Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston

Out of idle curiosity, I recently Googled “Magnolia Cemetery” and by the most cursory of investigations, found properties of that name not only in Charleston, SC, but also in Augusta, Ga., Mobile, Beaumont, Norfolk, Va., Baton Rouge, Houston, Orange Park, Fla., and Meridian, Miss., just to name some of the Southern spots.

There are also Magnolia Cemeteries in Philadelphia — Pa. — Harrison County, Iowa, and Stark County, Ohio. That might seem odd, but then again certain kinds of magnolia grow in the North. Saw some in Rockford, Ill. Or maybe the Northern cemetery namers just liked the shady, peaceful associations of the magnolia.

Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston got its start in 1850, during the rural cemetery movement of the 19th century. Rural then, but fully in the city now. Still, it’s a peaceful place, full of the things a park-like cemetery should have: old stones, funerary art, mature trees, bushes, flowers, water features, winding trails, memorials evoking local history.

In the case of Charleston, the War Between the States looms large in such local history memorialization. Here’s the monument at Soldiers Ground, a section for Confederate dead set aside during the war.
Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston Confederate Memorial 2017The tablet on this side of the plinth says:

This Bronze preserves the memory of the Heroic Dead from every part of Carolina and from her sister states of the South who fell in the defense of this city.

In proud and grateful remembrance of their devotion, constancy and valour, who against overwhelming odds by sea and by land kept Charleston virgin and invincible to the last.

Interesting turn of phrase, even for a memorial. It would be snide to claim that Charleston’s “virginity” was kept because Sherman had other things to do (that is, burn down Columbia), so never mind. The four flags are the three national Confederate flags, plus the battle flag.

I don’t ever remember seeing CSA sailors at rest, but Magnolia has some, identities unknown.
Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonThere’s also a memorial to South Carolinians who fell at Gettysburg.
Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonElsewhere are reminders not of war death, but plain old death.
Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonThere are also specialty stones, such as this memorial of one Abram Mead, a member of the Aetna Fire Engine Company. Or rather Ætna, named for the volcano, I suppose. Nice to find a ligature in stone.

Charleston - Magnolia CemeteryIt’s pretty rare to find cause of death on a headstone, but there it is: Departed this life the 15th of September 1852 of Yellow Fever, Aged 21 Years and 6 Months.

Something a little more imposing, near the cemetery’s pond. This Thomas Pinckney isn’t the Pinckney of the Revolution and post-Revolutionary period, but his grandson.

Pinckney grave, Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonA child’s stone the likes of which I’ve never seen.
Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonNote that in more recent times, someone left a rubber duck and toy bear for the girl, Rosalie Raymond White, who lived for a few months in 1882.

Finally, the three crews of the H.L. Hunley are interred at Magnolia Cemetery, each crew with modern memorial stones, and stones for the individuals as well, each with a Stainless Banner.

Hunley Memorial, Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonHunley memorial, Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonThe third crew were entombed in their vessel for about 135 years (their stones are in the row pictured above). The Hunley was raised in 2000 and, presumably after the forensic archaeologists had had a long look at the crew’s bones, they were buried at Magnolia in 2004 with considerable ceremony.

The Cemetery of the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of St. Sava, Lake County

After leaving Marytown on Saturday, I headed north on Milwaukee Ave. A few miles from of Libertyville’s lively main streets, in an area not quite rural — call it exurban — is the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cemetery. At least, that’s a shortened form of the name, since there’s wording in English and Serbian over a gate on the property that calls the entire property (in English), the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of St. Sava.

Near the cemetery is a church, presumably the monastery’s church (more about which later). I didn’t investigate any of the other buildings off in the distance, which are presumably the places for monks to live and otherwise follow their vocation. The map also tells me that St. Sava College is a little ways up the road.

Anyway, I came to see the cemetery. It’s been receiving Orthodox Serbs for about 90 years. The place is thick with weighty headstones.

