Tag Archives: Chicago History Museum

Run, don’t walk!

Illuminations at Morton Arboretum

In early December, Bro was in town for his second annual holiday visit. Just like last year, we visited multiple Chicago tourist venues.

There were a couple I especially want to mention ASAP, because if you don’t get to them by January 4, you will have missed your chance.

at the Chicago History Museum

Recreation of a 1968 living room*

I wanted to see the limited-run 1968 exhibit ever since I found out it was happening. We finally made it there in early December. Wasn’t sure what to expect. There would definitely be something about the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and probably about the protests that marked the year in general.

DNC welcome sign*

I figured I’d like it. I liked it about three times more than I expected to—maybe ten times more. If you lived through the era, or even if you have an interest in it, you will not be disappointed. It was a total immersion in the politics, music, decor, pop culture—everything you could think of that would saturate you in the era. The exhibit went month by month through a turbulent year and brought it to life via photos, a military helicopter, films, broadcasts, recordings, clothing, furniture, housewares, and other objects.

1968 fashion*

Loved, loved, loved it.  I desperately want to get back before it’s over. If you have even a mild interest, and can get there by January 4, do it. DO IT!

David Bowie Is
at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973
Design: Brian Duffy and Celia Philo; make up: Pierre La Roche
Photo: Brian Duffy
Photo: Duffy © Duffy Archive and the David Bowie Archive

This special exhibition, a retrospective of David Bowie’s amazing career runs from September 23, 2014–January 4, 2015. I was not a huge fan of Davie Bowie before this exhibit, but I just may be now. I was amazed at the range of his talent. What struck me most about him as an artist is the combination of his fearlessness and his hard work.

The show includes 60 costumes, storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics, and some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores, and diary entries. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art is the only planned U.S. venue for the exhibition, which was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

More Holiday Fun

We enjoyed several other time-sensitive events, like the Holiday Express at Chicago Botanic Garden and Illuminations at the Morton Arboretum and the Neapolitan Creche and Holiday-decorated Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute. However, those are annual holiday traditions, so they’ll be around next year if you miss them this year.

If you have only limited time, get to David Bowie Is or 1968 first.

Next post will be about one of the best Chicago tourist days in recorded history. Bro gave it a grade of 98%.

*Photos by Bro

Just Write & More Vivian Maier

Harold Washington Library Atrium

I’ve done more write-ins this week than I ever usually do outside of November. There’s a Meetup group called Just Write Chicago with many opportunities to hang out and just write, then check in with other writers to discuss everyone’s struggles and triumphs. I tried the Tuesday night and the Friday afternoon groups this week and liked both. The Friday one is usually going to be better for my schedule, but a couple of new friends go to the Tuesday group, so I’ll catch that one when I can.

On another topic…I liked her so much at the Chicago History Museum that when I went into Chicago on Friday to write, I stopped to see the Vivian Maier exhibit at the Harold Washington Library. Even though the library show felt like a smaller exhibit, there was more of an attempt to talk about Maier’s life and interpret her work. In addition to the Chicago area photography, they showed some photos from New York and Los Angeles, as well as more self portraits. There were also artifacts like film, cameras and other photography items.

Also unlike the Vivian Maier exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, the library will only have her photos and artifacts on display until September 28, so if your interest is whetted, try to get there before it’s gone. If you aren’t able to get there, you can still participate in a little experiment the library is hosting via Flickr. The library encourages you to try your own hand at some street photography and post it on Flickr at #VivianatCPL.

Visiting Vivian Maier at the Chicago History Museum


It was free day at the Chicago History Museum last Wednesday. I took nearly full advantage; didn’t arrive as soon as they opened, since it’s kind of a schlep for me, but I still arrived early enough to spend as much time at the museum as I wanted.

