My Jewish Chicago: Henry Greenebaum

November 9th, 2012by Olivia MahoneyFiled under: Exhibitions, Stories

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.

In 1870, Greenebaum purchased a CHS life membership for $300, affirming his identity as a Chicagoan.
Gift of the Estate of Henry Greenebaum through Mrs. Alexander Bergman

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.

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> Read the previous My Jewish Chicago blog post

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2 Responses to “My Jewish Chicago: Henry Greenebaum”

  1. Mark Braun Says:

    The comment you make about the Concordia Guards is incorrect–it was only a company and not a regiment. Greenebaum, Edward Selig Salomon, and Bernard Felsenthal all helped organize Company C, 82nd Illinois Regiment. Chicagoan Salomon went on to be breveted Brigadier General, and Greenebaum’s in-law, Marcus Spiegel was also a general in the war. Spiegel’s brother was Joseph of the catalog house. Greenebaum was a fierce abolitionist in the war, and a leader in this regard with his relative, Rabbi Bernard Felsenthal.

  2. Mark Braun Says:

    Additionally, the 82nd Illinois, Company C was not the only all-Jewish company in the war. It was the only one in the Midwest, but there was a larger groups of Jews in several Pennsylvania and New York regiments. Greenebaum’s claim to fame in the Civil War was in his repeated, active efforts for the end of slavery and helping the Jewish and Black communities. He was also active in the Underground Railroad movement.

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