Chicago’s National Hellenic Museum Officially Opens!

I’m not Greek (but what a funny reveal that would be, after having blogged for more than four years, don’t you think?), but I have been an avid fan of Greek Mythology (did you know THAT?) since I picked up D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths in fifth grade and–unrelated–when my family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee for a few years, I became very good friends with an eighth-grade classmate who was (and is) Greek. After I met him, my family attended his church’s annual Greek Festival. I adored this event. It was full of food, dancing, and music. My friend occasionally did some of the Greek dance performances, and I thought that was so cool. (This is probably news to him: I have sent him the link to this post. *waving*)

I still, in fact, have and use a mug from one of those festivals. I will not get rid of it; it makes me smile*.

watermarked greek mug

You can imagine how especially excited I was to receive an invitation to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony and media preview of the new National Hellenic Museum at 333 N. Halsted Street in Chicago’s Greektown. The 40,000 square foot museum, in addition to providing even more diversity to the vast selection of things to do in Chicagoland, is the first and only major museum in the country dedicated to Greece, its contributions, and Greek-Americans.

After I walked around Greektown and took some pictures (they’re in my other post: click here), I headed over to the National Hellenic Museum and got some shots of the exterior. It’s a beautiful building. The design of the building contains lots of elements that are classically Greek, as well elements that are modernly green: there is a pending LEED certification.

Watermarked Hellenic museum exterior

Watermarked Hellenic Museum sign

The inside of the building is very open and bright. The huge staircase was built in an east-west direction to represent the immigrant experience, cultural ties to Greece and the limitless potential of Greek Americans in the United States

As everyone was gathering for the ribbon cutting ceremony (including dignitaries like Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, a representative from the Mayor’s office, Consul General of Greece Anastasios Petrovas, and others), I was struck–though not surprised!–by the proud look on the faces of all who had been clearly involved in getting this museum open. This museum is huge for the Greek-American community, huge for Chicago, and huge for the Greektown neighborhood. I was so happy and honored to be a part of the audience, watching these people officially introduce their labor of love to the public.

Watermarked Hellenic Museum ribbon cutting

The first floor of the museum contains a temporary exhibit called “Gods, Myths, and Mortals: Discovering Ancient Greece”. The exhibit is family-oriented and very interactive.

All of it was pretty fabulous, but I loved this little display on Greek architecture…

Watermarked building1

…and the Trojan Horse. I said to my tour guide, “Wow, that was really a great idea.” I paused and clarified: “I mean, originally AND for the exhibit.”

watermarked trojan horse

The second floor will be the home to a permanent exhibit called “In Search of Home: The Greek Journey from Myth to Modern Day” starting next year, but right now there is a preview of that exhibit which I found fascinating. The preview exhibit demonstrates how museum curators create exhibits, and it was really fun to read all of the notes that were written all over the walls that were basically “Don’t forgets” and “How about doing this?”

watermarked wall notes

watermarked exhibit preview

Sidenote: Who knew that, number one, Dove Bars were invented by a Greek family, and number two, gyros were invented in Chicago’s Greektown? Not me, until today! (Don’t worry: there are lots of other educational gems that have nothing to do with food.) The museum has thousands–I think I heard 17,000–artifacts that they will rotate into public display over time.

The third floor is home to the Frank S. Kamberos Oral History Center. No matter where your ancestors come from, family stories are important to pass down. The National Hellenic Museum is taking an active role in the preservation of family histories by offering a recording room and a place for visitors to view the results. I thought it was a great idea, and the design is gorgeous.

Watermarked oral history project

Right across the way from the Oral History Center is the Gus and Mary Stathis Library and Resource Center, a 2,800-square-foot area full of Greek American history, rare publications, and archives.

Watermarked library and resource center

The icing on the cake, as it were, is the rooftop terrace. It’s a beautiful space and I could imagine lovely summertime events up there, in the shadow of the Sears Tower.

Watermarked terrace

The National Hellenic Museum’s Grand Opening will take place this Saturday, December 10. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $7 for children ages 3-12. Members and children under 3 are free.

Museum hours are: Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Mondays), Tuesday 5-8 p.m., and weekends 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

The stated purpose of the National Hellenic Museum is “to inspire in people of all backgrounds a curiosity for their own story through a greater connection to Greek history, culture and the arts.” I look forward to visiting again with my family.

*Other qualifications? I absolutely love the movie “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding”. Enough said.

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  • Anastasia

    Hi Melisa,
    You may not be Greek, but your name certainly is…….
    MElisa (accent on the first syllable) is the correct Greek pronunciation of “honeybee”!!
    So you have something Greek after all!!
    You probably knew all this of course.

    Great story and pix – loved it, thanks so much!!

    • Melisa

      Thanks, Anastasia! I DID know that my name means “honeybee”, but had no idea that it’s Greek. That put a big smile on my face. 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by my blog!