Saturday, June 26, 2010

Places of Living History

One year ago I set out on an adventure that involved seeing New York City for the first time. Returning from my travels, I was sure that my new season would produce a profitable Public History job and a expanded perspective on life.

I am sure I look at things differently since then, but there is still no dream job to provide intellectual stimulation and fund my ever-growing desire to hop around the nation's most intriguing museums and historic sites.

While in NYC I visited the Tenement Museum, a spectacular institution that specializes in the history of the Lower East Side and its immigrants at the turn of the Century. A prime example of living history, smack dab in the middle of a historic neighborhood. With each flight of stairs or turn of a corner, it is as if one were wading through history--stepping into snap shots of the past. The stories of real life people are told in those rooms; the remnants of lives such as theirs scattered for all to see. Such an enriching way to experience history.

Recently, I was remembering my experience at the Tenement Museum and wondering if Chicago possessed such a gem. I know of institutions like the Jane Addams Hull House Museum and the newly created Public Housing Museum, both of which (unfortunately) I have been unable to visit. Yet every once in a while, I'll be walking along a street with buildings of historical persuasion and think to myself, "Who used to walk up and down these same streets? What events occurred under this building's shadow?"
What if, as we walked along the streets of a historic neighborhood, we were able to see the hidden history piled beneath slabs of concrete? I am certain that interspersed between franchised coffee shops and modeled strip malls there are stories to be told, memories to behold.

Away from the often-pretentiousness of exhibit-laden museums, places of living history--on site museums specifically, are probably my favorite. I thrive on experiencing the past in a three-dimensional way, without all the trappings of digital media and surround sound.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

An Ode to the Westward Wind

I had an interesting thought the other night as I was watching a reflection of the sunset on clouds over Lake Michigan. The shore was completely calm, but for a gentle breeze wrinkling over the surface of the water. Yet as I stepped away from my reverie and returned to the concrete jungle, a torrential wind tore at me from the West.

And this was my thought--consequently geographical in nature. Imagine from whence that wind had come. . . Traversing around mountains and vales, through cities and towns, across rivers and streams, making its way steadfastly to the coast--not of a vast ocean or sea, but a simple lake--the birth place of a Midwestern metropolis.

Oh to be a breath on the wings of that wind. To hover over the changing landscape and shifting tide. A perfect witness to time and space. The most honest of troubadours. A noble chronicler. An ode to the Westward wind.
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