A Wall of Hope: The Berlin Wall in Chicago

Front view of the wall, facing the west. Photo credit to the LSRCC.

Have you been at the Western Brown Line Station and noticed a large slab of concrete standing near the entrance? Well this 3-ton piece of rock was once a part of the Berlin Wall [1]. The city of Chicago was offered a piece of the wall by the Berlin government back in 2008 [2]. This donation symbolizes a gesture of gratitude towards the United States for helping secure the freedom of Berlin and the reunification process. While this gesture of goodwill is much appreciated, some may wonder why it was placed in a CTA station. Like so many other important historical artifacts, perhaps the wall should be kept at a museum or even a public library. However, the city decided to place it in Lincoln Square, a historically German neighborhood. Today, we’ll be looking at the history of Lincoln Square and why the Berlin Wall was placed there.

Lincoln Square saw its first settlers as far back as 1850 [3]. A majority of the settlers were farmers from Switzerland, Germany, and England. They would grow their produce and drive along Little Fort Road (Lincoln Ave.) to the market in Chicago. With Little Fort being a high traffic area, shops began to appear along the road. It wasn’t long until investors started building up the area and promoting it for commercial use. The area soon grew in popularity and saw tremendous growth in the early 1900s [4]. In 1907 the first elevated train made its way to Lincoln Square [5]. With the new train came even more residents and immigrants to the area. Over time, Lincoln Square was transformed from a small farming town to a thriving metropolitan area. And finally, in 1920 the town was annexed and became a part of the city of Chicago [6].

            During the large influx of immigration, numerous German families moved to Lincoln Square. When the town saw an increase in businesses they were primarily German-owned and operated. This encouraged even more German immigrants to move to the area. It is no surprise that German immigrants would want to move where there was a high concentration of German-Americans. Not only were they able to speak their language among their people, but they were able to shop for the items they used back home. Thus, over the years Lincoln Square earned the reputation as a historically German area. Even as the demographics of the area changed and became more diverse, the city promoted an “Old World flavor with European-style shops” [7]. Lastly, there are multiple German-American events that take place in Lincoln Park. The most famous and popular event that takes place is the German-American Oktoberfest. For one weekend in September, Chicagoans and visitors alike gather in Lincoln Square to celebrate everything German. The goal of the festival is to celebrate German heritage and help keep old traditions and culture alive. From this example it is clear to see just how prevalent German-American history and culture remains in Lincoln Square today. So when it came to the Berlin Wall being put on display, it seemed like the natural choice to place it in Lincoln Square.

            While this explains why the wall is in Lincoln Square, it does not answer why it was placed in the CTA. In 2009, the former Alderman of Lincoln Square, Gene Schulter, was interviewed by the McCormick Freedom Museum. The Alderman explained how he wanted it to be put in a prominent area so that it could inspire future generations. Not only would the monument help kids to understand the importance of the Berlin Wall but also teach them why it should never happen again. In the end, the Berlin Wall Monument is “a celebration of the true meaning of unity and liberty” [8]. Also, the citizens of Lincoln Square were thrilled to have the monument installed in the station. When an important monument, such as this one, is placed in a public area, it feels more accessible to the residents. As the Alderman puts it, having the wall in a public space demonstrates the more human side of it and how the Berlin Wall continues to affect people’s lives.

            This is not the only piece of the wall that was placed in a public area. Ever since its fall in 1989, the Berlin government has divided up the pieces to be donated to countries and cities around the world [9]. As of 2020, the Berlin Wall resides in over 40 different countries [10]. These pieces can be found in museums, libraries, businesses, parks, and even schools. Locations include the Berlin Park in Madrid, the Berlin Plaza in Seoul, and the campus of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. In this way, the question of why the Berlin Wall is placed on the CTA changes to a question of why not? The Berlin Wall has always been about the people. While it was initially meant to divide the Communist East Berlin from the Democratic West Berlin, it has come to symbolize much more. This symbol of hatred has been re-imagined as its worst fears, a symbol of hope, liberty, and freedom.

           

A segment of the Berlin Wall in New York on East 53rd Street between 5th and Madison Avenues in Paley Park, later relocated to the lobby of the
building to the park’s right. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berlin_Wall_piece_in_New_York.JPG. Gaurav1146, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To this day, there continue to be celebrations of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and what it means to the city of Chicago. In 2019, the Dank Haus German American Cultural Center hosted a celebration for the 30th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s dismantling [11]. The celebration took place at the Berlin Wall Monument for a rededication ceremony. Speakers included Consul General Wolfang Mössinger from Germany and Dank Haus President Dagmar Freiberger. Once the ceremony concluded guests were invited to share their stories about the events leading up to and eventual collapse of the Berlin Wall. This dedication and remembrance demonstrate the significance the wall has today and why it continues to be important to the city of Chicago.

            If you haven’t seen the wall, you can visit it at 4648 N. Western Ave, the Western Brown Line CTA Station in Lincoln Square.

Jen Cimmarusti, Loyola University Chicago


            [1] McCormick Freedom, “Berlin Wall in Chicago,” produced by the McCormick Freedom Museum, November 9, 2009, accessed November 22, 2020.

            [2] B, Mona,“A Piece of Berlin in Lincoln Square,” Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce (LSRCC), May 28, 2012, https://lincolnsquarecc.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/berlin-in-lincoln-square/. Accessed November 22, 2020.

            [3] “Cultural Information,” Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, http://lincolnsquare.org/cultural-information/. Accessed November 22, 2020.

            [4] Ibid.

            [5] Ibid.

            [6] Ibid.

            [7] Seligman, Amanda, “Lincoln Square,” Encyclopedia of Chicago, http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/747.html/. Accessed November 22, 2020.

            [8] McCormick Freedom, “Berlin Wall in Chicago.”

            [9] Ziv, Stav, “Where in the World Is the Berlin Wall?” Newsweek, November 11, 2014, https://www.newsweek.com/where-world-berlin-wall-283566. Accessed November 22, 2020.

            [10] Hernandez, Alex V, “30th Anniversary of Berlin Wall’s Demise to Be Celebrated At Monument In Lincoln Square,” November 1, 2019, https://blockclubchicago.org/2019/11/01/30th-anniversary-of-berlin-walls-demise-to-be-celebrated-at-monument-in-lincoln-square/. Accessed November 22, 2020.

            [11] Hernandez, Alex V, “30th Anniversary of Berlin Wall’s Demise.”

Bibliography

“About Us.” German-American Fest. Accessed November 23, 2020.

B, Mona.“A Piece of Berlin in Lincoln Square.” Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce. May 28, 2012. https://lincolnsquarecc.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/berlin-in-lincoln-square/. Accessed November 22, 2020.