St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cemetery

With a mix of Cyrillic and Roman lettering.
St. Sava Serbian Orthodox CemeteryThere’s little funerary art, as seen in cemeteries steeped in Western European traditions, unless you count variations on the Cross. A few stones told in some detail of the person at rest, at least if you read Serbian.
St. Sava Serbian Orthodox CemeterySome sites included wooden crosses along with stone markers. A few had no headstone at all.

Some stones are of a distinctly modern cast, and in English.
St. Sava Serbian Orthodox CemeteryI’ve read that Rod Blagojevich’s parents are in the cemetery, but I didn’t see their stone that I know of. Blago was recently in the news briefly for not being on President Obama’s commutation list during his last days in office. Tough luck, Rod. Politics ain’t beanbag.


Everyone else had something to do Saturday afternoon, so I took advantage of the fact that winter isn’t particularly bitter right now — and neither snow nor ice is covering the ground — to buzz up to Lake County, Ill., for a few hours. I wanted to visit a spot on the map there I’ve seen for years but never gotten around to: Marytown. Or, the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe.

A Polish Franciscan, St. Maximilian Kolbe was murdered by the Nazis. We’d come across a memorial to him before, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Monastery in Munster, Ind. There he was a supporting player, so to speak. At Marytown, he’s the star of the show, after only Jesus and Mary.

The Marytown complex includes a Franciscan friary, a retreat and conference center, various outdoor shrines and a rosary garden, and a gift shop (where I bought postcards). It’s also home to the Marytown Press and is the American HQ for the movement that St. Maximilian Kolbe started, the Militia Immaculata.

For the purpose of my visit, however, Marytown is home to Adoration Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament. That’s what I’d heard was worth seeing, and it was. Here’s the exterior.

Adoration Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament - MarytownThe chapel, completed in 1930, was designed by architect Joseph W. McCarthy, who trained under Daniel Burnham and did a lot of Catholic churches in the Chicago area. I’ve read it was patterned after St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome.

“The Benedictine Convent of Perpetual Adoration in Mundelein, known today as Marytown, was a special project of Cardinal George Mundelein, meant to keep alive the spirit of the 1926 Chicago Eucharistic Conference and provide for the spiritual needs of diocesan priests and seminarians at the newly built seminary next door,” writes Denis Robert McNamara in Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago.

This is the interior of the main chapel, as best as I could make an image. A fine combination of stained glass, mosaics and marble.
Adoration Chapel of Our Lady of t Most Blessed Sacrament, Marytown“The Benedictine Sisters maintained unbroken adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until they withdrew from the location in 1977, handing the complex over to the Conventual Franciscan Friars,” McNamara writes. “The Franciscans renamed the site Marytown and established the national shrine of St. Maxmilian Kolbe…”

One of the Adoration Chapel’s side chapels features is a mosaic stretching toward the ceiling of St. Maximilian Kolbe rising triumphant from Auschwitz. Right below it are some relics of his, which include beard hair — cut some years before he died in a place that would leave no earthly remains — a piece of a habit, a prayer book.

Outside the chapel, in the garden nearby, St. Francis makes an appearance in bronze, unsurprisingly, singing the Canticle of the Sun.

St Francis - Marytown

With a non-human audience.

St. Francis - Marytown

There are some other statues nearby and a rosary garden, which I’ve never encountered before. Or maybe never realized I’d encountered one before, since they seem to be fairly common.

MarytownMuch of the statuary was short on labels, so I’m not certain who this is supposed to be, though I’d guess an older St. Francis.

UIUC Walkabout, January ’17

The first time I took a walk through the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, when visiting with Lilly not quite a year ago, we didn’t have much of a plan. On Sunday, I took another walk around UIUC, studying a campus map beforehand. Not exactly a plan, but at least informed guesswork about an interesting route.

