Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Saturday Snapshot #14

     I could have written about the centennial of Armistice Day without actually visiting the Elks Memorial at Diversey and Lakeview. But I knew it was a singular space, rococo, enormous and empty, from when we lived three blocks away at Pine Grove and Oakdale. I wanted to make sure it was still open, and still as unpopulated as I remember.
    Yup. I showed up an hour before they closed, and the log said I was the second visitor. The docent told me they get 500 visitors a year. An Elks official later changed that to 500 a month, either way, that still constitutes a very few people for a dome almost as large as the Jefferson Memorial. I'd bet not 1 out of 100 Chicagoans knows it's there, and not one in a thousand has gone.
    I took photos for my column on the effects of the war on Chicago, but also couldn't help but snap this little tableau, set up in a side chamber that featured cases of military memorabilia from America's 20th century wars. The memorial was completed in 1926, and dedicated to the 70,000 Elks who served in World War I and the thousand who died in the war. It was subsequently re-dedicated to include veterans from World War II, in 1946, and later to vets from our more recent wars.
    To be honest, the general emptiness, while no doubt a source of unease for the Elks, is fitting. The essential truth of those who die in war is they are gone and don't come back, and what better way than an ornate hall empty of people. Perhaps that is what inspired someone to set up this ill-advised tableau of mannequins, which only made things worse.
     We give a lot of chin music to the sacrifice of our soldiers and sailors, air force and marines. But that supposed respect doesn't extend to, oh, visiting a gorgeous shrine set up in their memory. Of course a 100 years is a long time. Their parents, their brothers and sisters, their wives, are gone. The only people who could mourn now—really, the ones most affected, whose loss is greatest—are the children never born to the soldiers who never come back. With the right eyes, they crowd the empty hall of the Elks Memorial, sealed off from the living world they never were permitted to enjoy.


  1. When I think about the children who were never born, that thought always leads me to think of the children's children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and on and on, forever. Using the Civil War as a point of reference, try to imagine the people who were never born in each generation, since. How would the world be influenced by their lives? On a more personal level, would any of those who were never born have touched your life? Would your life be different as a result?

  2. with its location thousands of people PASS there everyday. I know I have many hundreds of times . I never knew what the buildings purpose was.not sure what the elks are all about. its not inviting isn't architecturaling appealing, seems to have no advertising associated with it prior to your piece very little publicity and was designed to honor one of the more horrific and unnecessary events of the the 20th century. honoring our war dead is important, but I can't help feeling it leads to more soldiers dying , often for no reason whatsoever. this veterans Day , like every other very few people will take notice of the sacrifices made by their fellow citizens.

  3. With regard to your allusion to the "never born," I just finished A Higher Call, a book centering around an encounter between a B-17 bomber and a German fighter plane. The B-17 was almost completely destroyed, limping home on only one of its 4 engines, and the German risked his own life by taking the plane through the coastal flak batteries that would have finished off the bomber. Long after the war, the pilots of the 2 planes met in the course of which the American expressed gratitude not only for saving his life and 8 of his crewmen, but for the 26 people, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, who would not have come into existence, had the fighter plane not protected the bomber.

    I can't recommend the book, however, as it's written in a novelistic omniscient style that bothered me as I read, casting doubt not on the facts but on the believability of the thoughts and feelings expressed by the characters.


  4. Passed by a few times and wondered about entering afraid of being told it was private. I guess that's why reporters are needed more than ever. The ones brave enough to ask " What is this?"

  5. Lived on the North Side and in the north suburbs for half-a-lifetime, even spent a summer living at Broadway and Surf. Never been inside, although I passed the entrance many times that summer, either on foot or on my bike. Never saw any activity. Nobody entering or leaving. Which made it very easy to assume the Elks Memorial was closed and locked, except for private fraternal ceremonies...and maybe funerals...because its exterior looks so much like a place one would associate with grief and death.

    I was completely unaware of its interior grandeur, or the size of its dome, until reading your column and seeing the images, which have made me plan to visit this enormous space the next time I'm in Chicago. I do recall a brief mention of the Elks Memorial in "You Were Never In Chicago"--but the Armistice centennial is certainly the right time to highlight it once again. Maybe it will boost perhaps as many as twenty visitors a day. One can only hope. Thank you, Mr. S.

  6. My father survived Pearl Harbor, where he was in very little danger. On Palmyra Island where no enemy bullets rained, malaria and tachycardia almost killed him. His fortune and mine interwoven seven years before my birth, though I didn't learn that part until much later in life. He was a Marine who was in a famous battle depicted on the big screen, something to engender pride. But by the time I saw Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July" the parade early on was the strongest message. Not the heroism or the scorning of vets by some. Not even the criminally minimum care for the wounded men like Ron Kovic. The saddest words uttered by the young Kovic watching the Parade on Independence Day, when he sees the veterans, wearing their medals and old uniforms, marching behind the bands and floats, with childish pride to his dad he exclaims, "The Soldiers!". Rather than rueing the dead, we glorify the heroes, seeding the military for the future wars.

  7. They should put up a sign saying the museum portion is open for all.

  8. "It is well that war is so terrible, else we would grow to love it." Robert E. Lee

    Sadly, we do revel in the memory.


  9. My husband and I attended a small concert in our local library on Sunday. The musicians knew a lot of songs from a number of different decades. At the end, I asked if they could play a WWI song in honor of the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of WWI. They hastily denied knowing any World War I songs. I threw pit some titles. Then I offered “World War II? Any patriotic songs to honor this special day?” Nothing. I was gentle but sadly disappointed and surprised.


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