Chandler, Susan. “A German Flavor Lingers in Lincoln Square.” Chicago Tribune, January 23, 2000. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2000-01-23-0001230342-story.html. Accessed November 22, 2020.

“Cultural Information.” Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce. http://lincolnsquare.org/cultural-information/. Accessed November 22, 2020.

Hernandez, Alex V. “30th Anniversary of Berlin Wall’s Demise to Be Celebrated At Monument   In Lincoln Square.” November 1, 2019. https://blockclubchicago.org/2019/11/01/30th-anniversary-of-berlin-walls-demise-to-be-celebrated-at-monument-in-lincoln-square/. Accessed November 22, 2020.

McCormick Freedom. “Berlin Wall in Chicago.” Produced by the McCormick Freedom  Museum. November 9, 2009. Accessed November 22, 2020.

Seligman, Amanda. “Lincoln Square.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/747.html/. Accessed November 22, 2020.Accessed November 22, 2020.

Ziv, Stav. “Where in the World Is the Berlin Wall?” Newsweek. November 11, 2014. https://www.newsweek.com/where-world-berlin-wall-283566. Accessed November 22, 2020.

Images

“Berlin Wall in Lincoln Square.” Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce. https://lincolnsquarecc.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/berlin-in-lincoln-square/. Accessed December 6, 2020.

A segment of the Berlin Wall in New York on East 53rd Street between 5th and Madison Avenues in Paley Park, later relocated to the lobby of the building to the park’s right. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berlin_Wall_piece_in_New_York.JPG. Gaurav1146, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Accessed October 17, 2021.

The Ugly Duckling Shines in Lincoln Park: The Rich Meaning of the Hans Christian Andersen Monument in Chicago

From The Little Mermaid to The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairy tales are known high and low around the world. His stories have graced pages of books, poems, and art as well as the big screen with movies, TV shows, and even plays and Broadway musicals. The Hans Christian Andersen monument located in Lincoln Park in Chicago, Illinois pays homage to the innovative writer from Denmark [1]. However, the famed Danish man known by many did not start out as a lovely swan. Much like his story The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Andersen had to go through a rough life to get to the fame and glory he has now that inspired a group of Danish immigrants to create a monument to represent their country and heritage.

Thora Hallager, “Hans Christian Andersen,” October 1869.

Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805 in Odense, Denmark to a poor shoemaker and a washerwoman [2]. The creator and storyteller inside Hans came out at an early age as he was known to tell stories to other children in elementary school [3]. However, Hans had family issues that made him scared to dive completely into his mind of wonder and fantasy. His grandfather, an actor, had gone mad, and Hans was waiting for his time to come where he too would run around the streets in flowers singing at the top of his lungs [4]. His mother, seeing Hans worried and anxious, decided to try to cure him of his worries. She did everything from taking him to a religious well to bringing him to a wise woman who made him wear a bag around his neck “containing some churchyard earth and a mole’s heart” [5]. After his father had died, his step-father, a dull grey man compared to the bright book-loving man his father was, found no use for Hans as he was becoming more in his head as he grew older [6]. Luckily for Hans, a fortune-teller came by the family’s house and read his fortune as: “‘Something great and fine in the world. The time will come when all Odense will be illuminated for him’” [7]. After hearing this, at the ripe age of fourteen, Hans set off to Copenhagen to try to make a mark on the world with his creativity and imagination [8].

While in Copenhagen, Hans tried his luck at almost anything that had to do with the arts. It wasn’t until he met “Jonas Collin, a benevolent Director of the Royal Theatre and one of the King’s Councillors” that Hans’ life in Copenhagen started to look up [9]. Collin had received a grant from the king to send Hans to “the Latin School at Slagelse under Simon Meisling” [10]. At school, Hans learned Latin, German, and French and continuously read in Danish, German, French, and even some English [11]. Hans also continued to write and create stories in his head at school.

After he graduated school, Hans went back to Collins’ family, but ended up traveling around Europe after the king granted him a traveling stipend [12]. When he returned to Denmark, Hans questioned whether he should continue writing or stop for a normal job that would bring him a consistent living. Collins encouraged Hans to continue writing, and after two years, he published his first “Fairy Stories,” a pamphlet containing four stories that would eventually be the first stepping stone on his path to greatness [13]. Hans’ writing only continued from the first pamphlet as his stories exploded onto the writing scene. Eventually, after his famous works of today like The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Nightingale, and more were published, the king of Denmark gave Hans a fixed income for his contribution to the writing world in the name of Denmark [14]. In his old age, Hans returned to Odense to find that the town had transformed into a beacon for him, just as the fortune-teller had predicted when he was fourteen [15]. Finally, the ugly duckling had become the swan he was destined to be.

The monument in Lincoln Park pays homage to Hans and represents more than just his literary mark on the world. After the American Civil War, monuments and statues of influential people were being put up in remembrance and honor of heritage [16]. Immigrants started doing the same as they wanted to remember their homeland and heritage that they had left behind [17]. Danish immigrants were no exception to this, especially as a huge influx of Danish Americans came to Chicago in 1891 [18].

While the Danish immigrants started thinking about ideas for the monument’s specifics, they knew they wanted to place the monument in one of Chicago’s beautiful parks as they had a desire to “give a good account of the culture of their homeland in America” [19]. Hans Christian Andersen was, of course, the first idea that popped into the immigrants’ heads as someone to represent their homeland of Denmark. Not only was Hans an influential writer in Europe, but also in America as his stories had spread across miles of the Atlantic Ocean to grace American homes and libraries [20]. He was the perfect person to showcase and honor Danish heritage and culture, but with the overwhelming certainty that the immigrants, and future immigrants, would keep their culture in America as well as America accepting their culture in return.

In 1981, a committee named “The Hans Christian Andersen Monument Association” was created and set forth on creating the monument that would be a symbol of Danish pride [21]. The committee chose Johannes Gelert, a sculptor who, like Andersen, moved to Copenhagen around the age of fourteen, as the artist for the monument [22]. However, a large problem arose with the monument. As one can expect, an eight foot tall bronze statue on a large granite pedestal is no cheap endeavor [23]. The committee had been getting small donations from Danish circles all across America and even small school-aged children donated with the change they had, but it was not enough and the monument was postponed indefinitely [24]. This did not stop the Danish-American community in Chicago from giving up. New ways to get money for the monument, like bazaars and concerts and new subscription lists, were thought of and executed ending in a possible date for the monument to be announced [25].

