Robert A. was visiting Chicago a few weeks ago and discovered something very interesting. He was sightseeing inside the ornate Chicago Cultural Center and noticed this frieze on the ceiling:
This is the Grand Army of the Republic Rotunda. Taking a closer look at the corner:
Here’s a sharp photo someone else took of the Don’t Tread on Me frieze.
Is that neat, or what?
Robert and I are intrigued and want to learn more. I’ve never seen this combination of symbols before. Was it some flourish of the architect? Did the designer make it up, or reproduce it from somewhere?
The Chicago Cultural Center was opened in 1893. It was originally a dual-purpose building: a Chicago public library, and a museum/meeting hall for the Grand Army of the Republic veterans association.
Robert found a booklet entitled “The People’s Palace: The Story of the Chicago Cultural Center” which briefly mentions the rotunda:
“At the top of the stairway is the 45-foot by 50-foot Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Rotunda. The ceiling is embossed with plaster carvings of swords, shields, helmets, and flags. This ornamental heraldry serves to remind viewers of the loss that comes with war.”
That’s not much, and sounds a little bit like politically-correct pap to me. How does that frieze symbolize the loss that comes with war?
I find it interesting that these symbols aren’t from the Civil War. They’re from the American Revolution: the Liberty Cap, the Liberty Tree, and our Don’t Tread on Me snakes. To the degree that DTOM symbols were used in the Civil War, it’s my understanding that they were used by the South, not the North. This dome and hall were funded and used by the GAR, i.e. Union veterans.
Does anyone have insights?