Zion, Illinois: A City Founded by a Cult

About an hour north of Chicago and 10 minutes south of the state of Wisconsin lies a city called Zion.  If you were to drive through it, nothing particularly interesting would stand out to you.  In fact, the two times that I have been there, it appeared somewhat deserted.  However, it had an interesting beginning.

Shiloh House at 1300 Shiloh Blvd. Zion, IL 60099

Today, you can learn about Zion’s history at the Zion Historical Society, which is located in a 25-room mansion called Shiloh House. It was built in 1901, the year before Zion’s official incorporation.  This home belonged to John Alexander Dowie, the founder of Zion.  Dowie was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847, but moved to Australia early in his life.  Eventually, he became a preacher and started performing faith healings.  This led him on a missionary tour of the United States.  After working in San Francisco for a while, he eventually went to Chicago.  His fame rose at the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where he set up a station right outside the Fair and allegedly healed people.

After the Fair, Dowie decided to stay in Chicago, so with his many followers, he founded a church.  It eventually became known as the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, although it had nothing to do with Catholicism.  The church encountered a lot of opposition in Chicago, both from religious and city officials, so Dowie decided to start a theocratic society in a farm area north of Chicago, which he named Zion City.  People from all over the world, particularly Europe, came to join this new religious “utopia.”  If I remember correctly, my elderly tour guide told me that his grandparents came over from Scotland to join Dowie’s church.  Throughout my tour, the guide would occasionally share his childhood memories of growing up in Zion.

A bell used to call the people of Zion to prayer.

Dowie did not live in his city for long.  Zion was incorporated in 1902, but Dowie died of a stroke in 1907.  Afterwards, his friend, Wilbur Glenn Voliva, came over from Australia to replace him and continue implementing a theocratic society.  The rules in Zion included bans on alcohol, pork, tobacco, circuses, movies, silk stockings, and globes.  The latter ban was implemented by Voliva, who adamantly believed that the earth was flat.  By the mid 20th century, Zion’s inhabitants had become disillusioned with their theocratic government.  Eventually, the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church evolved into a more mainstream Protestant denomination.  Today, it is Christ Community Church.

Zion’s original church burned down, and the building there today is called Christ Community Church, but its original name can still be found on this 1961 cornerstone.

Other than Washington D.C., Zion is the only U.S. city that was completely planned out prior to being built.  The church was built at the center of the city, and the streets branched off from there.  Zion’s streets are all named after Biblical places or names.

During my tour of Shiloh House, I not only learned about the history of Zion and Dowie, but also got to admire a beautiful Victorian-style mansion.  One object that especially stood out to me in the house was a Biblical high priest’s outfit displayed near the entrance. Apparently, Dowie frequently wore it.  Another interesting part of the house is near the top, where there is a display of different types of lace that were made in Zion.  When Dowie planned Zion, he made sure that there was employment for its citizens, so had businesses such as a lace factory built there.

Because Zion has such a strange and unique history, the Zion Historical Society is my favorite historical society that I have visited so far.  It is definitely worth a visit.

Sources and Further Reading

Best, Wallace. “Zion, IL.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1399.html (accessed October 17, 2020).

“Early History.” Zion Historical Society. http://zionhistoricalsociety.com/ (accessed October 17, 2020).

Pohlen, Jerome. Oddball Illinois: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2000.

Wolfe, Stephanie. “John Alexander Dowie and Zion City, Illinois.” Faith in the City. http://publications.newberry.org/faith-in-the-city/essays/wolfe-dowie-zion-city (accessed October 17, 2020).

Arlington National Cemetery

In the United States, the last Monday of the month of May is Memorial Day, in which everyone takes off from work to remember those who died in various U.S. wars.  Originally called Decoration Day, this national holiday began in 1868 to commemorate those who died in the American Civil War (1861-1865).  However, eventually, the holiday evolved into remembering those who died in any U.S. war. 

The American Civil War also gave birth to Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, which is arguably the most famous cemetery in the United States.  Although it is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic (except for those who have family members buried there), during normal situations, it provides daily bus tours to visitors.  Because of its vast size of 624 acres, with over 400,000 burials, the tour only covers several major highlights.

Perhaps one of the most important stops on the tour is Arlington House, since it is a mansion located on the cemetery grounds that predates the Civil War.  Once the Civil War began, the United States’ government took over this strategic location near the country’s capital.  However, they chose to make the land surrounding the mansion a cemetery, in order to prevent its owner from eventually returning to it.  Its owner was the Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  He inherited the house from his wife, who was herself a descendant of George Washington’s wife, Martha (from Martha’s first husband). 

