Not as one wit commented, “Doing some research, no doubt, on late Roman Republic political warfare and its influence on Al Capone and the Mafia” but a whole week of Classics and Classical Reception in the ‘Windy City’.
Poor John. Having spent most of our married life being dragged around Greek, Roman and Punic Sites on School Trips and personal holidays, he was hoping for a week of Jazz and non-Classical Culture. He should know better by now.
My forfeit? Security Checks and a sleep-deprived transatlantic flight! The ‘Third Degree’ had begun at Gatwick. “By which route did you arrive here, Ma’am?” Stateside, it was an intense three-hour rite of passage. “I was asking your wife Sir, not you!” By the time we arrived at our Hotel, under siege by striking workers with whistles and drums, I was ready to give up the ghost…we slept like the dead.
The historic ‘New’ Palmer House Hotel built in 1873 is HUGE! Twelve floors and labyrinthine corridors above a shopping mall. Excellent position in the Cultural District and two blocks from Lake Michigan and gardens. Small basic bedrooms (definitely B&B as the buffet breakfast was $90 – we used the café takeaways in the ground floor Mall!) but amazing public rooms – a veritable feast of Classical Revival, Art Deco, French Empire and Rococo. Enough to satisfy our Greek and Roman hearts.
The Golden Empire Dining Room once hosted legends as Sinatra, Garland, Fitzgerald, Belafonte, Armstrong and Liberace; publicity stills adorn the corridors. The Hotel even boasts a Museum. The Great Hall and Lobby, adorned with Mythological murals, is an excellent place for people watching.
Jet-lagged and walking as though on sprung mattresses we headed down to Soldier Field in search of theBalbo Monument. A C1st BC Column originally from Prospetto a Mare, Porta Marina Ostia, it was gifted by Mussolini and thus lies, unloved and abandoned; now viewed as an unwelcome Fascist historical throwback.
After a chequered history, it deserves Museum sanctuary.
Wandering amongst Neo Classical Monumental architecture of the Museum Campus, we settled at a café and wondered why Caecilius had wandered so far.
Heading North on the vast Lakefront Trail, passing the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, beautifully maintained Parks, Fountains and Statues we eventually arrived at the Navy Pier; our embarkation point for the Architectural Boat Trip.
Two hours later, we were fully orientated and (relatively) knowledgeable about Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, the Great Fire of 1871, the myth of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow, Classical antecedents and the Chicago School of Architecture.
Before the Great Fire, many buildings were Neo-Classical in design but constructed of white painted plastered linen on wooden frames with added stucco. Amongst the many Modernist, Brutalist and Art Deco buildings, the Neo-Classical reigns supreme at every turn.
Little remains of Chicago pre-Great Fire, but one gem is the Fire House and Pumping Station.
We were not overly impressed by the Magnificent Mile shopping area but did note one shop window full of the Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece Logo.
Far more interesting were the occasional surviving remnants of earlier Gothic and Classical facades in neighbouring streets.
The former Public Library (opened 1897, now the Chicago Cultural Centre) is positively breathtaking! A Neo-Classical exterior and one of the most beautiful interiors we have ever seen! Tiffany glass Dome, Favrile glass mosaics and Carrera marble staircases anyone? Entrance Gratis. Thank you to the Mayor’s wife for preventing its 80’s demolition.
Further downtown lies the Millenium Monument and original 1917 Doric Peristyle.
Queen Victoria, Disraeli, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, J S Mill, Ruskin and Matthew Arnoldwere amongst the donors of the 8,000 books gifted to the ‘new’ Chicago Public Library in 1873. The architectural style is ‘composite’ shall we say and surmounted by the most ferocious Owls we have ever seen. Most definitely a ‘love it or hate it’ building – but fabulous in its eccentricity.
Union Station is yet another Neo-Classical/Beaux-Arts gem with massive Corinthian columns supporting the ceiling of the Great Hall.
Indeed, Classical Reception assails one at every corner, such as the 1885 Board of Trade Statues symbolising Agriculture and Industry.
Established in 1860 the Uptown Graceland Cemetery is a pastoral landscaped tranquillity of 121 acres and the final resting place of several well-known Chicagoans including George Pullman, Getty, Marshall Field, Potter Palmer, Allan Pinkerton and Daniel Burnham himself. Most Tombs are of Classical or Egyptian inspiration, some quite specifically so.
We were exceptionally lucky to have pre-arranged a Tour with Dr Tasha Vorderstrasse and Dr Foy Scalf of the Oriental Institute. We spent a wonderful couple of hours with Interns, volunteers and like-minded folk.
