Fifty five years ago: The Chicagoland tornadoes of 1967

For me, it was in the late afternoon after school and I was playing outside at a friends. We were planning our weekend and the weather had been beautiful for April with high temperatures in the 70’s. It was a time of no cell phones or computers on April 21st, 1967. But Father called from the front porch after getting home for work early, that I needed to get home. Strange, it was not dinner time when the usual call from Mom went out. My own home was about a half a block west from where I had been playing and I was shocked as I glanced at the western sky. I suddenly noticed that the trees, the birds were quiet for April and the sky was a heavy gray, tinged with a smudge of green. Like the massive snowstorm months before, Chicago’s weather was about to change.  Something in my heart told me that the call to home was not a good one and I raced to the front porch, my Dad sat in his chair. He loved storms and that was his spot regardless of the severity but this time he told me and Mother, who was standing inside the front door, that we needed to be in the basement immediately. At no other time in my short life, do I remember that command. Mom and I headed for the basement, me first but Mom kept trying to get him to come in as she stood on the basement stairs, scared.

The first tornado, better known as the Belvidere tornado, struck approximately at a little before 4 pm where the Chrysler plant near 1-90 witnessed the destruction of over 400 cars. Then, the destruction continued to the town of Belvidere where hundreds of homes were damaged but it was just at the time that school was getting out and buses were being loaded at the high school. Elementary students were already on the buses but over 1,200 high students were dismissed and tried to get back into the building. According to sources, twelve buses were rolled over and students were flung like leaves into the field. Thirteen of the 24 fatalities and 300 of the 500 injuries in this tornado occurred at the high school. At 5:03, Lake Zurich and surrounding suburbs felt the effects of their own tornado where over 75 homes were completely destroyed. Moving rapidly with no warning as had been described by many residents that there was no noticeable roar until upon them. It ripped through Seth Paine Elementary School, tearing down thick brick walls but leaving clocks showing 5:05 pm.  Many people were caught in their autos as they were returning home from work. Mike Doyle has written an interesting book about the Belvidere Tornado.

But it was the Oak Lawn tornado that was on its way to my neighborhood in Calumet Park and according to meteorologists, the worst storm of the day. According to sources, at 5:15 pm. an off duty Weather Bureau employee saw a rotating cloud mass over his house in Romeoville. Windows were blow out at a restaurant at at McCarthy Road and 127th and an observer at the Little Red School House at 99th and Willow Springs Road saw a funnel.

The tornado touched down just east of 88th Avenue between 105th and 106th Streets at 5:24 p.m., 24 minutes after the tornado warning was issued for Cook County.  But it continued hitting homes and crossed the Tri-State Tollway, hitting a drive-in movie near Chicago Ridge finally moving to the heart of Oak Lawn. It was here that many homes were leveled. It was here that one of my parents best friends was hurt As we later learned, he was sitting in traffic at the intersection of 95th Street and Southwest Highway where a light pole smashed into the top of his car crushing him as he was heading to pick up his daughter at the Oaklawn Roller Rink. He did survive. The greatest total of life took place there. Between 25 and 40 automobiles, halted at this intersection for a traffic light, were thrown in all directions, some carried northeast at least a block and set down on the Oak Lawn athletic field.

The Oak Lawn Roller Rink was completely destroyed but his daughter had left early and was safe from the destruction. Four were killed at the rink.  Fortunately, as the tornado passed over the Dan Ryan Expressway and headed our way, it began to dissipate causing lighter damage to vegetation, roofs and garages. According to sources, it finally moved offshore as a waterspout at Rainbow Beach, where we swam as kids. My father summoned us out of the basement as he had watched the storm pass over from the front porch. Though the clouds were high then, he knew the damage west had been serious. At least 10 tornadoes raked northeast Illinois, three of which were violent, F4 tornadoes. In the wake of the twisters, 58 were dead, more than 1000 were injured, and there was nearly half a billion in damage costs. Kevin Korst is the Local History Manager for the Oak Lawn Public Library and the author of “Images of America: Oak Lawn” and “Images of America: Oak Lawn Tornado of 1967”.

