Art Institute of Chicago

Along with the Science and Industry Museum and the Field Museum of Natural History, the Art Institute of Chicago is probably among Chicago’s top 3 museums.  Additionally, it probably ranks among the best art museums in the United States.  Fortunately, for Illinois residents, the Museum is participating in Illinois’ free museum days.  That means that admission for Illinois residents will be free there until March 4th.  However, throughout the entire year, the Museum also has a free evening each week for Illinois residents.  Although the free evening has not always been the same day of the week, currently, it is on Wednesdays from 5:00 to 8:00 P.M.

The Art Institute of Chicago originally began as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1879, which provided both art education and art displays.  When Chicago won the bid to host the 1893 World’s Fair, known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, it decided to build the current structure of the Art Institute of Chicago, in order to impress visitors.  Ever since then, the Museum’s collection and reputation has continued to grow, as has its affiliated university, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

The Art Institute of Chicago’s strongest collections are from Europe and the United States.  For example, the Art Institute of Chicago probably has the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings (such as Monet and Van Gogh) outside of France.  Despite the majority of the art being from Europe or the United States (including some Native American art), there are some sections specifically focused on East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa.  Additionally, there is an even smaller section with archaeology.  These are all on the main floor.

If you visit the Art Institute of Chicago, you must visit the Thorne Miniature Rooms.  They are made up of 68 dollhouse-like rooms, each with extensive details of homes from different time periods.  A wealthy woman named Narcissa Thorne designed them between 1937-1940, and donated them to the Museum.  This collection is located in the basement of the Museum, so is often overlooked by visitors.  It is also worth visiting the Arms and Armor room on the second floor. 

Grant Wood’s famous painting, “American Gothic” can be found at the Art Institute of Chicago on the second floor.  You can also visit the painting used in the 1945 film The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is based on the 1891 novel of the same name, by the Irish author Oscar Wilde.  I will not provide further information about it, because it is worth reading and watching. 

In 2009, the Art Institute of Chicago added a Modern Wing, which houses most of the contemporary art.  My favorite art piece there is “White Crucifixion,” which was painted by the French-Jewish artist, Marc Chagall, in 1938.  What I especially find fascinating about it is that it was painted in 1938, right before the outbreak of WWII and the Holocaust.  The painting depicts Jesus in the center, with a Jewish prayer shawl (tallit) as a loincloth, thus emphasizing his Jewishness.  Surrounding him are difference scenes of Jewish persecution in Europe.  One way to interpret this painting is that Chagall was reminding people that, if they are persecuting Jews, it is like persecuting Jesus, who was himself Jewish. 

If you like art, and are in Chicago, then the Art Institute of Chicago is worth the visit.

Sources and Further Reading

“American Gothic.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/6565/american-gothic (accessed January 25, 2020).

Dillon, Diane. “Art Institute of Chicago.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/79.html (accessed February 23, 2020).

Kogan, Rick. “Thorne Rooms Full of Small Wonders.” Chicago Tribune, December 3, 2012. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-xpm-2012-12-03-chi-kogan-sidewalks-thorne-rooms-20121130-story.html (accessed February 23, 2020).

“Mission and History.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/about-us/mission-and-history (accessed January 25, 2020).

“Picture of Dorian Gray.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/93798/picture-of-dorian-gray (accessed February 23, 2020).

“Thorne Miniature Rooms.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/departments/PC-15/thorne-miniature-rooms (accessed January 25, 2020).

“White Crucifixion.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/59426/white-crucifixion (accessed February 23, 2020).

Field Museum of Natural History

During the month of February, one of Chicago’s best museums, the Field Museum of Natural History, is free to Illinois residents.  It ranks among the best natural history museums in the United States, along with New York’s American Museum of Natural History and Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. 

This dinosaur standing in the Field Museum’s main hall is a model, and not one of its real fossils.

After the World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, Marshall Field, a Chicago businessman, helped create the museum.  Originally called the Columbian Museum of Chicago, it soon took on the name of its chief benefactor.  The Field Museum not only began as a museum showcasing artifacts from the Chicago World’s Fair, but was also located in one of the few structures remaining from the Fair, the Palace of Fine Arts Building in Jackson Park.  However, as the Museum grew, it eventually moved into a newer building further north, in an area now called the Museum Campus.