I parked on 6th St. next to the College of Business and near a side street named after sculptor Lorado Taft, a distinguished early alumnus, and headed out from there on foot. I saw more evidence of Taft’s connection to the university elsewhere, though not the well-known “Alma Mater” sculpture (this time).

Nearby was the Architecture Building. Four panels are embedded in the walls of the building, on conspicuous display. Here’s one, featuring Michele Sanmicheli.

Architecture Building panel UIUC“The Architecture building, also known as Architecture and Kindred Subjects, was designed in the Georgian Revival style by Charles A. Platt in 1926-1927,” writes Muriel Scheinman in Explore C-U. “Platt, who also designed ten other buildings on campus including the University Library, David Kinley Hall, and Mumford Hall, embedded four panels with medallion portraits of famous architects on the Architecture building. Michelangelo Buonarroti and Michele San Michele are displayed on the west gates, and Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones are on the east gates. Frank G. Menconi, an architectural sculptor based in New York, designed the panels.”

Back to Lorado Taft. One of his monumental works is the Fountain of Time in Chicago. He had planned a similarly monumental work nearby called the Fountain of Creation, but the project was never realized.

He did complete four figures intended for the Fountain of Creation, however, and now they stand in front of the UIUC main library and behind the Foellinger Auditorium. I wandered by and saw them all. Here’s one of two near the library’s entrance, “A Daughter of Pyrrah.”
A Daughter of Pyrrah, Lorado Taft, UICU“Pyrrha” is how it’s spelled in my go-to reference on the subject, Gods and Mortals in Classical Mythology: A Dictionary (Michael Grant and John Hazel, 1979) and other places. She was part of the husband-and-wife team who survived a worldwide flood and then helped re-create mankind by tossing rocks over their shoulders, which then became people.

Pyrrha had natural-born daughters as well as rock-created ones. It isn’t clear which one Taft was thinking of, at least from reading the plaque.

Here’s the other.
A Daughter of Pyrrha, Lorado Taft, UICUWhatever else, they seem to be in some kind of distress. A collegiate title might be, “I’m not ready for my exam!” A more topical title could be, “The inauguration’s coming soon!”

Not far away, behind the Foellinger Auditorium, are two sons of Duecalion, whom Taft called “Eucalion.” He was the husband in the flood myth.
A Son of Duecalion, Lorado Taft, UICUIf anything, the sons look even more distressed than the daughters.
A Son of Duecalion, Lorado Taft, UIUC

“After a weekend bender” might be a good title for that one.

“Around 1917, [Taft] proposed to the city a pair of huge fountains, one at each end of a strip of public park known as the Midway Plaisance on the Chicago’s South Side,” explains Chicago Outdoor Sculptures. “On the western edge, the Fountain of Time and at the eastern edge would stand the Fountain of Creation. Although the Fountain of Time was completed, The Fountain of Creation was never completed… Taft planned 38 monumental figures and figure groups for the Fountain of Creation. But only four were carved in stone.”

Nearby is the UIUC Observatory. It wasn’t open for inspection, but I liked the outside.

UIUC Observatory Jan. 2017“The University of Illinois Observatory was constructed in 1896,” the university says. “…Though none of the astronomical instruments are being used for professional research today, the observatory still contains a 12” Brashear refractor. The observatory played a key role in the development of astronomy, as it was home to a key innovation in the area of astronomical photometry. The facility has been directed by such noted scientists as Joel Stebbins and Robert H. Baker.”

Looping back, I took in the view from the steps of the Foellinger Auditorium, which is nice even in winter. It encompasses the Illini Union. You wouldn’t know it to look at the building, but part of the financing for its construction came from the WPA.
There’s a bowling alley in there somewhere, among other things. I’ll have to take a closer look inside sometime. Likewise with the Foellinger Auditorium, which was closed on Sunday afternoon.

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Champaign/Urbana

RIP, Gene Cernan. That leaves six of 12 moonwalkers.