(Original article revised and written in 2018)

Celebrating National Library Week; libraries an integral part of my life

Growing up in Chicago in the early 1960’s, we did have a library at school. The Chicago Public Library came to visit me and my classmates at Kate Sturgis Buckingham School and Joseph Warren School. I loved books but had a difficult time with comprehension until 5th grade. I remember book carts being displayed in a row in the gym for us to select a book to take home. Extra books were available on shelves in a tall closet where we could look at the books. Brenda Brave Helps Grandmother, a picture book by Astrid Lindgren, was a favorite. Some liked the Hardy Boys Series when they got older, but for me, it was the Trixie Beldon Series or Little House on the Prairie. The South Chicago Library Branch is still located at 91st and Houston and was built in 1941. That was my mom’s place since she was an avid reader; always a book in the evenings. The library was completely renovated with a new addition in 1994. There is also the Avalon Branch at 81st and Stony Island that opened in 2006.

Moving to Dolton in 1970-1978, much of my library experience took place at Thornridge Highschool, where I was a library assistant for my sophomore year, South Suburban College, and Lewis University, though the Dolton Library, 14037 Lincoln Avenue, still available, was popular during the summer as well as the South Holland Library. Originally, the South Holland Library was opened in 1962 after a 500,000 dollar referendum was passed. A new library was built in 1972 at its present location, 16250 Wausau Avenue. Most of my reading was textbook literature for high school and college papers, I still had to read for fun and relaxation. After Trixie Beldon, I had moved on to Nancy Drew and finished the series, but my favorite author in the late 1970’s was John Saul. His first, a horror best seller, was Suffer the Children in 1977, Punish the Sinners,1978, and Cry for the Strangers in 1979. I have read all 37 of his thrillers.

Teaching at the old Warren Township High School in Gurnee on O’Plaine Rd during the 1980’s, I remember the library at school. Because of the school library, I did not go to the Warren-Newport Library frequently, which opened in 1973 and is one of the busiest libraries in Lake County or the Waukegan Library. Waukegan’s current library building is located at County and Clayton Streets and is part of a governmental complex including both municipal and county buildings. It was designed by William Ganster of the Waukegan architecture firm of Ganster and Henninghausen. The library opened for service on December 27, 1965 and was dedicated on April 19, 1966. The library went through a complete renovation in 2015. The library honors Ray Bradbury, the science fiction author, since he was born in Waukegan in 1922. I was never much of a science fiction fan, but it was at this time that I fell in love with Anne Perry, a historical detective writer and Jeffrey Archer.

For over 30 years, my library of choice has been the Downers Grove Library, 1050 Curtiss Street. Especially with technological services, I can search for a book online, reserve it, and when it is ready, they will send an email saying that it is available and for how many days on specific hold shelves. You can reserve books that have not been published yet, but will come out sometime that year. Following a successful referendum for a tax-supported library, a small-frame building on the southwest corner of Main and Curtiss became the library’s second home. Circulation in November of 1912 was 1,520. In 1996, residents approved an $8.2 million referendum to reconstruct and update the library by adding an addition. The new 67,738 square foot building opened in February of 1999.

Being over 65, I can’t wait to read; still. I am always looking for the best in historical fiction and I love authors such as Kate Morton, Sara Paretsky, Claire McIntosh, Kristin Hannah, James Patterson, and the list goes on, and on, and on. I even belong to a book club; the creator of the club has invited women all over the country that she knew. We once shared the library together as teachers at Warren Township. We truly need to focus on the reading skills of young children. I am certainly an integral example. I have lived a lifetime’s love of reading.

Chicago History Museum

The first time I visited the Chicago Historical Society, which is now the Chicago Museum, was the day after the death of John F. Kennedy. It was a field trip planned in advance with friends to celebrate my 9th birthday that my Mom did not want to cancel. After arriving, I remember seeing the bed that Abraham Lincoln died in and also seeing different guns representing the Union and Confederate Armies. It was a somber event, for many of us kept thinking about the irony of this trip after the recent assassination of our President John F. Kennedy who was also shot in the head in on Friday, November 22, 1963. My actual birthday was on the Thursday, the 21st, though we planned to celebrate on Saturday, November 23rd since we were off of school. Taking my own little ones, to the museum in the 1990’s, they, too, were fascinated with the gun collection, and Lincolns bed, but also loved the clothing that Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln wore on the evening of the assassination. We also enjoyed the beautiful historical paintings and dioramas throughout the building. Learning more about the true Chicago Fire was another interest that sparked our attention.

The museum has been located in Lincoln Park since the 1930s at 1601 North Clark Street at the intersection of North Avenue in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood. The CHS adopted the name, Chicago History Museum, in September 2006 for its public presence. Later that year, the museum celebrated a grand reopening, unveiling a dramatic new lobby and redesigned exhibition spaces. Signature exhibitions such as Chicago: Crossroads of America and Sensing Chicago debuted, while an old favorite, Imagining Chicago: The Dioramas, was restored and updated.

