Grant Park Photo Diary

I thought I’d take a break from more highfalutin topics and start a little series about Grant Park, focusing on its statues and reading-friendly spots.  I’ve got about a month before school starts up again, and relatively little to do.  I live about 1/4 of a mile from the start of the park.  Walking around it has shown me there are lots of things to see, especially random statues to document.  The park isn’t as big as Central Park in New York, but at about 1.625 miles North-South x 0.625 East-West, it’s not tiny either.  I think it’s bigger and more varied than most Chicagoans (at least this Chicagoan, formerly) tend to realize.

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I’ll start here, in a small section of the park that runs between Balbo (700S) and Harrison (600S), between Michigan Ave (100 E) and the Metra Electric/South Shore train tracks (cordoned off by some stonework and the fact the the trains are about 2 stories below street level – probably at about 150E).  As you can see, it’s kitty-corner from the Congress Hotel, as well as some of the buildings that make up Roosevelt University and Columbia College.  It’s very well manicured, with lots of colorful and cared-for-looking floral arrangements.  Here’s a closeup of one area:



This is the part of the park closest to our apartment, about a 5 minute walk.  It’s got plenty of permanent benches in it (a relative rarity in Chicago’s seemingly anti-homeless-people park system).  It’s pleasant and quiet, even though Michigan Avenue flanks it on the west.  I actually like the faint noise of the cars and the variety they provide whenever I look up from my reading.  During the summer (at least this summer) there are also some tables with benches and umbrellas, and some sort of concession stand (though it hasn’t ever been open when I’ve been there).

At the park’s southern edge, along Balbo, there is a statue, some sort of classical goddess (entitled “The Spirit of Music” – thank you Wikipedia) surrounded by an inscribed wall:


A closeup on the wall reveals it was placed there to commemorate someone named Theodore Thomas.

And even closer closeup reveals the inscription in the center:

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It reads: “Scarcely any man in any land has done so much for the musical education of the people as did Theodore Thomas in this country.  The nobility of his ideals with the magnitude of his achievement will assure him everlasting glory – 1835-1905.”

In spite of the inscription’s prediction, of course, I had never heard of him.  Wikepedia reveals him to have been a German child-prodigy violinist turned conductor who toured the United States leading various groups, most notably the New York Philharmonic.  He was one of the most prominent popularizers of Wagner’s music in the US.  He died in Chicago, and was memorialized in Grant Park soon after that – here’s a closeup of the statue’s dedicatory inscription:

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“Erected by the Trustees of the B.F. Ferguson Monument Fund 1923.  Albin Polasek Sculptor.  Howard Shaw Architect.”  This begs further questions, such as:

What is the B.F. Ferguson Monument Fund?

According to, “when Benjamin Franklin Ferguson died in 1905, [note – the same year as Theodore Thomas – jb] through his will, he left $1 million of charitable trust fund to the Art Institute of Chicago, to be known as the B. F. Ferguson Fund .. This fund was to be..’entirely and exclusively expended by it under the direction of its Board of Trustees in the erection and maintenance of enduring statuary and monuments, in the whole or in part of stone, granite or bronze, in the parks, along the boulevards or in other public places, within the city of Chicago, Illinois, commemorating worthy men or women of America or important events of American history. The plans or designs for such statuary or monuments and the location of the same shall be determined by the Board of Trustees of such Institute.'”

One of the statues funded by this Foundation was the fairly well-known “Nuclear Energy” sculpture in Hyde Park.

Or – who was Benjamin Ferguson?

Thanks again to Wikipedia, I now know that “Benjamin Franklin Ferguson (died 1905) was an American lumber merchant and philanthropist.”

And lastly – what about Albin Polasek (sculptor)?

Again, Wikpedia to the rescue.  He was “a Czech-American sculptor and educator. He created more than four hundred works during his career, two hundred of which are now displayed in the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park, Florida.”

Wikipedia goes on to allege that the Theodore Thomas memorial is among “Polasek’s better known works.”

…and Howard Shaw (architect)?

Full name Howard Van Doren Shaw, Wikipedia tells us:

“Howard Van Doren Shaw (born May 7, 1869 – May 7, 1926 Baltimore, Maryland) was an American architect. He became one of the best-known architects of his generation in the Chicago area. He designed Marktown, Clayton Mark’s planned worker community in Northwest Indiana.”  He designed a lot of buildings around Chicago, including the one at 1120 N. Lake Shore Drive, just a couple of blocks from my where by great grandmother lived.

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2 Responses to Grant Park Photo Diary

  1. Nates says:

    This is great, Josh — I love this kind of stuff!

    But the link to the photo of the Goddess herself seems to be broken. Here’s Wikipedia’s picture of it:
    Spirit of Music
    Rather evocative, I’d say. In fact, I find it astonishing that I haven’t noticed it before — despite often walking through this part of Grant Park! Anyway, looking forward to reading more.

  2. Nates says:

    Oh, and before I got distracted by the nude statue, what I meant to say was that Theodore Thomas picked a terrible time to die. The era of recorded music was just starting, so the symphony leaders in the decades after his death were able to leave an enduring legacy that quickly made his role seem insignificant.

    But at least he got the monument.

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