Finally, on September 26, 1896, the Hans Christian Andersen monument in Lincoln Park was unveiled to the public [26]. The statue of Hans is made out of bronze, and is a beautiful piece of art. Hans is sitting on a tree stump with a book on his lap. His finger is tucked inside it to hold his place as he looks out into the park. Beside him is a majestic swan. The statue sits atop a large granite pedestal that bears the letters “HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN.”

Wikimedia Commons. Accessed November 15, 2020.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_Christian_An
dersen_Lincoln_Park.JPG

The monument is an impressive and beautiful reminder to the Danish-American community in Chicago that they did not leave their heritage in Denmark when they left for a new life in America. It was the opposite in fact. Similar to a lot of monuments, this one stands as a physical reminder of something that cannot be seen outright. Sure heritage and culture can be seen from the food that is on the dinner table or the traditions families follow each year, but heritage and culture are like love, sometimes we need a physical reminder that we have it, and it cannot be taken from us. The Hans Christian Andersen monument stands as a beacon for current and new Danish-Americans that they did not leave anything but a country behind. Their costumes, traditions, and way of life are always ingrained in their bodies and minds. Similar to Hans’ story of the ugly duckling, the Danish immigrants felt as if they were an ugly duckling in the country of America in the late 1890s, but it was the opposite. They had finally become the beautiful swan they were meant to be in a new land that promised them a new and better life. The monument reminds them every day that they are not the ugly duckling, they are just like their Danish national treasure who they memorialized in bronze, a swan who needed to break free and soar to reach the place where their inner beauty, imagination, and happiness can shine.

Keeley Shoudel, Loyola University Chicago


[1] Elizabeth Belloc. “Hans Christian Andersen.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 41, no. 161 (1952): 55.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 56.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 57.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 58.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 60.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Larsen, Birgit F. “Hans Christian Andersen’s Statue In Lincoln Park, Chicago.” The Bridge 22, no. 2 (1998): 84.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 85.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 86.

[23] “Hans Christian Andersen Monument.” Chicago Park District. Accessed November 15, 2020. https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/hans-christian-andersen-monument.

[24] Larsen, “Hans Christian Andersen’s Statue In Lincoln Park, Chicago,” 88.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 89.

Ceres & the Chicago Board of Trade: Women and Industry in 20th Century Chicago

Adding to the height of the 45-story Chicago Board of Trade Building on 141 West Jackson at LaSalle is a 30-foot statue of the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres. The Ceres statue stands holding a bundle of wheat in one hand, and a pouch of grain in the other [1]. She is made up of various aluminum geometric shapes, without any facial features, and her style resembles the building’s Art Deco architecture [2]. There are still some mysteries surrounding the statue that have not quite been put to rest, but one of great significance is: Why Ceres? Pursuing an answer to this question brings to light an understanding of Ceres’s narrative and the implications both past and present of a mythical female figure made to represent power and industry.

TonyTheTiger (own work) [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

The statue was sculpted by John H. Storrs in 1930. The artist was born in Chicago and is considered one of the principal American artists to use European and cubist influences in his sculptures. He is sometimes referred to as the “sculptor of the machine age,” foregrounding geometric form and metalwork [3]. Storrs was commissioned to create a sculptural piece for the top of the new Board of Trade Building.

Storrs explained to the Chicago Tribune in 1930 that when he first received the commission, “I had two major points to consider. First, I wanted my work to be in architectural harmony with the building on which it was to stand. Second, I wanted it to be symbolical of the business of the organization the structure was to house.” [4] The modern style of the statue and the use of vertical lines mirrors the Art Deco style of the building. Using the image of Ceres, however, nods to the traditional grain industry. At the time of its construction, the Board of Trade Building was the tallest in Chicago, so Storrs made the choice to simply imply a female figure and included little detail, assuming it would not be viewed up close. The building as a whole is still highly regarded as a great example of Art Deco style and of Chicago architecture in general, and the faceless Ceres statue itself has become an iconic image for Chicagoans [5].

Chicago’s location at the base of the Great Lakes, in close proximity to fertile Midwestern farmlands, combined with the city’s rapid growth and development as a grain hub made it a logical place for a central marketplace: the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT). Founded by 82 Chicago merchants in 1848, the CBOT was first housed above a flour store on South Water Street. As the industry expanded over the next several decades and European buyers began to come to Chicago for grain rather than New York, the CBOT occupied various locations on or around South Water Street. Finally, in 1930, after suffering damage from the Great Fire in 1871 and other financial ups and downs, the CBOT settled at its current location at LaSalle and Jackson [6]. At the time, the 45-story structure commanded the Chicago skyline with the figure of Ceres towering above all.

Daniel Schwen (own work) [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Although Storrs and members of the CBOT may not have considered the tricky power dynamics at play when choosing Ceres as their mascot, this choice is significant to women’s labor history. Women in agriculture have been underrepresented in history and research; and in the case of US-based first-generation women farmers, the representation that does exist needs reevaluating. Today, women are uniquely positioned to create positive change through agriculture. This sentiment is mostly promoted internationally as programs focus on women in “‘developing countries’ who are responsible for 60 percent to 80 percent of food-crop production” [7]. While women in farming and other trades attempted to reclaim the standard narrative about their roles and usefulness in agriculture and trade, the dominant narrative of women as passive participants in agriculture won yet again when the CBOT chose Ceres to represent their industry.

From the National Archives, Identifier: 175539335. Creator: Department of Agriculture. Office of the Secretary. Office of Information. 1925-ca. 1981.

Stakeholders of the CBOT declared Ceres as the example and protector of their industry, prioritizing a mythology of womanhood instead of actual Chicago working women in their narrative. In the early nineteenth century, the geography of and trade around Chicago created an agriculture that was market- and production-oriented. Women were seen as “less scientific, less efficient and less well suited to modernity,” which marginalized their relevance in the contemporary agricultural system [8]. The emergence of social feminism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries empowered women to counteract this and similar narratives via labor movements. The Women’s Trade Union League of Chicago formed in 1904 to combat issues facing working-class women and address the significance women attached to traditional institutions. The relationship between women and institutions as these groups understood it served as the foundation for addressing the needs of working women in Chicago. The Chicago chapter of the WTUL continues to be involved in labor struggles. Today, it benefits from the city’s traditions of labor activism and cooperation among women across classes, both of which prove useful when working with male-dominated institutions such as the CBOT [9]. The narrative of women in trade is shifting, but the old narrative is still tied to Ceres, and she still stands tall at the top of the Board of Trade Building.