The Field Museum is named after Marshall Field, who created a famous department store in Chicago in 1852. Macy’s bought it out in 2005, however the original building still has the historic sign and clock at 111 N State St, Chicago, IL 60602.

Through a personal connection, I recently had the opportunity to visit part of the Field Museum’s archives, which are not open to the public.  I say “part,” because my visit made me realize how vast its archives are.  My connection does research on insects, so he only showed me the lab where they do their research, as well as the archives where they store thousands of specimens of different types of insects and arachnids.  If this large archival space only contains insect specimens, then I can only imagine what archives the mammals, fish, birds, minerals, mummies, etc., must each have as well.

This is the insect archives at the Field Museum.

A large portion of the Field Museum displays mammals, plants, and other creatures that have been preserved and stuffed.  This includes the Tsavo Lions, which were two lions in Kenya that killed between 35 to 135 people (a huge gap in estimates) in 1898.  The British colonel (John Henry Patterson) who shot them, eventually sold them to the Field Museum.  Apparently, Hollywood has made several movies about the two lions.  Another lion, which ate six people in Zambia in 1991, is also on display at the Field Museum.

In addition to the animals, the Field Museum also displays meteors, gems, and rocks.  One section of the Museum also describes Native American life in the United States.  Perhaps the most popular display is the dinosaur bones and fossils, including a new one from Argentina called Maximo the Titanosaur.  However, my favorite display at the Field Museum is called “Inside Ancient Egypt,” and contains 23 human mummies, as well as animal mummies.  The exhibit is designed to appear as if you are entering a pyramid, which makes the experience more exciting.

The Field Museum displays the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, which was named Sue after its discoverer, Sue Hendrickson.

For more information about Chicago museums affiliated with the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, see what I previously wrote below.

Chicago World Fairs & Chicago Museum Free Days

Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

Sources and Further Reading

Conn, Steven. “Field Museum.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/450.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

“History.” Field Museum. https://www.fieldmuseum.org/about/history (accessed January 25, 2020).

Rothstein, Edward. “Assessing a Future from 120 Years Ago.” The New York Times, November 1, 2013. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/02/arts/design/field-museum-looks-back-at-chicagos-worlds-fair.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

“Tsavo Lions.” Field Museum. February 10, 2018. https://www.fieldmuseum.org/blog/tsavo-lions. (accessed February 13, 2020).

Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is one of the only surviving buildings from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was in Jackson Park, in the South Side of Chicago. Like most of the other buildings at the World’s Fair, it was built in the Beaux Arts (Greek Revival style) architectural style.  Unlike many of the other buildings built for the Fair, it had a more solid structure, which is why it still stands today.  Originally called the Palace of Fine Arts, and bordering a lagoon that no longer exists, the building, as its original name implies, displayed art.  Original photos of the Palace of Fine Arts building can be found here: https://chicagology.com/columbiaexpo/fair039/

This is a current photo of the Museum of Science and Industry (formerly, Palace of Fine Arts).

A year after the 1893 World’s Fair, the building became the Columbian Museum of Chicago, and then the Field Columbian Museum, named after Marshal Field, one of the Museum’s benefactors.  The Museum began as a place to house items from the Chicago World’s Fair (now mostly housed in its archives).  However, as the museum grew, it eventually moved to a new location in 1921. 

The Palace of Fine Arts building / former Field Museum then fell into disrepair.  However, a wealthy businessman named Julius Rosenwald, who co-owned Sears, Roebuck and Company, eventually purchased and restored the building.  He wanted Chicago to have a museum dedicated to science, just like the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  This became Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.  Its opening, in 1933, corresponded with the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933, called “A Century of Progress.”  Several items from the 1933 World’s Fair actually made their way into the Museum of Science and Industry afterwards, such as Dr. Helen Button’s “Formation of the Human Embryo” exhibit, which contains real fetuses, and shows how they develop in the womb.