I took Lilly and a friend of hers back to UIUC yesterday. It was a good day for popping down to Champaign/Urbana, at least as good as you’re going to get in January, with overcast skies but no ice or snow or much wind, and temps a bit above freezing.

After I dropped them off, I did a little walkabout of my own before returning home. I soon found myself all by myself, at least among the living, at Mt. Hope Cemetery. The cemetery, founded in 1856, is older than the university, and these days is a long stretch of land south of the school, totaling 52 acres between Florida and Pennsylvania avenues.

It’s fairly flat, but then again, this is Illinois.

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Champaign/Urbana

There’s a nice variety of stones and some mature trees, though not quite the arboretum I’ve encountered in other places.

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Champaign/Urbana

Many of the stones date from the 19th century. That is, people whose lives came and went entirely during that century, though there were also a good many early 20th-century burials. I also saw some newer stones as well, such as this curious one.

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Champaign/Urbana

That’s a style I’d never seen before: the grave marker as bench.

Mt. Hope sports some interesting funerary art, including some stone styles you see in a number of places, such as this Woodman’s monument.

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Champaign/Urbana

A few larger monuments, like the obelisk below, dot the landscape, but mostly the stones are more modest. There’s a modern-ish looking building that serves as a mausoleum, but not many of the freestanding family mausoleums you find in other older cemeteries.

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Champaign/Urbana

“Prior to Mt. Hope, locals were buried in the Old Urbana Cemetery (now Leal Park), the Old Jewish Cemetery, or on family farmland,” writes Laura Miller in Explore C-U. “Jesse Burt, a local farmer, recognized that the growing community of Urbana needed a larger and more organized burial ground with scenic walks more in keeping with the park-like cemeteries then popular and contributed land for this purpose…

“Many families moved their ancestors’ graves from the old burial grounds to Mt. Hope. The drives through the cemetery were named after trees. Once, numerous footpaths weaved through the cemetery making it a popular place for walks and picnics; however, this space has been reclaimed over the years for burial lots. After it opened, it became the primary cemetery for burials until 1907, when Woodlawn and Roselawn Cemeteries began operation.”

In the 1890s, veterans and their supporters erected one of the larger monuments in Mt. Hope. “Dedicated,” it says, “to the memory of the defenders of our flag, 1861-1865.”
Mt. Hope Cemetery, Champaign/UrbanaNot long after, the GAR put up a cannon next to the statue.
Mt. Hope Cemetery, Champaign/UrbanaAll in all, a fine graveyard to visit, even when you need a coat. I’ll have to take a look in springtime.

The Second Bank of the United States & The Faces Within

Unusually warm these last few days. Today was so pleasant I cooked brats outside and we ate them outside for lunch. More leaves are gone than not, so for the moment there’s a mismatch between temperature and foliage, for this part of the country. It’s certain not to last.

The Second Bank of the United States is at 420 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia, just two blocks from Independence Hall. The gallery was as sparsely visited on October 22, a Saturday, as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were overrun by visitors. It’s the bank that President Jackson famously slew with a veto of its re-chartering in the summer of 1832, an act that was the focus of the election that fall — which Jackson won resoundingly.

The building is a handsome, bank-as-Greek temple sort of structure designed by William Strickland. Him again. I hadn’t realized he was so prominent in Philadelphia, since I’ve long associated him with Nashville. These days, the building is known as the Portrait Gallery in the Second Bank of the United States, displaying many portraits of Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary luminaries.

That includes a large collection of paintings by Charles Willson Peale, whom I didn’t appreciate until looking at one portrait of his after another. The man had some serious talent for portraiture, and much else besides.

I spent time especially with lesser-known figures of the period, though I didn’t see Button Gwinnett. The nation may have just heard of that Declaration signer from Georgia, but I did a report on him in the 8th grade, when we had to do reports on signers (picked at random, I think). I remember him, because his name is hard to forget.

