The Lincoln Park Community Research Initiative (LPCRI) began in 1998 as part of DePaul’s centennial celebration.
"At that time, we proposed a joint effort of Lincoln Park community organizations and DePaul to collect, document, and preserve our shared history,” recalls Fran Casey, Director Community Affairs. “Right away, we realized that this was something that could be — that should be — ongoing as a way for the university to partner with the neighborhood, not just to gather materials from the past but to work toward a shared future.”
A shared history, a shared effort
The ever-growing archives, including photos of places long gone and writings from a time long past, are housed in the Richardson Library.
“The collection is large — more than 100 feet of records — organized by subject (such as businesses, churches, hospitals, and transportation) or by media type, such as postcards or artifacts,” says Kathryn DeGraff, Department Head, Special Collections and Archives. “It’s open for use by anyone who’s interested, whether neighbors, faculty, students, staff, or researchers from outside DePaul. Also, some of the neighborhood associations hold their meetings here in the library, which makes for another connection between us.”
Theodore Wrobleski, Sheffield Neighborhood Association and co-founder of the initiative 13 years ago, captures the value of LPCRI for everyone: “We live in a historical neighborhood, and residents — including DePaul — are interested in its story. Through the LPCRI, we’ve come to appreciate each other: the university has done good things for the neighbors; the neighbors have done good things for DePaul.”
Judith Lauth Casey, Sheffield Neighborhood Association and co-founder of LPCRI, agrees: “It’s important to preserve and share our rich and rocky history. Lincoln Park’s legacy is significant. For example, we were one of the first neighborhoods to gentrify. Other areas of the city have learned from what we did — both the good things and the bad. Knowing our history enables us to look forward to the future.”
Programs that entertain and inform
To keep interest in the neighborhood’s history alive and to encourage people to bring in their artifacts, LPCRI sponsors programs twice a year that focus on some aspect of life in Lincoln Park — past, present, and future. The programs (which include a reception, presentations by experts, and open discussions) are free and open to everyone in the university, the community, and the city.
“Neighbors come and tell their stories, and we welcome the participation of faculty and students,” says Fran Casey.
One teacher who takes advantage of that opportunity is Amy Tyson, assistant professor, History. Each year, students in her class — whether “Local and Community History” or “Topics in Public History” — participate in a LPCRI program by presenting or exhibiting neighborhood research they've done. For example, in 2009 the students manned stations throughout an exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, acting as informal docents and talking about the local history as reflected in people they’d profiled.
“They brought the characters and the history itself to life,” says Tyson. “Anytime students can see that their work has meaning outside the classroom, the teacher has succeeded. Participation in LPCRI enriches our students: they remember it, and the community remembers them. Learning how to do local history projects by using the archives prepares them to do research anywhere they find themselves in the future.”
The history of the neighborhood is often surprising.
For example, in her LPCRI presentation, "Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery and Lincoln Park," Pamela Bannos (Northwestern University) captivated the audience with her research on the lakefront, which began in 1843 as a City Cemetery (including a general cemetery, Potter's Field, Catholic cemetery, and Jewish cemetery). Before 1864, when the city council decided to turn the 120-acre burial grounds into a park, an estimated 20,000 people (including nearly 4,000 Confederate prisoners) were buried there. Were all these bodies moved to other locations? Not at all, and probably not even close. In 1899, the Chicago Tribune reported that skelertal remains had been found in Lincoln Park during construction projects; in 1998, eighty-one partial skeletons were unearthed during an excavation. Today, two prominent markers — the Couch Mausoleum and the tombstone of David Kennison — remind residents and visitors of the park's origin.
A natural partnership
Rev. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Secretary of the University, appreciates LPCRI from three perspectives: that of a university representative; that of a person who’s lived in Lincoln Park for 40 years; and that of a historian with an interest in DePaul, in the neighborhood, and in Chicago.
“Lincoln Park has had one of the longest and most interesting histories in Chicago. DePaul is part of that history and has contributed to that history. Having been embedded in Lincoln Park from the beginning, we don’t just take from the neighborhood; we also give back.
"LPCRI is an ideal expression of a natural partnership: it helps us be better neighbors, to build better and smarter, and to pay attention to the details. DePaul has a long-term commitment to be involved in the community, and I don't know any other urban campus that does a better job of that.”
Fran Casey agrees: “Two years ago, putting together our master plan for the development of the Lincoln Park campus — with the new facilities for The Theatre School and the School of Music School, the DePaul Art Museum, and the Arts and Letters Building — was a lot easier because we already had a sharing, trusting relationship with our neighbors, a relationship that’s apparent in the Lincoln Park Community Research Initiative.”
Topics covered by LPCRI programs over the last 10 years:
- Lights! Camera! Action! Lincoln Park and the Movies
- Write On… A Conversation with Lincoln Park Authors
- Chicago History Museum Exhibit Lincoln Park Block by Block
- And the Beat Goes On...Four Decades of Music in Lincoln Park
- Ghosts of Our Past…Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery and Lincoln Park
- The Legacies of 1968...A City Transformed
- All the World’s a Stage: Theatre in Lincoln Park
- Lincoln Park’s Other Shoreline: The Chicago River
- Lincoln Park & the New Chicago
- The Politics of Place: The Impact of Zoning on Lincoln Park Development
- Treasures in the Attic: Saving and Sharing your Lincoln Park Memories
- Voices and Visions of Lincoln Park — Oral History Project
- The Archaeology of Lincoln Park: Excavating on eBay
- Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! A Journey through Lincoln Park Zoo
- Through Thick and Thin: A Century of Service in Lincoln Park
- The Seven Ages of the Saloon in Lincoln Park
- Minding Our Business: The Dynamics of Lincoln Park Commerce
- Lincoln Park: Neighborhood Schools…Schools for the Neighborhood
- Lincoln Park Demographics: Using the Census to Track Transition
- A Breath of Fresh Air: Parks and the Lincoln Park Community
- Lincoln Park Politics Yesterday and Today