Circle Studio, Inc. in Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Badalpour Interview Part 1

Joseph Badalpour Interview Part 2

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading
“About Us.” Circle Studio. http://www.circlestudioinc.com/about.html (accessed January 2, 2021).

Assyrian Cultural Foundation. “Interview with Joseph Badalpour Part1.” YouTube, August 21, 2018. Video, 31:17. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZCwMgk-Gss (accessed January 2, 2021).

Assyrian Cultural Foundation. “Interview with Joseph Badalpour Part2.” YouTube, August 21, 2018. Video, 31:17. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eYgxkkN57k (accessed January 2, 2021).

Polish Museum of America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading
“About Library.” The Polish Museum of America. https://www.polishmuseumofamerica.org/library/ (accessed December 5, 2020).

“About PMA.” The Polish Museum of America. https://www.polishmuseumofamerica.org/about-pma/ (accessed December 5, 2020).

“Core Members.” Chicago Cultural Alliance. https://www.chicagoculturalalliance.org/membership/core-members/ (accessed December 5, 2020).

Dukes, Jesse. “Can Chicago Brag about the Size of Its Polish Population?” WBEZ. https://www.wbez.org/stories/can-chicago-brag-about-the-size-of-its-polish-population/ef8c74cd-8835-4eb7-8e81-11203e78fc2d (accessed December 5, 2020).

Greene, Nick. “What Is Pulaski Day?” Mental Floss. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/61953/what-pulaski-day (accessed December 5, 2020).

Mansur, Sarah. “Risked His Life to Save Others.” Chicago Daily Law Bulletin 164 (18). January 18, 2018. https://www.foxrothschild.com/content/uploads/2018/01/Chicago-Law-Bulletin-Risked-His-Life-to-Save-Others.pdf (accessed December 5, 2020).

Pacyga, Dominic A. “Chicago.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/982.html (accessed December 5, 2020).

Baby Face Nelson

Even though COVID-19 has shut down cultural institutions such as museums and libraries for most of 2020, that has not stopped me from learning some interesting new history.  Last month, I learned that I live close to where the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) found the dead body of Baby Face Nelson in 1934.  Baby Face Nelson, the nickname of Lester Gillis, was a notorious bank robber known for killing the most FBI agents ever (three total).  His nickname came from his apparently youthful appearance.

Baby Face Nelson is buried at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery & Mausoleums in River Grove, Illinois.

Although a criminal his entire life, Baby Face Nelson grew in notoriety once he joined the FBI’s Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger.  John Dillinger’s group, known as the Dillinger Gang, participated in numerous bank robberies, and were not afraid to use violence in the process.

In July of 1934, the FBI eventually shot and killed the 31-year-old Dillinger, because a Romanian prostitute, Ana Cumpănaș, tipped off the FBI, in return for their aid in preventing her deportation back to Romania.  Unfortunately for Cumpănaș, she still ended up being deported.  According to the FBI’s website, Cumpănaș told the FBI that she would be wearing an orange dress while watching a film with Dillinger and another woman at the Biograph Theater in Chicago.  Somehow, the dress changed from orange to red in newspaper accounts, and Dillinger’s betrayer came to be known as the “Woman in Red.”

The Biograph Theater, where FBI agents shot and killed John Dillinger, used to be a movie theater, but now shows plays. It is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL 60614.

After Dillinger’s death, another member of the Dillinger Gang, Pretty Boy Floyd, became the FBI’s Public Enemy No. 1.  The FBI shot and killed Floyd in October of 1934, so then Baby Face Nelson became Public Enemy No. 1.  On the run from the police for a month, the FBI eventually caught up with him on November 27, 1934, in Barrington, Illinois, a suburb approximately 45 minutes northwest of Chicago.  Two FBI agents died as a result of a skirmish with him, that came to be known as the Battle of Barrington.

This is a memorial plaque to the two FBI agents who died at the Battle of Barrington. It is located near the original battle, at Lagendorf Park | 235 Lions Dr. Barrington, IL 60010.