Today, the Chicago History Museum, Stephen Burrows, Scotty Piper, Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith, and Barbara Bates—five stories within the folds of fashion. The clothing we wear and the styles we embrace often reveal what we value and what we aspire to, ultimately helping us understand ourselves and the world in which we live. The clothing collection consists of more than 50,000 pieces, ten never-been-exhibited ensembles were selected to tell the remarkable stories of these five designers. Vivian Maier was an extraordinary photographer who took pictures of real life and many on the streets of Chicago. Maier died before her life’s work was shared with the world. She left behind hundreds of prints, 100,000 negatives, and about a thousand rolls of undeveloped film, which were discovered when a collector purchased the contents of her storage lockers.

Remembering Dr. King: 1929–1968 invites visitors to walk through a winding gallery that features over 25 photographs depicting key moments in Dr. King’s work and the Civil Rights movement. And there is much more to the museum, that includes a variety of programs, publications, temporary exhibits, and online resources such as virtual fieldtrips, on-site fieldtrips and you can host an event. The museum offers a great gift shop with wonderful historical and fictional books about the city. You can also purchase kids’ books that offer a solid look at American history. You can buy apparel as well home goods.

The Good Old Days: Grandparents and Thanksgiving

Kempton was always known as the small town with the big heart; the town of my mother’s family beginnings; her grandparents, my grandmother who had passed away in 1958, aunts, uncles and my great aunt, Lulu Pearl. My earliest memories of Kempton were on Thanksgiving Day at Aunt Lu’s two bedroom corner, blue cottage neatly painted in white trim. A vegetable garden was meticulously maintained in the back with her specialties of beets and tomatoes while well-trimmed shrubs surrounded the foundation of the home.

Coming from the city, my immediate family was always the first to arrive while Aunt Lu called the others to join us on her believe it or not box phone with crank and real receptionist named Jenny. That gave me plenty of time to cut out the latest Betsy McCall and her clothes. After the rest of the family arrived, we took our places behind the long table in the dining room eating from her blue willow dishes. Pumpkin pie was always her winning recipe.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving break is Grandparents Day at school; a wonderful time for those traveling to see their grandchildren. For our district, Grandparents Day is usually one of the biggest attended events with just grandparents…not sons or daughters who have kindergarten or early elementary children. Just for Grandma,  Grandpa and Grand friends…sometimes Aunts or Uncles if Grandma can’t attend. Over 300 attended today. Many become new Grandparents on that day for children who do not have a guest. A study out of the University of Oxford found children who are close to their grandparents have fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and are better able to cope with traumatic life events, like a divorce or bullying at school.

Though she never learned to drive, Aunt Lu would find her way to our house in the city by my cousin every summer. I could always count on a game of Yahtzee every time I offered and she always made the best fried potatoes in town. Because of unpredictable weather, the winter months were generally confined to her little town in Kempton but one year she came to stay and had arrived two days after Christmas. It was unusual for her to venture out in the cold months but my father was in the hospital. Children were not allowed to visit during the 1960’s and Aunt Lu felt she could help.

During her first night’s visit, the phone had disturbed our usual game of Yahtzee and after that I found that Aunt Lu could offer so much more than games. It was a nurse from the hospital; my father had passed away. Though I was 12 and tried to be adult, Aunt Lu let me cry as long as it took, keeping her arms around me, never tiring or disturbing me from my tears. What incredible timing for Aunt Lu’s calming patience in such a terrible storm. Ten years later, Aunt Lu passed away after passionately celebrating her 90th birthday with her family.

Today, I appreciate the towering strength she provided that day and the strenuous days that followed; never perceiving the no pomp and circumstance woman as one of the most salient women I was blessed to know. And I try to follow her loving example everyday reminding myself that every tragedy has a reason.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Magical summers

Many Baby Boomers growing up did not always have their summers planned with vacations. Some went to summer camp and many, like me, waited anxiously for best friends to get home from camp so we could play or create the next adventure. Some of us had no place to go during the summer with the exemption of exploring the neighborhood because we did have full freedom to go outside and play on a nice day.  Full freedom to explore and be back by 6 for dinner or for some until the street lights came on. No fear of stranger… danger!