The goddess Ceres, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Rural Midwestern women play a small role in farm labor but are idealized in their representation as nurturing and non-threatening. This image is quite appealing to conventional agricultural and industrial groups, not unlike those housed in the Board of Trade Building at the time of Ceres’s construction. Women, especially rural white women, are essentialized as “gentle, virtuous and closer-to-nature,” a notion that is not new or harmless [10]. The narrative around Ceres simplifies a key message for the CBOT, which is that the messiness and grit of agriculture can be boiled down to a faceless, larger than life, industrial mythical figure. This simplification is in some way representative of the industrialization of agriculture, which happened in the 1920s as larger farms utilizing machinery became the standard in farming. Also, Ceres’s placement above all the action seems poignant and slightly unsettling. She is isolated at the top of the former tallest building in Chicago, passively representing an industry whose power and narrative were both largely untouchable for women at the time of her construction and for many decades since.

Karis Blaker, Loyola University Chicago


[1] Bach, Ira J., Mary L. Gray, and Mary Alice. Molloy. A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

[2] Storrs, John Bradley. “Ceres.” The Art Institute of Chicago. Arts of the Americas, January 1, 1970. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/63178/ceres.

[3] Bach, Ira J., Mary L. Gray, and Mary Alice. Molloy. A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

[4] Hampson, Philip. “Ancient Goddess in Modern Form to Command City.” The Chicago Tribune. May 4, 1930.

[5] “Ceres by John H. Storrs.” WTTW Chicago, April 17, 2018. https://interactive.wttw.com/loop/art/ceres-john-h-storrs.

[6] Trade, Chicago Board of. “Our History.” CBOT – Our History, 2004. https://web.archive.org/web/20040111141647/http://www.cbot.com/cbot/pub/page/0,3181,942,00.html.

[7] Larmer, Megan. “Cultivating the Edge: An Ethnography of First-Generation Women Farmers in the American Midwest.” Feminist review 114, no. 114 (January 1, 2016): 91–111.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Milkman, Ruth, ed. “Labor organizing and female institution-building: The Chicago Women’s Trade Union League, 1904-24.” Women, Work, and Protest: A Century of U. S. Women’s Labor History. London: Taylor & Francis Group, 2012. Accessed November 15, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[10] Larmer, “Cultivating the Edge.

Banking on Baseball: The Legend We Call Ernie Banks

Image of Ernie Banks published in Chicago Sun Times

What makes someone beloved? Is that even something we can answer? I found myself asking this question about shortstop and first baseman Ernie Banks. “Mr. Cub,” as he was dubbed by Chicago newspaper writer Jim Enright, became Banks’ go-to nickname during his time with the Chicago Cubs [1]. He played his entire nineteen-year career in the Major League with the Cubs and stayed with them as a coach and ambassador after he retired from playing in 1971. Ernie Banks is the one player who “thoroughly and completely identified with the Cubs…[and] represented the franchise with class and enthusiasm” [2]. Despite his career as a player having ended nearly 50 years ago, Chicagoans of all ages seem to know and love Ernie Banks for what he represents as a person and baseball player.

Ernie Banks Statue outside Wrigley Field, dedicated on March 31, 2008

Teammates and non-teammates alike do not hesitate to express their appreciation for Banks. For that reason, on March 31, 2008, opening day for the Chicago Cubs’ baseball season, a statue was unveiled right outside the Clark street entrance to Wrigley Field of Ernie Banks. At the unveiling of his statue, other famous and well-respected baseball players including Hank Aaron, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo spoke to highlight the spirit Ernie Banks embodied that made him the perfect ballplayer [3]. If you know Ernie Banks, you know his most-quoted phrase, “Let’s play two.” His love for the game and the Cubs, his incredible skill, and his positive energy are what drew people to him, even those who didn’t grow up watching him play. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Banks noted after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “Barack Obama gave it to me; he’d never seen me play!” [4]. But having a statue outside Wrigley Field showing him waiting for a pitch and engraved with his nickname, favorite phrase, and career accomplishments is a way for his legacy to live on and communicate to passersby who he was, what he did, and what he means to so many people.


With all the love Banks receives from fans past and present, one would think he grew up living and breathing Chicago and baseball. However, he grew up in Dallas, Texas and played football and basketball for his high school teams and softball on the community team. It was on the community softball team where Banks was recognized for his potential to play baseball as a career. In 1948, Bill Blair noticed seventeen-year-old Banks and recruited him for the Negro Baseball League. Blair was a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro League in the late 1940s and at the time he saw Banks playing, he was scouting for new players in Amarillo, Texas.


The Negro Leagues was a product of the racial segregation that characterized America after the Civil War. According to Edward White, “[n]o stated policy or written rule existed that barred blacks from participating in Organized Baseball. It was nonetheless apparent that no blacks could participate” [5]. By 1903, segregated baseball leagues for whites and Blacks were firmly established. This did not change until 1947 when Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers, making him the first person to break the color barrier. However, it took another twelve years for every team in the Major League to include Black players in their lineups, with the Boston Red Sox being the last team to sign a black player in 1959 [6].


Ernie Banks, who had played in the Negro League for the Kansas City Monarchs, broke the color barrier for the Chicago Cubs, as he was the first Black player they signed in 1953. He would go on to have an incredible career of hitting 512 home runs, hitting five grand slams in a single season (1955), setting a Major League record as a shortstop that same season by hitting forty-four homeruns in a season—then breaking his own record with forty-seven homeruns in 1958—and being the first National League player to be named MVP two years in a row (1958 and 1959) [7]. Banks accomplished all this without ever playing in a post-season game. Ernie’s nineteen years with the Cubs was during their 37-year losing streak that kept them from making it to the post-season. During Banks’ residency from 1953-1971, the Cubs hadn’t competed in the post-season since they lost to the Detroit Tigers in 1945 for the World Series, and it would still be another twelve years after Banks retired that the Cubs would make it to the League Championship Series, where they would lose to the San Diego Padres in 1984.


Perhaps that is what makes it even more remarkable that Ernie Banks is so beloved by Chicagoans despite their losing record throughout Banks’ career as a Chicago Cub. Being known and loved for his enthusiasm for a game and a team that could not seem to have a winning season for the entirety of his career is a remarkable quality and a testament to Banks’ character. Honoring Banks and his legacy with his statue outside the main entrance of the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field is a show of respect and appreciation of his positive devotion to the Cubs franchise throughout his life [8].


The outpouring of love for Ernie online and in print is undeniable. YouTube clips about Ernie or interviews with him always come with comments from viewers describing a memory of watching Ernie play, an interaction they had with him, or what he meant to them and their family. In books and articles about him, the authors always share the impact Banks had on their lives. A couple who both love the Cubs and live in Lakeview, even decided to name their dog after Ernie Banks and devote an Instagram page to @Erniethe_doodle.