The Battle of Barrington left Baby Face Nelson severely wounded, so he asked his friends and wife (who was hiding in a ditch during the battle) to take him to a friend’s house at 1627 Walnut Ave. in Wilmette, a wealthy northern suburb of Chicago.  He died soon after their arrival there, at the age of 25.  His friends then left his body in front of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery in Niles Center (the former name of the Chicago suburb of Skokie).  Afterwards, the FBI received an anonymous call informing them of the location of Baby Face Nelson’s body.  While figuring out what to do with his body, the FBI brought it to nearby Haben Funeral Home.  During this time, the FBI also searched for Baby Face Nelson’s wife, Helen, whom they soon found and imprisoned for a year.

This is the location of the house where Baby Face Nelson died, at 1627 Walnut Ave. in Wilmette, IL. However, the original house was torn down, and this one was built in its place in 2014. It is located a few blocks away from the childhood home of actor, Bill Murray.
Baby Face Nelson’s body was found right outside the tiny St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery on Harms Rd. in Skokie, IL. St. Peter’s United Church of Christ Cemetery, across the street, is known as the final resting place of the founders of Chicago’s northern suburbs of Skokie and Lincolnwood.
Once FBI agents found the body of Baby Face Nelson, they brought it to Haben Funeral Home & Crematory, at 8057 Niles Center Rd. Skokie, IL 60077, until they figured out what to do with it.

Although Al Capone is undoubtedly Chicago’s most notorious gangster, the Dillinger Gang arguably comes in second place.  Both groups have inspired popular culture through countless films and books ever since.  If you want to learn more about these criminals, as well as others, and see some of their FBI files, check out the FBI’s history page on its website: https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/lester-gillis-baby-face-nelson.

Sources and Further Reading
“1627 Walnut Ave. Wilmette, IL 60091.” Redfin. https://www.redfin.com/IL/Wilmette/1627-Walnut-Ave-60091/home/13782931 (accessed November 13, 2020).

“John Dillinger.” FBI. https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/john-dillinger (accessed November 13, 2020).

“Lester Gillis (“Baby Face” Nelson).” FBI. https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/lester-gillis-baby-face-nelson (accessed November 13, 2020).

Skokie Heritage Museum. “Skokie’s Historic Bike Tour.” Skokie Park District. 2016. https://www.skokieparks.org/downloads/pdfs/SkokieBikeTour.pdf (accessed November 13, 2020).

“Wife Lying in Ditch Saw Nelson Shot.” New York Times. June 12, 2008.

Wilmette Historical Museum. “Wilmette History Trivia Quiz: Wilmette Historical Society.” Yumpu. 2013. https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/5148519/wilmette-history-trivia-quiz-wilmette-historical-museum (accessed November 13, 2020).

Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago

The largest cemetery in the city of Chicago is Rosehill Cemetery, located on the northern side of Chicago.  Founded in 1859, it is also one of Chicago’s oldest cemeteries.  In the mid-nineteenth century, Chicago tried to discourage having cemeteries located within the proximity of the city, so relocated many graves to neighboring areas, thus creating new cemeteries in the process.  Rosehill was one of these new cemeteries right outside of Chicago’s boundaries, however, as Chicago expanded, it eventually fell into the jurisdiction of Chicago.

When you enter Rosehill Cemetery, you must pass through a beautiful entryway that looks like a castle.  This entrance was built in 1864 by William W. Boyington.  Visitors might notice its resemblance to the Old Chicago Water Tower, a famous Chicago landmark that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  That is no coincidence.  Boyington was the architect for both structures.

Rosehill Cemetery is located at 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave. Chicago, IL 60660.

I have referenced several famous Chicagoans who are buried at Rosehill Cemetery in previous posts, and have included photos of their tombstones there.

Ignaz Schwinn, the creator of a popular bicycle company in the United States, the Schwinn Bicycle Company, is buried at Rosehill Cemetery, as is George Buchanan Armstrong, the founder of the United States Railway Mail Service.  Rosehill also has a United States Civil War memorial, since approximately 350 soldiers from the Civil War are buried there.  Apparently, Rosehill Cemetery can also boast appearing in several movies.

