Church of the Holy Sepulchre

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.  It was built during the reign of Constantine the Great in the 4th century A.D., destroyed several times, and rebuilt or enlarged several times.  Currently, the Church is closed, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  The last time the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed to the public was in 1349, also due to sickness: the Black Plague. 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the domed building to the left.

I have been inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre several times, but still consider it as confusing as a maze.  Therefore, I unfortunately cannot provide directions on how I arrived at any of the interesting places that I have seen there.

Several different church groups have a section of the Church allotted to them.  These are the Greek Orthodox Church (they are easy to identify because their priests have ponytails), the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  The latter four are known as “Oriental” Churches, each using liturgy in languages unique to themselves (Armenian, Coptic/Egyptian, Aramaic, and Ge’ez, respectively). 

The most crowded part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a small building inside the high-domed Church, which is allegedly over Jesus’ tomb.  You must stand in line to enter this little building, known as the Edicule, where a priest directs the visiting pilgrims.  I did not enter the Edicule, so cannot share more information about it.  There are other ancient tombs nearby the Edicule, which you can find by entering a nearby doorway.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre also includes a stone where the cross was said to be, and a variety of different relics (I remember a bone being one of them, but do not remember more).

Since the early Christian church endured enormous persecution when it began, nobody can be sure if the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is over the actual place where Jesus died.  However, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built over ancient tombs that may date to that period.  Jesus is believed to have been buried outside of Jerusalem’s city walls.  Since the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is inside the walled Old City of Jerusalem, this may seem confusing.  However, the current walls of the Old City were built during the 16th century under the Ottoman Empire.  I was told that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would have been outside of Jerusalem’s city walls during the Roman era.

Tombs inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

I had the opportunity to go on the top of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s smaller dome, because I had a wonderful professor who received permission to take her class up there.  This dome was part of the section of the Church owned by the Greek Orthodox Church.  In addition to going on top of the dome, we also went into a little room below it, where people work on repairing broken icons that churches send to them from all over the world.  My professor also took us to a part of the Church’s roof that is accessible to the public, and is the section owned by the Ethiopian Church.  Additionally, she took us to a water tunnel beneath the Church.  However, I, unfortunately, cannot remember how to find any of those places.

The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s smaller dome.

Whether you are Christian or not, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is worth the visit.  If you are lucky, you will hear a church procession singing beautiful liturgy.  You will also smell spices, probably frankincense, throughout the entire building.  However, you must also be prepared to see visitors lighting candles and kissing various objects, which may be strange to people who do not follow those traditions.

A view of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City from the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Sources and Further Reading

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Church of the Holy Sepulchre.” https://www.britannica.com/place/Holy-Sepulchre (accessed April 10, 2020).

Vaiciulaityte, Giedre. “The Muslim Keymaster of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Closed Its Doors for the First Time Since the Black Plague in 1349.” Boredpanda. April 8, 2020. https://www.boredpanda.com/church-of-the-holy-sepulchre-key-master/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic (accessed April 10, 2020).

Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Founded in 1902, the Egyptian Museum, or Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, is Egypt’s largest museum that houses ancient Egyptian antiquities.  It also currently houses Egypt’s most famous archaeological objects.  Located in Tahrir Square, a central square in downtown Cairo, it experienced some looting and damage during Egypt’s 2011 revolution. 

I had the opportunity to visit the Egyptian Museum at the end of 2010, right before the political turmoil began.  The Museum was built when Britain had a presence in Egypt, so something about it somehow reminded me of the British Museum.  However, it was no British Museum.  It seemed as if half of its objects on display did not have signage, or clear signage.  Additionally, some objects seemed to be stuffed into corners, because of the lack of space.  Many of the objects were out in the open, unprotected, so that you could easily touch them. 

Because of the lack of space and protection, Egypt is currently working on distributing its archaeological objects among two additional museums.  The first is the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, which partially opened in 2017, and has ties with UNESCO.  The second is the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is supposed to open in 2020, however, with the COVID-19 situation, perhaps this may change.  Construction on this latter museum began in 2002, and is located near the Giza Pyramids, which is probably Egypt’s top tourist attraction.  Currently, the treasures of King Tut’s (Tutankhamun’s) tomb are located in the Egyptian Museum, but will be moved into the Grand Egyptian Museum once it is completed.  King Tut’s tomb is famous, because it was the first royal tomb archaeologists found untouched by looters.

