Friday, February 5, 2021

Sky’s the limit for new science museum chief

Chevy Humphrey in front of the Burlington Zephyr at the Museum of Science and Industry

     Forgive her office, Chevy Humphrey says, gesturing to the clutter of plaques and paintings, sculptures and awards, covering tables and propped against the walls.
     “It’s a mess, because I’m just moving in,” says the former head of the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix. “I worked 22 years in a basement. I didn’t have windows.”
     She does now, windows big time. Or rather, one enormous mullioned semi-circular window, oh, 20 feet high, looking out of what was once the Palace of Fine Arts at the 1893 World’s Columbian Fair, and for nearly the past century has been repurposed as Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive.
Chevy Humphrey
     Humphrey is the MSI’s new president and CEO, and the first Black woman to hold that post. She arrived on the job in mid-January, her work cut out for her, professionally and personally. To get the MSI, shuttered like most everything else worthwhile by the COVID pandemic, back open and running, visited by streams — whoops, make that properly masked and socially-distanced individual raindrops — of awestruck visitors. And, at the same time, to adapt herself to a new climate, region and city after a lifetime — she’s 56 — in the sunny Southwest.
     Which leads to the first, obvious question: How could a person leave Arizona in mid-winter and come to Chicago? What were you thinking?
     “You know, it’s hard to leave my family and my team, but this was the right job for me,” she replies. “I’ve worked my whole career to be at this iconic institution, and when the opportunity came, I had to jump on it. I’m leaving a beautiful grandson, and my daughter. When I first got to Phoenix, 25 years ago, just me and my daughter, I didn’t know one person. I took a pay cut because I knew I wanted to be a CEO of a non-profit organization. I wanted to give back. I couldn’t do it in Texas, so I moved to Arizona.”

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  1. Ms. Humphrey seems like a good choice for what is very likely to be hard job in these Covid days. Can't see how the Coal Mine and U505 exhibits will be able to open any time soon. I worked there some 60 years ago and enjoy going back to visit some of the features still there from my days and see the new ones as well. In the 50s, the Museum was free and paid their low level employees a pittance. I think I actually took a pay cut myself going from working at High-Low Foods at 85 cents an hour to 5 dollars a day at the Museum.


  2. Just how out of control is Griffin's ego, that he demands that his name be attached to the MSI?
    He sounds a lot like the clown he donated money to in the election, T****, who's also an insane narcissist!

  3. The Zephyr is swell, but 3 photos of it (4 if you count the blog) and none of the view from her office seems like a missed opportunity, to me, especially since appreciation for her office opens and closes the column.

    I agree with Tate about the challenges facing Ms. Humphrey. Even when things go back to "normal", making the MSI relevant will still be tough. I surely am impressed by the dedication and drive of somebody willing to move to Chicago from Arizona in January for this opportunity!

    I just wish Mr. Griffin would reach into his pocket and pull out however much cash it would take to buy the Tribune. Preferably then getting out of the way and leaving the name unaccompanied by his.

  4. Went to the MSI countless times as a kid, a teen, and as an adult. With my parents, with out-of-town relatives, with friends and visitors. I'm old enough to remember when the U-505 was moved across Lake Shore Drive on rollers (1954). I was so happy when they moved it underground, because fifty-plus years of exposure to Chicago's harsh climate had eaten it up. The adjoining displays and lighting are quite impressive. So are the tours.

    You used to be able to tour the sub on your own, back when the Museum was still free. But now there are "guides" everywhere. Mostly to guard against theft and vandalism. No pictures anymore, either, because some asshat was selling his photos online. It's the only German submarine of its kind left in the world...and the only WWII-era German submarine in the United States. Before the renovations in Grant Park, the MSI was probably the biggest tourist attraction in Chicago.

    Like almost everything else, it's changed a lot over time. Not my father's MSI anymore, or even mine. A lot of bells and whistles I could have done without. But all the basics are still there. The coal mine, the planes overhead, and the model trains, which are now better than ever.

    I was also happy to see the restoration of the Burlingtton Zephyr, and that the train was right next to the U-505. It was being eaten up by the weather, too. In 1934, the Zephyr traveled the 1,015 miles from Denver to Chicago in just 13 hours, averaging 78 mph, and at one point reaching a speed of 112 mph. If the Europeans and the Asians can top that routinely, every single day, then why the hell can't we?


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