During the Civil War, the U.S. government buried soldiers from any rank at Arlington.  However, as time passed, the Cemetery gained prestige, and now has a more selective process of who can be buried there.  Among the famous men buried there (as mentioned on the tour) are General John J. Pershing who served in WWI, President John F. Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Ted (the former two served in WWII, and the latter enlisted after the War), and President William Howard Taft.  President Taft never served in the military, so I am not sure how he ended up at Arlington.  However, he is the only person to have served as both the U.S. president and the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Finally, Audie Murphy is buried at Arlington.  He was the most decorated soldier in WWII.

John F. Kennedy was actually a war hero during WWII. The 1963 film PT 109 tells that story.  After the War, Audie Murphy landed a career in Hollywood.  The 1955 film To Hell and Back is an autobiographical movie that stars him.  I have watched both films a while ago.  I do not remember them well but do remember thinking that they were mediocre but interesting films.

Perhaps the most famous site at Arlington National Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  This tomb began in 1921, with the remains of four unidentified dead soldiers from World War I.  Unidentified soldiers from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were subsequently added to the tomb.  Volunteers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guard it 24/7, in rain or shine.  Seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its guard is perhaps the highlight of the Arlington National Cemetery tour. 

Since the Cemetery is currently closed, you can download the app to have a free tour from home, or find the same information on a site called ANC Explorer:  https://ancexplorer.army.mil/publicwmv/#/arlington-national/ You might also be interested to know that during this pandemic, the Cemetery decided to open its 105-year-old time capsule.

Sources and Further Reading

Arlington: Field of Honor. Directed by John B. Bredar. New York: National Geographic, 2005.

“General Information.” Arlington National Cemetery Tours. https://www.arlingtontours.com/general-information (accessed May 24, 2020).

“History of Arlington National Cemetery.” Arlington National Cemetery. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/History/History-of-Arlington-National-Cemetery (accessed May 24, 2020).

Machemer, Theresa. Arlington National Cemetery Opens Its 105-Year-Old Time Capsule.” Smithsonian Magazine. May 20, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/arlington-cemetery-opens-its-105-year-old-time-capsule-180974924/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&fbclid=IwAR3C6LRxI9DqfUV_Cxd2IP4a1nvDd1zBrzsj-cHAsuPiuGhrYrBHG_Fzyhc (accessed May 24, 2020).

PT 109. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Burbank, California: Warner Bros., 1963.

Sorto, Gabrielle. “What You Need to Know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” CNN. May 27, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/27/us/tomb-of-the-unknown-soldier-trnd/index.html (accessed May 24, 2020).

To Hell and Back. Directed by Jesse Hibbs. Universal City, California: Universal Studios, 1955.

Van Vleck, Jennifer Leigh. “Arlington National Cemetery and the Origins of Memorial Day.” Arlington National Cemetery. May 21, 2020. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Blog/Post/10817/Arlington-National-Cemetery-and-the-Origins-of-Memorial-Day (accessed May 24, 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).

Sheldon Peck Homestead and the Underground Railroad

In United States history, a person became a member of the “Underground Railroad” if he or she assisted slaves from the Southern states to escape to free areas where slavery was illegal (often the Northern states or Canada).  Nobody had to formally join an organization called the Underground Railroad to become a member.  The phrase was more of an allegorical term for the many people who assisted runaway slaves until 1863.  Members of the Underground Railroad did not solely consist of white abolitionists, but also included former slaves.  For example, the most famous “conductor” of the Underground Railroad was runaway slave Harriet Tubman, who in ten years, repeatedly returned South to help bring approximately 300 slaves to freedom.  (The new 2019 film Harriet is about this, and is worth watching.)

In 1998, the United States National Park Service began the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program, which requires them to identify and preserve sites throughout the United States that were involved in the Underground Railroad.  However, since participation in the Underground Railroad was a clandestine activity, it is not easy to find documentation of who was involved.  This was especially the case after the Fugitive Slave Acts were passed in 1793, and then further enforced in 1850.  These laws punished those who assisted runaway slaves, and allowed Southerners to search for and recapture their runaway slaves in the free North.

The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom has documented 626 Underground Railroad sites in the United States so far (as of the end of 2019).  A map depicting how many sites are currently documented in each state can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/undergroundrailroad/about-the-network-to-freedom.htm

Ohio and Maryland currently tie for the most sites: 83.  Next comes New York with 66, Pennsylvania with 54, and Virginia with 41.  Illinois ranks at number 9 with 24 sites.  I have visited two Illinois sites so far, the Sheldon Peck Homestead and Wheaton College.  Both are in the western suburbs of Chicago in Du Page County, which also has a few other sites. 

