Chicago always has been magical to me. The tall, tall buildings … the crowded sidewalks … the glistening lake, dappled by sailboats … the deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Due … the sauerbraten and creamed spinach in the paneled womb of The Berghoff.
Since my first visits at age 6, I have loved Chicago’s museums – the Field Museum of Natural History, with its dinosaurs and Indian relics; the Museum of Science and Industry, with its coal mine and Nazi submarine; the Chicago History Museum, with the bed that Lincoln died in, and the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, with its world-famous array of masterpieces.
Two relatively new museums also have me hooked. Both are relatively small, and both are on the same street as the Art Institute. The American Writers Museum is at 180 N. Michigan Ave., and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library is at 104 S. Michigan Ave.
The writers museum, its brochure states, “celebrates the breadth of American writing through interactive exhibits and programming that honors the past, promotes the present, and inspires the future of writing in the United States.”
Exhibits trace the history of writing in America, and highlight scores of its greatest practitioners, from Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken to Willa Cather and Mike Royko. The museum offers engaging exhibits, plus lectures and readings by famous authors, poets and songwriters.
For instance, when I was there, Bob Dylan: Electric was on temporary display. It focused on his "Highway 61 Revisited" album and showcased his handwritten lyrics and the electric guitar that he played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. That was a big deal at a festival known for acoustic music.
The American Writers Museum has hosted exhibits on Frederick Douglass, the great black abolitionist and writer; Laura Ingalls Wilder, of "Little House on the Prairie" fame, and others. The current show, Tools of the Trade, includes Douglass’s inkwell, Helen Keller’s Braille writer, and the little Underwood Portable typewriter once used by Ernest Hemingway.
Part of the museum features quotes by famous writers. I liked this one, by Gwendolyn Brooks: “I am a writer, perhaps, because I am not a talker.”
A quiet corner in the Pritzker Military Museum and Library would be heaven for anyone doing research for a book or article about war, soldiers and weapons. The museum is in the beautifully restored, 107-year-old Monroe Building. It offers books, periodicals, research databases, more than 400 programs produced for public television, an art gallery, historic photos, uniforms, medals and other artifacts; special exhibits, workshops, lectures and panel discussions. There’s a gift shop too, of course.
During my stop, I got to see an amazing collection of historic war posters – some used in recruiting and others for propaganda purposes. They presented a mix of sex appeal, patriotism, terror, and, sometimes, racism. Powerful, fascinating stuff.
Chicago, Chicago … as the song says, you’ll see things there you’ll never see on Broadway.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org