@erniethe_doodle visiting his namesake outside Wrigley Field and playing ball. Permission for using these images granted by his owners.


Statues are built for a reason. The person embodied in the statue made an impact in some way and is therefore thought to be deserving of such immortalization to remind current and future generations of their accomplishments and worthiness of being remembered. With all the controversy and politicization surrounding other statues and monuments to long dead influencers of history, it is hard to imagine Ernie Banks’ statue could ever follow in those footsteps. His goodness has been recognized for over sixty years now, and his statue will continue to remind Chicago baseball fans what it means to love the game.

Melissa Newman, Loyola University Chicago



[1] Freedman, Lew. Ernie Banks: the Life and Career of “Mr. Cub.” (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2019), 11.

[2] Freedman, 3.

[3] “Cubs Legend Banks Honored With Statue Outside Wrigley Field”. 2008. ESPN.Com. https://www.espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=3322443.

[4] Chicago Tribune. “Mr. Cub.” 2014. YouTube video, 4:07. April 3, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQL-F61pg78.

[5] White, G. Edward. “The Negro Leagues” in Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903-1953. Pp.128. Princeton University Press, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0sm0.9.

[6] Rapoport, Ron. Let’s Play Two: the Legend of “Mr. Cub,” the Life of Ernie Banks. (New York: Hachette Books, 2019), 71.

[7] “Banks, Ernest (Ernie).” Oxford African American Studies Center. 1 Dec. 2006; Accessed 22 Nov. 2020. https://oxfordaasc-com.dom.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.001.0001/acref-9780195301731-e-40156.

[8] Banks coined the now famous title that refers to Wrigley Field as “the Friendly Confines” after the Cubs were on the road for a while: “He was noting how good it felt to be home again for the Cubs’ next games.” Freedman, 4.


List of Images (in order of appearance):

Greenberg, Steve. 2020. “Touch ’em all, Ernie Banks: It’s the 50-year anniversary of home run No. 500 for Mr. Cub.” Chicago Sun-Times. https://chicago.suntimes.com/cubs/2020/5/12/21255604/cubs-ernie-banks-500-home-run-mr-cub.

“Ernie Banks Statue.” Photographs taken by Erik Newman, November 14, 2020.

Davie, Ryan and Sarah (@erniethe_doodle). “Just chilling with my namesake, Ernie Banks. I wonder if one day they will put a statue of me next to his…” Instagram. April 25, 2017. https://www.instagram.com/p/BTUDSIYBCmy/

Davie, Ryan and Sarah (@erniethe_doodle). “Smile! It’s Friday! #itsthefreakinweekend” Instagram. November 2, 2018. https://www.instagram.com/p/BprjaDmlgNP/

Davie, Ryan and Sarah (@erniethe_doodle). “Happy Opening Day!!! So excited for baseball to be back in Wrigley Field! Let’s go Cubbies!!” Instagram. April 9, 2018. https://www.instagram.com/p/BhWWN8JjA2Q/

Helping Hands: A Memorial to Jane Addams

The “Helping Hands” memorial to Jane Addams is situated within the Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens near the Prairie Historic District. Louise Bourgeois created the sculpture in 1993 to commemorate the life and works of Jane Addams, founder of Hull House and renowned advocate for women’s rights.[1] It is one of the first monuments in Chicago to memorialize a woman.

“Helping Hands,” by Louise Bergeron.[2]

“Helping Hands” is a series of sculptures made from black granite. Each one of the six is in the shape of a hand or hands and rests on a stone pedestal. The monument was originally situated in the Addams (Jane) Memorial Park near Navy Pier, but after being vandalized several times, it was taken down in 2006. After Bourgeois resculpted parts that had been damaged, the sculpture was moved to its present location in 2011, at the behest of the Art Institute and the Chicago Park District.[3]

Chicago was well overdue for a monument memorializing a woman’s contributions by the time “Helping Hands” came to fruition. It makes sense, too, for the subject to be Jane Addams, whose work with the Hull House advocating for women, laborers, and so many others, places her at the center of Chicago’s rich history of advocacy. Indeed, the six carved hands on their pedestals represent the many people Addams helped throughout her life, without thought to race, gender, or occupation, recalling what Addams herself said in her autobiographical notes: “Perhaps nothing is so fraught with significance as the human hand.”[4]

Part of “Helping Hands,” two sets of hands intertwined.[5]

While perhaps not as common as memorializing generals or statesmen, memorializing advocates who cared for and made the world a better place is worthwhile. The symbolism of “Helping Hands” is lovely and evocative, and sitting in the Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens is a suitable context (though the Hull House Museum, located a short distance away, also seems

like it would have been a good choice), even if it was not the originally intended location. It is interesting to note that one of the few monuments to a woman in the city of Chicago is symbolic in its form rather than literal; with so few memorials to women and their work, perhaps “Helping Hands” should be more literal and straightforward. Disassociating Addam’s work from a corporeal form might serve to place the focus on her acts, but when women have so few monuments to them for their actions, it is somewhat unsatisfying. Given her own words, though, Addams probably would have liked “Helping Hands.”

Hands coming together. [6]

Following the removal of “Helping Hands” from its original location at Addams Memorial Park, the Art Institute and the Chicago Park District worked together to find a new location to place the sculpture. The Art Institute commissioned the piece in the first place (and still retains the maquettes for “Helping Hands” in its collection), so the Institute clearly retained the role of a stakeholder.[7] The Chicago Park District is another clear stakeholder, wishing to both beautify the parks it oversees and have monuments that will please visitors to the parks and not cause too much controversy.[8] Given the events of the last couple of years, with monuments coming down due to public outcry, the public itself is a stakeholder in “Helping Hands.”

Remembering the legacies of Jane Addams and Louis Bourgeois. [9]

“Helping Hands” does not court controversy. There is no evidence that the vandalism it experienced while at the Addams Memorial Park was due to objection to its form or what it stood for, but rather that the vandalism occurred because the monument was low-lying in a place that saw a lot of traffic.[10] While the symbolic nature of the memorial may give pause to those concerned about how few monuments there are to women within Chicago, the sculpture itself is not particularly controversial. With all its pieces carved out of black granite, it is difficult to differentiate the differences between the hands, placing the focus solely on the idea of reaching out to help others. While that focus may problematize the “Helping Hands” for a select few, the monument is unlikely to rouse ire the same way a more contested monument would.

