Visit the Surratt Tavern in…Chicago, IL?

If wealthy candy confectioner and noted collector Charles Gunther had gotten his way, Chicago would have become the home of many transplanted historical sites:

If relocating entire buildings like this sounds like an impossible feat, know that Charles Gunther had already done it once.  In the late 1880’s he purchased the Libby Prison from Richmond, Virginia.  He dismantled the prison, transported it to his hometown of Chicago, and rebuilt it there.  The Libby Prison Museum operated from 1889 to 1895 before decreasing visitors forced Gunther to dismantle it.  When this article was written in 1893 it is likely Gunther was hoping to reinvigorate his museum by creating an entire campus of historic sites.

As we know, Gunther never managed to purchase Independence Hall, the Petersen House, or the Surratt Tavern.  Despite his generous offer to Louis Schade, the Petersen house was eventually sold to the federal government instead.  Had the Petersen House been sold to Gunther, he could have reunited the building with some of the items that were there when Lincoln died.  The bed upon which Lincoln died and many other articles from the Petersen house were acquired by Gunther in 1889.  When Gunther died, the Chicago Historical Society purchased most of his extensive collection.  This is the reason why Lincoln’s true deathbed is in the Chicago History Museum and not in Washington, D.C.

I believe Charles Gunther’s proposed acquisition of these historic sites allows for a very entertaining “what if”.  Imagine what it would be like to look out a window of the Surratt Tavern and see the house where Lincoln died.  Imagine the historical DisneyWorld that could have existed in Chicago.  Instead of Mickey Mouse ears, visitor would purchase powdered wigs at the “Ye Olde Independence Hall Gift Shop” before taking the monorail to the “Lincoln Assassination Pavilion”.  Had this eccentric collector been able to build his dream, how differently our nation’s history would be interpreted today.

The Chicago Historical Society has a nice website recounting Charles Gunther’s collection and Libby Prison Museum.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Visit the Surratt Tavern in…Chicago, IL?

  1. Rich Smyth

    That is something I did not know Dave. Thank you. And your Photoshop skills are getting very good too!

  2. Laurie Verge

    Someone brought that article to our attention years ago. Thanks for reminding me of it. I’m perfectly content to have the tavern stay here in Southern Maryland, however.


    Sorry it was not moved; just think, Ms Verge would then be my neighbor.

  4. Richard Sloan

    And if Jeff Davis’ pistols had not been awarded to his widow (or whoever the descendant was), Blanche Chapman Ford might never have had the bright idea of trying to get the rocking chair Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot. And then it would be likely that rather than a replica, it, would be in the box at the restored Ford’s Theatre! The notion that the Surratt tavern might have been shipped, board by board, to to Chicago, is fascinating! Thanx for digging this up, Dave!

  5. Richard Sloan

    I told you last month that the Thos. Jones letter that you showed was discovered by mein the basement of a man in nearby Hempstead, NY whose late father had once been partners with a man named Rosenberg. You may recall that I couldn’t think of Rosenberg’s better-known name. I just remembered — it was Al. Emmett Fostell!

  6. Gene

    Does the Chicago Historical Society have Libby Prison now ?

  7. The foundation of Libby Prison still remains, although it is now under a parking deck. About 25 – 30 years ago it was visible and myself and some Surratt Buddies managed to get some bricks from the foundation….too bad that it could not be reconstructed or made more viable rather than just sunk beneath a parking garage today –

    Fascinating! Thanks, Dave!

  8. Rich Smyth

    I know this is a comment and not a disscussion section but…Richard Sloan, there were lots of relics left in that basement. Did you get to go through all of it?

  9. I agree with Richard P. When I was teaching in Downers Grove, a suburb of Chicago, I got a little tired of taking the 8th graders to Springfield year after year after year. I would have suggested to the principal that we take a year off from that trip and visit the Surratt House, Petersen House, and Independence Hall. Laurie would have found out the agony we Cubs’ fans feel each year.

  10. Eleanor Ford

    The Petersen house is really a wonderful place to visit though I haven’t seen any photos here. I’ve been there twice the first before it was restored, now it looks so garish but I guess that’ s the way it was.

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