KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago

If you walk around the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, you might notice a large, domed building with a minaret located across the street from former U.S. President Barack Obama’s home.  Until a larger sign was added to the front lawn, most people assumed it was a mosque.  However, it is actually KAM Isaiah Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in Illinois.

In the early nineteenth century, German Jews began settling in Chicago.  By 1847, enough Jews arrived in Chicago to start a synagogue, so Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv (KAM for short) was founded.  Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv means “Congregation of the Men of the West” in Hebrew.  As more Jews continued to settle in Chicago, more synagogues emerged.  The current congregation in Hyde Park, KAM Isaiah Israel, is a merger of several of Chicago’s oldest synagogues: Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv (KAM), B’nai Sholom (which originally formed as a split from KAM), Isaiah Temple, and Temple Israel.  That is why the current name of the synagogue is KAM Isaiah Israel.  KAM began as an Orthodox synagogue, but soon joined the newly formed Reformed Jewish movement.

KAM Isaiah Israel’s current building at 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd. was built in 1924 by Isaiah Temple, before it merged with the other synagogues.  The reason why it looks like a mosque is because Byzantine Revival architecture was popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This style tries to imitate the mosques and churches of Constantinople (the capital of Byzantium).  Byzantine Revival architecture that specifically mimics Islamic architecture is known as the Moorish Revival style.  Many Jews built their synagogues in this style during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a way of hearkening back to their Middle Eastern roots.  Because of its architectural significance, KAM Isaiah Israel’s building was designated a Chicago landmark in 1977.

I went on a tour of KAM Isaiah Israel during Open House Chicago, an annual event in Chicago in which different museums, public buildings, houses of worship, etc. open their doors to the public for a weekend in October.  Unfortunately, this year, the event will be limited to online and outdoor events, due to COVID-19: https://openhousechicago.org/.  Prior to COVID-19, KAM Isaiah Israel also offered private tours of the synagogue upon request.  Currently, the synagogue has been livestreaming its services, and plans to continue doing so for the upcoming Jewish High Holidays.  On my tour, I was told that because of the domed ceiling, the acoustics of the synagogue are beautiful, so it might be worth listening to a livestreamed service.

As an added bonus, here is a photograph of another Moorish Revival building in Chicago, located at 600 N. Wabash Ave.  It is of the former Medinah Temple, built in 1912 as an auditorium for the Shriners, a group related to the Freemasons, which often employs Middle Eastern terminology and designs.  Currently, the building houses a Bloomingdale’s department store, but that was supposed to end in 2020, so we shall see what happens.  The building became a Chicago landmark in 2001.

Sources and Further Reading

Open House Chicago. https://openhousechicago.org/ (accessed September 5, 2020).

Ori, Ryan. “Landmark Medinah Temple to be Redeveloped – Again – by ‘Mayor of River North.’” Chicago Tribune. June 14, 2019. https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/ryan-ori/ct-biz-medinah-temple-friedman-properties-ryan-ori-20190607-story.html (accessed September 5, 2020).

“Our Building and History.” KAM Isaiah Israel. https://www.kamii.org/history (accessed September 5, 2020).

Rodkin, Dennis. “What’s That Building? Medinah Temple.” WBEZ. September 12, 2018. https://www.wbez.org/stories/whats-that-building-medinah-temple/3e8d9257-2f34-4126-953b-f4aee23d31a4 (accessed September 5, 2020).

Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago

Chicago ranks among the top three cities with the largest Ukrainian population in the United States.  The first Ukrainian immigrants came to Chicago during a wave in the late nineteenth century, but three more waves of immigration followed throughout the twentieth century.  Many Ukrainians settled in a western area of Chicago, which is now known as Ukrainian Village.  Although several Ukrainian churches are still there, most Ukrainians are now dispersed throughout Chicago and its suburbs, and are no longer concentrated within a single neighborhood.

Ukrainian Village has two Ukrainian museums.  The first is the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, which was founded in 1971.  I have never visited it.  The second is called the Ukrainian National Museum and was founded in 1952.  I have visited the latter one.  It is located across the street from the gorgeous Saints Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, and primarily displays Ukrainian arts and crafts, in addition to some snippets of Ukrainian history.

The museum’s arts and crafts exhibits include a variety of Ukrainian clothing, dishes, etc.  They also contain a variety of beautiful pysanky.  Pysanky are specially decorated Easter eggs.  First, the yolk is removed from the egg through a tiny hole, and then the remaining eggshell is intricately decorated with colorful dyes.