The sculptor, Louise Bourgeois, is well-known for making symbolic pieces that depict abstract ideas. Her input about what “Helping Hands” meant to her—Addam’s compassion and willingness to reach out to those who needed help—probably was mostly responsible for driving the narrative surrounding the monument for quite some time.[11] Following her death, it is harder to say who controls the narrative about “Helping Hands.” As the Art Institute commissioned the piece, they undoubtedly do now and did even when Bourgeois was creating the sculpture. The Chicago Park District, too, has a voice in contextualizing the piece, having played a central role in relocating “Helping Hands.” The two institutions that provide commentary, both in the form of a plaque describing the memorial and a digital resource (originally designed to be scanned at the monument, but also available for the general public on Statue Stories Chicago), continue to drive the narrative about this memorial to Jane Addams, and perhaps thus some of the narrative surrounding Jane Addams, too.[12]

Describing and memorializing Jane Addams. [13]

Despite the way institutions have driven the narrative surrounding the sculpture, there is a power to the monument. Not only is it to be hoped that “Helping Hands,” still too new to have made a lasting mark on the city, will do so over the coming years, but that the memorial will spark more memorials to worthwhile citizens of Chicago who are not white or male. Indeed, perhaps the monument, with its decontextualized hands and emphasis on collaboration and reaching out to help one’s community, will inspire more collaboration and more unity. Perhaps it might even provoke questions about who “Helping Hands” truly memorializes and who deserves to be memorialized.

Amber Mear, Loyola University Chicago


[1] Chicago Park District. “Helping Hands.” Last modified July 21, 2015. https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/helping-hands.

[2] “Helping Hands.”

[3] Glessner House Museum. “Helping Hands…That Talk!” Last modified August 10, 2015. https://www.glessnerhouse.org/story-of-a-house/2015/08/helping-hands-that-talk.html.

[4] Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull House. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912.

[5]Statue Stories Chicago. “Helping Hands Jane Addams Memorial.” Accessed November 20, 2020. http://www.statuestorieschicago.com/statue-helping-hands.php.

[6] “Helping Hands…That Talk!”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Chicago Park District. “Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens.” Accessed November 20, 2020. https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/chicago-womens-park-and-gardens.

[9] “Helping Hands…That Talk!”

[10] Ibid.

[11] Waller, Mary. “Jane Addams’ “Helping Hands.”” Last modified February 17, 2019. https://janeaddams.ramapo.edu/2019/02/jane-addams-helping-hands/.

[12] “Helping Hands Jane Addams Memorial.”

[13] “Helping Hands…That Talk!”

Celebrating One Hundred Years of Oral Care

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of essays written by students of the Fall 2018 Public History course and based on research at Loyola’s University Archives and Special Collections.

Forty-five years ago, Loyola University Chicago was celebrating a different anniversary: the Centennial Celebration of the Loyola University School of Dentistry-College of Dental Surgery. The school marked the occasion through several activities, events, and seminars. The events and programs highlighted the spirit of the occasion and showcased the school’s talents, camaraderie, and achievements.

The Loyola University Chicago School of Dentistry-College of Dental Surgery was founded in 1883 as the Chicago Dental Infirmary. The Chicago Dental Infirmary was the first dental school in Chicago and eventually became the largest dental school in the world. [1] The first dean of the Chicago Dental Infirmary was Truman W. Brophy who served from 1883 to 1920. In the beginning, the school was only open to those who held medical degrees. The course was designed as twenty weeks long and to be completed directly after medical school. The medical school requirement, however, resulted in small class sizes and only two graduates at the end of the second course year. This prompted Dean Brophy and the school’s board to create the Chicago College of Dental Surgery which removed the prerequisite of a medical degree while also teaching medical courses. [2] During its first three decades, the school existed as a stand-alone institution as well as associated with numerous universities. In 1923, the school affiliated with Loyola University. [3]

Figure 1: First Classes were held in this building on Adams Street.

The school moved locations three different times during its first six years before landing at the intersection of Wood and Harrison Streets on the West Side of Chicago in 1893. The building went through numerous renovations as increasing class sizes called for larger facilities. Building changes, however, were not the only changes happening at the dental school. By 1935, the course had become four years long with sixty credit hours or two years of undergraduate education completed. [4]

Figure 2: Wood and Harrison Street location

The dental school remained at the Harrison Street location until a new facility was built in 1969 at Loyola’s Maywood Medical Campus. [5] By this point the school had undergone major changes, especially under the direction of Dean William Schoen. Dr. Schoen was a graduate of the Loyola School of Dentistry in 1929 and became dean in 1957. During his tenure, the school increased postgraduate and orthodontic courses, celebrated its Diamond Jubilee, moved to an expansive new location, and developed closed circuit television to teach courses. [6]

Figure 3: New Dental School location in Maywood, IL

During the 1970s the school further improved their Dental Hygienist and Dental Assistant degree programs. [7] The development of these programs also coincided with an increase in female students both as dental hygienists and as holders of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degrees. By 1983 the school had become the largest in the state and enrolled on average five hundred students a year. [8] The Loyola University School of Dentistry-College of Dental Surgery opened its Centennial Celebration with a Centennial Convocation on January 23, 1983. The Centennial also marked the ten-thousandth graduate of the dental school. [9] There proved to be much to celebrate and Loyola University did so in a multitude of ways.

 The dental school received well-wishes from various dignitaries and prominent figures, including then President Ronald Reagan. He congratulated “the faculty, alumni, and students of the oldest dental school in Illinois on their efforts to bring excellent dental care to the community they serve.” [10] The many words of praise and congratulations highlighted the school’s accomplishments throughout its history. During the course of the year, the school celebrated by hosting seminars, masses an alumni travel seminar, and a homecoming banquet.

Figure 4: Centennial Travel Seminar Brochure.

The school’s numerous seminars started in January and ended in November. Some topics included “Orthodontics for the General Practioner,” “Crown and Bridge,” and “New Products and Foreign Dentistry.” [11] If you could afford it, the school also offered an alumni Continuing Education Seminar in Hawaii. The seminar was held for a week with varying program levels to tailor to your needs and costs. One could, for example, spend a week on Honolulu or split the week between Honolulu and Kona or Maui. Over the course of the week, five days were devoted to seminars on various topics, the seminars only lasted six hours so one would have plenty of time to explore the other activities of the islands while reuniting with former classmates. The travel seminar was also timed to commence right after the annual American Dental Association convention taking place in Los Angeles so many of the programs included a stopover from one’s hometown in Los Angeles to attend the convention as well. [12] The travel seminar offered alumni a chance to get together, celebrate the Centennial, and continue their education with seminar courses.

