students get discounts, while children and military personnel can enter for free.  Tours are available to visitors each day at 1 PM, except for Mondays, when the museum is closed.

Sources and Further Reading
“About the Halim Time & Glass Museum.” The Halim Time & Glass Museum. (accessed December 12, 2020).

Bullington, Jonathan. “Evanston Fire Destroys Historic Building Slated to Be Museum.” Chicago Tribune. March 16, 2011. (accessed December 12, 2020).

Haas, Kevin. “Former Rockford Collector’s Rare Clock Sells for Record $6.8M.” Rockford Register Star. December 6, 2012. (accessed December 12, 2020).

Horan, Deborah. “He’s the Man of the Hour for Clock Buffs. LA Times. May 27, 2007. (accessed December 12, 2020).

“It’s About Time.” Roadtrip America. September, 1996. (accessed December 12, 2020).

McColley, Robert and William D. Walters, Jr. World Book Encyclopedia, s. v. “Illinois.” Chicago: World Book, Inc., 1996.

“Stained Glass Masters.” Halim Time & Glass Museum. (accessed December 12, 2020).

Polish Museum of America

If you live in Chicago, you may have heard people say that Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, Poland.  Chicago’s radio station, WBEZ, investigated this claim in 2015.  Although it is not completely true, there are elements of truth to it.  According to WEBZ, the largest Polish populations outside of Poland can be found in London, New York City (which was only recently surpassed by London), and Chicago.  However, if the suburbs are considered, then Chicago does rank as having the largest Polish population outside of Poland (not second to Warsaw though).  One reason why Chicago has such a significant Polish population is because Poles have been moving to the area since the 1850s.

The Polish Museum of America, in Chicago, focuses on preserving Chicago’s Polish history.  It was founded in 1935 as the “Museum and Archives of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America,” and merged with the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America’s Polish library, which was founded in 1912.  Today, the Polish Museum of America is part of the Chicago Cultural Alliance, a consortium of ethnic and cultural museums in the Chicago area.

When you arrive at the Polish Museum of America, you have to pay for your ticket at the gift shop.  When I visited, the kind staff member there asked me if I was a student.  After I said no, she told me that she would still give me a discount because I looked like a student! As soon as I paid for my ticket, I joined a tour of the museum in the exhibit area upstairs.  I highly recommend joining the free tours, because otherwise, it might be confusing to figure out how the displays are connected to each other.  The tour also provides a helpful overview of Chicago’s Polish history.

Interestingly, one of the first major collections added to the museum were items Poland sent to represent itself at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  Because of the outbreak of WWII in 1939, these items could not return to Poland after the Fair ended, so the Polish Museum of America took them.

My favorite exhibit at the Polish Museum of America is the Paderewski Room.  Ignacy Jan Paderewski was the third Prime Minister of Poland, in 1919, and was also a pianist and composer.  He was living in New York when he died in 1941, so some of his personal items were donated to the Polish Museum of America afterwards.  Today, the items are displayed in a beautifully decorated room that tells the history of Paderewski.  It includes his Steinway piano and the pen he used to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

If you visit the Polish Museum of America, be sure to visit the library there.  The entrance to it is separate from the entrance to the museum, although they are both located in the same building.  The library allows people to borrow many of its 100,000 books, most of which are written in Polish.  The library also houses the Polish Genealogical Society of America, making it a great place to do genealogical research in the U.S. if you have a Polish background.

One of the biggest legacies that Chicago’s Polish population has left on Illinois was creating Casimir Pulaski Day.  Casimir Pulaski was a Polish nobleman who came to help George Washington in the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s.  He died from injuries following a battle in 1779.  In the 1970s, Chicago’s Polish community requested the creation of a holiday in honor of him, on the first Monday in March.  By 1985, Casimir Pulaski Day became a statewide holiday, meaning that many Illinois public schools and businesses would close on that day.  Apparently, in 2012, Chicago Public Schools stopped closing on Pulaski Day.  Nevertheless, many still observe the holiday in Illinois.

Not only did the Polish community successfully name a holiday after Pulaski, but an important street in Chicago is also named after him.  However, I do not believe Pulaski’s fame reaches beyond the United States.  One time I asked some new Polish immigrants if they had ever heard of Casimir Pulaski, and they said no.