A significant portion of the museum discusses the Ukrainian famine or genocide of 1932-1933, known as the Holdomor.  During that time, Ukraine belonged to the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin.  In accordance with his Communist ideology, Stalin attempted to bring all of Ukraine’s farmland under governmental control.  Many famers resisted giving up their land, and were therefore sent to prison camps in Siberia.  Because the farmers did not reach their required governmental quota of grain, Stalin punished the people by removing all of their remaining produce.  Ultimately, between 4 to 10 million Ukrainians died as a result of the man-made famine.  During this time, Stalin also attempted to discourage the use of the Ukrainian language, and destroy Ukrainian nationalism. 

The museum describes the Holdomor using newspaper clippings, photos, and signs.  Additionally, on the day when I visited the museum, a historian/staff member walked around the museum answering questions that visitors may have had regarding the exhibits.  She recommended that we watch the 2017 film Bitter Harvest, which dramatically portrays the Holdomor.  It did a decent job of describing what happened.  As of 2020, less than 40 countries acknowledge that the Holdomor was a genocide, while Russia continues to deny that the deaths were intentional.

The Ukrainian National Museum typically hosts different events throughout the year (when there are no pandemics).  It also maintains a library and archives, which are available to researchers upon appointment.

Sources and Further Reading

Bitter Harvest. Directed by George Mendeluk. Los Angeles, CA: Roadside Attractions, 2017.

“Chicago’s Ukrainian Village.” Ukrainian National Museum. https://ukrainiannationalmuseum.org/chicagos-ukrainian-village/ (accessed July 19, 2020).

Hrycack, Alexandra. “Ukrainians.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1279.html (accessed July 19, 2020).

Kiger, Patrick J. “How Joseph Stalin Starved Millions in the Ukrainian Famine.” History Channel. April 16, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/ukrainian-famine-stalin (accessed July 19, 2020).

Chinese American Museum of Chicago

The Chinese American Museum of Chicago just reopened its doors to the public on July 1, 2020, after being closed since March, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  A video of the reopening is available on a Chinese website: http://video.sinovision.net/?id=57080&cid=124&fbclid=IwAR1JFmQDCF61-jNvMpIFVFGaAakkRuMxtn4yZFGysYTXGUQN_BPZhh8fWOI

Many people from China began arriving to the United States during the California Gold Rush of 1849.  Afterwards, many of these Chinese immigrants found jobs building the transcontinental railroad, which connected the Eastern and Western coasts of the United States via railroad.  Once the railroad was completed in 1869, a large number of these immigrants then sought work elsewhere.  It is around this time that Chinese immigrants began moving to Chicago, to find better jobs and less discrimination.

The Chinese American Museum of Chicago was founded in 2005 to document Chicago’s Chinese history.  The first floor of the former warehouse displays the Museum’s temporary exhibits.  When I visited, the temporary exhibit was called “The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad – The Railroad Helped Build America.”  This wonderful exhibit showed how much we owe to the hard work of the Chinese immigrants who helped build the United States’ transcontinental railroad in the 1860s.  Unfortunately, the Chinese workers received inferior treatment in comparison to other groups who worked on the transcontinental railroad.  For example, they received lower wages than others and were often the ones made to do the dangerous work of dynamiting the mountains, to make space for the railroad.

The second floor of the Museum is the permanent exhibit that displays the history of Chicago’s Chinese history.  My visit there began with a 15-minute video that a staff member put on for me to watch.  The video is called “My Chinatown: Stories from Within,” and was created in collaboration with the Chicago History Museum.  It not only uses a screen, but also uses props next to the screen as part of the presentation.

After watching the video, I made my way through the rest of the permanent exhibit.  It includes a beautiful diorama from Chicago’s former Wentworth Avenue Ling Long Museum, which closed in the 1980s.  The Ling Long Museum was built during the Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress in 1933-34, and displayed dioramas of famous Chinese stories.  The diorama at the Chinese American Museum of Chicago is beautiful and intricate.  Unfortunately, it is the sole surviving diorama from the Ling Long Museum.  The remaining dioramas burned down when the Chinese American Museum of Chicago experienced a devastating fire in 2008.

Through objects, photographs, and signs, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago documents Chicago’s Chinese history from the nineteenth century up until the present day.  This includes mention of the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1882, which banned Chinese immigration to the United States.  That means that Chinese immigration to Chicago went on hold for several decades.  However, after World War II, the restrictions were lifted.  Many Chinese immigrants began arriving in the United States during China’s political upheaval in the 1950s.  I found it interesting that the last section of the Museum’s exhibit mentions how many of the more recent Chinese immigrants to the United States were Chinese children adopted by U.S. families.

The Chinese American Museum of Chicago is a great place to learn the history of Chicago’s Chinese community.  It is located in Chicago’s Chinatown, in the South Side of Chicago.  While in Chinatown, you can also grab a meal at one of the numerous Chinese restaurants there, and look at some of the Chinese-inspired architecture in the neighborhood.