This is the tomb of Julius Rosenwald, the founder of the Museum of Science and Industry. He is buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago: 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave. Chicago, IL 60660.

Today, entry into the Museum is a little over $20 for adults, and a little over $10 for children.  However, during the winter months, the Museum usually has free days for Illinois residents.  Here is the list of free days for 2020: https://www.chicagoparent.com/learn/museums/free-museum-days-chicago/ I do not think that the free days apply for entry into their special exhibits, though.

The Museum of Science and Industry often has temporary exhibits.  However, this massive building also contains many permanent exhibits.  These include an exhibit called “Yesterday’s Main Street,” which recreates what an American town would have looked like in the early 20th century.  Another exhibit includes vehicles and equipment used during different space explorations.  You can also go inside older transportation vehicles, see baby chicks hatch, watch a giant model train set, see a circus exhibit, and peek into a beautiful fairy castle dollhouse (highly recommended).  Other permanent exhibits require an additional entrance fee.  These include a tour of a captured U-505 German submarine from World War II and a tour of a recreated coal mine.  Finally, visitors can also purchase tickets to watch a film in the Museum’s 5-story domed-theater.  The film options frequently change, but are always related to science (e.g. tornadoes or climbing Mount Everest).

If you visit during the Christmas season, you can see an annual exhibit called “Christmas Around the World.”  This exhibit is made up of over 50 Christmas trees near the Museum’s entrance.  Each tree is decorated by local volunteers and represents a different country or ethnic group.  The annual tradition began in 1942 during World War II.  Originally, there was only one tree which was decorated differently for twelve days, with each day representing a different allied country fighting alongside the United States.

There are other exhibits in the Museum of Science and Industry that I did not even mention.  It is a huge and beautiful museum that is definitely worth visiting.

P. S.  There is another building from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that still exists, but it is no longer in Chicago. This is the Norway Building, which was a building Norway built and sent for the 1893 World’s Fair.  It moved several times, and was a part of a Norwegian historical village/museum in Wisconsin, called Little Norway, from 1935-2012.  The grandson of one of its builders brought it back to Norway in 2017.  The remainder of the buildings from the World’s Fair either burned down or were demolished.

Sources and Further Reading

Conn, Steven. “Field Museum.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/450.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

Ganz, Cheryl R. The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair: A Century of Progress. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Keyes, Jonathan J. “Museum of Science and Industry.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/859.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

Mastony, Colleen. “Norway Building from 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Heads Home.” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2015. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-little-norway-blue-mounds-met-20150919-story.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

Museum of Science and Industry. https://www.msichicago.org/ (accessed January 25, 2020).

“Palace of Fine Arts.” Chicagology. https://chicagology.com/columbiaexpo/fair039/ (accessed January 25, 2020).

Snell, Joe. “Assyrian Christmas Tree Joins Popular Chicago Exhibition.” The Assyrian Journal, December 2018. https://theassyrianjournal.com/assyrian-christmas-tree-joins-popular-chicago-exhibition/ (accessed January 25, 2020).

Chicago World Fairs & Chicago Museum Free Days

The coldest months of the year in Chicago, January and February, are also when Chicago’s museums have the lowest number of visitors.  Because of this, Chicago’s most famous museums usually have a large number of free admission days for Illinois residents.

Here is the list of free days offered at Chicago museums in 2020:

https://www.chicagoparent.com/learn/museums/free-museum-days-chicago/

Two of the top three museums in Chicago (in my opinion), which generally have pricey admission, are offering generous free day options for Illinois residents in February.  These museums are the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry.  The Art Institute of Chicago is not actually offering free days in February, although Wednesdays from 5-8 PM are always free to Illinois residents throughout the entire year.

Coincidentally, I realized that all three museums have a connection with the Chicago World Fair of 1893.  Known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Chicago World Fair of 1893 was supposed to commemorate 400 years since Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Western Hemisphere in 1492 (preparation for the Fair delayed it to 1893 instead of 1892).  There had been many World Fairs prior to 1893, and many more to follow, although Chicago’s probably ranks as one of the more famous ones.  People from all over the world came for Chicago’s World Fair. 

