Swedish American Museum
The North Side neighborhood of Andersonville was once home to Swedish immigrants settling in Chicago. Today, that history is celebrated at the three-story, 24,000 square-foot Swedish American Museum. Here, visitors can enjoy permanent and traveling exhibits, a Swedish library, and meeting and workshop areas. Visitors can take Swedish language classes, enjoy concerts and lectures, or admire the art and history exhibits.
A separate Children’s Museum of Immigration offers children a hands-on history lesson, complete with a Viking ship, a 20-foot steamer, and a pioneer log cabin to help them learn as they actually experience the Swedish immigrant experience. In addition, the museum offers programs, lectures, concerts, and films, and can be rented for special events. Group tours are available if arranged in advance. The Museum also offers a Nordic Family Research Center with computerized help for genealogy study. (www.samac.org ) One of the advantages of living in a major metropolitan area like Chicago is the wide variety of fascinating and unusual museums available.
National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum
While war and art may seem an odd juxtaposition, the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, or NVVAM, was born under the idea that art can help relieve the stresses of war. Began in 1981 by Vietnam veterans seeking to present an artistic and historic perspective of that war, NVVAM has been a force behind the movement to use art to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The permanent collection includes more than 1,500 pieces, including paintings, sculpture, poetry, photography, and music, expressing the war experience of more than 100 artists. One of the most stirring exhibits is a sculpture entitled Above and Beyond, comprising more than 58,000 dog tags, making it the only memorial outside of the Wall in Washington, D.C. to list all who died in Vietnam. The museum hosts artwork by veterans of all wars as well, and exhibits are educational and historical. School groups are encouraged. (www.nvvam.org)
Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art
The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, set in Elmhurst’s beautiful Wilder Park, was built to resemble a jewel-box, and features breathtaking artwork created from fabulous gemstones by both ancient crafters and contemporary artists.
Lapidary is the art of cutting and polishing stone, and is a hobby that has attracted many enthusiasts. The museum was the dream of lapidary hobbyist Joseph P. Lizzadro, who began collecting interesting stones on family trips to the Keweenaw upper peninsula of Michigan. In 1962 he found a home for his collection through an agreement with the City of Elmhurst and its park district.
Today, the museum houses an impressive permanent collection that includes exquisite jade pieces dating back to China’s Ming Dynasty, as well as Roman stone mosaics and fascinating dioramas carved in Germany. The lower level of the museum combines artistry with earth science, offering visitors a hands-on rock and mineral lesson. The star of the lapidary experience is arguably the Castle Lizzadro, a magnificent 18-karat gold castle boasting diamond windows and based on a slab of Brazilian agate surrounded by amethyst, malachite, azurite and vanadium. (www.lizzadromuseum.org/home.html)
Lake County Discovery Museum
For a great family outing, try this all-around museum, which features everything from area artistry to the largest Civil War re-enactment in Illinois. One of the most popular exhibits is the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, home to the world’s largest collection of picture postcards—more than 365,000 cards, computer-categorized into more than 2,100 subjects, presenting a compelling story through postcards of America from 1898 through 1978. In addition, the museum houses the Lake County History Archives, including photographs, land plats, and histories of individual schools in the county. The museum is located in the Lakewood Forest Preserve in southwest Lake County. (www.lcfpd.org/discovery_museum)
Ernest Hemingway Museum
Arguably the definitive American author, Ernest Hemingway was born and raised in Oak Park. That city’s Ernest Hemingway Foundation has developed a unique, fascinating look at the man and his life, including a tour of the author’s childhood home, built by his grandparents in 1890 and meticulously restored by the Foundation to its original grandeur. Nearby is the Hemingway Museum, where many special items, including Hemingway’s childhood diary, are on display. Other special exhibits, both permanent and traveling, highlight the varied and adventurous life of the author. A museum store sells books by and about Hemingway, along with videos and gift items. (www.ehfop.org)
DuSable Museum of
Begun in 1961 as The Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art, the DuSable was renamed in 1968 after the Haitian fur trader who was the first permanent Chicago settler. The museum has seen several expansions since, including a 450-seat theater, but remains dedicated to its original goal of preserving and presenting the historical and cultural experiences and achievements of African Americans. Permanent exhibits include a history of African-Americans in the armed forces, along with artwork and African artifacts. The museum also hosts book signings, classes, films, and lectures. The ongoing Coca Cola Penny Cinema presents films to help acquaint children with the history of people of African descent. Other educational programs include children’s workshops in the performing arts of Africa. (www.dusablemuseum.org)
Volo Auto Museum
It’s been said that America has a love affair with the automobile, and nowhere is that passion more evident than at the Volo Auto Museum. Here you can see the Dukes of Hazzard General Lee, KITT from “Night Rider,” and even the Batmobile, as well as the cars from Miami Vice, Gone in 60 Seconds, and Terminator 3. The museum boasts plenty of exhibits and activities for the entire family, including kids’ rides in an Indy 500 car, the Flintstonesmobile, the Love Bug, and even the Ghostbuster auto. The museum’s Combat Zone includes realistic battle displays, complete with sound effects, as well as operational military vehicles. Other activities include antique malls and vintage car displays. And there’s even a sales floor for buying and selling. (www.volocars.com).
The Museum of Science and Industry, the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, has been a Chicago landmark since 1933, but really began in 1911 as a dream of Julius Rosenwald, Chairman of the Board of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Rosenwald was inspired by the Deutsches Museum in Munich. In 1926, the 1893 building that housed the Palace of Fine Arts from the World’s Columbian Exposition was targeted as the future home of the museum, but it took until 1933 before the building was ready to open.
One of the first exhibits was the popular coal mine, followed in later years by such popular exhibits as Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle (1949), the U-505 submarine (1954), the Apollo 8 Capsule (1971), the Titanic exhibit (2000) and the controversial Midwest debut of Body Worlds: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies (2005).
In 2008, the museum celebrated 75 years of scientific excitement, and will see even more amazing and educational exhibits in the years to come. In fact, Museum President and CEO David Mosena has announced plans for a $205 million Science Rediscovered campaign, stating, “This will allow the museum to carry on our critical vision of inspiring and motivating children to achieve their full potential in science, technology, medicine and engineering.”
According to the museum’s Public Relations Manager, Beth Boston, upcoming changes are extensive, including new permanent exhibits such as You! The Experience, which will examine the human body. The first of the new major exhibits opened this summer (2009).
Beginning in spring of 2010, Science Storms will explore the extreme weather that has become more commonplace on Earth. Other changes include replacing the Petroleum Planet exhibit with Energy Planet (set for fall, 2010), which will explore our planet’s future energy challenge. Blue Planet • Red Planet (spring, 2011) will explore our own planet’s mysteries as well as those of Mars. Even the “heart” of the museum, the walk-through beating heart, will undergo a renovation to become even more interactive and informative. Says Boston, “By 2011, nearly 90 percent of the museum’s exhibit space will either be brand new or completely renewed.” (www.msichicago.org).