If you received an invitation to the Centennial Homecoming Banquet you would have received the invite above, cordially inviting you to join the school in the Grand Ballroom of the Conrad Hilton Hotel on April 20, 1983 for an evening of cocktails, dinner, honorees recognition, and award presentations. [13] Also included in your invite letter would be an RSVP card and a notice of a block of hotel rooms at the Conrad Hilton Hotel reserved for the evening. A single room cost fifty dollars a night and a double room cost sixty dollars. [14] Many other invitations were sent for the school’s various programming and events throughout the year.

Figure 5: You’re invited! Invitation to Loyola School of Dentistry Centennial Homecoming Banquet.

On April 10, 1983, you would have had the chance to participate in a Mass of Thanksgiving to commemorate the Centennial. The mass was celebrated by the University President, Reverend Raymond C. Baumhart, S.J. The Prayer of the Faithful was conducted by the dental school’s own Dean, Dr. Raffaele Suriano. Various other members of the faculty, staff, alumni, and students of the dental school and University participated in the mass. [15] The Mass of Thanksgiving became another chance for current students, alumni, and faculty to celebrate the school’s anniversary.

The dental school celebrated its one-hundredth birthday in 1983 and Loyola University will be celebrating its sesquicentennial in 2020. However, the dental school will not be part of the celebrations. The dental school closed its doors in 1993. Loyola’s dental school was not the only dental school to close at the end of the 20th century. At the time of its closure, five other private dental schools had recently closed, leaving only fifty-five dental schools across the nation. [16] In 2001, Illinois’ only other private dental school at Northwestern University, closed its doors. Many schools cited increasing costs and decreasing enrollments as needs for closure. [17] Even as the doors remain shuttered 25 years later, the Loyola Dental School’s legacy of preeminent dental care continues to keep the school alive for many today.

The Loyola University School of Dentistry-College of Dental Surgery saw many changes over its history. The school grew from a small, two graduate course to the largest dental school in Illinois. Ever expanding, both in size and location, the school continued to transform itself to meet the time’s needs in dental care. The celebration of these improvements and history crowned with the school’s Centennial Celebration in 1983. The school hosted events for students, faculty, and alumni including: seminars, masses, a massive homecoming banquet as well as outings and a travel seminar to Hawaii. The dental school made large strides in dental education, care, and service which called for a year’s worth of celebrating that legacy. The school’s thousands of graduates are a testament to that legacy.

-Alicia Zeimet

Playing a Part: Loyola Actors Find Their Place in the Chicago Theatre Scene

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of essays written by students of the Fall 2018 Public History course and based on research at Loyola’s University Archives and Special Collections. Check back over the next eight weeks for new stories.

While Chicago’s rich theatre history evolved over the 20th century, Loyola students pushed their pins into the map of the Chicago theatre scene. [1]. With Pulitzer Prize winning premiers and Broadway bound productions, the city’s theatre scene clawed out a reputation as a lab for world class performances. Loyola University theatre program grew on a parallel trajectory beginning as a student run organization and ultimately becoming a full fledged professional training program with the creation of a theatre department.

When Professor Joseph Rice took over direction of the Loyola University Players full time in 1931, it didn’t take him long see the need to move Loyola performances off-campus to reach a larger audience. In March of 1932, he directed Loyola students in “The Enemy” by Channing Pollack at the Goodman Theater [2]. At that time, the Goodman was housed at the Art Institute which provided an opportunity for the student production to perform downtown [3].

Figure 1: This emblem dramatically displays LUP, Loyola University Players,’ from their 1932 production of The Royal Family of Broadway by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber [4].

In 1952, the Loyola Theatre Players, under the direction of Reverend James T. Hussey, did more than transport their theatre to the outside world; they brought the world to their productions [5]. In a much-publicized event, Father Hussey produced the Loyola Theatre Festival which brought in Hollywood and Broadway stars to perform alongside Loyola student-actors. The brightest star of the lot, Gene Raymond, had shared a stage with the likes of Humphrey Bogart and appeared in ninety-seven films but took the time in 1952 to perform in The Devil’s Discipline by George Bernard Shaw at the Loyola Community Theatre [6].

In a retreat from the slings and arrows of Hollywood fortune, Raymond “took a kitchenette apartment near Loyola University” according to the Chicago Tribune’s gossip column “Tower Ticker by Will Leonard” [7]. In his rented abode, Raymond hosted the student cast of another Loyola Theatre Festival production, The Royal Family, to a dinner he prepared himself.

Figures 2 and 3: These two programs from the 1952 Theatre Festival are the dullest in the whole Loyola theatre records archive [8].

The 1952 Theatre Festival, while charming, did not necessarily put Loyola theatre on the map. It was a spectacular event but not a legitimizing one. Students must have been a thrilled to work and play with world class actors like Raymond, but critics did not find it very amusing. Tribune columnist, Claudia Cassidy, condemned Loyola Theatre Festival’s attempt at George Bernard Shaw’s work by saying, “Frankly, it seems wiser to me and infinitely more enjoyable, to read such a play than to share in a botched-up performance.” Cassidy left after the first act of one of the program’s performances complaining that the star, Dennis King, did not have a suitably aquiline nose for the part—yes, literally, his nose—adding that Shaw was “quite simply not for amateurs [9].”

There is no word that could cut as deeply into the heart of Loyola’s burgeoning theatre than that—amateurs. After roping in a handful of professional actors including Hollywood stars, Loyola was still being relegated to the kid’s table in Chicago’s theatre scene.

The Curtain Guild, Loyola’s student led theatre group, dealt with the same criticism. A Loyola News review from 1965 gave their “Six Characters in Search of an Author” by Luigi Pirandello a harsh critique once again alluding to the lack of quality in acting [10]. Later that school year, an editorial in the Loyola News recommended the Curtain Guild include a “company of professional actors” to increase audience attendance at performances [11].

Figure 4: This program cover is from the 1965 production of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Character in Search of an Author.

            Loyola University responded to that criticism in 1968 by creating a professional training program, the Loyola Theatre Department [12]. The first theatre majors were in the same generation of actors as the Illinois State University grads who started Steppenwolf Theatre at the North Shore Unitarian Church [13]. In fact, in 1974 when Steppenwolf staged its first production, Loyola theatre majors boasted Chicago theatre credits at popular venues like the Athenaeum, Court Theatre, and a handful of other Chicago venues [14]. The theatre department, under the direction of Arthur W. Bloom, merged with the Chicago theatre scene at the most exciting time in Chicago theatre history. The department’s inaugural theatre majors took advantage of the fortune of their era and cast off the amateur designation.

Figure 5: Here are a selection of programs from the early seventies during the first few years of the official Loyola Theatre Department [15].