All of the portrait examples from the Second Bank of the United States posted here were painted by Peale. The Founding Fathers are always worthwhile to ponder, but a lot of other interesting people characterized the period. David Rittenhouse, for instance.

David Rittenhouse, Second Bank of the US

Talk about a lesser-known man of the Enlightenment. Of special interest to me is that he was a skilled astronomer — one of those worldwide who observed the Transit of Venus in 1769 — and first director of the U.S. Mint. Not only that, he built swell orreries and surveyed borders for mid-Atlantic states, including the half-circle border between Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“His scientific thinking and experimentation earned Rittenhouse considerable intellectual prestige in America and in Europe,” says the Penn University Archives & Records Center. “He built his own observatory at his father’s farm in Norriton, outside of Philadelphia. Rittenhouse maintained detailed records of his observations and published a number of important works on astronomy, including a paper putting forth his solution for locating the place of a planet in its orbit.

“He was a leader in the scientific community’s observance of the transit of Venus in 1769, which won him broad acclaim. He also sought to solve mathematical problems, publishing his first mathematical paper in 1792, an effort to determine the period of a pendulum. He also experimented with magnetism and electricity.”

Here’s John Dickinson, who didn’t support the Declaration. Later, though, he did his part for independence, and was a delegate in 1787.

John Dickenson, Second Bank of the US

“On July 1, 1776, as his colleagues in the Continental Congress prepared to declare independence from Britain, Dickinson offered a resounding dissent,” says HistoryNet.

“Deathly pale and thin as a rail, the celebrated Pennsylvania Farmer chided his fellow delegates for daring to ‘brave the storm in a skiff made of paper.’ He argued that France and Spain might be tempted to attack rather than support an independent American nation.

“He also noted that many differences among the colonies had yet to be resolved and could lead to civil war. When Congress adopted a nearly unanimous resolution the next day to sever ties with Britain, Dickinson abstained from the vote, knowing full well that he had delivered ‘the finishing Blow to my once too great, and my Integrity considered, now too diminish’d Popularity.’ ”

Here’s a nice dramatization of that moment from John Adams, with Dickinson portrayed by Zeljko Ivanek.

This is Thayendanegea, also known as Joseph Brant, a Mohawk war chief who was decidedly not on the side of the colonists during the Revolution.

Thayendanegea, Second Bank of the United States

He was pro-British in the war, in that it served the interests of the Iroquois Confederation. Awfully even-handed of the gallery to include him, though it’s good to acknowledge his leadership skills, which apparently were many in war and diplomacy.

“The Mohawks chose to support the British because American colonists were already overrunning their lands,” says Upper Canada History. The alliance was not unnatural as far as the Natives were concerned. For more than a hundred years, the Iroquois League had allied itself with the British in their long conflict with the Algonquins. Brant, Mohawk chief, had fought alongside the British in the Seven Years’ War and he remained loyal to the redcoats. This new alliance was really just a continuance of their long-standing cooperation…

“Brant fought with fierce determination against the Americans on the frontier and distinguished himself as one of their most courageous warriors and ablest strategists. His contribution to the cause did not go unrewarded. Of Brant’s loyalty and leadership, Lord Germain wrote, ‘The astounding activity of Joseph Brant’s enterprises and the important consequences with which they have attended give him a claim to every mark of our regard.’ In 1779 Brant received a commission signed by the king as ‘captain of the Northern Confederate Indians’ in appreciation of his ‘astonishing activity and success’ in the king’s service. Even though he esteemed his rank as captain, he preferred to fight as a war chief.”

After the Americans won the war, Thayendanegea led his people to Canada, with mixed results. He’s regarded highly enough in Canada to have been on a proof silver dollar in 2007, the bicentennial of his death.

The Laurel Hill Cemetery

The Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia is known as the second major rural cemetery in the country, dating from 1836. Its location isn’t remotely rural now, but in its early days the cemetery was outside the city on a sizable hill overlooking the Schuylkill River.