In addition to learning about Architecture, a Tour also teaches about the historical development of the City. For further elucidation check out the two handouts we received. Both Educational Booklets from the Chicago Oriental Institute are available as pdf on request.
A Sepulchral Grand Tour Exploring Egyptian and Classical Monuments at Graceland Cemetery, Dr. Foy Scalf & Dr. Tasha Vorderstrasse
Greek Revival and Graceland Cemetery
Thanks to all for making us so welcome and huge thanks to Dr.Vorderstrasse for escorting us back downtown on the “L” (elevated rapid transit system) and for her enthusiasm regarding School Trips.
Museums and Art Galleries abound, but we limited ourselves to the Art Institute and the Oriental Institute; our wallets and feet could take no more…
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the largest and oldest in the States. Housed in yet another Neo Classical building (1893) and adorned with pseudo Parthenon Frieze reliefs, its collection is encyclopaedic. Inevitably, we concentrated on the 4 corridors of Greco Roman art.
This amazing Silenos Theatre Mask greeted us as we entered the ancient galleries at @artinstitutechi Chicago a few weeks past.
What’s the Deal with This Creepy, Beloved Statue at the Art Institute? | Chicago magazine | Arts & Culture June 2018.
Conservation is now a huge part of Museum work and the Art Institute is no exception; be it Ancient Amphora or the Trading Room of the Chicago Stock Exchange
Eventually we wandered, somewhat punch drunk, toward the exit; Classical Reception hitting us in almost every gallery. By now our brains had emulsified.
Farther downtown lies the Chicago University Oriental Institute. Set up in 1919 by Prof. James Henry Breasted and originally supported by Rockefeller funding, it is a research centre for the Ancient Near Eastern Civilisations. The Museum Collection boasts finds from digs in Egypt, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran; most notably Persepolis.
Set in a most beautiful Oxbridge Architectural style Campus we felt quite at home, but the amazing Museum took us way out of our ‘historic’ comfort zone. Beauty however is universal, the educational info boards are comprehensive – and we can read!
Having lunched well and cheaply at an on-campus family run Greek (thank you!) establishment, we headed to the Museum of Science and Industry in Jackson Park and ……. surprise, surprise ……….Erechtheion Caryatids and Parthenon Metopes!
A visit to Greek Town satisfied our ever-increasing cravings for unadulterated fresh food! Chicago is not cheap (and we were in the central cultural district to be fair, a Tourist enclave), but the standard fare seems to be deep-fried everything – even chilli peppers! After one fully loaded Chicago Hot Dog, there is no need to eat for another 24hrs, but a far better bet is to buy a prepared fresh salad at one of the many 7/11 Stores. Better for both pocket and arteries!
Chicago has one of the largest Greek populations in the States, a veritable modern Cleruchy! The selection of Tavernas in Greek Town is superb.
‘Greek Islands’ was recommended by the staff of the nearby National Hellenic Museum, in which we spoke, ate and drank Greek on more than one occasion. Superb atmosphere, staff and quality.
Chicago’s National Hellenic Museum is committed to sharing “the legacy of Hellenism and to preserve the stories and honor the contributions to the United States of Greek immigrants and Americans of Greek heritage”. On sale are diverse gifts such as a ‘The Trial of Antigone’ DVD and cuddly Socrates soft-toys!
The core exhibit is ‘The Greek Story in America’ and they run educational programmes.
Chicago National Hellenic Museum Educational Programme 2018-19 School Year: download the brochure
Also in the area, perhaps surprisingly, was an incredible Creole ‘Lounge’ serving (at the time of our visit) a Sunday all-you-can-eat-and-drink $49.00 Buffet. Crab claws, shrimps, chicken, catfish, red beans & rice and bottomless Mimosa! Far too much for us we simply nursed a beer and enjoyed the atmosphere and hospitality.
It certainly pays (in many ways) to get out and explore, but our local ‘go to’ place when our feet could take no more was “Millers Pub”, almost next door to the Hotel. Yup! You guessed it…….run by a Greek Family!
We expected many things of Chicago. We did not expect to find a friendly local bar in which we would find ourselves discussing the current political climate by way of Plato’s Cave and Gramsci!
Did we enjoy ourselves? Immensely!
Would we recommend for a School Classics Trip? Yes, but with caveats. Combine with the History, Politics and Art Department to spread the cost, buy picnic lunches and be prepared to walk – a lot!