Sheldon Peck was a farmer and folk artist.  He built his home in rural Lombard, Illinois in 1839, and eventually opened up his home to be used as the first school in the area.  He was also a radical abolitionist (meaning that he wanted the immediate rather than gradual cessation of slavery) and worked as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad.  The evidence of his involvement comes from his son’s oral testimony and diary.  Historians currently believe that the runaway slaves hid in his barn, which no longer stands, and not in his home, which does still stand.  This home is currently owned by the Lombard Historical Society.  It is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4 and Saturdays from 10-2 (however, it is closed in December and January).  Admission is free.

Sheldon Peck Homestead located at 355 E Parkside Ave. Lombard, IL 60148.

Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois was founded by Wesleyan Methodist abolitionists in 1860.  Its first president was a staunch abolitionist named Jonathan Blanchard, who was also the College’s first president.  According to a sign about Wheaton College’s involvement in the Underground Railroad, located in the campus’ oldest building, Blanchard Hall, Wheaton became the first college in Illinois to graduate African Americans.  Blanchard Hall was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Wheaton College’s Blanchard Hall located at 501 College Ave. Wheaton, IL 60187.

Bonus Photo

Scotsman, Allan Pinkerton, is known as the founder of one of the first detective agencies in the United States. He helped prevent an assassination plot on Abraham Lincoln. However, his home was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, as is attested by his wonderful tombstone at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.

Sources and Further Reading

“About the Network to Freedom.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/undergroundrailroad/about-the-network-to-freedom.htm (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Blanchard Hall.” Wheaton College. https://www.wheaton.edu/about-wheaton/visit-wheaton/campus-buildings/blanchard-hall/ (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Harriet Tubman.” PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1535.html (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Path to Freedom on Illinois’ Underground Railroad.” Enjoy Illinois. https://www.enjoyillinois.com/travel-illinois/illinois-underground-railroad/ (accessed November 28, 2019).

“The Pinkertons.” Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/august-25/ (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Underground Railroad.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1281.html (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Underground Railroad.” Lombard Historical Society. https://www.lombardhistory.org/ugrr (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Underground Railroad.” Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Underground%20Railroad (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Underground Railroad.” Wheaton College. http://a2z.my.wheaton.edu/underground-railroad (accessed November 28, 2019).

International Museum of Surgical Science

“At Home in Chicago” is a consortium of over 20 mansions in the Chicago area that are open to the public.  One of these mansions was built for a wealthy Chicago family in 1917, and faces Lake Shore Drive.  Since 1954, this mansion has housed the International Museum of Surgical Science, which is owned by the International College of Surgeons. This latter group’s purpose statement is: ” Promoting excellence of surgeons and surgical specialists worldwide.” It was founded by a surgeon named Dr. Max Thorek.

Thorek’s grave is at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago. Since I found his grave by accident, I decided to include it here.

When I visited the museum, I had low expectations, because I thought that it would either be boring or disturbing.  However, I ended up loving my visit. In the past, the museum solely focused on the history of surgery, but now, the scope has widened to medical history in general.

Each room in this gigantic mansion focuses on a different topic.  For instance, one room solely focuses on the medical history of eyes, so the displays include a variety of eyeglasses and eyepieces used throughout history.  Another room focuses on pain and painkillers used throughout history.  From that exhibit, I learned that the drug “Heroin” received its name, because in the late nineteenth century, it was considered a “heroic” drug that cured many ailments. Of course, there was also a room about the history of surgery, and included scary saws and tools that were used to perform surgeries in the past.

One of the rooms that I found the most interesting was devoted to the history of how radiation has been used for medical purposes.  Unfortunately, the pioneers in that field had premature deaths, because they received radiation poisoning by x-raying themselves so much.  X-rays were often used to treat all kinds of medical problems.  The museum even had an x-ray machine that was used at shoe stores to measure people’s foot sizes.  While I was looking at that display (this was in 2018), I overheard an elderly woman telling someone how she remembered having her foot measured that way when she would go shoe shopping with her mother.  Because the negative side effects of radiation do not appear immediately, people used it unwisely for a long time.  It makes me wonder if we are currently using a new technology unwisely, but will not realize how dangerous it is until several decades later.

The museum’s library contains approximately 1,000 books.

Other noteworthy features at the museum include an impressive library of old medical books (not accessible to the general public) and ancient Peruvian heads with holes in them, showing that surgery has been done for centuries.  The only downside to this museum is that if you do not enjoy reading signs, you may not enjoy this museum as much, since it is not very interactive.  However, the museum does offer tours on Thursdays.  Also, it should be noted that on Tuesdays, the museum is free for Illinois residents.

