My Jewish Chicago: Henry Greenebaum
Finding artifacts turned out to be one of the great challenges and joys of Shalom Chicago. The Museum’s collection has few items identified as being Jewish, so I had to conduct my search using other means. One of the most productive methods was to search by family names found in secondary sources written about the community. They included names such as Alschuler, Horner, Mandel, and Greenebaum. I was familiar with the first three; they are prominent names in Chicago history as well as Jewish Chicago history. But, I did not know much about the Greenebaum family or if the Museum had any related materials. To my surprise, I found a beautiful portrait of Henry Greenebaum in the Museum’s paintings and sculpture collection and a cache of documents in our Research Center.
Henry Greenebaum, c. 1875
John Phillips, oil on canvas
Gift of the Estate of Henry Greenebaum through Mrs. Alexander Bergman
In 1848, at age fifteen, Greenebaum emigrated from Bavaria to Chicago, and in the decades following, he contributed greatly to his adopted city. Greenebaum became a prominent banker; helped found Sinai Congregation and United Hebrew Charities; served as the city’s first Jewish alderman; helped establish the Chicago Historical Society (CHS, today’s Chicago History Museum); raised the Concordia Guards, a Jewish company that served in the Civil War; and, after the Great Fire of 1871, secured critical funds for rebuilding the city.
Greenebaum’s many noteworthy accomplishments and the richness of the materials he left behind convinced me that he should be one of the personal stories featured in Shalom Chicago. His portrait alone is worth exhibiting, but I also found his naturalization certificate, some business papers, and a lifetime membership card to CHS. Greenebaum’s story and artifacts make significant connections to both the history of Chicago and its Jewish community, perfectly illustrating how immigrant Jews and their descendants adapted to American society while retaining their Jewish identity.