In order to enter the Egyptian Museum, you need to go through security.  However, in order to enter the room that stores the valuable treasures of King Tut’s tomb, you need to pass through additional security.  Unfortunately, I went to the Egyptian Museum near closing time, so I had to rush through the room containing his treasures.  Although King Tut’s treasures are currently in the Egyptian Museum, his actual body is in the Valley of the Kings, where he was originally buried and discovered.  When British archaeologist, Howard Carter, discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922, his team had trouble removing Tut’s body from his sarcophagus, so his head is no longer connected to his body.  However, you would not know this by visiting the Valley of the Kings, because King Tut’s body is displayed under a blanket, with only his head and feet visible.

The Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, where pharaohs from the New Kingdom were buried, including King Tutankhamun. I could not take photos at the tombs, so had to take one from the parking lot.

In addition to King’s Tut’s treasures, the Egyptian Museum houses many other famous objects and mummies, including many animal mummies.  The human mummies include the bodies of pharaohs, such as Ramesses II.  He was around 90 years old at the time of his death, and his mummy has red hair (which may be because of the embalming?).  Some scholars believe that Ramesses II was the ruling pharaoh during the time of Moses.  If he was, then Ramesses II’s mummy is the only Biblical character that you can actually still see.

Two other noteworthy artifacts at the Egyptian Museum are the Narmer Palette and the Merneptah Stele.  The Narmer Palette depicts the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt during the Early Dynastic Period under King Narmer.  The Merneptah Stele (a stele is a vertical stone monument) describes Pharaoh Merneptah’s battle victories.  Its fame comes from the fact that one of the defeated enemies mentioned on it is “Israel.”  Thus, this stone is the oldest reference to Israel ever found.  When I visited the Egyptian Museum, the Merneptah Stele was located in a back corner without a sign, and unprotected.  On this tall stone monument, the word “Israel” was easy to identify in the carved hieroglyphic text, even if you could not read hieroglyphs.  This is because the word was worn down by so many people touching it, giving it a different color than the rest of the stone.  Unfortunately, I could not resist the temptation, and touched it too.

Professor Anson Rainey believed that Pharaoh Merneptah’s inscriptions at the Karnak Temple complex in Luxor, Egypt, depict the Israelites that are mentioned on the Merneptah Stele.

Photography is not allowed in the Egyptian Museum.  I did not try it, but I was told that you can bribe the guards if you really wanted a photo.  That rule apparently applied to other places in Egypt as well.  As a final note, I do not recommend females walking through the Egyptian Museum by themselves.  Whenever I did, the security guards would start coming towards me to start an unwanted conversation with me, so I then found a male friend from my group, and stayed with him.

Sources and Further Reading

Mark, Joshua J. “Tutankhamun.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. April 1, 2014. https://www.ancient.eu/Tutankhamun/ (accessed April 4, 2020).

Mullen, Dene. “Will This Be the End of the Legendary Egyptian Museum.” Daily Beast. July 13, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/kushner-stockpile-claim-totally-at-odds-with-trumps-record?ref=scroll (accessed April 4, 2020).

“Project History.” National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. https://nmec.gov.eg/en/story/1096/Project-History (accessed April 4, 2020).

Rainey, Anson F. “Rainey’s Challenge.” Biblical Archaeology Society Online Library. https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/17/6/1 (accessed April 4, 2020).

Shure Inc. Archives

In 1925, Sidney N. Shure founded a company in Chicago that supplied radio parts.  Eventually, the Shure Radio Company evolved into a company known for its high-quality microphones.  In 1939, the company created a microphone known as the Unidyne, which eventually became its most iconic one.  Not only did famous rock stars, such as Elvis Presley, use it, but so did John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. during some of their famous speeches.

This is a 1993 U.S. postage stamp of Elvis Presley singing into a Shure Unydine microphone.

With several international offices and thousands of staff, Shure Inc. has a library that provides resources for its many employees.  Therefore, Shure Inc. has a librarian who manages all of these resources, many of which are databases and ebooks.  The librarian is also the company’s archivist.  I was privileged to have the opportunity of visiting the (usually inaccessible) Shure archives with an archivist group.  The archivist/librarian led the tour.  However, it was also led by another Shure employee who is currently creating a digital collection of their archival materials, since having that information handy is beneficial to their staff. 