As the cemetery’s web site says, “Previously, churchyards were the only places available to bury the dead, and they were often as crowded and unsanitary as the streets that bordered them. Worse yet, rapid industrialization and population growth commonly led to the disinterment of burial grounds to make way for roads and buildings…. Laurel Hill was not only established as a permanent, non-sectarian burial place for the dead, but also as a scenic, riverside sanctuary for the living.”

As the city grew around it, Laurel Hill itself become crowded, and it’s now a sizable necropolis with about 33,000 permanent residents in 74 acres. Many spots are lush with growth.

Laurel Hill Cemetery 2016Trees grow on the slope down to the river.

Laurel Hill Cemetery 2016Many parts are thick with stones.

Laurel Hill Cemetery 2016Laurel Hill Cemetery 2016Some monuments reach toward the sky.
Laurel Hill Cemetery 2016There are less conventional stones. Find a Grave says that “the shattered urn symbolizes a violet death. Stewart was murdered by his manservant.”
Laurel Hill Cemetery 2016The cemetery also has a large stock of striking funerary art, such as the Warner Memorial. says: “The Warner Memorial, sculpted by yet another Scottish craftsman, Alexander Milne Calder, shows a full-sized female figure opening a casket while the spirit of its male inhabitant slips free and takes wing. Sadly, the monument has been the target of vandalism over the years; both of the woman’s arms are missing as is the nose of the rising male spirit.”
Laurel Hill Cemetery 2016Another detail from the Warner Memorial.

Laurel Hill Cemetery - Warner Memorial LionI didn’t seek out too many notable burial sites, except for Gen. George Meade, resident of the cemetery since 1872. He and some of his family have a spot with a nice view of the river, and I can report that people put stones on his grave.
Laurel Hill Cemetery - George Meade GraveOne of the oddest stones I saw belonged to Catharine Drinkhouse Smith and Levi Franklin Smith, a five-sided pillar (not four, as it says on Mrs. Smith was a noted spiritualist of her time.

Her side of the stone said, with curious precision about some things: “Mrs. Catharine Drinkhouse Smith was born at Reading, Berks County, State of Pennsylvania, on Thursday, the Fifth day of August, 1824, at 15 minutes past 5 O’clock in the morning, and passed to spirit life 15 minutes before 12 O’clock the 27th day of March, 1893, from the residence of her husband, Professor Levi Franklin Smith, 2430 Thomson Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Smith was a devoted Spiritualist, and one of the best mediums of her time, and accomplished great good, in spreading this beautiful truth, and in demonstrating a continuity of life.”

Another odd thing: the cemetery had a gift shop. Besides Arlington National Cemetery, I think that’s the only time I’ve run across that. The man behind the counter was an informative fellow, happy to talk about the place (and a bit about Professor and Mrs. Smith). I did my little part to support the cemetery by buying some postcards and a refrigerator magnet.

Ann Goes to New Places in Greater DC

I spoke more with Ann about her trip to DC, especially about some of the places that they visited that I never got around to for one reason or other, despite a number of trips to Reagan-era Washington, one visit in the mid-90s, and our week in the city in 2011. The kids had the advantage of someone else handling all the logistics, with buses to take them around, so they got around.

For instance, last Saturday morning they went as far afield as Annapolis, where the place to go is the U.S. Naval Academy. Ann says she was particularly impressed with the tomb of John Paul Jones. I asked her about the Stribling Walk and her eyes got a little wide, remembering that she’d seen that too.

I told her about Rear Admiral Cornelius Kinchiloe Stribling, who had a long career in the antebellum U.S. Navy, and when the war came, sided with the Union, despite being a native of South Carolina. His son John, however, joined the Confederate Navy and died in its service. At one point in his career, he was superintendent of the Naval Academy, and apparently was well regarded.

Also, the kids made it to Mount Vernon. So did I, once upon a time. When I got there, the place was closed — by the shutdown of the federal government in early 1995. Ann got to see George Washington’s teeth, among other things. Looks painful to wear.