It helped that I’d already been through the Chicago: Crossroads of America guided tour, and thoroughly examined the Railroaders exhibit. While I enjoyed several new-to-me sections during this visit, taking copious notes in the Lincoln’s Chicago and Facing Freedom exhibits, and stopping briefly to revisit other rooms, the highlight of this trip was Vivian Maier’s Chicago

Vivian Maier (1926-2009), also known as the nanny photographer, lived in Chicago from 1956 until her death in 2009. She worked as a North Shore nanny for roughly 40 years, but spent her days off pursuing a vocation in street photography. Her work was discovered 2 years before her death, when she couldn’t pay the rent on her storage unit and her possessions (including scads of undeveloped film) were auctioned off. Shortly after her death, John Maloof (Chicago historian and collector) began posting her work on the internet to critical acclaim.

I spent at least an hour at Vivian Maier exhibit. At first I concentrated on the small strips of pictures, reminiscent of developed (and printed) film rolls that ringed the room, each of a particular event or neighborhood.

Strips I found especially resonant:

  • Grant Park – Democratic National Convention (1968), especially the shot of the earnest nun in conversation with a small group of people, all standing under a tree
  • A Day as a Nanny (1968), which mostly showed a young boy in striped shirt and small-brimmed madras hat clowning around a low hanging, backlit tree branch but had one shot I found particularly humorous: a tiny fish lies on the front seat of a rowboat, perhaps the boy’s catch of the day
  • Nixon Resigns (1974) which shows stacks of Chicago Tribunes, Daily News, and Sun Times with the headline; the strip closes with several grainy shots of Nixon on television, addressing the nation

The filmstrips were affecting, but for my money, the kick-in-the-gut stunning pictures, all unlabeled and blown up to 4’x4′ or larger single photos, formed cubicles in the center of the room. There were a few images of buildings, like Marina Towers and the demolition of the old Chicago Federal Building, but most were portraits of diverse people.

A sample:

  • A thin, handsome young white man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans under a wrinkled topcoat, his hair in a pompadour, leaning against a warehouse door
  • Three African Americans on a gray winter day – a small boy in a stocking cap and a heavyset man in an ivy cap flank the thin, worn man in the center. He wears a herringbone tweed coat but no hat; his hair is graying and his face unshaven, and he looks down, lost in what appear to be discouraging thoughts
  • A woman, probably in her 60s, who wears a dark boiled-wool coat and a small-brimmed cloche with a black patent leather band. Her direct, open gaze through cat-eye glasses seems happy and curious, though she shows barely a trace of a smile

If your interest is piqued , you can see some actual Vivian Maier images here

Love, love, love the Chicago History Museum. The exhibit I’m looking forward to next is The 1968 Exhibit, opening October 4, 2014. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Chicago History Museum – Even Better Than You Think

Robert Chevalier de La Salle

Bro and I had such a swell time being tourists last November that he dragged Bride to town for a similar excursion this spring. The idea was that the weather shouldn’t be too bad, and in fact might be glorious. Bro and Bride have lived in Houston for over twenty years, and have forgotten their Midwestern roots. Or maybe whatever regulates their body temperatures has forgotten how to deal with the cold. It doesn’t help that all their clothing consists of golf shorts, tropical shirts, and bikinis. My theory is that everyone in Houston dresses that way all the time, because the temperature in Houston never drops much below 80º.

Be that as it may, Bro and Bride got into the area Sunday night. The weather was not glorious. They drove through freezing torrential rains to get to us. The forecast continued cold, with a chance of rain all week. We hadn’t planned anything ahead of time, and it turned out that on Monday, both Bride and Sis had to work. It fell to me to suggest fun indoor activities to occupy Bro on Monday. We both wanted to go see Edward Gorey at the Loyola University Museum of Art, which I thoroughly enjoyed with Cookie about a month ago, but which Bro hadn’t seen. That would have been an excellent plan for a chilly, rainy day, except for one thing. LUMA isn’t open on Mondays. Auggh! Wailing and gnashing of teeth commenced. On to plan B.  I offered Bro a list to peruse, which contained such items as:

  • Target shooting at Glisson Archery
  • The Art Institute
  • The Museum of Science and Industry
  • Chicago History Museum
  • Seeing a movie like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or The Grand Budapest Hotel

That last option was so attractive—or at least the Captain America part of it was—that Bride was willing to knock off work early to accompany us, so that’s what we did. It was a fun movie. I have to take BK to see it.

