Col. Wood’s Museum, Chicago Museum, Aiken’s Museum
Life Span: 1862-1871
Location: North side of Randolph street between Clark and Dearborn streets
Chicago Tribune, October 13, 1863
CHICAGO MUSEUM.—One of the most wonderful and instructive places in this city is the Chicago Museum; its curiosities are drawn from every country, and represent every age of the world. Art and nature have alike contributed to its wonders. Here the curious can gratify their marvelousness, and the scientific can pursue their researches. The naturalist will find here a grand collection to admire and study, embracing, in various stages of preservation, almost everything from the tiny insect to the skeleton of Zeuglodon—an antedeluvian monster of our own continent 96 feet long, and of such monstrous proportions as to throw into the shade the mastodon, the magaiherium, paleotherium, pterodactyl and other wonderful animals of a past age. This furnishes an evidence of the monsters of the past, which to argument can gainsay or no prejudice resist. But after all, its greatest wonders of are in the infinite variety of the lesser things collected from the fathomless depths of the ocean, the boundless expanse of the atmosphere, and the innumerable collections of human skill from our own and other nations.
This community is surely fortunate in having a museum which is in many respects the best in this country, and which would add to the attraction of any museum in the world.
Chicago Tribune, December 28, 1863
GARDNER’S OPERA HOUSE.—Sam Gardner, formerly of Arlington & Co.’s Minstrels, has organized a new company, and taken the Museum Hall, which will be known as Gardner’s Opera House. It will be opened for the first time to-night with a company which contains a large number of Chicago’s favorites. They ought to be greeted by a full house.
Chicago Tribune, February 9, 1865
COL. WOOD’S MUSEUM.—It is now a little over a year since the term Museum was permanently attached to a public institution and resort in Chicago, and that interval has abundantly established the enterprise a success. Not indeed that it has not had the vicissitudes, but that it has now come broadly and solidly upon a basis alike satisfactory to the public and solidly upon a basis alike satisfactory to the public and to the proprietor. This has been due to the features of that portion of its history since the connection of Col. J. H. Wood with its control, a fact that makes all the more agreeable assurance of its future now that it is announced that he has become sole owner.
The art if pleasing the public by catering to its demand for suitable amusements is comparatively a rare one, and yet must be the endowment of any one who shall successfully make it his vocation. There is but one Barnum, and there is but one second to Barnum in the profession of the showman, and the latter is Col. Wood, who brought to Chicago a reputation and substantial proof success well earned in more than one country of the globe. In his hands the Museum, in Kingsbury Block, became at once an institution that challenged the pride of our citizens. Its cabinets of natural curiosities, its series of living and dead wonders, its novelties and art gems have a range that attract all ages and conditions among us, and it has been the art of Col. Wood so to vary his attractions as to keep his establishment continually fresh in the minds of amusement seekers. The savant, the citizen, the school boy and school girl have all been indebted to Col. Wood for months past for many hours of amusement and profit.
But it is in the Lecture Room, devoted to the Drama, that Col. Wood has not less thoroughly attested his skill as a manager. Originally of somewhat doubtful status in this department, in former hands, Col. Wood’s Museum audience room every every evening, and on the delightful matinee occasions, has been steadily growing in favor, until now commands the best audiences of Chicago, and it is no unusual circumstance to see the diagrams of seats largely taken up several days in advance of some promised attraction. The secret, or rather the no secret is this, that the management relies on the steady attraction of one of the best dramatic companies ever gathered in this country, avoiding the flickering and changeful “star” system. More an better than this, there is no catering to depraved and vicious taste, and an equally careful police system, preserving the materiel of the audience from contamination, and the matter on the stage from indelicacy and doubtful double entendre.
Thus much of the past of Col. Wood’s Museum, now in the full career of deserved prosperity. And it is a sufficient earnest of its future success, especially as the recent change makes it more than ever likely to bear the fruits of Col. Wood’s genius. We have been aware that he has been considering for some time past a most advantageous offer to become to Philadelphia what he is to Chicago and the Northwest, and Barnum to New York. The decision in our favor is made in the face of a strong monied appeal, and is itself the earnest that Col. Wood means still further liberal devices here. There are changes promised in the building itself, which have largely to do with the commodiousness and completeness. Personally Col. Wood has done well to identify himself largely with the growing interests of our city, and has won respect as a citizen by large-heartedness becoming his position. This has given great fitness to the selection of him as the Chairman of the Committee on Amusements at the forthcoming Northwestern Sanitary Fair in this city, and his antecedents and capabilities have well fitted him for an advisory position in such matters. In the name of the multitude whereof the institution is a prime favorite, we wish long continued prosperity to Col. Wood’s Museum.
