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Quill4

Day at the Museum

Posted on 2009.01.04 at 00:47
Current Mood: fullfull
Current Music: Morning Train - Sheena Easton
We went to the Chicago History Museum the other day. If you’ve been away, I should mention that it was known as the Chicago Historical Society up until 2006, when it underwent a massive remodeling which included the installation of some wonderful new permanent exhibits.

One thing that has not changed is that there are still certain areas that are used for substantial temporary exhibits. The one we saw this time around was an exhibit titled “Chic Chicago.” It displayed dozens of couture dresses with Chicago connections, going all the way back to the middle of the 19th century. One of the oldest and grandest items was a silk evening dress from 1861 that belonged to the wife of Cyrus McCormick. As you may know, he was the inventor of the McCormick Reaper and was one of the richest Americans of his time. The dress itself looked like something out of Scarlett O’Hara’s closet. Pretty much every famous designer of the past century and a half is represented, and the collection goes right up to the present day, including a stylish dress donated by Oprah Winfrey.

It should be fairly obvious that it was because of CC that I attended this. While this is an exhibit that I think most people could enjoy, I must say that attending it with someone like CC greatly enhanced the experience. It was like having my own personal tour guide to fill in the details and context of the various pieces on display. For those of you without access to such a person, there is helpful signage accompanying each of the dresses, as well as a lovely illustrated catalog of the exhibit for sale in the gift shop at a mere $30.

There are two reasons why I wanted to talk about this trip to the museum. The first was to specifically recommend the “Chic Chicago” exhibit. The second was to generally recommend the entire museum. Though I am not a native Chicagoan, most of my coworkers are. They could generally be characterized as very educated, aware individuals. Yet it never ceases to amaze me when I find that many of them have never visited the Chicago History Museum, and that’s just a crime.

It seems that when most people around here think of museums, they think of the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Nothing against those places; they are fabulous and I love them all. But the Chicago History Museum deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. It is far smaller than those other places; that’s certainly true. It isn’t in the Loop and it isn’t right on the lake, but being at the corner of North Clark and North Avenue, a few short blocks from the lake, puts it at a major, easy to find intersection. And let’s face it – Chicago is a city with a whole lot of dynamic history behind it.

Interesting side note – the original Chicago Historical Society was completely destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. One of the items lost in the fire was the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln. But most of Chicago’s history as a city has occurred since the Great Fire, and the place is filled with remarkable artifacts, both large and small, documenting all of it. Here is one of my favorite large artifacts, added in 2006:

That’s an original Chicago L car, dating back to 1893. It was originally powered by a small steam locomotive, though the system was switched over to electric power in about 1898. That’s CC sitting in the car, by the way, wearing a hat of her own creation. And no, she does not date back that far.

Depending on how much you wanted to linger over specific exhibits, you could probably take in the entire museum in three hours or less. I’ve been there probably about a dozen times since 1992, and I never tire of the place. And by the way, I had intended to put in a link to the museum’s web site, but it appears to be down at present, since I’ve been unable to get to it from any browser on any computer, but if you’re interested, the site is www.chicagohistory.org.

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