Washington's teeth, Mount Vernon

They also went to the Washington National Cathedral, formally the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington. In 2011, we opted to go to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception instead, because the basilica is within walking distance of a Metro station, while the cathedral is not.

Ann said she admired the design, both interior, for its intricate carving, and vaulting exterior.

National Cathedral 2016

The tour group also hit all of the major war memorials on the National Mall: WWII, Korea and Vietnam. By the time we got around to that part of the Mall in 2011, it was dark, so we really didn’t see Korea or Vietnam, though I remember seeing the Vietnam memorial in the mid-80s, when it was new and remarkably striking; the Korean memorial wasn’t finished until the mid-90s.

This is part of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, as Ann saw it in the morning.

Korean Veterans memorial Dc 2016

Each of the stainless steel soldiers, I’ve read, weighs about 1,000 lbs., and include members of each service, though are mostly Army. Sculptor Frank Gaylord did them.

Kankakee Walkabout

For no charge, the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau will send you a 24-page booklet (six forms of four pages each) called “Historic Churches of the Kankakee Area Self-Guided Walking and Driving Tour.” It’s a high-quality, full-color bit of work, with some text, a few maps and a lot of interior and exterior pictures of Kankakee-area churches, such as Asbury United Methodist, Wildwood Church of the Nazarene, First Presbyterian, St. Paul’s Episcopal, and others.

There’s also a few interesting historical tidbits about some of the buildings. This is my favorite, about St. Paul’s: “Divine intervention spared the stained glass windows during two great hail storms in 1932 and 1982.”

The churches weren’t the only reason we went to Kankakee on Saturday, braving intermittent rain, but as long as we were going to be in the area, I wanted a look. Ideally, a look inside a few of the churches, including divinely protected stained glass, but I suspected that would be impossible. We went to four of them, all in walking distance of the Kankakee County Courthouse, and none were open.

I understand the reasons. Things would go missing if they didn’t lock up most of the time. Still, it was irritating. We did get a look at the outsides, some of which are impressive enough, such as Ashbury United Methodist, which dates from 1868.

Ashbury United Methodist, Kankakee 2016I liked the bell tower of First Presbyterian, vintage 1855. According to the booklet, its 2000-lb. bell is rung by hand on Sundays.
First Presbyterian Church of Kankakee 2016Churches weren’t the only buildings of note. This is the Kankakee County Courthouse, standing on this site since 1912.
Kankakee County Courthouse 2016The architect who designed it, Zachary Taylor Davis, ought to be better known in Chicago, considering that he also did the original Comiskey Park (gone) and the still-beloved and still-standing Wrigley Field. It should also be remembered that lunch-counter baron Charlie Weeghman commissioned that ball park for his team, the Chicago Whales of the Federal League.

The courthouse statute, dated 1887. As you’d expect, “In memory of the soldiers of Kankakee County who fought for the Union.”
Kankakee County Courthouse statue 2016One more Kankakee County structure, just south of the courthouse: the brutalist county “detention center.”
Kankakee County jailThe jail, that is. Detention is what you get in school. Otherwise it’s just official euphemism.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

A docent at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, asked me how long it has been since I last visited the museum. I couldn’t remember. I’m pretty sure it was sometime after the current building opened 20 years ago, though I couldn’t say when, or what I saw. Reason enough to visit again on a pleasant September Saturday in 2016.

Encyclopedia Chicago says that “the new building clad in aluminum and Indiana limestone opened in June 1996 in a 24-hour summer solstice celebration. Referencing the modernism of Mies van der Rohe as well as the tradition of Chicago architecture, the $46 million structure is among the largest in the United States devoted to contemporary art. Its 45,000 square feet of galleries, with a permanent collection boasting more than 5,600 works and a 300-seat auditorium and outdoor sculpture garden, is suitable for large-scale artworks, new media, and ever larger audiences.”