Sources and Further Reading

“Objects from the Former Ling Long Museum, 1930s.” Chinese American Museum of Chicago. April 26, 2018. https://ccamuseum.org/2018/04/26/objects-from-the-former-ling-long-museum-1930s/  (accessed June 27, 2020).

Fuchs, Chris. “150 Years Ago, Chinese Railroad Workers Staged the Era’s Largest Labor Strike.” NBC News. June 31, 2017. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/150-years-ago-chinese-railroad-workers-staged-era-s-largest-n774901#:~:text=Chinese%20laborers%20made%20up%20a,hammered%20in%20at%20Promontory%2C%20Utah. (accessed June 27, 2020).

“History and Mission.” Chinese American Museum of Chicago. https://ccamuseum.org/history-and-mission/ (accessed June 27, 2020).

Isaacs, Deanna. The Museum that Works. Chicago Reader. October 23, 2008. https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-museum-that-works/Content?oid=1105917 (accessed June 27, 2020).

Steffes, Tracy. “Chinese.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2014. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/285.html (accessed June 27, 2020).

Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago

One of the oldest cemeteries in Chicago is Oak Woods Cemetery, which was founded in 1854, but started burying people in 1860.  Located in the South Side of Chicago, it used to be outside of Chicago’s boundaries, but that changed as the city grew.  What I enjoyed most about my visit there was discovering the diverse range of people buried in it.

When visiting an American cemetery, one of the most valuable websites is Findagrave.com.  It is basically a cemetery database.  Anybody with an account can add graves to it.  Some people actually add graves to it for fun, since it is an invaluable resource for genealogical research.  The more famous the cemetery, the more likely most, if not all, of its graves have been added to it.  What is even more amazing is that for famous graves, people often add photos and coordinate locations, so that you can easily find a specific grave using your GPS.  Before visiting Oak Woods Cemetery, I researched which famous people were buried there, and then used Findagrave and my phone’s GPS to find them.

Perhaps what makes Oak Woods Cemetery most unique is that, according to Rick Kogan’s May 31, 2013 article in the Chicago Tribune, it contains the largest known mass grave in the Western Hemisphere.  Known as the Confederate Mound, this mass grave contains the bodies of approximately 4,200 Confederate soldiers from the American Civil War.  The reason why these Southern troops were buried in the North is because they were prisoners of war living in a military prison in Chicago called Camp Douglas.  The conditions at the camp were terrible, however, a smallpox epidemic caused the deaths of most of the Confederate soldiers buried in the mass grave.  These soldiers’ bodies were actually relocated to Oak Woods Cemetery after the Civil War, because, according to the National Park Service, the U.S. Government had to close their original burial place, due to flooding.

Oak Woods Cemetery’s Confederate Mound

In 1895, an ex-Confederate group in Chicago erected a monument over Oak Woods’ Confederate mass grave.  In response, the following year, a Southern abolitionist erected a cenotaph (empty tomb in honor of a person or group) at Oak Woods in honor of Southern abolitionists.  Oak Woods also has a smaller monument over a mass grave of Union soldiers.

The Abolitionist Cenotaph at Oak Woods Cemetery
Oak Woods Cemetery’s Monument over the Graves of Union Soldiers

Ironically, Oak Woods not only houses dead Confederate troops, but also some famous African Americans.  My favorite person buried at Oak Woods is the Olympic running champion, Jesse Owens.  He famously represented the United States in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, where he beat a German runner, and thus disproved Hitler’s belief in the superiority of the “Aryan” race.  Other famous African Americans buried at Oak Woods include Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American mayor, and Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil rights activist.

The diversity of Oak Woods Cemetery does not end with Confederate soldiers and Civil Rights activists.  Not far from the Confederate Mound is a separate Jewish cemetery.  However, it is maintained by several synagogues instead of by Dignity Memorial, which maintains the rest of the cemetery.  Sadly, because of the huge expense of maintaining graves, and because the Jewish cemetery is older, the graves are in poor condition.

Oak Woods Cemetery’s Jewish Section

Last but not least, another famous person buried at Oak Woods Cemetery is Enrico Fermi.  He is the Italian scientist who created the first nuclear reactor, meaning that he helped create the atomic bomb.

Oak Woods Cemetery clearly shows that once we are dead, we are all truly equal, no matter what notions we may have about it while we are still alive. If only people could get along in life as they do in death.

You may also be interested in my post about Graceland Cemetery.

Sources and Further Reading

“Confederate Mound at Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago, Illinois.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Illinois/Confederate_Mound_Oak_Woods_Cemetery.html (accessed May 29, 2020).

