Southeast Historical Museum

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The Southeast Historical Museum is dedicated to the history of the Southeast Side, and what one volunteer here calls "the forgotten part of Chicago." The museum's history dates back to 1980, when James Martin, a professor at Columbia College, received a federal grant to study the area, which was then suffering the loss of most of its industry and going through an ethnic transition. Martin's research produced an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry and inspired a PBS documentary, "Wrapped in Steel." When his work was done, Martin gave everything he'd collected to the East Side Historical Society, which used it to start a museum in Calumet Park. Historically, the Southeast Side was best known for steel mills, and many of the museum's exhibits celebrate that past. In the display cases are such items as a hard hat worn at U.S. Steel's South Works and a photograph of the 1930 Wisconsin Steel Blast Furnace Bowling Team. A good number of the visitors are elderly steel-mill veterans who like to reminisce about the neighborhood's glory days. For them, there's a model train that runs past a diorama of Ewing Avenue, the area's main shopping strip, circa 1940, when the street had a bowling alley, a movie theater and a department store. For an all-volunteer museum, the Fitzgibbons has fantastic archives. There are many old copies of the Daily Calumet, a daily newspaper that served the South Side until the 1980s, as well as scrapbooks on each of the steel mills, and even a collection of news stories about local operator Ed Vrdolyak. The collection is also helped by a "museology" class at Washington High School, which has contributed, among other things, an exhibit on the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre, in which ten striking steelworkers were gunned down by police outside the Republic Steel Plant.