Sources and Further Reading

“The History.” International Museum of Surgical Science. https://imss.org/the-history/ (accessed October 24, 2019).

DuSable Museum of African American History

After the American Civil War, freed slaves began migrating to the northern United States.  This trend continued into the beginning of the twentieth century, as the Ku Klux Klan revived in 1915, and as African Americans in the South sought better job opportunities in the North.  The migration of African Americans to the North between 1910 to 1960 is known as the “Great Migration.”  Because of the Great Migration, the two cities with the largest African American populations are located in the North: New York City and Chicago, respectively.

Because Chicago has a rich African American history, the DuSable Museum of African American History opened up in Chicago in 1961.  The museum originally began in the home of its founder, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, but in 1971, moved to its current home, which is a beautiful building that used to be an administration and police lockup facility.  Located on the South Side of Chicago, where most African Americans live, the museum is named after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Hatian trader who is considered the first permanent non-Native American resident of Chicago.

The main exhibit of the museum provides a timeline of African American history, beginning with the slave trade, but then eventually narrows down to Chicago’s African American history.  One aspect of Chicago’s African American history that the museum highlights is the Pullman Car Company, which used to hire African Americans as porters on its trains, and paid them better than many other jobs that hired African Americans at the time.  The museum also mentions the story of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago who was lynched when he went to visit relatives in Mississippi, because he allegedly whistled at a white woman.  This tragedy, which occurred in 1955, was one of the many injustices of the South that helped fuel the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. actually visited Chicago during the Civil Rights Movement.  In 1965, he was invited to Chicago to address the segregation there, and started what became the Chicago Freedom Movement.  If you would like to learn more about Chicago’s unfair housing situation during that time, read or watch Lorraine Hansberry’s famous 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun.  Unfortunately, the violence and poverty of Chicago’s South Side would probably not be in such a sad state if African Americans had been integrated equally in Chicago when they first arrived.  Chicago’s historic practice of housing segregation is why such a large number of African Americans live south of the Chicago River in the first place.

In 1965, the northern Chicago suburb of Winnetka invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak there, because it had segregated housing rules at the time. You can see this plaque at the Winnetka Village Green.

Chicago is considered by some to be the birthplace of modern gospel music. The first gospel choir was begun in 1931 in an African American church called Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, which is still an active church today.

4501 S. Vincennes Ave. Chicago, IL 60653

This church attests to how the South Side has historically been the home of Chicago’s immigrants. Before being an African American neighborhood, Bronzeville was a Jewish immigrant neighborhood. Note that the Church’s cornerstone is using the Jewish year (which is based on rabbinic calculations of the Bible’s genealogies) rather than the Gregorian calendar.  It used to be a synagogue called Temple Isaiah. In case you’re wondering, 5659 is 1898.

Some famous African American jazz musicians lived in Chicago for a while. Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood has the homes of Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong. They are still lived in, and not open to the public.

Nat King Cole’s Chicago home: 4023 S. Vincennes Ave. Chicago, IL 60653
Louis Armstrong’s Chicago home: 421 E. 44th St. Chicago, IL 60653

One final exhibit at the DuSable Museum that I thought was kind of fun was an animatronic of Chicago’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington, who served from 1983 to 1987.  The exhibit has Harold Washington talking to you.

If you want to learn more about Chicago’s African American history, then the DuSable Museum is a great place to start.

Sources and Further Reading

Bada, Ferdinand. “Cities with the Largest African-American Populations.” WorldAtlas. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/cities-with-the-largest-african-american-populations.html (accessed October 26, 2019). 

“DuSable Museum of African-American History.” The New York Times, January 30, 2013. https://archive.is/20130130235748/http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guides/north-america/united-states/illinois/chicago/attraction-detail.html?vid=1154654606497#selection-1415.0-1415.42  (accessed October 26, 2019).

“The Great Migration.” Smithsonian American Art Museum. http://americanexperience.si.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/The-Great-Migration.pdf (accessed October 26, 2019).

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Modern Library, 1995.

Landers, Betsy. “Martin Luther King, Jr. in Winnetka.” Winnetka Historical Society. http://www.winnetkahistory.org/gazette/martin-luther-king-jr-in-winnetka/ (accessed October 26, 2019).

“Museum History.” The DuSable Museum of African American History. https://www.dusablemuseum.org/museum-history/ (accessed October 26, 2019).

Ralph, James. “Martin Luther King, Jr., in Chicago.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1438.html (accessed October 26, 2019).