“It Tells His Life Story: Abolitionist Shaft in Oakwoods Erected by T.D. Lowther”. Chicago Tribune. June 9, 1896.

American Experience: Jesse Owens. Directed by Laurens Grant. Boston: WGBH, 2012. 

Kogan, Rick. “Camp Douglas Effort Stirs Ghosts of the Civil War.” Chicago Tribune. May 31, 2013. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-xpm-2013-05-31-ct-ae-0602-kogan-sidewalks-20130531-story.html (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oak Woods Cemetery.” Dignity Memorial. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/chicago-il/oak-woods-cemetery/6248 (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oak Woods Cemetery.” Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/173554/oak-woods-cemetery (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oakwoods Cemetery.” Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois. https://jgsi.org/OakOakwoods-Cemeterywoods-Cemetery (accessed May 29, 2020).

Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant

Did you ever wonder where sewage water goes, or what happens to water that has been flushed down the toilet?  I had the privilege of visiting the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant to learn more about this.  This facility serves approximately 1.3 million residents living in both the northern part of Chicago and in seventeen of its northern suburbs in Cook County.  People can request tours to see this water reclamation plant, as well as others in the Chicago area.  However, I visited the plant during Open House Chicago, which is a weekend event that happens every October in Chicago in which different buildings, museums, etc. open up their spaces for free to the public.

Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant in Skokie, Illinois

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) began in 1889.  Among its early projects was reversing the Chicago River so that it flowed away from Lake Michigan (Chicago’s source of drinking water) rather than towards it.  As Chicago grew in population, so did its need for reclamation plants.  The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, Illinois was built in 1930, and is among the largest in the world.  The Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant was built in 1928, and originally called the North Side Sewage Treatment Works.  It was renamed in memory of a Board Commissioner in 2012.  Although people can tour Chicago’s water reclamation plants, they cannot tour the plant that deals with Chicago’s drinking water, due to security concerns.  This is the Jardine Water Purification Plant, located north of Navy Pier.

My tour of the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant began with watching a video, which provided an overview of the water reclamation process.  This video is available on YouTube.  Next, we walked over to the areas mentioned in the video.

Although we walked to this section last, the first step in the water reclamation process is to remove the largest sewage materials, which, according to my guide, can include strange things like dead rats.  The waste is first removed in the Pump and Blower Building.  From there, the largest material waste goes down a tube, southeast to the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, Illinois.  At that facility, waste is transformed into compost.

Inside Terrence J. O’Brien’s Pump and Blower Building

What does not go to Stickney ends up going through the rest of the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.  First, the water goes into circular vats, where the remaining solids sink.  The secondary treatment includes microorganisms that “eat” away the bacteria.  Lastly, the water gets pumped into an Ultraviolet Wastewater Disinfectant Facility, where UV light helps kill additional bacteria.  Completed in 2016, this is currently the largest UV disinfectant facility in the world.  Once the water treatment process has finished, the water flows into the North Branch of the Chicago River, located across the street from the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.  Apparently, the water exiting the Reclamation Plant is cleaner than the River, which is believable, because the North Branch of the Chicago River never looks clean.

This is Step 2 of the water reclamation process, where the water is aerated so that the microorganisms eating the bacteria can thrive.

People riding the Yellow Line (Skokie Swift) of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), which is the elevated train (the “L”) that connects Chicago to its northern suburb of Skokie, have a great view of the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.  Since this is an elevated train, it passes right over the facility.

Sources and Further Reading

“Facility Tours.” Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. https://mwrd.org/facility-tours (accessed May 8, 2020).

Fore, Allison. “North Side Water Reclamation Plant is Renamed to Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.” Patch. November 16, 2012. https://patch.com/illinois/chicagoheights/bp–north-side-water-reclamation-plant-is-renamed-to-76d7ad1a48 (accessed May 8, 2020).

Garcia, Evan. “World’s Largest Ultraviolet Disinfection Facility Tackles Chicago River.” WTTW. March 23, 2016. https://news.wttw.com/2016/03/23/worlds-largest-ultraviolet-disinfection-facility-tackles-chicago-river (accessed May 8, 2020).

MWRD. “Terrence O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant Video Tour.” March 11, 2019. Video, 7:41. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ4IbCBf7g0 (accessed May 8, 2020).

“One Water Spotlight: Stickney Water Reclamation Plant.” US Water Alliance. http://uswateralliance.org/resources/one-water-spotlight-stickney-water-reclamation-plant (accessed May 8, 2020).

“Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.” Open House Chicago. https://openhousechicago.org/sites/site/terrence-j-obrien-water-reclamation-plant/ (accessed May 8, 2020).

“Our History.” Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. https://mwrd.org/our-history (accessed May 8, 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).

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).

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).