#978: Stained Walls, Stained Glass

September 10th, 2018

Above, there are chandeliers and rooms made of walnut.

Above, there are floors and floors of shopping for brand-name luxury.

Above, there are perfume counters and ornate stone and bronze fountains.

Below the downtown Macy’s (but the locals call it Marshall Field’s) glass meant for light sits in darkness.

Beneath the luxury store, past a bookshop section, a sports bar called Infields and by the glass back areas of the bedding section, there is an entrance to the Pedway, Chicago’s underground walkway system. The Pedway’s a hodgepodge path cobbled together of the different basements and subbasements of various office buildings, malls, government towers and subway systems.

Linked only by a title, the different juts of Pedway vary vastly based on who owns that particular chunk. Different hours, different levels of cleanliness and security.

Different decorations. And in one of the dingier sections of the Pedway, where a few random beggars sometimes amble by and blue walls are spattered along the bottom with something staining white, that’s where the stained glass museum lives.

In that spot below Macy’s, by that bookshop, bedding section and sports bar with a few lonely daytime drinkers, stained walls house a small exhibit of Victorian stained glass. It’s a hidden tidbit for the knowing, and a pleasant surprise for those caught unaware mid-shortcut.

It’s a collaboration between Macy’s and the Chicago Cultural Mile Association, the 22 backlit glass panels are what’s left of a now-dead Navy Pier museum of stained glass. Here they sit where office workers hustle, bums amble and dust collects in lagomorphian heaps far beyond “bunnies.” These are full-on dust rabbits, dust Nuralagus rex.

It smells like urine in the corridor, and I wonder if the white stains are from soap suds sloshing something far nastier from the walls.

The glass is beautiful.

Intricate 1800s fabrications inspired by poems and nature. A farmwoman stands in one, beatific painted face like the Mona Lisa, her dress a crackle of glass bits painstakingly assembled by Belcher & Co., a group of artists as dead as the Nuralagus. Others have curling floral bouquets, nature scenes of lilypads and reeds, Arabesque patterns as bright and geometric as the etchings on a Mosque. They are gorgeous and they are glorious and they are wasted here in a dark corridor.

The lightbulbs behind several had burnt out, keeping with the scene of art ignored. Art meant to crinkle sunlight sits in a basement corridor full of dust rabbits and the scent of urine.

Am I feeling the sadness of the place, or my own? Would on a better, brighter day I see this as a hidden treasure solely for the enjoyment of the knowing?

Or would I still see it as art meant for light kept in darkness, among dust and damp and walls spattered with something white?

What's this?

You are currently reading #978: Stained Walls, Stained Glass by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.