I will discuss each of the three museums in separate posts, but here is a brief summary of how each museum was connected to the 1893 World Fair.  The Museum of Science and Industry was one of the many Classical-style buildings built for the World Fair.  However, it is the only one that still survives.  The Field Museum started out as a museum that housed artifacts from the 1893 Chicago World Fair.  Finally, the Art Institute of Chicago was built in 1893 because of the World Fair, although it was not directly part of the Fair. 

Most of Chicago’s 1893 World Fair took place in the South Side of Chicago, specifically in the Jackson Park area.  Today, the area has an abandoned and eerie feel to it, although the future Barack Obama Presidential Center is supposed to be built there soon.  Significant legacies from the Fair include the introduction of the Cracker Jack snack, the zipper, and Wrigley’s chewing gum.  Additionally, the first Ferris wheel was built for Chicago’s World Fair as a rival to Paris’ 1889 World Fair, which introduced the Eiffel Tower.  The original Ferris wheel was demolished soon after the Fair, but Navy Pier in Chicago now has a Ferris wheel to commemorate the first one.

This statue is located near Jackson Park, and was built in 1918 to commemorate 25 years since the 1893 World Fair. The originally statue was demolished soon after the Fair ended, was much taller, and was located in the Fair’s center.

If you want to learn more about the 1893 World Fair, I recommend the following two resources.  The first is the book, The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson.  It juxtaposes the story of the construction of the World Fair (nicknamed the “White City” because of its massive white buildings) with the story of H. H. Holmes (the devil).  During the Chicago World Fair, Holmes went about murdering people, and is known as the first serial killer in the United States.  A second resource is the film The Current War (released in 2019), which portrays the electric current race that occurred between Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and less directly, Nikola Tesla, and their competition to illuminate the 1893 World Fair. 

As a bonus, I want to mention that Chicago also hosted another World Fair in 1933 and 1934, known as the Century of Progress Exposition.  It helped boost morale and bring new job opportunities during the Great Depression.  This Fair was held a little further north, on Chicago’s Museum Campus area, where the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Soldier Field, and the Shedd Aquarium are located.  The theme of the 1933 World Fair was to promote industrial progress and commemorate Chicago’s 100th birthday, since it was incorporated in 1833.  Unlike the 1893 World Fair, the second World Fair’s architecture was more modern and included a lot of Art Deco style.  Unfortunately, none of this Fair’s buildings still remain.

I found two flagpoles from the 1933 Chicago World Fair at two Chicago suburb schools. I wonder if they were originally a part of that Fair’s “Avenue of Flags” walkway.

This flagpole is outside of Main East High School in Park Ridge, Illinois. It is where both Hillary Clinton and Harrison Ford attended high school.
This flagpole was set up at Niles Township Community High School in Skokie, Illinois, which no longer exists. It is now Oakton Community College’s Skokie campus.

Recommended Books

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Book of the Fair: An Historical and Descriptive Presentation of the World’s Science, Art, and Industry, as Viewed through the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. New York: Bounty Books, 1894.

Buel, James W. The Magic City. New York: Arno Press, 1974.

Ganz, Cheryl R. The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair: A Century of Progress. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2002.

Sources and Further Reading

Adams, Barry. “On Wisconsin: An End for Little Norway and the Possible Return Trip for Its Signature Building.” Wisconsin State Journal, December 7, 2014. https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/columnists/on-wisconsin-an-end-for-little-norway-and-a-possible/article_7b584af9-fb7f-584d-ab29-876febb948c0.html (accessed January 25, 2019).

The Current War. DVD. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Dallas: Lantern Entertainment, 2019.

“Free Days for Chicago-Area Museums.” Chicago Parent, January 2, 2020. https://www.chicagoparent.com/learn/museums/free-museum-days-chicago/ (accessed January 25, 2019).

LaTrace, A.J., “A Look at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair in Color.” Curbed Chicago, May 12, 2017. https://chicago.curbed.com/2017/5/12/15629342/1933-chicago-worlds-fair-color-film-footage (accessed January 25, 2019).