Shure’s headquarters were originally located in Chicago, and then in suburban Evanston, Illinois from 1956 to 2003.  They then moved to their current location in another Chicago suburb, Niles.  The public area on the current building’s main floor has a mini display about the history of Shure, which the archivist created.  She walked us through this display before taking us to the actual archives.  In addition to collecting their many models of microphones, the archivist collects microphones that survived unusual situations unharmed.  People often send these microphones to them.  For example, one microphone survived being run over by a truck, and although slightly bent, still worked.

In addition to seeing the actual archives, our tour also included Shure Inc.’s top-notch recording studio, where staff test the quality of their newly-created microphones.  However, the best part of the tour included a stop in one of their many anechoic chambers.  Anechoic means “no echo.”  Basically, this is a heavily padded room, where Shure staff can test the quality of their microphones and headphones.  The room was extremely quiet, so once we exited the anechoic chamber, the surrounding noise in the room outside was dramatically noticeable. 

Anechoic Chamber

Although microphones may not seem important enough to have their own archivist, the fact that NASA, the United States army during World War II, and famous musicians have all used Shure microphones, means that the company’s impact on history has been significant enough to document it.

Sources and Further Reading

Holmes, Allison Schein. “Wrap Up for Shure Inc. Archives Tour and Photography Demonstration.” Shure. November 18, 2019. http://www.chicagoarchivists.org/news/8127341 (accessed March 27, 2020).

“Mysteries and Treasures in the Shure Archives.” Shure. January 27, 2016. https://www.shure.com/en-US/performance-production/louder/mysteries-and-treasures-in-the-shure-archives (accessed March 27, 2020).

Rochman, Davida. “Shure History.” Shure. https://www.shure.eu/company/history (accessed March 27, 2020).

5 Historically Noteworthy Homes in the Chicago Area

Even though museums, libraries, archives, etc. are currently closed throughout the majority of the world because of the Coronavirus, there are other ways to still visit historic places.  Here are 5 historically noteworthy homes that are never open to the public anyway, but that you can drive and see from the outside if you are in the Chicago area. By no means is this a comprehensive list.

1. Michael Jordan’s Home

2700 Point Dr., Highland Park, IL 60035

Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, lived in Highland Park, a northern suburb of Chicago, when he played basketball for the Chicago Bulls.  He lived there from 1995 to 2006.  Since 2012, his house has been on the market.  It was originally on the market for $29 million.  However, the price has been reduced, so if you have $14,855,000, you can try purchasing it.  The home includes an indoor basketball court, gym, and swimming pool.  If not, you can at least drive past the home and admire the gate, which still has the number 23 on it (Michael Jordan’s jersey number).  Unfortunately, you will not have much success catching a glimpse of the house, because it is hidden behind evergreen trees. As of March, 2020, the home is currently listed on Zillow: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2700-Point-Dr-Highland-Park-IL-60035/4902463_zpid/

2. Home Alone House

671 Lincoln Ave., Winnetka, IL 60093

The 1990 film Home Alone has now become a Christmas classic.  Except for the upstairs scenes, which were recreated in a gymnasium, a home in Winnetka, Illinois (another northern suburb of Chicago), was the set for a large portion of the film.  It is now a private home, and the only one in the neighborhood with a “No Trespassing” sign.  You can see other parts of Winnetka in the film, as well as buildings from the neighboring suburbs of Wilmette and Highland Park.  This is because the film’s writer and producer, John Hughes, grew up in Northbrook, Illinois, which is nearby, making him familiar with Chicago’s suburbs.  Hughes used the northern Chicago suburbs as settings for several of his other films as well, such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).  Hughes is buried in the northern suburb of Lake Forest.

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald-Inspired Home

210 South Ridge Rd., Lake Forest, IL 60045

Speaking of Lake Forest, there is an interesting home located there.  In 1915 and 1916, the future American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald visited Lake Forest.  He had a love interested who lived there, Ginerva King, the daughter of a wealthy family.  Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, Ginerva married someone else.  However, many speculate that she helped inspire parts of the plot for his first book, This Side of Paradise (1920), as well as for his most famous book, The Great Gatsby (1925).  After being abandoned for years, new owners are currently attempting to restore this mansion to its former glory.

