Local Culture by Rich Paschall
Whether you live in a large city or a small town, there are likely to be places of cultural interest, historic sites or local festivals nearby. If you are in Mitchell, South Dakota you can visit the Corn Palace. Stockbridge, Massachusetts has the renowned Norman Rockwell Museum. Hannibal, Missouri has the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, along with the white fence that may (or may not) have been the inspiration for the scene of Tom Sawyer getting his friends to whitewash the fence.
In a big city like Chicago, there are many large cultural attractions. The Museum of Science and Industry is located in a building erected for the 1893 World’s Colombian Exhibition. The Art Institute on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago holds many iconic artworks. The “museum campus” on the lakefront contains the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum of Natural History, home to Sue, our T-Rex skeleton. Yeah, it’s big. Washington Park on the south side of the city holds the DuSable Museum named after the Haitian fur trader and supposed first permanent settler in the area now known as Chicago. I have been to them all.
It is impossible to get to all the festivals around town. We love a good festival and the summer is filled with them. Ethnicity, pride, food, drink, music are all reasons for festivals. In the third largest USA city, you can not know about all of the attractions, even if you have lived here all of your life. On a recent visit from a friend from out-of-state, we found a few things we have missed in the past.
Before arriving in town he suggested we go to the Chicago Beer Classic at Soldier Field. I had no idea we had a beer classic. With booths set up all around the playing field where the Chicago Bears attempt football, one could go around and get 2-ounce samples from 150 craft beers in a special 2-ounce souvenir glass. These were mostly out of area beers with only a few local brews known to us.
Armed with a booklet of 48 tickets we set off for our samples. I used 15 tickets but since some booths did not bother to collect them, I probably got about 20 samples, not a lot for 3 hours. We interrupted our beer trek to take the behind the scenes tour of Soldier Field. We saw locker rooms and some of the features of the recently renovated stadium. Little more than the original columns exist today.
Our week of local interests included the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, founded in 1857. The original museum collection was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Today it is located in a Lincoln Park building erected in 1999, containing exhibits of nature unique to the Midwest.
One of the most popular features of the museum is the Butterfly Haven. You have to be careful opening the doors to this large atrium style room so that the butterflies and moths do not fly away. We were lucky enough to be there when they released new butterflies and moths to the room, which is a daily occurrence due to their short lifespan. In fact, some of the large moths they release only last about 5 hours. If you sit still, some are likely to land on you.
The Chicago History Museum was also on our hometown tour. This was founded as the Chicago Historical Society in 1856 and like the Nature Museum, it lost its collection in the Great Chicago Fire. The current structure in Lincoln Park was built in 1932 and has been expanded twice.
We found interesting displays including those on Abe Lincoln, the development and recording of Blues in Chicago, and the struggles of diversity throughout our history. I stepped onto an old elevated train car and sat at a school desk and saw that children of color did not always get the same education as others. I saw a mocked up recording studio for Chicago Blues musicians. If you were bold enough, you could walk into a little club room and sing the blues for us, karaoke style.
By the way, I missed the Corn Palace in South Dakota. When I was eight years old, we were on one of those family road trips to see Mount Rushmore. On the way back we went through Mitchell. When we got there I was sleeping in the back seat of the car, so they left me there and my parents and older brother went to check out the palace. Someone should have called Child and Family Services on these people. I think I was scarred for life by missing this attraction.
Many years later I took a friend from France to Hannibal, Missouri. One of the few things he knew about the country was from reading Tom Sawyer. I can not imagine how that translated. I am actually in the picture at the top, but my friend was clearly more interested in capturing Tom Sawyer’s fence than getting me in the picture.
If I ever get to Stockbridge, I am sure I will check out the Norman Rockwell Museum. I have always been fascinated by the detail of his work. I remember seeing them often on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
What are your favorite local spots of interests? What do you have left to explore on your stay-at-home vacation? What could possibly be close to home that you do not even know about…yet?