Maybe so, but the structure, designed by German architect Josef Paul Kleihues, presents an unfriendly face to the public.

Museum of Contemporary Art. ChicagoI don’t dislike it, exactly, but it doesn’t say art museum to me. Change the signage just a little and you’ve got a police headquarters, a telecom company, or a top-drawer server farm. Then again, art museums don’t have to look like the Art Institute either. MCA is what it is on the outside, and an interesting museum on the inside.

The inside is more welcoming. One example: MCA has some of the more comfy chairs — small sofas enclosed by spacious cubical-like structures — of any museum I’ve been to. Toward the end of our visit, if we’d stayed too long in one of these after so much time on foot, we might have fallen asleep.

Museum of Contemporary Art ChicagoCurrently the big MCA exhibit is of Kerry James Marshall, an artist I was wholly unfamiliar with, in a show called “Mastry.” That just shows how little I pay attention to contemporary art. He’s a living artist, only a few years older than I am, and a resident of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. A remarkable body of his work is on display.

Of Marshall, Sam Worley wrote in the April edition of Chicago magazine this year, just before the MCA show opened, “At 25, he decided to return to the basics and paint a self-portrait—a classic portrait, almost. Its title alluded to a great literary work: ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self.’ [1980]

“Marshall used egg tempera, a 13th-century favorite. He adopted compositional techniques associated with artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael. But, of course, his subject was black. So black that the shade of his skin is deeper than the portrait’s black background, which he fades into, as if invisible. Compared with conventional European portraiture, it’s like a photo negative….

“And so Marshall settled on creating a body of work inspired by and in dialogue with the classics—his early barbershop portrait ‘De Style,’ for example, its name a sly play on the Dutch abstract art movement de Stijl—while remaining resolutely its own thing. He found success with a simple insistence on placing black people, and black history, at the center of his raucous, colorful paintings, and that has opened a space for younger artists.”

A detail from “De Style” (1993).
Here’s one I particularly liked, a more recent painting, “Still Life with Wedding Portrait” (2015).

“In this painting, Marshall imagined a wedding portrait of a young Harriet Tubman… and her first husband, John… presenting her as someone’s beloved wife and not simply the stalwart resistance hero portrayed in standard histories,” the MCA notes.

As interesting as the Marshall show was, we also made time for other galleries. I always enjoy a spot of neon.
“Run From Fear, Fun From Rear” (1972) by Bruce Nauman.

Here are all the portraits of Patty Hearst you could want in one place. Twenty-six, to be exact.
“Patricia Hearst, A thru Z” (1979) by Dennis Adams.

I liked this especially: seven tons of sand on the floor in a dark room, along with radios, LED light box, and some ambient sound.
“A beach (for Carl Sagan)” (2016) by Andrew Yang.

MCA says of this: ” ‘The total of stars in the universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of planet earth.’ So claimed Carl Sagan. In fact, astronomers estimated in 2003 that for every grain of sand on Earth’s beaches and deserts there exist ten times as many stars above. Yang takes Sagan’s pronouncement to heart in a scale model of the Milky Way in which one grain of sand represents one star; the estimated 100 billion stars are approximated by more than seven tons of sand.”

A scale model in numbers, but not size. How far would you have to scatter the sand to get that? That probably wouldn’t be too hard to figure out, but I don’t feel like it just now. I imagine it would be from here to one of the outer planets in the Solar System.

Behind the building, the museum has a sculpture garden. With only four — or was it five? — works. Quantity isn’t everything, but I think there should be more. Here’s “Graz Grosse Geister,” by German artist Thomas Schütte.
Museum of Contemporary Art, ChicagoAt some point during the visit I noticed that the museum guards weren’t just wearing black shirts with GUARD written on the back.
Museum of Contemporary Art, ChicagoAVANT was on the front.

Just a little art joke, no extra charge.