The building that houses this museum was designed in 1892 by Burnham & Co. to house the Palace of Fine Arts for the Colombian Exposition. I believe it’s one of the only buildings still standing from the Expo. But it’s 19th century exterior belies its’ high-tech environment. With 2000 exhibits across 3 floors, this museum is huge and noisy.
After seeing one of the original Pullman cars at the Chicago History Museum, I was looking forward to boarding the Zephyr (pictured above), which was in service from 1934-1960. I would find it on the 2nd level in the Transportation Gallery. Unfortunately, I would also find the Zephyr closed to onboarding that day.
One of the galleries that was open and that I really enjoyed was “The Art of the Bicycle” which displayed the evolution of the bike from the late 1800’s to the modern day, and included prototypes not widely seen in the US market. You’ll find the complete series boarded to Pinterest.
The third floor mezzanine puts you at eye level with historic planes that are suspended from the ceiling. The Ships Gallery (I’m a sucker for ships) showed the progression of sail through well-built and well-displayed models. The adjacent gallery of antique cars were a lot of fun as well, especially this 1930’s Franklin Pirate Phaeton, show here, with its rear view mirror strapped to the spare tire on the passenger side. See the rest of the planes, trains and automobiles (and ships and bicycles) at Daveno Travels.
Yet another fun exhibit was The Great Train Story – a diorama of the 20 freight trains that cross the country, delivering goods. On the backside of this diorama, I was surprised to find a detailed replica of my hometown of Seattle! I had a docent snap this photo of me, and told the how this would be a lasting record of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which was slated for demolition (and which, a year later, has now been removed from the Seattle landscape)
“Yesterday’s Main Street” is a replica of a typical Illinois Main Street, with storefronts filled with ‘the latest in turn of the century fashions’. I looked forward to a treat in the Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, but it was also closed. Everywhere I go, there’s always something closed...
Downstairs is Colleen’s Fairy Castle, which I read about as a child. I was disappointed in seeing it in person, the black and white photos in my book were more impressive. It was also very primitive compared to the Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute, but I reminded myself that this was a working dollhouse, and shouldn’t be compared to architecturally correct scale models.
My continual lament with museums both here and abroad, are the lack of museum catalogs. “The exhibits change too quickly for us to produce one” is what I was told here. Usually I can at least pick up topic-specific books (as I was hoping to do for the Transportation galleries) but even that was a stretch here. I often end up adding to my library through online booksellers once I return home.
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Heather Daveno hails from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught textile artisan by night. In her spare time she is a “hobby historian” and is currently researching the female side of her family history for a book she plans to write, titled: “The Matriarch Diaries.”
You can see her current textile projects at August Phoenix Mercantile and her travels at Daveno Travels.