McNamara, Chris. “Remnants of the White City. Chicago Tribune, July 2, 2004 https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2004-07-02-0407020064-story.html (accessed January 25, 2019).

Rydell, Robert W. “Century of Progress Exposition (May 27, 1933-November 12, 1933; May 25, 1934-October 31, 1934).” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/225.html (accessed January 25, 2019).

Rydell, Robert W. “World’s Columbian Exposition (May 1, 1893-October 30, 1893.).” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2004. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1386.html (accessed January 25, 2019).

Wadsworth, Kimberley. “Relics of the World’s Fair: Chicago.” Atlas Obscura, January 10, 2014. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/relics-of-the-world-s-fair-chicago (accessed January 25, 2019).

University of Chicago: Regenstein & Mansueto Libraries

The University of Chicago (not to be confused with the University of Illinois in Chicago) was ranked the 6th best National University in the United States in 2019.  Founded in 1890, this prestigious university is known for graduating Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as employing famous faculty who have made important contributions to their fields.  Additionally, Barack Obama taught at the University’s law school from 1992-2004, before he became U.S. President.

The University of Chicago has several libraries, such as a law library, math library, and archaeology library.  I believe that the current science library, the John Crerar Library, was the University’s first library. Additionally, although I have not visited it, I was told that the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library has an amazing reading room reminiscent of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books.

Currently, the main library at the University of Chicago is the Joseph Regenstein Library, which has five floors and two basement levels.  The photo on the main page of my blog was taken from this amazing library’s stacks.  I had never seen so many books in my life.  Just walking through the library gave me an exhilarated feeling, and reminded me of how much knowledge there is in the world, but how little of it a human mind can actually obtain and retain.

In 2011, the University completed an addition to the Regenstein Library, called the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.  Because the University of Chicago is one of the largest research libraries in the United States, they do not weed (get rid of) their books to make room for more, meaning that they have accumulated several million books.  With limited real estate in Chicago, the University needed to find more space for them.  That is why the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library was built.  However, the majority of it is underground.

Below are photos of the outside and inside of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. The area located above the ground houses a bright reading room, as well as conservation and digitization labs. The glass has three layers, which blocks out 99% of the sun’s ultra-violet light.

When I visited the conservation lab, a conservator was working on a 50-pound music book from Spain dating to the 1600s.

Since I visited the Mansueto Library with a librarian group, we were given the opportunity to visit the lower levels of the building, which are not open to the public. The two underground levels house a total of approximately 3.5 million books and journals that have historically not been used or checked out often. They are stored in high-ceiling rooms reminiscent of a hardware store such as Menards, with towering rows of bins filled with books in each “aisle.” If someone wants an item housed in this area, all he or she needs to do is request it from the library’s catalog. Within five minutes, a robot retrieves the correct bin containing the book, and brings it up to the librarian upstairs. This is called an Automated Storage and Retrieval System. Only a handful of libraries in the world have this system. The room housing the books is climate-controlled and, thus, also stores the University’s rare books and special collections. If a fire should ever occur down there, the air is supposed to suck out of the room, theoretically putting out the fire. This prevents the need for a sprinkler system that could ruin the books, but also means that humans would need to leave the premises immediately.

The University of Chicago’s library system is the 9th largest academic library in North America, and the 19th largest library in the United States (The Library of Congress is #1, and two other Chicago libraries rank higher: Chicago Public Library is #5 and University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign is #6.).

Since I visited the library with a librarian group, I am not sure how easy it is for visitors to enter the library.  I believe that university students at other schools do not have much trouble if they show their student I.D., however, the Library’s website is vague about non-student visitors.  You should probably check with them ahead of time if you plan to visit.

Although the Regenstein Library’s architecture looks bleak (building in the foreground), it contains a treasure trove of books. It is located on the University of Chicago’s original football field, which was the site of the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction on December 2, 1942. This monument commemorates the event.

Sources and Further Reading

“About the University of Chicago Library.” The University of Chicago Library. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/about/thelibrary/ (accessed January 11 2019).

“History.” The University of Chicago. https://www.uchicago.edu/about/history/ (accessed January 11 2019).