Sometimes, we would go to the local playground or city park such as Chicago’s Bessemer which had a community pool or Stoney Island Park, which was popular for its ball fields, now known as Jessie Owen Park on the South Side of Chicago. Of course, riding our bikes(without helmets) often doing all sorts of stunts to get there. Many families had plastic, above ground pools in their backyard…not so different as those today.  The backyard sprinklers were are last resort but always fun once turned on. We never got sick drinking from the hoses either. Playing hopscotch, kick the can, red light, green light, red rover, Chinese jump rope, jacks( inside and out.)

I am not sure if it initially came from boredom or just not sure what to explore next but we produced plays, musicals and all sorts of summer shows for our families. One my friends and I did was about Betsy Ross and instead of the infamous lemonade s tand we re-created the Sip and Stir on a front porch which was originally an ice cream shop in Old Town. We made chocolate shakes and decorated the porch with tissue flowers. Though unless we had help from a Mom, we had to make sure that cooler was stocked with ice.

If in junior high and a Chicago city kid, sometimes we would ride the local Illinois Central Train downtown for lunch in the Narcissus room at Marshall Fields. Sometimes we would ride the bus to Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park on the west side; one of the first indoor malls.

However, screens did come into play when it was a rainy day. You could select from 3- 5 channels. If it was Saturday morning, you had a variety of cartoons to choose. Prime television was generally in the evening and reserved as a family event after your friends returned home. Board games or blind mans bluff were always an option and some of us had indoor ping pong or pool tables that we were allowed to play in the cooler finished basement since some did not have air conditioning.

Saturday afternoons could offer corny black and white horror movies such as Attack of The Crab Monsters,Teenagers From Outer Space and I Was A Teenage Werewolf. This was all after adjusting the TV antennas which could take some time especially if weather was poor and Mom watching over you while you made Jiffy Pop, the best stove- top popcorn that you loved to gently slide back and forth over the burner and watch the foil expand to new heights. Evenings were always spent with my favorite paint by number set from Bargain Town or reading which was encouraged before I went to bed. We always took trips to the local Chicago Public Library branch. Today, I am an avid reader and love to paint for fun.

Raising children in the 1990’s actually was pretty similar to the 1960’s though there television sets had a lot more channels to select. And they still made Jiffy Pop and my kids loved to help. Personal computers were just showing up in homes and they were pretty bad. So were pagers used mainly for work and more Mom’s needed jobs. I still let my children take over the neighborhood on bikes.Though, they did not have the run of as many blocks like we did in the old days. They did play outside and established some creative plays to perform for parents. Games were similar like tag, Red Rover with the exception of Marco Polo, a new game at the pool. I found sometimes, as parents,we would get too involved in the preparation of games and adventures. Maybe,we should have taken a back seat more often and just watched them build their creativity and love for one another. A very difficult exercise.

Today, just give kids markers, chalk, paper, and even washable paint. Let them go for it outside. Give them boxes, paper towel rolls, saved cereal boxes, tape and let them create their own summer houses, vehicles or forts. Pull out old clothes, dresses and see what they can do. Let them play with their friends and learn together. As far as games,Duck, Duck Goose and Monkey in the Middle seems to be popular. Gathering by themselves to play without you is the best of time for your children during the summer.

But never limit your field trip trips to the local library. You can actually cook Jiffy Pop on the grill outside. And watch the entire shows and movies from the past on Netflix. Maybe true summer fun hasn’t changed that much after all.

A special trip to Chicago’s Our Lady of the Angels

Of course, what comes to mind for many of you my age and older, is the tragic school fire on Dec 1. 1958 at Our Lady of Angels school in West Humboldt Park. I was only three when my mother began to cry when watching the news. But I will never forget. Being taught fire safety in elementary school, teachers always referred to the horrific event that killed 92 children, three nuns and hundreds who walked away with significant injuries. Consequently, the fire did lead to major fire reforms in schools throughout the country and over 60 years later, you rarely hear of a child being hurt in a school fire.

Over decades, I have visited the neighborhood, saying a prayer, feeling the unrest and watching the massive decline. If you or your family were not involved in the fire, you certainly knew someone on the street that you lived who may have lost a child. The pain was too great and many moved on to begin a new start. In the late 1960’s, blockbusting occurred in many parts of the city where real estate practices essentially forced whites from their homes to create high housing prices for blacks. Whites also took the jobs with them and blacks were unemployed. Our Lady of the Angels couldn’t survive and the parish closed in 1990.

The school closed as a Catholic school first but was a charter school until approximately 2017 when given back to the Franciscans at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels . Fr. Bob Lombardo came to Chicago in 2005, at the special request of Cardinal George, to set up a mission outreach to help the poverty- stricken neighborhood that struggle with gang infiltration and drug trafficking on Chicago’s west side; one of the most violent areas in the country.