Chicago Illustrated, May, 1866
This view represents one of the busiest street scenes in Chicago. It is taken from the North front of the Court House, and takes in the North side of Randolph street from Clark to State street. The central point in view is Wood’s Museum. It has a front of about seventy-five feet. The stores are occupied by H. M. Higgins, the well-known piano and music dealer, and by Ideson & Co., for rubber goods, all of the building above these stores, in its height and depth, is occupied exclusively by the Museum, and the Lecture room. The signs and flags indicate that Col. Wood, the proprietor, knows he has a good thing, and that he does not hide it in the dark. Since the destruction of Barnum’s Museum in New York, the Chicago Museum stands without rival. It embraces all the objects of curiosity common to all first-class collections, and is remarkable for its specialties. It is the largest collection of such objects now on this continent, and the arrangement for display and for the convenience and comfort of visitors are admirable. Col. Wood puts down the 150,000 as the number of his curiosities of every kind. If any person doubts it, let him make the enumeration.
Until 1862, nothing of this kind had been attempted in Chicago, or west of New York, and in no place in the West, but Chicago, could such an enterprize have been matured in so short a time, and with such unequaled success. The tact and the ability of the proprietor, of course, had much to do, but it was eventually the liberal taste of the public that made it a success. The proper way to account for the success of such an extensive experiment, is probably give Col. Wood credit for the sagacity in discovering that Chicago was the only city outside of New York where people had the cultivation and liberality to encourage and maintain a Museum of such large proportions and heavy expenditures.
Connected with the Museum is a Lecture Room, which is nicely fitted up in the style of a Theatre, and where you produced sterling plays. The company engaged in the production of these plays include representatives of very branch of the dramatic profession, and in point of numbers and in excellence, will compare favorably with any similar company in the United States. The success of this part of Col. Wood’s Museum has been in keeping with that of his general enterprise.
On the corner of Clark Street is the well known general ticket office of the Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne Railroad, and all of its connecting lines. It is one of the railroad centres of Chicago.
To the right of the Museum, is the justly celebrated sign painting establishment of B. F. Chase, who for twenty years has been the sign artist of Chicago. The business of the establishment is now carried on by Chase & Hild.
The artist has made a very truthful copy of the various signs that indicate the business and occupation of the occupants of the several buildings adjoining the Museum. They can be discovered without any editorial reference. Three lines of horse-railway cars pass this corner, which, with one exception, is the most crowded crossing in Chicago.
James W. Sheahan, Esq.
Chicago Evening Post, December 20, 1867
The Museum.—Mr. Aiken’s Success.
Chicago is ever foremost to recognize genuine merit, and any one who doubts it can easily be convinced by a review of the Museum success under the management of Mr. Aiken. Frank E. Aiken was and still is, without doubt, the most generally popular actor who ever remained in Chicago. As leading man since the first opening, his various assumptions have won him hosts of friends, and made a national name for the Museum. There were, however, those who dubiously shook their heads when he undertook first the part of manager and subsequently that of lessee in addition. The result must certainly gratify him very much. The houses have been fuller under his auspices than ever before. He spared, in the first place, no expense to renovate the establishment, and it is now elegant and comfortable in all apartments. His greatest solicitude, of course, must have been untiring in his effort to make it reach the present standard of the best outside of New York certainly, and in the opinion of many the best in the Union.
Strangers visiting Chicago need scarcely any recommendation to make them visit the Museum. Everybody goes, and everybody is always pleased. The succession of popular and meritorious plays are expensive, but they will be kept up, and Mr. Aiken will undoubtedly fulfill his desire to make it more than ever the leading center of amusement in the West.
Handbook for Strangers & Tourists to the City of Chicago, 1869
This theatre was built in the latter part of 1868, by Mr. D. R. Brant, on the lots Nos. 111 and 113 Dearborn street. It presents a handsome front, fifty feet wide is one hundred and fifty feet deep, and four stories high. The auditorium commences twenty feet back from the street, is divided into parquette, dress and and will comfortably accommodate fifteen hundred persons. The seats are models of ease and comfort, being similar to the new style first introduced into Booth’s great theatre in New York. This theater was opened in December last by a company from the East, who were not successful in their management. In January last Mr. Frank E. Aiken became lessee; and under his able and experienced direction it has become deservedly popular, and ranks as one of the most entertaining and successful, as it is one of the most beautiful places of amusement United States.
Randolph, between Dearborn and Clark
Aiken’s Museum contained collections of natural history objects, a hall of paintings, a panorama of London, and occasional concerts held in the exhibition hall. Colonel John Wood became the proprietor of the museum in January, 1864, and realizing the importance of dramatic performances to attract visitors, he increased its equipment by annexing to the rooms already used the building called Kingsbury hall, in the rear of the museum, and added a stock theatre company to the attractions of the place. During part of the history of the museum, when Frank E. Aiken was manager, it was known as Aiken’s Museum, but the more familiar name was resumed when Colonel Wood became manager in June, 1871.
Chicago Tribune, October 16, 1870
The West Side Theatre.
The work upon Mr. D. R. Aiken’s Theatre on Desplaines street is rapidly approaching completion. It will probably be finished and ready for opening early in the ensuing month. The roof is about done, and the work on the stage is now in active progress. Present appearances indicate that it will be one of the best arranged theatres in the city. Mr. Allen is now busy organizing his company, and expects to open about the 7th with a well-selected dramatic corps. There is every reason to anticipate for the new theatre a successful career.
Sherman House (left) and Wood’s Museum
Photographer: John Carbutt
Colonel Wood’s Museum
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map