“The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.” The University of Chicago Library. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/mansueto/ (accessed January 11 2019).

“The Largest Libraries in the U.S.” Infoplease. https://www.infoplease.com/arts-entertainment/literature-and-books/largest-libraries-us (accessed January 11 2019).

“Libraries and Museums.” The University of Chicago. https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/libraries-and-museums (accessed January 11 2019).

“National University Rankings.” U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities (accessed January 11 2019).

Auditorium Theatre

On December 9, 2019, the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago turned 130 years old.  Built in 1889 by architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, the theater was the first home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as the early Chicago opera companies.  Today, the Theatre still hosts ballets, orchestras, musicians, etc.  Additionally, because of its interesting history, and more likely because Louis Sullivan is considered a famous architect, the Theatre frequently offers tours.  Most of the people on my small tour were French tourists who did not know each other, which makes me suspect that architecture receives a larger emphasis there than in the United States.

I went on the 1 ½ hour tour of the Auditorium Theatre with an extremely knowledgeable guide.  He made it more interesting because of his personal connection with the Theatre.  After World II, in 1945, Roosevelt University came into existence.  It purchased the Theatre building, but did not open it to the public.  However, in 1960, the University began raising funds to restore the Theatre.  During the 1960s, my tour guide heard about the fundraising campaign and asked his mother if they could contribute.  They did, and he then received a letter thanking him for being one of the youngest donors.  As a reward, he was given a personal tour of the Theatre.  In 1967, when the Theatre reopened to the public, he and his mother attended the performance.  He has seen every show offered there since.

That was the history of the Theatre during the second half of the 20th century, however, the first half is also interesting.  Although Adler and Sullivan did not build the first skyscraper, they are considered pioneers in the skyscraper’s development.  Additionally, they helped influence future architects, such as the more famous Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked under Sullivan at the beginning of his career.

Louis Sullivan is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.

When the Theatre opened in 1889, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison came to its opening.  The Theatre was considered grand at the time, as it seated 4,200 and had a 10-story hotel above it.  Its reputation helped Chicago win the bid to host the 1893 World Fair.  Some of the famous people to perform or speak at the Auditorium Theatre have been President Theodore Roosevelt, Civil Rights activist Booker T. Washington, Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, Aretha Franklin, The Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix.  The Theatre somehow held a few baseball games during its early years, and during World War II, the government used it for U.S. soldiers, and a large portion of the auditorium became bowling alleys.   

The two most fascinating aspects of the Theatre to me were the lighting and the sinking floor.  Because electricity was new at the time that the Theatre was built, the auditorium contains 3,500 lightbulbs total.  It was a great way to show off this new invention.  Originally, the entire Theatre used carbon lightbulbs, however, they are not as bright as the bulbs used today, so only the main part of the auditorium uses them now, while the hallways use more standard lightbulbs.  Carbon lightbulbs actually last longer than the current ones, but I cannot remember the number of years. 

Chicago used to be a swampy area, so the ground is not solid.  The architects knew this and took precautions when building the Theatre’s foundation.  However, over the years, the perimeter of the building has sunk deeper in comparison to the rest of the building.  This was especially noticeable in the Theatre’s lobby, where the ground sloped downward near the entrance.  Additionally, during the tour, we went to the top balcony, which apparently leans more toward the stage than it used to.  The Theatre does not sell those seats as often, unless an event is extremely popular.  In the past, African Americans were only permitted to sit in the balcony seats, and not in the rest of the Theatre.  In regards to the sinking ground the guide said that the building has stopped sinking, and remains safe.  Hopefully, that is true. 

A standard tour at the Auditorium Theatre currently costs $12.  Additionally, the tours are typically only offered on weekdays at unusual times.  This is probably so as not to interfere with the Theatre’s scheduled performances. 

Sources and Further Reading

“Architecture.” Auditorium Theatre. https://www.auditoriumtheatre.org/the-building/architecture/#/ (accessed December 11, 2019).

“Historic Theatre Tours.” Auditorium Theatre. https://tickets.auditoriumtheatre.org/production/2677/19-20-public-theatre-tours/#/ (accessed December 11, 2019).

