National Hellenic Museum to open
December 2, 2011
A youngster poses in front of a drawing of the ancient Greek legendary figure Cyclops.

By Sheila Elliott

A portal into the richness of Greek culture including its history, art, and personal recollections is opening its doors in Greektown. Years of work and planning culminated for the National Hellenic Museum with an inaugural ball on Nov. 5, after which the museum opened to the public. An official grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Thursday, Dec. 8.

Visitors can tour exhibits; see the oral history center, an interactive multi-media repository for Greek American family histories; and take advantage of the education center. The exhibit Gods, Myths, and Mortals will open Saturday, Dec. 10.

Located at 333 S. Halsted St., the new museum sits in the heart of a vibrant business and restaurant community in a neighborhood boasting a unique and distinctive Greek heritage.

“Our purpose is to tell the history of Greek Americans,” said Chris Helms, the museum’s collections manager and registrar, although museum administrators hope their message will reach beyond the Greek-American community. “Greece has contributed to all cultures,” Helms added. He relies on modern technology to keep track of ancient artifacts and information that originated thousands of years ago as part of his work overseeing the museum’s library and archives. These resources operate as a research center open to both scholars and individuals looking for overlooked treasures in family or neighborhood history.

Along with the research center, three new exhibits will be ready in time for the dedication: one dealing with ancient myths and stories, another explaining how Greece inspired one of the world’s most famous athletic contests, and a third showing how museum exhibits aremade.

Gods, Myths and Mortals is intended for a younger audience. The interactive exhibit will give children hands-on experience to help them understand one of the world’s most eventful and complicated stories, The Odyssey. That understanding will begin by giving them the chance to embark on adventures of their own: they’ll climb a 13-foot replica of one of the most famous ruses in world history, the Trojan Horse, and then navigate their way around the choppy seas and perilous and rocky shores that Odysseus faced.

The Gods, Myths, and Mortals exhibit will open in December.
“There is a deliberate attempt to engage the child in aspects of classical culture in a surprising and somewhat unexpected manner,” Helms said. Interactive exhibits also will spotlight other aspects of Greek culture. A replica of a gymnasium from antiquity illustrates the significance of physical health to the Greeks, while a working replica of an antikythera mechyanism, believed to be the world’s oldest computer, offers a testament to Greek intellectual accomplishments in the ancient world.

Elsewhere in the museum, a more traditional text and photo display will explain the history of the world’s most famous foot race. The word “marathon” may be synonymous today with Boston, Chicago, or New York, but to the ancients the word connoted a single death at the conclusion of an epic battle at Marathon, Greece. Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC to deliver the message of victory and then died. The exhibit will tell the story of how the 26.2-mile race came to be.

The museum’s third exhibit gives museum-goers a peek into the world of exhibit preparation and interpretation. It tells how curators research exhibit subjects, choose items they wish to display, and select ways to present that information. “It’s not quite behind-the scenes,” said Helms, but this exhibit will allow museum artists and historians to work before the public and demonstrate how a museum exhibit actually is put together.

“It’s an exhibit about making an exhibit,” he said, and covers everything from designing the set to fabricating materials. “One thing is for certain: it’s not going to be boring,” Helms said.

The museum will be open Tuesday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and weekends 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Mondays. Admission to Gods, Myths and Mortals is included with general admission charges of $10 for adults, $7 for children ages three through 12, and $8 for seniors and students. Members and children younger than three are admitted free. For more information, call (312) 655-1234, or log on to www.hellenicmuseumnews.org.