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News Thu Jul 16 2009

A Chicago Star Gets Marked

Ask the typical Chicagoan to explain what each star on the Chicago flag means and, if you're lucky, you'll hear the Columbian Exposition or the Great Chicago Fire. However, it would rare to find someone who can identify the event signified by the first star. This year marks the Bicentennial of the Battle of Fort Dearborn (Wikipedia uses the event's less conciliatory name the "Fort Dearborn Massacre") and its memorializing is expanding beyond a star the flag to the site of the actual battle. On Saturday, August 15th, South Loop dignitaries will dedicate the park at 18th Street and Calumet Avenue as "Battle of Fort Dearborn Park." While the footprint of Fort Dearborn is actually found at the mouth of the Chicago River, traced on Michigan Avenue by bronze medallions, the battle occurred when fort residents were being evacuated and were attacked by American Indians.

The myriad of groups appearing at the dedication, from National Guardsmen to American Indians, is representative of the effort that was made to place the battle within a larger context than a simple battle for young America's frontier. John N. Low of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi explains, "...rather than casting the parties as victims or victors, villains or heroes, it acknowledges that these were people first, often presented with difficult circumstances and choices. As much as this place was once a place of conflict, it now represents collaboration and reconciliation."

A history of the battle will be posted in the park on a bronze marker. The dedication begins at 10am and is open to the public.

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Vana Kikos / July 17, 2009 2:52 PM

Great name for a beautiful park!

Robert Klein ENgler / August 4, 2009 1:26 PM

August 15, 2009

--Robert Klein Engler

The human events that happened at the Chicago intersection of 18th Street and South Calumet Avenue about 200 years ago still shape our lives.

The Battle of Fort Dearborn was part of a larger struggle historians refer to as the War of 1812, or the second war for American Independence.

Two hundred years. That's a long time. One hundred years ago in April 1912, the great ship Titanic went down in the North Atlantic ocean.

We are as removed from the men and women who were on the Titanic, as those men and women were removed from the Battle of Fort Dearborn.

Who were those passengers on the Titanic? One of them was the journalist William T. Stead. He wrote the classic book, "If Christ Came to Chicago." He was returning to continue his campaign against vice, prostitution and political corruption. Earlier, he had written, "Chicago, though one of the youngest of cities, has still a history, which begins, like that of more ancient communities, in blood."

Who were the men and woman at Fort Dearborn, living here 100 years before William T. Stead? One of them was Ensign George Ronan. He was a young man from back east, recently stationed at Ft. Dearborn. He proudly wore the uniform of his new commission.

He was not unlike your friend who serves in Afghanistan or your brother returned recently from service in Iraq. Ensign Ronan was also the first graduate of the US military Academy at West Point to die in combat defending his country.

Ensign Ronan's comrade, Dr. Isaac Van Voorhis also died in the battle here. Some claim he was a young man of "more than usual spirit and breadth of vision."

A year before the Battle of Fort Dearborn, Van Voorhis wrote a single letter to a friend. A portion of that letter survives.

Writing from his lonely station in October, 1811, Dr. Van Voorhis says, "In my solitary walks I contemplate what a great and powerful republic will yet arise in this new world. Here, I say, will be the seat of millions yet unborn; here the asylum of oppressed millions yet to come."

"How composedly would I die could I be resuscitated at that bright era of American greatness--an era which I will hope announce the tidings of death to...dread tyranny."*

Two hundred years later we do not know where Isaac Van Voorhis' bones lie. But we do know where his vision is. His vision is here, if we stand and recall what happened those many years ago.

* Milo Milton Quaife, Chicago and the Old Northwest, 1673-1835, 1913.

Robert Klein Engler lives in Oak Park, Illinois. Google his name to find his books on the Internet and at

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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