4. Marx Brothers Home

4512 S. King Dr. (Grand Blvd. when they lived there), Chicago, IL 60653

Many may not know it, but the early twentieth century comedians, the Marx Brothers, lived in Chicago for a time.  However, it was in the 1910s, before they became famous through their movies.  The entire family lived there, not just the three most famous brothers, known as Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.  This Jewish family lived in what was then a Jewish neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago, as can be attested by the Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church near their home, which used to be a synagogue.

5. Barack Obama’s Home

5046 S. Greenwood Ave., Chicago, IL 60615

Former President Barack Obama taught law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.  Then, in 2005, he purchased a home not far from the University.  That was also when he began to become more involved in politics.  The Obamas still own their Chicago home, although they are not there often.  A blockade still keeps cars away from his street, and a sign is posted in the front warning people that the Secret Service has the home under surveillance.

Sources and Further Reading

Holst, Amber. “A Presidential Neighborhood: The Obama Family Home in Hyde Park.” Enjoy Illinois, June 8, 2018. https://www.enjoyillinois.com/travel-illinois/obama-home-chicago-hyde-park/ (accessed October 30, 2019).

“The ‘Home Alone’ House for Sale in Winnetka, Illinois.” Hooked on Houses. https://hookedonhouses.net/2011/05/08/real-home-alone-house-winnetka-illinois/ (accessed October 30, 2019).

Klocksin, Scott. “Airball: Why is Michael Jordan’s Estate in Highland Park not Selling?” The Real Deal, May 3, 2018. https://therealdeal.com/chicago/2018/05/03/airball-michael-jordans-unsellable-highland-park-estate/ (accessed October 30, 2019).

Rodkin, Dennis. “Buyers Plan to Make ‘Gatsby’ House Great Again.” Crain’s Chicago Business, September 18, 2018. https://www.chicagobusiness.com/residential-real-estate/buyers-plan-make-gatsby-house-great-again (accessed October 30, 2019).

Coronavirus = Historical Moment

As I was thinking about which historical place to write about this week, I realized that I should pause and write about a historically significant moment that is happening right now instead: the Coronavirus.  Since this historic event is also causing a lot of museums and libraries to shut down, it is appropriate for me to put a pause on discussing them.

On Monday, March 9th, I went to the grocery store.  It was uneventful.  On Friday, March 13, I went to the grocery store.  Everything was chaotic.  As I was purchasing flowers for a friend’s birthday, everyone else around me was stuffing their shopping carts with bottled water, toilet paper, and canned food.  Friday, March 13 was also the last day my public library would be open until another two weeks.  Similar to the grocery store, people there were stuffing their bags with DVDs and books. 

What caused all the panic shopping and library closures, in addition to the closures of many U.S. schools, universities, museums, stage theaters, and opera houses this week?  On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus a pandemic.  On Friday, March 13, President Trump declared that the United States is in a National Emergency.  Although most of the panic shopping began this week, after the declarations mentioned above, for the past two weeks, I have been hearing people tell me that hand sanitizer is sold out.

On Tuesday, March 10, the library portal, WorldCat.org, added a Coronavirus popup to its website, which provides a link to e-resources about the virus.

I somehow make a lot of international friends, and also have relatives living in different countries.  From them, I learned that this is far from being solely a U.S. phenomenon.  Below is a summary of what friends and relatives have told me about other countries.  However, Coronavirus news changes quickly, so what they told me below will probably be inaccurate very soon, if it is not so already.  Additionally, the information is based on individuals, so is not necessarily representative of the entire country.

China – Obviously, this is where the most Coronavirus cases have occurred, since it is also where it was first discovered.  A month ago, four people I know with connections to China told me how their relatives were okay, but that the country was basically quarantined, and that the people were sad that they were unable to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  A friend recently told me that her son has been quarantined for two months now, and will continue to be quarantined until April 30th.

Iran – Some parts of Iran are more affected than others, but it is currently hit the third worst after China and Italy.  Most people are staying home from work, bored, and sad that they cannot celebrate their new year, Nowruz, on March 21st.  I cannot confirm if this is true everywhere in Iran, but I was told that there is not a lot of panic shopping there.

