The Field Museum.
The Art Institute.
The Museum of Science and Industry.
These are just a few of the museums that most visitors have on their to-do lists when they visit Chicago. But the Windy City has dozens – yes, dozens – of other museums that may be worth checking out depending on your interests. I have decided to embark on a mission to visit some of these lesser known museums and discover what exactly they have to offer.
The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at Navy Pier.
What’s that? You didn’t know there was a stained glass window museum at Navy Pier? Yeah, me neither until about a month ago. It’s a gem hidden in plain sight. As you walk through Navy Pier, signs continually point you in the museum’s direction, but I’m guessing most people don’t really notice them. Finally, the entrance is fairly nondescript, adjacent to the escalators taking you up to Festival Hall. And that is the main entrance – you can also access the museum from some of the side doors that open out to the pier, but if you do, you will probably not even realize that you are walking into a museum. Not surprisingly, admission is free and the museum is open the same hours as Navy Pier.
As the name suggests, the museum is all about stained glass windows. Indeed, it is the only museum in the entire country dedicated exclusively to stained glass and features 150 windows divided into four themes: Victorian, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary. Most hail from buildings around Chicago.
The galleries stretch for 800 feet underneath Festival Hall. As I strolled through checking out all of the windows, it was clear that most of the people who passed me were simply on their way to somewhere else. It seemed to be just me and a group of Japanese tourists interested in the windows and we took turns getting in each other’s way as we tried to take pictures of them.
The windows on display are both secular and religious and some date back to the late 1800s. There is a window thought to be from the rectory of the Church of Our Saviour, 530 W. Fullerton, circa 1890. And there is a huge window depicting the history of printing that was originally installed in 1914 in the Henry Shepherd School, 2839 Fillmore. A few other windows come from the St. Agatha Church, 3151 W. Douglas Blvd. Strolling through the museum felt a little like a stroll through Chicago’s history.
It was fitting, then, that the museum also features a series of timelines tracing the city’s history back to the 1600s. I learned a lot of fun facts, like that in 1909, Myrtle Walgreen invented the concept of the drugstore lunch counter when she started serving hot meals inside her husband’s drug store.
But really, it was all about the stained glass. Take a look.