Why did I share this long, boring list?

Here’s why. On Tuesday, when we hoped to take an architectural tour on the Chicago River, the day started with fog, segued into more damned rain, and then subsided back into fog. Not ideal, especially if you’d like to see the tops of the buildings you’re looking at. We needed a substitute activity, so Bro pulled out my list from Monday.

Cookie and I were planning to meet the others where the tour boat launches,  but when it became clear that it was another day for indoor activities, I called Bro on my trusty smart phone and and said, “So maybe today’s the day to do LUMA.”

It turned out Bride and Sis still weren’t interested.

“How about the Art Institute?” I asked. Cookie is a fellow there and could have gotten us all in. I could almost hear the yawns on the other end. Seriously? I love the Art Institute. Tough crowd. In their defense, they’ve all been to the Art Institute multiple times. Anyway, what Bro, Bride and Sis chose really surprised me. They said they wanted to go to the Chicago History Museum.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I wanted to go, after all. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be on the list. But I figured I was the only one. When I mentioned it to Cookie, she was all, “Sure, sounds interesting.”

One reason I wasn’t sure people would want to go is that I remember going to that museum a long time ago. It wasn’t called the Chicago History Museum then; it was the Chicago Historical Society. I remember it being squashed-together and poorly lit. There were dioramas. I have a fair tolerance for that kind of thing if I’m interested in the content of a museum, which is why I wanted to go. I’d read about some cool exhibits there—the Jack Delano Railroaders and the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibits, to name only two.

Anyway, that’s where Cookie and I met up with Sis, Bro and Bride. It is no longer squashed together and poorly lit. Once inside the now-spacious interior, we opted for the free tour of one of their main exhibits, Chicago: Crossroads of America. It was quite cool. I wish I could tell you the name of our guide, but I’m hopeless at remembering that kind of detail, especially when I’m not taking notes.

What I do remember is learning that during the 19th century, Chicago was the fastest-growing city in the world. (The town was incorporated in 1833, when the population was about 350. By the time of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, there were 299,000 inhabitants. After the fire, the city’s reconstruction and growth were incredibly rapid, and the population reached 1.7 million in 1900.)

Another great takeaway was  that Chicago owed its phenomenal growth to the railroads. Chicago was on America’s frontier when it started; by the 1850s, it became the nation’s transportation hub, because of its water connections to the eastern waterways and the Mississippi River, and the 30 rail lines that entered the city.

My new appreciation for the railroads made Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography even more interesting. To quote from the museum’s web site:

In 1942, the Office of War Information issued photographer Jack Delano a new assignment: document “railroads and their place in American life.” During the next several months, Delano captured three thousand images, two-thirds of them in the nation’s rail hub—Chicago.



Another excellent part of our visit was the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit. Here’s another quote:

The Ebony Fashion Fair began in 1958, and over the next 50 years the traveling fashion show blossomed into an American institution that raised millions for charity and helped Johnson Publishing Company reach audiences.

Show organizers overcame racial prejudice to bring the pinnacle of Europe’s premier fashion to communities that were eager to see, in real time and space, a new vision of black America that was the hallmark of Ebony and Jet magazines. Eunice Johnson took over as producer and director in 1963, and under her direction, the traveling show took on new heights as she expanded her cachet and power within fashion circles.

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair recreates the experience of the Ebony Fashion Fair through the story of Mrs. Johnson and more than 60 garments from icons of the fashion industry such as Yves St. Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Lacroix, and Patrick Kelly among others.

If you want to see the Ebony exhibit, do it now! It’s only there until Sunday, May 11, 2014.

We spent all day at the Chicago History Museum (the café is just fine, by the way) and barely scratched the surface. We didn’t get by the Abraham Lincoln or historical clothing sections at all. I can’t wait to go back.