George Buchanan Armstrong’s tombstone mentions his claim to fame.

I wanted to find the graves of John G. Shedd, the founder of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, and Richard Warren Sears, the cofounder of the U.S. department store, Sears, Roebuck and Co.  However, they were both buried in Rosehill’s mausoleum building.  This two-story mausoleum is the largest in Chicago.  It did not seem like a wise choice for me to wander alone through an empty mausoleum in Chicago, so I skipped that search.

My favorite discovery at Rosehill Cemetery is perhaps a morbid, and certainly a sad, one.  That is the tomb of Bobby Franks.  Although he died back in 1924, which is almost 100 years ago, there were still flowers and a stuffed toy left at the entrance to his family’s private mausoleum.

Fourteen-year old Bobby Franks was murdered by 19-year-old Nathan Leopold, Jr. and 18-year-old Richard Loeb.  Theories regarding the motivation for the murder vary, but most would say that Leopold and Loeb were attempting to commit the perfect crime.  Loeb had already graduated from the University of Michigan, and Leopold from the University of Chicago, so these young men were clearly brilliant intellectually.  However, their morality was stunted.  To make matters worse, Franks was even a second cousin of Loeb’s.  What clued the police in on the identity of the culprits was the fact that Leopold had accidentally dropped his glasses near the crime scene.  His particular model of glasses had only been sold to a small number of people.

The crime became a national news story after the famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, became the defendant.  He saved the men from the death penalty by eloquently arguing that they were mentally unstable.  The following year, Darrow participated in another famous case called the Scopes Trial, which made it legal for evolution to be taught in U.S. schools.

Sent to prison for life, Loeb died young at the age of 30, after being stabbed by a fellow inmate.  Leopold lived until the age of 66.  He eventually went on parole for good behavior, got married, and lived in Puerto Rico where he taught at a university there.

The Leopold and Loeb murder case captured the attention of American popular culture for decades to come.  This is generally because a common theory sprang up that Leopold and Loeb murdered Franks to prove an intellectual point.  According to this theory, they believed that morality is a human invention, making right and wrong relative.  Therefore, in accordance to this belief, what is to stop someone from murder?  The “master of suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock, used this murder as the basis for his 1948 film, Rope.  Another great film called Compulsion, and starring Orson Welles as Darrow, provides a more faithful telling of the crime. The American Experience documentary episode, The Perfect Crime, also provides a good overview of the story. Finally, a Chicago tour guide, Adam Seltzer, has been posting virtual tours of Chicago on his Facebook page, Mysterious Chicago, during this COVID-19 year, so you can learn more about the crime from him as well.

If it is true that Leopold and Loeb believed that life had no ultimate purpose, and thus they could do anything that they wanted, then maybe that’s why Bobby Franks’ parents had the following inscription written on his tomb?  “Life is because God is, infinite, indestructible and eternal.”

Bobby Franks’ tomb is the bottom right one for Robert E. Franks.

Sources and Further Reading

Compulsion. Directed by Richard Fleischer. Hollywood: Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, 1959.

“Famous Memorials in Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum.” Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/107767/famous-memorials?page=2#sr-7269394 (accessed October 31, 2020).

Fass, Paula S.. “Leopold and Loeb.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/737.html (accessed October 31, 2020).

Gertz, Elmer. “Loeb–Leopold Case.” In Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 162. Vol. 13. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. Gale eBooks. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX2587512686/GVRL?u=deer57821&sid=GVRL&xid=a09f530a (accessed October 31, 2020).

Mysterious Chicago. “Virtual Leopold and Loeb Tour.” Facebook, July 2, 2020. Video, 1:15:41. https://www.facebook.com/mysteriouschicago/videos/564919064393023/ (accessed October 31, 2020).

The Perfect Crime. Directed by Cathleen O’Connell. Boston: WGBH-TV, 2018.

Rope. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Burbank, CA: Warner Bros., 1948.

“Rosehill Cemetery.” Dignity Memorial. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/chicago-il/rosehill-cemetery/0306 (accessed October 31, 2020).

Sclair, Helen. “Cemeteries.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/223.html (accessed October 31, 2020).

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).