Israel – The airport essentially shut down, and all schools, restaurants, museums, and non-essential businesses have closed.  The U.S. has not closed its restaurants and non-essential businesses yet, even though it has more Coronavirus cases than Israel.  Like Iran, the panic shopping is allegedly not as bad in Israel.

Korea – Everything has shut down there for at least a month.  People are working from home.

Nigeria – Nigeria had a Coronavirus patient, but he was an Italian who entered the country.  Fortunately, the Coronavirus has not made a large presence in Africa so far.

Poland – Everything has shut down, and there are travel bans there.  Like the United States, people were panic shopping and emptied shelves at the stores.  Most of the people walking around in the city of Krakow this week were tourists, not native Poles.

Romania – Everything is shutting down there.

Slovakia – Slovakia took cautious measures earlier than other countries.  They even started shutting down schools before the U.S. did.  Last week, someone I know there had to be quarantined in the infectious diseases section of the hospital for a week, because he had fluid in his lungs.  Whenever the doctors and nurses went to check on him, they wore masks.  Fortunately, he did not end up having the Coronavirus.  It was just bad timing for him to have fluid in his lungs.

Spain – Like the United States, everything has shut down in Spain during the middle of this past week.  However, unlike the United States, even non-essential businesses and public parks are closed.

Syria – We do not know what the status of the Coronavirus is in Syria.  Someone I know who used to live there said that if the country does have it, it will not release that information publicly.

This is a rare moment when completely different countries, some of which are even enemies with each other, are behaving exactly the same and fighting the same viral “enemy.”  Perhaps the last great pandemic of this scope was in 1918 with the Spanish Flu, when the flu took a more deadly strain, and people were traveling a lot, because WWI was ending.  At that time, 500 million people were infected, and 20 to 50 million died.  My great-grandfather’s brother was one of them.  Even if the Coronavirus never reaches those numbers, the historical significance of this event is in the fact that an unprecedented number of countries have quarantined themselves.

So, what I encourage you to do during this time is try to remember and record what is happening.  You are a primary source for a historical event.

I am on an archives email group.  In this week’s discussion, someone asked how the national and international responses to the Coronavirus are being preserved, since this “will surely be a history fair subject in the future!”  From that list, I learned that the Internet Archive’s Archive-It site has created a Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) digital collection: https://archive-it.org/collections/13529

If you have websites that should be added to the collection, here is the form to do so: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc4jyson7OGxe8HWaAm2s5BWvAug8mgastWEtNxbFYQbZX62g/viewform

Additionally, someone from Stanford University has been collecting Twitter threads about archives conference cancellations due to the Coronavirus: https://twitter.com/anarchivist/status/1237786184593498112?s=20

In case you are interested, here is a map created by the World Health Organization, which regularly documents the number of Coronavirus cases in the world: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/685d0ace521648f8a5beeeee1b9125cd

Finally, here is a link to museums that you can visit virtually during this unusual time: https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours

Graceland Cemetery in Chicago

If you suddenly find yourself laid off from a job that you enjoyed, and are given more free time than you have had in a long time, what do you do?  When this situation happened to me, I tried to look for inexpensive ways to keep myself busy and de-stress.  As morbid as this may sound, I found myself exploring cemeteries.  My favorite was, undoubtedly, Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.

This creepy but amazing tombstone was built for Dexter Graves, one of the earliest non-Native American inhabitants in Chicago.

Founded in 1860, Graceland is in the northwest part of Chicago, not far from Wrigley Field, where the baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, plays.  This area used to be just outside of the city’s limits, when cemeteries were prohibited from being built within the city’s borders.  However, as Chicago grew, so did its borders. 

A few blocks away from Graceland Cemetery is the even older Jewish cemetery, the Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery, founded in 1851. Unfortunately, unlike Graceland, its plots are overgrown and neglected.

What makes Graceland such a pleasant place to visit is the fact that it is a rural cemetery.  Before the mid-nineteenth century, most people in the United States and Europe buried their dead in the churchyard.  However, as the population increased, so did the need to find more land to bury the dead.  Architects soon developed rural cemeteries, which also functioned as public parks, since parks were not commonplace yet.  Therefore, people would actually picnic and spend their leisure in these rural cemeteries.  Characteristics of these rural cemeteries included huge mausoleums and ponds.  Nowadays, cemeteries tend to be simpler, and certainly not places that people visit for fun.