Many may not realize that  Fr. Bob erected the first on-site outside memorial for the victims of the tragedy, which was blessed by Cardinal George in 2007. He is a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. In Chicago, Fr. Bob has functioned as the founder/ director of the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, founder/ superior of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago, a newly established religious community of young men and women living and serving at the Mission of Our Lady of Angels.

Fourth of July weekend I visited their monthly food pantry with an added bonus in which they gave away 80 mattresses for those in the community. They provide fresh produce, non perishable food, clothing, and household goods to about 250 families each month at their Mobile Pantry. They have 75+ volunteers that help and you can sign up at any time. Families can take a cart filled with food and volunteers will help walk the family to their homes as long as it is within a block from the pantry. But the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels does so much more.

The Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago are an extremely educated and talented group who have been invited to take part in pilgrimages throughout the world. In the beginning, Fr Bob graduated from Notre Dame University in 1979 with an accounting degree and worked at Price Waterhouse. It was shortly after when he found his calling to become a Franciscian and a priest with over 30 years of religious experience.

Sister Kate, originally a nurse, talked about her humbling experience working in the community and their excitement in being able to renovate the school for more program space and retreats. The Church currently provides Eucharist adoration as well as neighborhood prayer services while the original Convent houses the female Franciscans and their offices. The rectory currently houses Fr. Bob and the male Franciscans. Kelly Hall hosts their monthly food program as well as senior programs. And they have received incredible donations that have allowed them to re-build and continue their unwavering commitment to help others. It not easy being who they are, but their graciousness towards others is genuine, constant and truly God’s gift to all of us.

Those who believe that all was ultimately lost in that community after the unforgettable fire…..maybe not. For the Franciscans do pray for those lost in 1958 and their survivors. But their current passion is not giving up on their mission to improve the lives of others they meet today; reminding us who is always in charge with them.

They improved my life in just a few hours and maybe the blessings of the community angels……. many so young…… are assisting the Franciscans to trust and always have faith in God’s timeless love.

 

World Book

As I sat at my card table in the den watching TV, or painting, the World Book Encyclopedia was sitting on a shelf right next to me within hands reach. My mother was so excited when we got them. Like the internet, no family could or should live without them in the 1960s. Now, whenever you had a question for a parent or grandparent, the famous line was let’s go look that up in the World book. I especially liked H.. the one for the human body.. where you opened the book and saw the delicate, plastic, shiny drawing pages.

The first edition of The World Book Encyclopedia was published (as simply The World Book) in 1917, by the Hanson-Roach-Fowler Company in Chicago. Unlike the way most other encyclopedias were printed, World Book has traditionally been published in variously sized volumes, depending on the letter of the alphabet. And it still exists today.

World Book Encyclopedia was also published in electronic form for Microsoft Windows and Apple’s Mac OS X.  Thousands of print sets are still ordered annually, mostly by schools who use them as teaching tools for library research skills; public libraries and homeschooling families are also frequent purchasers. Currently, the 2019 general A-Z look-up source in 22 hard-cover volumes is under 1,000 dollars. World Book also has a series of children’s learning books that deal with science, nature and technology.

My children were 1990’s kids though the computer age was just beginning but for me, we still used the available encyclopedia or dictionary. The computer took forever to connect in their early years but throughout high school and college it was amazing what we could find together. Though Grandma would still refer to …where is that world book? 

Today some students in the elementary classroom will run to their IPad to look something up on the Internet but there are many that will remember that hardcover book. They run to that learning book on the shelf with the colorful photos of the Under the Sea Fish and animals; looking to learn the non-fiction facts about what an octopus really is. Learning to read, at his or her level successfully, as they turn the pages. I can’t wait to sit with them sharing their success with a beloved hard-cover.

 

My Dad, Happy Fathers Day

When I looked up the definition of father, I was amazed at how many categorized fathers we have today. From the weekend/holiday fathersurprised father, stepfathersecond father to just mothers partner or husband; all of which define “the Dad”.  And, believe it or not, there is the DI Dad who is the social/legal father of children produced via donor insemination.

Father is also considered a founder of a body of knowledge or institution like George Washington; the Father of Our Country. And now I can understand why fathers are seen as authority figures and are suppose to possess experience and knowledge in life to pass onto others. That is what being a father is about; the active father who speaks of wisdom and guidance.

