Wednesday, April 6, 2011


               When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
               And the great star early droop’d
               in the western sky in the night,
               I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

               O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
               Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
               And thought of him I love.

               Walt Whitman  1865

Walt Whitman.  Credit Novel House Inn.


Every generation has its War. Mine was Viet Nam, though I never fought. My father's was World War II, though he never spoke of it. It was some years before I found that my parents belonged to the "Greatest Generation." And that there were personal stories in the words "Bataan" and "Corregidor" I only knew that I lived in a very comfortable suburban home with oak trees in the back yard, maples on the street and a sandy beach just over the hill. And that in the basement, in the storage room, on the top shelf, there was a Japanese ceremonial sword in a velvet box.

The lessons of war seem not to pass from generation to generation. They simply and quietly define those who learn them, live with them. And are lost by sons and daughters.


Daniel Burnham volunteered to fight in the Civil War when he was 15 years old. How could he not? Chicago was alive with Union Patriotism and the Underground Railroad. His father's wholesale drug business was booming. (What better wartime business than drugs?) Talk of war was everywhere.   Ten thousand Confederate soldiers were imprisoned at Camp Douglas.  (Three times that amount were rumored at Andersonville.) And Lincoln, after all, was from Illinois.

Edwin Burnham, Daniel's father, "de-enlisted" 15 year old Daniel, by reason of age.   And by the time Daniel was of draftable age, Elizabeth, his mother, had sent him to Thomas Worcester's Swedenborgian School in Waltham Massachusetts.

I don't know if Daniel was in Chicago when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Or when Abraham Lincoln's draped coffin was carried from the Illinois Central Station on Randolph Street to City Hall.

But whether he saw it, or read of it, these tragedies, doubled by the Great Fire that soon destroyed his home town, would leave scarred memories for a lifetime.

President Grant. The Panic of 1873. Railroads. The election of Rutherford B. Hayes. Western expansion. Reconstruction. For the next twenty years the Civil War and its denouement shaped the country. These are the years when Daniel Burnham honed his craft. And imagined possibilities.

This is when Daniel Burnham "began."  And we should not be surprised, if we look closely, to see echoes from this time past in his  planning, architecture, aspirations and morality.


I've completed the photography for a second look at D.H. Burnham and Company's  Fisher Building -- to be featured in future posts.  But, there is always "one more mystery."  Reviewing the varied work of Charles Atwood, the Burnham design partner credited with Phase I of the Fisher, I am unsure if Atwood was a versatile and prolific architect, in control of his work  -- or if assistants Peter Weber and Fred Dinkelberg repeatedly covered for him.  Right up to the end.  I'd be glad for any of your thoughts.  Contact me HERE with fact or opinion.  Thanks.

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