As you walk through Graceland Cemetery, the huge monuments make it clear that the people buried there were once the wealthiest individuals in Chicago society.  Because of this, there were many other visitors touring the cemetery for fun when I was there.  In fact, the Chicago Architecture Center actually offers formal tours of this historic graveyard.  When I arrived at Graceland, I first entered the visitor center, where I watched a brief video summarizing the history of the cemetery, and also picked up a free map that points out where all of the famous Chicagoans are buried. If you ever visit Graceland Cemetery, make sure to pick up a map at the visitor center, or print one from their website. Looking for famous people can be a fun type of scavenger hunt.

Louis Sullivan, a famous architect buried in Graceland, designed this impressive mausoleum, which is also found at Graceland.

Graceland Cemetery is best known for being the burial ground of famous Chicago architects such as Daniel Burnham (who helped design Chicago) and William Le Baron Jenney (who built the first skyscraper ever).  Additionally, if you live in Chicago, you will notice that many of the tombs match the names of famous Chicago streets (e.g. Wacker, Kimball). Another famous person buried at Graceland includes Allan Pinkerton, a pioneer detective in the United States, and someone who helped stop an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln. Additionally, Marshall Field, the founder of Chicago’s Field Museum and the Marshall Field’s Department Store, is buried there.

Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the mechanical reaper, is buried at Graceland Cemetery.

Since I enjoy Charles Dickens’ books, my favorite tomb at Graceland was of his younger brother, Augustus.  In the 1850s, Augustus abandoned his wife after she became blind, and ran off with another woman to Chicago. It sounds like something a Charles Dickens character might do!  After that, Charles Dickens broke ties with his brother. According to a June 24, 2004 article in The Chicago Reader called “The Dirty Dickens,” Augustus’ tomb in Graceland Cemetery did not receive a monument until his great-great-great-great grandson decided to put one up in 2004.

Being the third largest city in the United States, most of Chicago can be a loud and busy place. However, once you enter the brick walls of Graceland Cemetery, you completely forget that you are still in Chicago. The peaceful surroundings make you feel as if you walked into a different world, full of interesting stories now mostly forgotten underground.

Sources and Further Reading

Greenfield, Rebecca. “Our First Public Parks: The Forgotten History of Cemeteries.” The Atlantic, March 16, 2011. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/our-first-public-parks-the-forgotten-history-of-cemeteries/71818/ (accessed March 7, 2020).

Rodkin, Dennis. “The Dirty Dickens.” The Chicago Reader, June 24, 2004. https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-dirty-dickens/Content?oid=915864 (accessed March 7, 2020).

Sclair, Helen. “Cemeteries.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/223.html (accessed March 7, 2020).

“The Story of Graceland.” Graceland Cemetery. https://www.gracelandcemetery.org/the-story-of-graceland/ (accessed March 7, 2020).

Windsong, Juniper. “Eternal Silence.” Atlas Obscura. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/eternal-silence (accessed March 7, 2020).

The British Museum

The British Museum in London is undoubtedly ranked as one the best museums in the world, containing approximately 8 million artifacts.  It was founded in 1753 as the first free, national museum.  Its enormous collection contains items from every continent in the world except for Antarctica.  This is largely in part to the fact that the “sun never set on the British Empire” during the 19th century, meaning that Britain controlled so much of the world then, that the sun was always shining on one part of its Empire.  Because of this, the British were easily able to acquire artifacts from most of the world. Additionally, the Brits were pioneers in archaeology, so a large portion of the British Museum’s collection comes from them.

I had the privilege of spending a few hours at the British Museum in 2009.  Unfortunately, I probably saw less than ¼ of the collection because it is so large.  Entrance into the Museum is free, as are the different tours that they offer, including a tour of the Museum’s highlights.  Additionally, there are audio tour headsets available in 10 different languages that people can pay to use.  Perhaps this is no longer the case, but when I was at the Museum 11 years ago, they offered free tours of specific sections of the Museum.  I did tours of the Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Assyrian collections.

