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Links to Chicago’s Past Emerge with the Secret Lives of Objects


New exhibition at the Chicago History Museum uncovers hints to objects’ mysterious roles in history

What spark led to the deadliest fire in Chicago history? How did a pair of eyeglasses crack the case of one of the city’s most notorious murders? And why did only one bamboo cane survive unscathed after a performance with Charlie Chaplin?

The Chicago History Museum proudly announces a new exhibition featuring objects extraordinary and unfamiliar that have emerged from the Museum’s protected vaults to tell their tales and shine a light on their mysterious pasts.

Of the millions of artifacts and documents collected by the Museum, just a few more than 40 have been carefully selected for this exhibition. Whether they are artistic works, key evidence from crime scenes, or everyday objects, one thing all the items in The Secret Lives of Objects have in common is that they serve as touchstones of Chicago’s rich history; tangible evidence of our glorious, surprising, dangerous and infamous past.

Among the noteworthy objects on display, some shown to the public for the first time, are:

  • Nathan F. Leopold Jr.’s eyeglasses, which implicated him and Richard Loeb in the murder of Bobby Franks
  • The electric typewriter used by the syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers
  • The lamp that started the Iroquois Theatre fire in 1903, resulting in the loss of more than 600 lives
  • Booth One from the Pump Room at The Ambassador East Hotel
  • The table from Appomattox Court House, Virginia on which General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War

“The Museum’s massive collection of historical artifacts is filled with remarkable treasures that remind us, every day, that we live in a city with a great history and that there is still much to discover,” said John Russick, director of curatorial affairs. The artifacts featured in The Secret Lives of Objects connect us to many of Chicago’s most important and surprising stories.”

To help tell these objects’ stories, the Chicago History Museum collaborated with Manuel Cinema, a Chicago-based cinematic shadow puppetry company that uses movie motifs, original music, and detailed sound design to create immersive, theatrical narratives. Using their trademark puppetry techniques, which emulate camera movement and depth of field, they have created a 20-minute film that will run continuously in the exhibition, portraying stories behind some of the exhibition’s most intriguing objects.

The Secret Lives of Objects opens at the Chicago History Museum Saturday, March 21.

The Chicago History Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chicago Park District on behalf of the people of Chicago.


The Chicago History Museum is situated on ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi people, who cared for the land until forced out by non-Native settlers. Established in 1856, the Museum is now at 1601 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park, its third location. As a major museum and research center for Chicago and U.S. history, the Chicago History Museum strives to be a destination for learning, inspiration and civic engagement. Through dynamic exhibitions, tours, publications, special events and programming, the Museum connects people to Chicago’s history and to each other. To share Chicago stories, the Museum collects and preserves millions of artifacts, documents, images and other items that are relevant to the city’s history. The Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chicago Park District on behalf of the people of Chicago. 

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