The Allure of Immortality

December 5th, 2016by Gary Johnson Filed under: Stories

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.


Lyn Millner.  The Allure of Immortality: An American Cult, a Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet.  Gainesville, University of Florida Press (2015).

How many visitors to today’s Fort Myers Beach, Florida, have any idea that this was the site of one of the most peculiar of America’s religious utopias?  Cyrus Teed, who saw himself as a prophet, took his mostly-female flock from Chicago to that location in 1894.  He died in 1908, and the last survivor of the cult died in 1974.  Lyn Millner’s very well-written book tells this fascinating story.  Some aspects of the “Koreshans” are as exotic to hear about today as they were to newspaper readers in their own time.  (For example, they believed that we live in a hollow earth, with the rest of the universe inside). As history, it is useful both for understanding this cult in its own contextthe succession of religious revivals in nineteenth-century Americaand for understanding millennial cults in general.  After all, the impulse to follow a charismatic leader to a remote location where life proceeds under nonconformist rules and the believers await some sort of apocalypse is still with us.

Explore Chicago Collections!

November 2nd, 2016by Ellen Keith Filed under: Collections

CHM director of Research and Access Ellen Keith recounts the milestones and achievements of Explore Chicago Collections in its first year. She recently spoke about it at the Bucknell University Digital Scholarship Conference.

Did you know that the Chicago History Museum is one of the founding members of the Chicago Collections Consortium? This organization of libraries, museums, and archives has significant holdings about Chicago history and has doubled in size since its inception in 2012—from twelve to twenty-four members. Membership has many benefits, and one of the best is inclusion in Explore Chicago Collections (or EXPLORE).


EXPLORE allows the public to search archival collections and digital images held by member institutions. This online catalog went live on October 22, 2015, and has had over 58,000 unique visitors and more than 419,000 page views its first year. In the Museum’s Research Center, it has made our work so much easier. We are frequently asked, “If you don’t have this, then who does?”—a question that’s been difficult to answer until now. Within weeks of the launch of EXPLORE, our staff was able to direct a History Fair student to a collection at Northwestern University, point a graduate student from Princeton University to a collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and lead a student in New York to Polish collections across the consortium. Not only can we help researchers more efficiently, but we’re also increasing our knowledge of member holdings. And, our own collections get more exposure. Win-win-win!

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108 Changes since 1908

October 28th, 2016by Guest Blogger Filed under: Stories

It is a well-known fact that the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series title in 1908.

The 1908 Chicago Cubs team at West Side Grounds after winning the World Series. Photograph by the Chicago Daily News, SDN-006934A

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All About the Details

October 14th, 2016by Guest Blogger Filed under: Exhibitions, Stories

As a preview to the opening of Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier, volunteer Kristin Bernstein explains the process behind building props and determining accessories for the mannequins featured in the exhibition.

In Making Mainbocher, mannequins are dressed from head to toe and no detail is lost. A gifted sketch artist who defined luxury in the early twentieth century, Mainbocher often included accessories in many of his fashion designs to present a polished, comprehensive look to his clients. To evoke his elegant style in this exhibition, a team of volunteers and contracted specialists custom built props for each mannequin and object, including paper wigs, ribbon shoes, and even prop dresses. Similar to the background of a painted portrait, exhibition props are included to support and complement an object—rather than draw attention, they subtly add to the visual experience. These details elevate Mainbocher’s designs in the hopes that the mannequins embody his full vision.

An example of how paper wigs and ribbon shoes can fill in a mannequin’s blank presence. Behind-the-scenes photographs taken by CHM staff

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Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics

September 20th, 2016by Gary Johnson Filed under: Stories

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.


Timothy Stewart-Winter. Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press (2016).

“The path of gays and lesbians to political power led through city hall and developed primarily in response to the constant threat of arrest under which they lived.” With this thesis, Timothy Stewart-Winter offers a carefully-researched and richly-textured account of rising gay political power in postwar Chicago. Students of urban history will find familiar themes, such as the politics of a group that migrated to the city. Students of the civil rights movement will recognize their own patterns of movement politics playing out in a different setting. Well-known political figures have roles, such as Alderman Cliff Kelley, an African American who allied with LGBT communities. Mayor Richard M. Daley’s relations with those communities were bumpy at first, but by 1991 he was hosting the induction ceremony for the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, the first event of its kind in an American city. While the author weaves his account into the political life of the city, he brilliantly pieces together the stories of the communities themselves, with milestones such as the portrayal of the gay and lesbian political “Gang of Four” on the cover of the Chicago Tribune Magazine’s February 7, 1993 edition. Archival and oral history resources in the hands of an expert researcher made this book possible, but when scholars in other cities follow Stewart-Winter’s lead, as I know they will, I wonder what resources will be available to them. Again, the LGBT community might look to the African American community for a model. There, they will find The History Makers, which has built the nation’s largest African American video oral history collection.

> Learn more about Chicago’s gay and lesbian rights movements