Perhaps the most famous object at the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone.  French soldiers in Egypt found this stele fragment and took it in 1799, but soon surrendered it to the British after experiencing a defeat under Napoleon.  The stone is important because it helped scholars discover how to decipher the long-forgotten Egyptian hieroglyphs, ultimately allowing us to learn more about Ancient Egypt.  Since the Rosetta Stone was created during the Ptolemaic period, when Greece oversaw Egypt, three scripts were written on it (all saying the same thing): Ancient Greek, Demotic (a form of Egyptian script), and hieroglyphic.  Scholars already knew how to read Ancient Greek, so that helped them with deciphering the other two scripts.  Over the years, Egypt has requested the return of the Rosetta Stone to its native land.

This is the Rosetta Stone. Unfortunately, my Kodak film camera did not work well inside the British Museum.

Since many famous objects at the British Museum came there through war or theft, many countries frequently ask for the return of their artifacts.  For example, many of the statues at the Parthenon in Athens are replicas of the originals at the British Museum, so Greece would like them returned.  Similarly, the British army essentially stole the Benin Bronzes from Benin City, Nigeria in 1897, so Nigeria would like them back.  Although I do not believe that countries should be robbed of their artifacts, I do see two positive results of what the British did.  First, the British Museum allows you to view the history of many different cultures all in one place, which is an experience that is not easy to replicate elsewhere.  Second, the British may have helped preserve artifacts that would have otherwise been destroyed later.  For example, in 2015, the group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) destroyed many ancient artifacts in Iraq.  This included using a sledgehammer to destroy a lamassu (Assyrian winged bull).  Fortunately, the British Museum has several lamassu that used to be located in the same area as the destroyed one.  A very disturbing video of the 2015 destruction of Iraqi artifacts can be found Here.

These lamassu (Assyrian winged bulls) were taken from Nimrud, near modern-day Mosul, Iraq (ancient Nineveh), and brought to the British Museum. They were believed to protect entrances. Here is a painting of the archaeologists trying to transport it.

In addition to world-class exhibits, the British Museum also has study rooms (where you can request to study a specific object from the collection), an archive, and a library complementing the collection.  Britain’s national library used to be a part of the Museum, but it became so large that it had to move into its own space.  While the British Library was still a part of the British Museum, famous people used to study there, including Sherlock Holmes’ author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the exiled Karl Marx.

The British Museum has a nice gift shop full of items reflecting the Museum’s collections.  Although it is more fun to browse in person, it is also viewable online.  Unfortunately, my time in the gift shop was cut short due to a situation that I hope is not common at the Museum.  As I was looking at some tiny knick knacks of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, an Eastern European man twice my age came up to me.  He said, “I can buy those for you.”  I think I looked at him confused and said that I did not want them.  He then said, “Yeah. What would you do with those?  They’re garbage.  Throw them down the toilet.  I can get you something else.”  By then, I was too creeped out, so I nervously smiled and escaped from the gift shop.  Perhaps my American flag bag made me a target, but I am not sure.

Thankfully, if you are never able to make a physical trip to the British Museum, you can still view an enormous portion of the collection online.  Amazingly, some objects can even be viewed at 360 degrees, and then downloaded to be printed on a 3D printer: https://sketchfab.com/britishmuseum.  You can also learn more about the Museum’s objects from a series called A History of the World in 100 Objects, which was done by former Museum director, Neil MacGregor.  In 2010, he recorded 100 lectures on 100 different objects from the Museum that best represent the history of the world.  This project is available as a podcast and also on the BBC’s website.

This panel is one of the many Lachish Reliefs, which depict the Assyrian siege of the Judean city of Lachish by King Sennacherib. This scene shows the Judean prisoners prostrating themselves to the Assyrian King.
These are Assyrian siege weapons found at Lachish, Israel, which corroborates with the Assyrian Lachish Reliefs as well as the Biblical account about the siege found in 2 Chronicles 32:9. This photo is from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Sources and Further Reading

“The British Museum.” Sketchfab. https://sketchfab.com/britishmuseum (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Collecting Histories.” The British Museum. https://www.britishmuseum.org/about-us/british-museum-story/collecting-histories (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Collection Online.” The British Museum. https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Rosetta Stone.” The British Museum. https://blog.britishmuseum.org/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-rosetta-stone/  (accessed February 27, 2020).

“A History of the World in 100 Objects.” BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nrtd2 (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Video: ISIS Destroys Centuries Old Iraqi Artifacts.” Al Arabiya. http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/02/26/With-sledgehammer-ISIS-smashes-Iraqi-history.html# (accessed February 27, 2020).