I would like to mention one more thing about WBEZ’s 2015 investigation regarding Chicago’s Polish population.  It stated that a large percentage of New York City’s Poles are Jewish, whereas most of Chicago’s Poles are Catholic. This is significant, because most Polish Jews probably do not take pride in being from Poland, whereas most Polish Catholics do.  The two groups are not very connected to each other.  In fact, I found it interesting that at the Polish Museum of America, I only found one reference to Polish Jews, even though, prior to the Holocaust, Jews made up a huge percentage of Poland’s population, and Polish Jews did come to Chicago.  Despite this, I recently had the opportunity of seeing the Polish Jewish and Catholic worlds combine.  In 2019, I went to a screening of the 2017 film The Zookeeper’s Wife at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois. The film is about a Polish woman who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.  After the film finished, the man sitting next to me told me that his father, Zbigniew Sciwiarski, rescued 6 Jews during WWII, and was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal by Israel. What a privilege to have sat by this particular man during the film, and how beautiful that he chose to form a relationship with the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

Due to the efforts of Zbigniew Sciwiarski’s son, his deceased father has a memorial plaque at the Illinois Holocaust Musem in Skokie, Illinois.

Other Chicago Cultural Alliance Members that I have written about so far include:

Sources and Further Reading
“About Library.” The Polish Museum of America. (accessed December 5, 2020).

“About PMA.” The Polish Museum of America. (accessed December 5, 2020).

“Core Members.” Chicago Cultural Alliance. (accessed December 5, 2020).

Dukes, Jesse. “Can Chicago Brag about the Size of Its Polish Population?” WBEZ. (accessed December 5, 2020).

Greene, Nick. “What Is Pulaski Day?” Mental Floss. (accessed December 5, 2020).

Mansur, Sarah. “Risked His Life to Save Others.” Chicago Daily Law Bulletin 164 (18). January 18, 2018. (accessed December 5, 2020).

Pacyga, Dominic A. “Chicago.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. (accessed December 5, 2020).

Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890.  The oil magnate, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., played a large financial role in its creation.  Two years later, the university began a Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.  Today, this department ranks among the top Ancient Near Eastern programs in the United States, primarily focusing on the ancient civilizations of Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia.

In 1919, James Henry Breasted, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago, founded the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Receiving funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (the son of the oil magnate), the goal of the Oriental Institute was and still is to be a place where scholars may conduct further research on the Ancient Near East.

In 1931, the University of Chicago completed construction on a building specifically designed to house the Oriental Institute.  This building contains a museum and an archive/library.  The library does not circulate its materials, meaning that you cannot take any of its books home.  Unfortunately, I have not seen the Oriental Institute’s library, because it is only open to faculty, staff, students, and members.

Assyrian Reliefs taken from Sargon II’s Palace at Dur Sharrukin

The museum portion of the Oriental Institute houses artifacts from archaeological digs that the University of Chicago conducted from the 1920s through 1940s.  These include ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, Israelite, Nubian, Persian, and Syro-Anatolian artifacts.  Tours of the museum are available, either by docents or by downloading a free app.  Visitors to the museum may also watch short films at the museum related to the Ancient Near East.  Additionally, prior to COVID-19, the Oriental Institute frequently hosted events and lectures.

I once visited the Oriental Institute with a librarian group.  During our time there, we went on a tour of the conservation lab, which is on the upper floor of the building.  It was amazing to see where staff maintain and preserve the museum’s priceless artifacts.

After the Oriental Institute underwent renovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it renamed its ancient Assyrian wings after two modern Assyrian donors to the museum.  The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery is named after an Assyrian philanthropist originally from Iran, Dr. Norman Solhkhah.  This section of the museum contains reliefs from Dur Sharrukin, the palace of the Assyrian King Sargon II.  It also contains the Sennacherib Prism, where the Assyrian King Sennacherib describes his campaigns against Israel and Judah.  The Judean perspective of the campaign can be found in the Bible in 2 Kings 18-19.

The Sennacherib Prism at the Oriental Institute

The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery is named after Dr. Sharukin Rami Yelda, an Assyrian orthopedic surgeon originally from Iran.  This section of the museum contains a 16-foot winged-bull, or lamassu, that the University of Chicago discovered in 1929.  Originally discovered in over a dozen pieces, the Oriental Institute pieced the lamassu back together after it arrived in Chicago from Dur Sharrukin in Khorsabad, Iraq.

This is an Assyrian lamassu, or winged-bull, from Dur Sharrukin in Iraq. ISIS damaged the archaeological site where it came from in 2015.
If you look carefully at the lamassu, you can find Cuneiform text.

