“Murder, magic and madness”:
Of Tourists, Residents and Educators
As I left the site of the toppled St. Martin and continued walking toward other works listed in Bach and Gray’s Guide, with every step I encountered decay, destruction, defeat. Homeless lined the streets, tucked away in corners like wind-swept litter that clutched to patches of weeds or broken, rusted fences. A man hastily called his employer, explaining his car wouldn’t start in the rain, profusely apologizing, frantically fighting to keep his meager income intact. A couple shouted at one another as the man, hunched and desultory, slammed a rickety door on his way out of an apartment. An empty schoolyard littered with trash and weeds boasted a sign revealing the old building, in spite of its appearance, was still in use.
Because of the framing for my project, Chicago’s 1909 and 2012 plans, I started where I believed most of Chicago’s culture had started: The site of the 1893 Columbia Exposition. One of the CAF tours I had taken in 2009 had been based upon Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. I began my self-guided tour of Chicago’s democratic educational space here, since it was in Hyde Park where I received my first formal lesson in Chicago’s rich artistic cultural heritage. Yet as I conducted research, I was repeatedly struck by decay in “Neighborhood showcases of culture…that are located within walking distance of the school” (Supplemental, 2012, p. 4).
Before reaching the 24 foot high gilt replica of Daniel Chester French’s towering 65 foot “Golden Lady,” The Republic (Appendix C), the hallmark of Chicago’s 1893 Columbia Exposition, I took the opportunity to visit with others about the piece. A local business owner who identified herself as an artist recalled, "I like the classics. I remember driving by her as a child. I don't remember her name. I always called her 'Lady of the Waves'."
By contrast, when I asked another employee at a gift shop about the luminous sculpture, he replied, "I guess I never paid attention to her."
With those two voices echoing in my mind, as I wandered through Jackson Park, I couldn’t help but wonder, "How could one possibly miss this sculpture?" Idling engines of a row of nearby school and tour busses drowned out the content of a heated conversation two men were having on the adjacent street. According to the 2012 plan, this could have theoretically been an ideal space for teachers to utilize their own neighborhoods as potential learning environments. Yet I recall even on the CAF tour I took, our own bus hastily sped past the sculpture, with only a cursory mention of the "famous" Republic while we were whisked a few blocks away to nearby picturesque Stony Island.
Like the employee who lived in the area and had never taken note of her, while I was on the CAF tour, I, too, had missed her because I had been fidgeting with my camera. On foot, though, I spied her easily as she peered over traffic of the busy roundabout, brilliant even in contrast with yellow-orange school busses. The sound emanating from the row of these busses drowned out the roar of traffic on nearby Lakeshore Drive. She seemed obscured from the view of those who were speeding past on that much busier thoroughfare. All across Chicago, busses congregate in areas near these types of popular attractions: here, Randolph Street, Columbus Drive, Cannon Drive. These streets become parking lots at times, off-site monuments to the monuments themselves.
I turned away from the arguing pair, who had initially dispersed when they spotted my camera, but realizing I was more interested in their gilt companion than them, they resumed whatever transaction they may have been engaged in when I first arrived. I knew I was safe; their exchange may have been much more lucrative than anything they could net from my old camera and portable video gear. I left her, standing alone, a silent sentinel watching history being enacted in front of her now for over three generations. The heated exchange muted by busses may have explained in part the hasty treatment of the sculpture during the CAF tour. If tourists aren't expected to learn of this monumental work because of potential danger, how can one expect students to learn to appreciate art or culture in these neighborhoods?
 I couldn’t help but wryly note that it is perhaps for this very reason that the 2012 plan suggests students look outside their own classrooms for cultural influence.