My father passed away when I was twelve and Fathers Day was not a Hallmark occasion that was at the top of my list. He was several years older than my Mom and always wanted a little girl. My mother never re-married and someone said that a father is a girl’s first love. Only he could push me on my new swing set at our home in Chicago.

With time, I realized my father, John, was gone and could not be replaced though I would always be grateful for the strong memories of his love for me. Some didn’t have any example in their lives. And as the years passed, I figured out that I could have as many fathers as I wanted; a trusted male friend who nurtures and helps you live a more fulfilling life.

They can be a neighbor that offers support when you struggle, comfort when you are down and their snow blower when there is a foot of snow in your driveway. They can be a manager who reminds you that you are truly worth it regardless of your awkward stumbles at work. They can be a co-worker that offers you a smile, something to laugh at, thumbs up and a cup of coffee when you are having a bad day.

They can be a brother who offers unconditional love and commitment regardless of how you frustrate him. They can be any relative who is protective, concerned and sees your success rather than incompetence. They can be your best friend’s father who spent hours tutoring you in math and building your self-esteem in a subject you never thought possible.

They can be the salesman or contractor that is really looking out for your safety and best interests. They can be your postman who always makes sure your mail is delivered on time and doesn’t rush off without saying hello. They can be teachers and role models to all children of any age and family.

Most of all, they can be the one above…you may not be able to see, but truly loves you.

(Re-posted-originally published June 17, 2018)

Pitch What’s True

Ten thousand pitches in the form of queries, pitches, proposals, manuscripts, submissions that she has evaluated in the twenty-five years of publishing books and running publishing companies.

Sharon Woodhouse, is owner and publisher of Everything Goes Media, a nonfiction book publishing company with four imprints and consulting division, Conspire Creative. She is truly an expert and has shared her knowledge in workshops to thousands of writers on navigating the best path to a published nonfiction book. And now she has put her material in a book as well as the assessment tools she and her editorial team uses when they evaluate a new project.

Pitch What’s True is a workbook that expands your knowledge of what publishing a nonfiction book is all about and what that can mean in your life as an author. Many do not acknowledge the true process, energy and commitment that is involved in becoming a published writer and building a relationship with the publisher. The book is a checklist on understanding general publishing industry insights such as knowing what publishing options are available; the Literary Marketplace and Publishers marketplace are some examples. Pitch What’s True also helps authors differentiate between the success of print and digital formats.

The workbook discusses gaining intense knowledge of the specific publisher you are pitching. Will your book, for example, open up new groups of customers and be a financial asset to the publisher? The workbook also provides a step by step cheat sheet for finding and contacting the optimal publisher for your book. Which publishers should be at the top of your list, aiming, for example, at least 50 to 100 publishers total?

To showcase the true value of your talent as a writer and really put your soul into the publishing game, contact Everything Goes Media website for more information on purchasing this excellent tool, Pitch What’s True. Great exercises are included to keep you on track in the publishing process to meet your own goals.

Chicago’s Art Institute

For me as a child in the 1960’s, it was the Thorne rooms first that truly excited me to see what was inside of the building with the huge lions. I loved dollhouses and anything miniature to collect and play.  And I also liked to visit them again during the Christmas holidays catching glimpses of holiday decorations in the rooms.

My children loved the Thorne rooms too in the 1990’s and to this day, somehow we head to them first. The rooms were elaborate and different from our own homes; a wonderful learning experience of the past where we could view a Pennsylvania kitchen in 1752 or an English cottage during the Queen Ann period.

The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications. Her work shows the upper class homes in England and Frances as well. Hours can be spent visiting the Thorne room exhibit and examining the precise details behind the glass in cased rooms.

From here, it was important to see the Georges Seurat painting  A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and we were interested in counting the dots. The Art Institute has one such sketch and two drawings. We also had to see the most popular American Gothic by Grant Wood. This familiar image was exhibited publicly for the first time at the Art Institute, winning a three-hundred-dollar prize and instant fame for Grant Wood. The image contained the farmer with his pitch fork and daughter in front of their house.

And then it was on to the gift shop and being a true lover of all books, this was one of my favorite shops. Though not a good painter or sculpture by any means, the shop had wonderful art books, postcards, colored pencils, special paper, and reproductions such as Monet’s Water Lilies. And today, they offer fashion items and jewelry. You can created an account and order online.

Today, there are a variety of dining options at the Art Institute that includes a fine dining restaurant called Terzo Piano. There is the Museum Cafe that provides great choices for kids and the Balcony Cafe that provides a snacks and desserts.