Although the Oriental Institute’s website is not the easiest to search, it provides free access to a valuable number of the University of Chicago’s publications.  These include the Assyrian Dictionary, an Akkadian dictionary that took 91 years to make; the Demotic Dictionary, an ancient Egyptian language dictionary; books about important excavations, and more.  A guide to the publications available online can be found here:

In case you are interested, the University of Chicago also has one of the best libraries I have ever seen.  Here is my post about it:

Sources and Further Reading
About. Oriental Institute. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Catalog of Publications.” Oriental Institute. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Norman Solhkhah.” Atour. April 20, 2020. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery.”  Oriental Institute. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Sharukin Yelda.” U. S. News and World Report Heallth News. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Emeritus Physician’s Estate Giving Honors Family Legacy.” Swedish Hospital Foundation. March 1, 2015. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Iranian Immigrants Give Back to Chicago Hospital.” The Iranian. April 9, 2007. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Oriental Institute Museum.” Google Arts & Culture. (accessed November 28, 2020).

Rome, Kristin. “Iconic Ancient Sites Ravaged in ISIS’s Last Stand in Iraq.” National Geographic. November 10, 2016. (accessed November 28, 2020).

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrian Yellow Pages 2020. Chicago: 2020.

“The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery.” Oriental Institute. (accessed November 28, 2020).

Dr. Korczak Terrace in Skokie

Although this post is not about a specific museum or library, it is about how I used a museum and library to gain more insight into the history of a street name.

Skokie, a suburb just north of Chicago, used to have one of the largest Holocaust survivor populations per capita: approximately 7,000 people in a population of 69,000.  Although their numbers are dwindling today, due to old age, Skokie’s Holocaust survivors have left some visible landmarks in their town that will keep their memory alive after they are gone.  First and foremost is the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which I have already written about in the past.  Second, is the Holocaust memorial on the Skokie Village Green, in front of the Skokie Public Library.  The need for a Holocaust memorial was clearly evident afterwards, when the night following its dedication in 1987, vandalizers spray-painted the monument with antisemitic graffiti.  Finally, a lesser-known Skokie memorial to the Holocaust is the Dr. Korczak Terrace and memorial.

This is the Holocaust memorial on the Skokie Village Green in front of the Skokie Public Library.

A small street in Skokie that takes up only a block is called Dr. Korczak Terrace.  On the corner of it is a memorial plaque with the following inscription:

Dedicated June 28, 1970.  This street is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Janusz Korczak – Henry Goldsmith.  A great Jewish educator and humanitarian who died as a hero and martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto during the period of the Nazi Holocaust.  Erected by the Dr. Janusz Korczak Lodge No. 2719 B’nai B’rith.

Janusz Korczak was the penname of Henry Goldszmit, a doctor who became the head of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw in 1911.  Eventually, he became famous for writing fantasy novels for children and instructional books for parents on how to raise their children.  He even had his own radio station in Warsaw, where he discussed how to raise children.  However, he is best known today for never abandoning his orphans, first after they were relocated to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, and then in 1942, when they were led to their death at Treblinka extermination camp.  Different stories exist about how different friends and admirers offered to help rescue Dr. Korczak from his fate.  However, he refused them all, because he could not part with his orphans.

Whenever I passed by the Dr. Korczak memorial in Skokie, it saddened me that its condition was deteriorating.  This was not surprising, considering that most of the people responsible for putting up the memorial were probably Holocaust survivors who are no longer living.  Because of this, I decided to try and investigate who was responsible for the memorial now.  The plaque mentioned how a B’nai B’rith group (a Jewish club) created the memorial, however, when I tried to Google the Dr. Janusz Korczak Lodge, I could not find any indication that it still exists today.

The pedestal clearly needed some repairs.

Next, I tried to contact the Skokie Heritage Museum, to see if they were responsible for the memorial, since it pertained to Skokie’s history.  Instead, they connected me with the Village of Skokie, which is its government.  The Village informed me that they did not have any information about the monument in their records, but since another person also complained about the monument’s poor condition, they were going to do something about it.  This all occurred in November of 2019, as winter weather approached Chicago.  Once warmer weather began to arrive in the spring of 2020, so did COVID-19.  Unfortunately, that caused more delays.  However, I am pleased to announce that now, exactly a year later, the Dr. Korczak monument has just finished being refurbished.

This photo was taken on September 26, 2020. The monument “disappeared” as it went to get repaired.
A new fence appeared. Photo taken on October 5, 2020.
The stone reappaeared. Photo taken on October 15, 2020.
The monument is now complete. Photo taken on November 15, 2020. The refurbished monument no longer includes a lamppost, because that was connected to a gas line, which would have been too pricey to repair.