Dr. Arthur Bloom chaired the Theatre Department during the zenith of the Chicago storefront theatre age in the early 1980’s. He worked to secure internships at Organic and St. Nicholas Theatre which both produced acclaimed world premieres of Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet [16]. Under his leadership, the Theatre in Chicago class brought students across the city to see an array of productions from the Lyric Opera’s Macbeth to Steppenwolf’s Of Mice and Men [17]. Bloom prioritized students’ engagement with the Chicago theatre community.

Today, the results of the parallel trajectory of Loyola Theatre and the Chicago theatre scene are visible around the city and the country. Theatre alumnus Osh Ghanimah founded the non-profit, Broadway for All, whose mission is to “train young artists from all income levels and all ethnic backgrounds in a world-class conservatory–led by professionals from the Broadway, television, and film industries [18].” That mission surpasses the scope of the Loyola’s theatre leaders and pursues a goal of social progress, but the ambitious spirit is the same: Loyola’s theatre has fought to make itself an integral part of the greater community and the theatre world.

Figure 6: This blog has been constructed using the Loyola University Theatre Records with a specific emphasis on past theatre production programs. In this bizarre excerpt from a production of Arsenic and Old Lace in 1973, this student is either trying to say they are a werewolf or a vampire [19].

-Anthony Stamilio

I&M Canal Boat Tour Review

Courtesy of the I&M Canal website ( https://iandmcanal.org/ ).

LaSalle, Illinois in 1848 was bigger than Chicago when the Illinois & Michigan Canal (I&M Canal) was completed, connecting the Illinois River to Lake Michigan. Water travel reigned as the fastest way to move people and goods across the United States. The canal gained importance for people’s livelihoods, politics and policy, the growth of Chicago, and travel. Today, a boat ride tour, pulled by a single mule down a small portion of the formerly active canal, physically connects you to the past. The tour guide stresses the canal’s crucial history during its reign and covers a significant portion of it. The tour’s setting and how it presents the canal’s history, pull it together to make it a unique experience. However, what the tour makes up in history and setting, it falls short on engaging the audience and encouraging visitors to explore the rest of the I&M Canal National Heritage Area (NHA).

A Taste of History: The Boat Ride

The start of the tour eases you into a laid back and nostalgic atmosphere for a time a visitor today would not have remembered. When you arrive in Lasalle, the café that holds the visitor center desk for the boat rides sits on the charming downtown avenue filled with businesses housed in brick buildings from an earlier era of the town. Just behind the café/visitor center and under a bridge is where The Volunteer, a 1840s packet boat replica, sits in the canal waiting for visitors to board. Larry the mule stands waiting nearby to be hooked to the boat and start his daily chore. Some tours offered on the canal have the crew dressed in period clothing.  The three-person crew starts the tour off by going into a little more detail about themselves, mules, and the boat. Once “The Volunteer” leaves its dock you are taken about a mile down the canal. The crew consists of a boat captain, a deckhand, and a mule tender—one who guides the boat, one who tells the history, and one who guides the mule along the shore, respectively. The deckhand is essentially your guide through history, starting from the beginning when Indigenous Peoples used the Illinois River and Lake Michigan to the present day that touches on the canal’s designation as a National Heritage Area. The only interaction you can have with the deckhand is halfway through the tour when the boat turns back and he opens the floor for a few questions. It gives people an option to just enjoy the boat ride and tune out any historical insight or to listen with attentiveness to every word.

The tour content focuses on how the canal affected politics, economy, and people through time, demonstrating exactly what the I&M Canal Heritage Area values. It takes you all the way from how plans to build the canal changed what we think of the Illinois landscape today to the restoration and preservation stories of the canal giving its story a triumphant ending as the first federally designated National Heritage Area in the United States.

At the end of the tour everyone disembarks, and visitors are encouraged to meet Larry the mule giving him attention and admiration. Some visitors choose to wander part of the canal on foot—a path built alongside it that goes for 90 miles out of its original 96-mile length—and read plaques and other signs to get a little more history.

Larry the Mule receiving pets and thanks after the boat ride. Photo credit: Ve’Amber D. Miller

Is There Something Missing?

Visitors experience the setting before anything else. Even when the crew is not dressed in period clothing, the atmosphere does a good job of introducing itself as a reflection of its earlier years. The tour relies on the setting and stays aware that visitors will immediately have questions about it on their mind by starting off with an explanation of the crew, mule, and boat.

Although, how the tour guide delivers information revealed one of the boat tour’s weaknesses.  Instead of relying on Audience Centered Experiences (ACE), the canal boat tour decides to stick with a more traditional lecturing approach. ACE has become an increasingly used element in National Park Service (NPS) tours and best described as a technique that encourages more dialogue with an audience in order to “guide mean-making experiences[1]. Despite the I&M Canal’s connection to the NPS, the tour decides to forgo the technique. Information is delivered via speakers installed on the boat creating a bit of distance between the guide and the audience. It again emphasizes how much the tour relies on its setting. The information becomes difficult to keep up with since there is only a small pause in the stream of details delivered.  

Furthermore, the tour’s expressed values lean towards a more rose-colored view of the time. It touches briefly on the mistreatment of workers, mentioning that during harder times workers were paid in scrip instead of cash who then struggled to make ends meet. A lot of current literature also takes a lighter, jubilant view of the canal and its history as well, focusing on most of the good it created. A solution may be found in special boat tours or other programs that focus on unexplored topics. If there is any turbulent history connected to the I&M Canal, it has been detailed very little.

Lastly, without the supplemental material—in particular, the I&M Canal National Heritage Area brochure—it is harder to understand the rest of the 96-mile canal and its associated sites without maps displayed anywhere else.  A few words about the other historic sites and tours along the I&M Canal while on the boat tour would have been beneficial to understanding the significance of the entire National Heritage Area but were missing despite being an easy addition.  

An Exceptional Experience

The I&M Canal Mule-Pulled Boat Ride strives to hit the mark on the principles that are part of the mission it and other associated historic sites share, but it does fall short in a few places. It does well to show the preservation of the history of the I&M Canal, using the replica packet boat and environment to its advantage. Yet the delivery of the history falls short when told through a more lecture style and impersonal method. The tour highlights the impact the I&M Canal had on the people and industry along it; the missing perspectives leave a hole, nonetheless. On top of the missing perspectives, the tour fails to mention other sites and tours to explore which hurts what could be an introduction to the greater region. Overall, the I&M Canal Mule-Pulled Boat Ride has its strengths, but improvements can be made to help it become an exceptional experience.

Ve’Amber D. Miller


[1] Foundations of 21st Century Interpretation, Ver. 2017 (Harpers Ferry: National Park Service, 2016),5.