Chicago Academy of Science city's oldest museum

The Chicago Academy of Sciences on Clark at Armitage is by far Chicago's oldest museum. It opened in 1857.
January 15, 2014 2:51:40 PM PST
What is Chicago's oldest museum? The Field Museum of Natural History? Not even close. The Museum of Science and Industry? That's not it either.

The Chicago Academy of Sciences on Clark at Armitage is by far Chicago's oldest museum. It opened in 1857.

The original wood frame building was destroyed by the Chicago fire but then this one opened in 1893. It's used for administrative offices now but that old scientific spirit is still with us.

"Actually the Chicago Academy of Sciences is one of our nation's oldest scientific institutions," said Steve Sullivan, Curator of Urban Ecology. "We were the museum of the west in 1857, right on the edge of the United States frontier."

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park is what you might call the great, great granddaughter of the old academy, and many of those treasured specimens that have been locked away for years are about to see new life.

"Tomorrow we're going to open the vault and bring some of those really cool historical specimens here to the museum so that visitors can look at these and ask the curators questions," Sullivan said.

Questions like, "What is this?"

"This is a California Condor collected by the Academy in 1927 when we were studying parts of Southern California," said Sullivan.

Exotic condors and animals like squirrels from the pioneers' farmsteads and woodpeckers that have since gone extinct, and a poisonous Mississauga rattlesnake.

"This was collected in the mid 1800's right here in Cook County," Sullivan said.

There is a prairie chicken from 1893 and those days they were everywhere around the Midwest and for the frontiersmen this could be the difference between life and death.

"They were some the most common large forms of protein that people had access to," Sullivan said. "And not just during the summer but prairie chickens could be around in the winter as well."

Starting Thursday you can bring the kids and get in touch with Chicago's wild, wild past.


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