Both the memorial plaque and a 1970 article that I found from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency mention that the dedication of Dr. Korczak Terrace took place on June 28, 1970.  Because of this, I assumed that both the street and the monument were dedicated at the same time.  However, after I contacted the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center to see if they had any information about the Dr. Korczak memorial, I changed my mind.

From the Illinois Holocaust museum, I learned that its archives contain a pamphlet with the following title: “Dr. Janusz Korczak Lodge B’nai B’rith Dedication of Dr. Janusz Korczak Memorial – Skokie, Illinois – June 11, 1972.”  I then contacted the Skokie Public Library, to see if any Skokie newspapers contained articles about the memorial.  Sure enough, a Skokie newspaper called The News had a June 6, 1972 article about the Janusz Korczak Lodge dedicating a Dr. Korczak monument in Skokie.  Based on these finds, I believe that the street was named after Dr. Korczak in 1970, but the monument was not added to the location until 1972.

My investigations of Dr. Korczak Terrace also taught me a few more things.  First of all, the memorial has an 1880 inscribed on its left and a 1942 on its right, implying that Dr. Korczak lived from 1880 to 1942.  However, the 1972 dedication pamphlet at the Illinois Holocaust Museum says that he was born in 1879.  After further investigation, I learned that Dr. Korczak’s father did not issue his birth certificate right away, so Dr. Korczak was not sure if he was born in 1878 or 1879.  Perhaps, because of this, the people creating the Skokie memorial decided to round his birth date to 1880 for simplicity’s sake.

The Dr. Korczak memorial has an 1880 on the left and 1942 on the right, indicating the dates of Dr. Korczak’s birth and death.

Finally, through the Skokie Holocaust Museum, I learned that a Holocaust survivor named Ben Stern was president of the Janusz Korczak Lodge during the creation of Dr. Korczak Terrace.  According to information from the museum, Stern survived the Warsaw Ghetto and witnessed Dr. Korczak and his orphans make their way through the Ghetto to the train heading to Treblinka.  That could explain one reason why the Janusz Korczak Lodge specifically chose to honor Dr. Korczak under Stern’s presidency.

On a side note, I believe that Mr. Stern is still living at the time that I am writing this post, because I found an article about how a Jewish community center in California was going to show a documentary about him in May of 2020, and then have him virtually participate with them afterwards.  Interestingly enough, Stern also recently had a Jewish studies graduate student as a roommate, who happened to also be the granddaughter of Nazis!

The Janusz Korczak Lodge did not finish memorializing Dr. Korczak in 1972.  In 1974, it renamed Claremont Park in Chicago after Dr. Korczak.  Dr. Janusz Korczak Park is located at 6156 N. Claremont Ave. in Chicago.

Sources and Further Reading
“About Us.” B’nai B’rith International. (accessed November 18, 2020).

Birnbaum, Susan. “Skokie, ILL, Holocaust Memorial Vandalized Early Morning.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency 65, no. 104 (June 3, 1987). (accessed November 18, 2020).

Chernick, Ilanit. “Janusz Korczak Remembered 77 Years after His Murder in the Holocaust.” The Jerusalem Post. August 5, 2019. (accessed November 18, 2020).

“Dedicate Monument for Dr. Korczak.” The News. June 8, 1972.

“Holocaust Survivor Ben Stern May 14 at Virtual Event.” Roseville Today. May 11, 2020. (accessed November 18, 2020).

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. (accessed November 18, 2020).

Itkowitz, Colby. “This 95-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Has a Roommate – She’s a 31-Year-Old Granddaughter of Nazis.” The Washington Post. March 2, 2017. (accessed November 18, 2020).

“Janusz Korczak.” Polskie Stowarzyszenie im. Janusza Korczaka. (accessed November 18, 2020).

Janusz Korczak Lodge of B’nai B’rith. Dr. Janusz Korcak Lodge B’nai B’rith Dedication of Dr. Janusz Korczak Memorial. Skokie, 1972.

Korczak. Directed by Andrzej Wajda. Poland: Zespol Filmowy “Perspektywa,” 1990.

Korczak, Janusz. Ghetto Diary. New York: Holocaust Library, 1978.

Korczak, Janusz. Kaytek the Wizard. New York: Penlight, 2012.

“Korczak (Janusz) Park.” Chicago Park District. (accessed November 18, 2020).

“Skokie’s Holocaust Memorial Monument.” Sheerit Hapleitah. (accessed November 18, 2020).

“Street in Skokie Named for Dr. Janusz Korczak, A Jewish Polish Martyr Killed by Nazis.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency 37, no. 118 (June 22, 1970). (accessed November 18, 2020).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Janusz Korczak.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. (accessed November 18, 2020).