Open today 9:30 am - 4:30 pm

Exhibition Display Celebrates 50 Years of the Special Olympics


Special Olympics Chicago Athletes to Visit Display on Tuesday, June 19

The Chicago History Museum’s new display celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, a worldwide movement of human inclusion and equality that began in Chicago.

The very first international Special Olympics Games were held at Soldier Field on July 20, 1968, and had few spectators in the stands. Today, Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities and a model of equal opportunity for all.

“We are proud to add this story to our core exhibition, Chicago: Crossroads of America, and hope that it will inspire our visitors to support this fine organization and its many athletes,” said Olivia Mahoney, senior curator at the Chicago History Museum.

Visitors to the Museum can see the following Special Olympics memorabilia now on display:

  •         Special Olympics torch, c.1990, modeled after those used at the Modern Olympics and used to light a cauldron that burns for the games’ duration.
  •         Special Olympics awards including a gold medal, 1968; blue ribbon, c.1970; and Illinois team patch. Athletes receive awards for achievement and participation. The original Special Olympics emblem, shown on the medal and ribbon, is still used today.
  •         Special Olympics Chicago Polar Plunge medal and participant ribbon, 2018. Since 2000, thousands of people have jumped into an icy cold Lake Michigan in order to raise funds for Special Olympics Chicago.
    The Museum is honored to welcome many of the Special Olympics Chicago athletes who will be travelling to compete in The National Games in Seattle, WA, to see the Museum’s new display on Tuesday, June 19 from 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke, founder of the Chicago Special Olympics, and Olivia Mahoney will also be in attendance. Athletes in attendance will be competing in a variety of sports at National Games, July 1- 6.The display recognizes the work of Justice Burke, who conceived of the idea of the Special Olympics in the fall of 1967 while working as a physical education teacher at the Chicago Park District. On June 6, 2018, Justice Burke was presented with The Jane Addams Making History Award for Distinction in Public Service by the Chicago History Museum.”While there’s more work to be done,” Burke says, “the city of Chicago has a special place in history as it played a pivotal role in helping bring about a new era for the disabled.

    Special Olympics Chicago is the largest local chapter of the Special Olympics, an international organization supported by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Since its founding in 1968, the chapter has provided athletic training and held regular competitions for thousands of athletes through the Chicago Park District.

    The Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration takes place July 17 through the 21. As the organization’s 50th-anniversary celebration nears, Burke says she often reflects on how the Special Olympics has given children with intellectual disabilities a rightful place in mainstream society.

    “As the games’ first athletes in 1968, my students demonstrated bravery that inspired generations to come,” Burke said. “Such courage broke down barriers and showed the world what these children can truly do.”

    Admission to the display is included with regular Museum admission ($19 adults/ $17 seniors and students, and free for children 12 years of age and younger and Illinois residents 18 years and younger).

    The Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of The Honorable Anne M. Burke.


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. 

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago Stories