Monday, April 2, 2012

History Traveller: National Hellenic Museum

In an attempt to expand topics for the blog I will submit reports about local Chicago area attractions related to military history. 
Last Friday I was with my daughter in Chicago's Greektown area just north of the UIC campus.  We had an hour to kill while waiting for my wife to finish her lunch meeting so we decided to try out the National Hellenic Museum.  The brochure at the door promised exhibits on all aspects of Greek culture including Greek myth, the history of Greece from ancient to modern times, and, the clincher for me, an entire floor dedicated to the War for Greek Independence with displays highlighting "key players and battles".  Unfortunately, the experience did not live up to the pitch.

We started our tour on the first floor of the very beautiful glass and steel modern structure that houses the museum.  Here was located the exhibit titled "Gods, Myths and Mortals" which featured the traditional Greek myth icons in a format that was targeted for the under 10 crowd.  It had a replica temple, trojan horse and path to follow to relive the adventure of Odysseus.  Great for the kids but not much new for the adults.  Sadly, this was to be the highlight of the museum.

The second floor promised to be the centerpiece of the museum, but it is still under contruction.  In lieu of actual exhibits the walls are covered with blueprints, conceptual art and samples of artifacts that will one day be showcased.  It will all look great once it is finished, with planned nods to Alexander, Byzantium and a host of other topics of interest to the history traveller. 

We proceeded to the third floor where I hoped that the journey would be redeemed as promised.  The history of the War for Greek Independence was presented down a hallway with nothing more than a series of printed display placards hanging on the wall, no more than ten on each side of the hall, each briefly detailing major events from the war.  Needless to say very disapointing.  No artifacts, no dioramas, no nothing.  The third floor also features the museum library and oral history center which is certainly the reason for the existance of the museum and a critical focal point for local historians and researchers.  As an historian I can deeply appreciate the need for such collections to be kept alive, but as a museum experience there was much left to be desired.

The admission to the museum was $10 per person (with the typical discounts for children and seniors) which is quite a bargain for Chicago area attractions.  I usually have no problem with donations supporting museums and cultural endeavors, but something about the real lack of anything just didn't sit well with me. Perhaps if they were more up front in their marketing that the price of admission is really more of a donation to get a preview of a seriously unfinished museum would have made the experience more acceptable.  In its current state I cannot recommend a trip to the National Hellenic Museum except to those who really desire to support the cause of the museum. 

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