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