“Origins & Stats.” Auditorium Theatre. https://www.auditoriumtheatre.org/the-building/origins-stats/ (accessed December 11, 2019).

“Timeline.” Auditorium Theatre. https://www.auditoriumtheatre.org/the-building/timeline/ (accessed December 11, 2019).

National Cambodian Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial

Unfortunately, many genocides occurred during the twentieth century.  One of them was the Cambodian Genocide, which took place between 1975 and 1979.  Approximately, 2 million people died.  In the United States, Chicago is the only place that currently has a memorial to this Genocide (although Long Beach, California is currently working on one).  This is interesting, since most Cambodians in the United States actually live in California and Massachusetts, not Chicago. 

Chicago’s National Cambodian Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial opened in 2004, but falls under the authority of the Cambodian Association of Illinois, which was founded in 1976.  This organization was founded during the Genocide, with the purpose of assisting Cambodian refugees who came to resettle in Chicago.  Today, the organization provides healthcare assistance and community programming for the approximately 5,000 Cambodians living in the Chicago area.

The Cambodian Heritage Museum is open to the public whenever the Cambodian Association of Illinois has its regular office hours.  However, it does not hurt to call ahead of time.  Unlike many museums, your participation is essential during your visit.  All visits include a tour, in which your guide describes the Cambodian community and Genocide based on what you already know and want to know.  Artifacts do not play a major role in the Museum.  Instead, they are used as ways to discuss different aspects of the Genocide.

When I visited the Cambodian Heritage Museum, the associate director of the Cambodian Association of Illinois, who is also the main overseer of the Museum, provided me with a personal tour.  First, she had me watch a brief video about the Cambodian Genocide, and then we went through the exhibit together.  Although she is one of the few staff members at the Cambodian Association of Illinois who is not Cambodian, her passion and love for the community is quite evident.  She was a wonderful tour guide, and provided me with a very personal and informative experience.  Prior to my visit, I hardly knew anything about the Genocide, so she provided a very helpful overview.

The Cambodian Genocide is linked with the Vietnam War.  During that time, Communist forces from Vietnam spread their ideology into neighboring Cambodia.  Then, a Communist regime, also known as the Khmer Rouge, took over Cambodia, and the Genocide soon followed.  Many people were murdered outright, especially Cambodia’s intellectuals and artists.  By removing the intellectuals of a society, a government removes its strongest resistance.  However, that action indirectly caused the deaths of many more people.  If a country has murdered all of its doctors, who is going to treat illnesses appropriately?  In order to make the country equal, the Khmer Rouge tried to make everyone become farmers, and brought many people from the cities into the rural areas.  Many more deaths occurred due to lack of food, the poor conditions of the newly-created labor camps, and the outright murder of dissenters.

At the very back of the Cambodian Heritage Museum is the actual memorial to the Genocide.  On it are etched the names of the dead family and friends of Cambodian refugees now living in the United States.  During my tour, I was told how, in Cambodia, most memorials to the Genocide are rooms with thousands of human skulls.  However, for this Chicago Memorial, the community did not want to recreate the horror of what occurred, but wanted to provide a calming environment to commemorate the tragedy.

Sources and Further Reading

“About.” Cambodian Association of Illinois. https://cambodianassociation.org/about (accessed November 23, 2019).

“Cambodia.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. https://www.ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/countries/cambodia (accessed November 23, 2019).

“History.” National Cambodian Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial. https://www.cambodianmuseum.org/what-we-do (accessed November 23, 2019).

Kopsa, Andy. “How Cambodia’s Day of Remembrance for Genocide Victims Has Always Been Complicated.” Time. May 20, 2019. https://time.com/5591061/cambodia-remembrance-day-history/ (accessed November 23, 2019).

Rhee, Nissa. “The Cambodian Association of Illinois Celebrates 40 Years by Looking Ahead.” Chicago Reader. May 26, 2016. https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/cambodian-association-illinois-khmer-rouge-kompha-seth/Content?oid=22237231 (accessed November 23, 2019).