Thursday, March 25, 2021

Chicago monuments under assault, Part 16: Marquette and Jolliet

As I remarked last month in a post at Da Tech Guy, it's possible if it were not for Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet, Chicago would be just another small city on Lake Michigan.

From the National Park Service:

Chicago owes its very existence to its strategic location on the Chicago-Illinois River route, one of the natural arteries leading from the St. Lawrence River system to the Mississippi. The portage at Chicago was discovered in September 1673 by Père Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet as they returned from their voyage of exploration down the Mississippi River.
Of course Marquette, a Jesuit priest, and Jolliet, the first significant European explorer born in North America, didn't create the rivers. It's believed that Jolliet was the first person to conceive of a canal connecting at the South Branch of the Chicago River, which until the late 19th century drained into Lake Michigan, and the Des Plaines River which drains into the Gulf of Mexico. 

The former gap between the waters is the Chicago Portage

Then came the canal.

After the Illinois & Michigan Canal opened in 1848, Chicago quickly became a great city. In 1860 it hosted its first major political convention, where the Republicans nominated an Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln, who was an early supporter of building the I&M Canal.

The Chicago Monuments Project, Mayor Lori Lightfoot's cowardly way of reacting to the riot outside of the Grant Park's Christopher Columbus statue last summer, created the committee as "framework for marking public space that elevates new ways to memorialize Chicago's history more equitably and accurately."

The 41 monuments that "warrant attention" include a bronze relief at the DuSable Bridge memorializing Marquette and Jolliet, a plaque at the Equitable Building Plaza on the Chicago River marking the campsite of Marquette in 1674, his second journey through Chicago for the priest. Jolliet wasn't part of that expedition. And yet another plaque, pictured above, on Damen Avenue on the South Side where Marquette spent the rest of the 1674-75 winter. And finally a large bronze statue, the Jacques Marquette-Louis Jolliet Memorial, which stands at 24th Street and Marshall on the Southwest Side.

Marquette, with or without Jolliet, earns four mentions from the opaque Chicago Monuments Project. Abe Lincoln, that canal supporter--he of course achieved so much more--has five.

The Jacques Marquette-Louis Jolliet Memorial attracts the most ire from the Chicago Monuments Project committee. From their website about that statue
This imposing representation of Marquette and Joliet [sic], with a subservient American Indian at their side, was created by Hermon Atkins McNeil, the academically trained sculptor who contributed the relief sculptures of Marquette's life to the extraordinary decorative cycle at the Marquette Building in [sic] thirty years earlier, in 1895.

"White supremacy" and "inaccurate and/or demeaning characterizations of American Indians" are among the trigger points for the committee. As for the "subservient American Indian" that is part of the memorial, as we of course know Marquette, who is portrayed on McNeil's work holding a crucifix, was a priest. Perhaps the artist envisioned the Native American as a convert to Christianity. 

Marquette died in Ludington, Michigan a couple of months or so after that winter in Chicago. Native Americans later brought his bones to St. Ignace, Michigan on the Upper Peninsula, where his remains were buried. Historians haven't noted if the Indians were "subservient." When Little Marathon Pundit and I visited St. Ignace I pointed out the explorer's gravesite to her. Her response was, "Who was Father Marquette?"

Wow. When I was in elementary school and high school here in the Chicago area the journeys of Marquette and Jolliet were a big part of my education.

We've fallen far as a people. 

To comment on the monuments "under review" please visit the Chicago Monuments Project's "Feedback page." Please be polite but firm in your comments. 

Please Tweet this post. When you do so use the #ChicagoMonuments hashtag.

UPDATE April 9:

I omitted one more Marquette memorial, a painting, Wilderness, Winter Scene by Richard Fayerweather Babcock, which for now is on display at the Legler Regional Library on the West Side.

Earlier posts

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