Southeast Historical Society
by Kevin Murphy
Founded as a result of the bicentennial Town Meeting of 1976, the East
Side Historical Society became reality in large part because of the
of East Sider James P. Fitzgibbons. On March 20, 1977,
called a meeting that included Gertrude Robb, Ora Coon and Lois
Soon joined by Mildred Barnay, Alex Beifus, Kathy Dawson, Harry Mallek,
Tom Mollo, Amelia Nelson, Esther Ringman Rydell, Louise Stiers, Linda
Lucille Waszkiewicz, Maria Zvonkovich and others, the organization
gained recognition within the East Side, Hegewisch, South Chicago and
Deering communities that comprise the service area of the society.
The first recorded activity of the society was an Art Fair and sale
held during "Old Fashioned Days," July 11 and 12, 1977
Southeast Historical Project
In 1980, Columbia College and James Martin received a grant from the
Endowment for the Humanities to assemble a history of the Southeast
On April 3, 1981, a luncheon meeting was held to introduce the project
to the community. Later, classes were held to acquaint residents
with the processes involved in collecting and recording history.
Meetings of the East Side Historical Society were suspended while James
Fitzgibbons became deeply involved in the Columbia College work, making
presentations to civic groups to nurture their interest in local
and to encourage their active participation in the project. One
the major outcomes of the project was the videotape, "Wrapped in
Sadly, Fitzgibbons died June 5, 1983, before the work was
He never saw the documentation of his beloved Southeast Chicago.
Nonetheless, his dream had taken root, and the East Side Historical
was incorporated May 1, 1984.
Historical Museum Established
Arrangements initiated by Fitzgibbons with the Chicago Park District
completed by member John Hroma, who was Supervisor of Calumet Park at
time. The James P. Fitzgibbons Memorial Museum opened in the
Park Fieldhouse on Labor Day of 1985, with artifacts donated by
of the East Side, Hegewisch, South Chicago and South Deering.
Grave Site Restoration Completed
While management of the museum consumed much of the resources of the
there were other projects in which members showed dedication and
Chief among these were two major preservation/ restoration projects,
Andreas Von Zirngibl gravesite near 92nd Street and the Calumet River,
and the moving and restoration of the Illinois-Indiana State Boundary
One of the early settlers in the Southeast Chicago region, Andreas
von Zirngibl died in 1855 and was buried at the site, which later
prime industrial property that threatened the very existence of the
After decades of arduous legal wrangling, the site was secured, with
stipulation that there would be access to the grave, which was to be
by whoever controlled the surrounding property.
Not all the companies who owned the site adhered to the court
Thus, by the early 1980's, the grave had fallen into terribly bad
Members of the East Side Historical Society secured materials from
area industries and began the difficult task of restoring the
largely by the sweat of their own brows. Chief among those
members who labored steadily through some of the hottest summer weather
of recent memory were the Sell brothers, Richard and Robert, Frank
James Vodak and Henry Zirngibl, who also paid for the concrete.
On Sunday, July 26, 1987, the restored gravesite was rededicated in
a public ceremony that was covered by Chicago television station,
There are some interesting historical footnotes to that event.
First, the dedication ceremony brought together several of the
of von Zirngibl, now living in several states. Many of them had
known of one another, nor ever met, until that day. In some
they had not known of one another until the East Side Historical
began its restoration effort.
Oldest Monument Restored
The second project, the relocating of the Illinois-Indiana State
Line Marker, centered on an obelisk believed to be the oldest monument
in the region. The best available information puts the erection
the marker at about 1830, when the state boundary line was re-surveyed
by order of Congress.
The fifteen and one half foot high marker stood at the northern end
of the line that was the surveyed boundary between Illinois and
At the time of its creation, it stood near the shoreline of Lake
Time, the winds and human development gradually altered the environment
so that the monument stood several hundred yards from the lakeshore,
by the mainline tracks of major nineteenth and early twentieth century
railroads, including the New York Central and the Pennsylvania
Isolated as it was from easy human contact, the marker became, at best,
a fading memory for most people. Wind drove sand particles
it so that, eventually, it was sandblasted clean of all its original
Later, local vandals covered it with trashy graffiti and gouged parts
the surface away.
When it was discovered by members of the East Side Historical Society,
the marker was canted at an alarming angle to the vertical, and the
had been buried in several feet of sand and dirt. Little was
in the way of preservation, though, until Allen J. Benson, a member of
the East Side Chamber of Commerce, and an employee of Commonwealth
Company, influenced his company to sponsor the rehabilitation of the
under the joint auspices of the Illinois and Indiana State Historic
Agencies, with the active participation of the East Side, Hammond, and
Whiting-Robertsdale historical societies, and their respective chambers
After months of planning, contracting, re-surveying the line from the
old location of the marker to its new position in front of the
Edison State Line Generating Plant (Avenue G at what would be 106th
if the street ran through to the lake), the marker was disassembled,
provided with a new, seven foot thick concrete base, and adorned with
brass plates, which mark the four sides of the obelisk with the words
had originally been chiseled into the stone. The property on
the marker was rededicated was donated as an interstate park, which was
dedicated to the memory of Allen J. Benson, whose vision had insured
completion of the project despite his untimely death before that
Southeast Historical Project Comes Home
In 1989, James Martin left Columbia College. He donated extensive
photographic and text files to the East Side Historical Society.
Faced suddenly with an abundance of riches, the society struggled, with
only limited success, to organize all the new data that Martin had
Fortunately, the society had many excellent human resources in its
including some resourceful educators.
School Joins Forces with Museum
Member Rod Sellers, a history teacher at the East Side's Washington
School, joined with fellow instructor Kenneth O'Neill in developing a
"Museology" course for area high school students (primarily, but not
to, Washington) and, gaining financial support from the Chicago Board
Education, they initiated the program during the summer of 1990.
Museology Course Takes Root
As the program grew, a third instructor, social studies teacher Joann
Podkul, of South Chicago's James H. Bowen High School, joined the team
of teachers. A lifetime resident of the East Side she is also a
Member of the East Side Historical Society.
The three instructors were supported on class day by society member
Ora Coon, who also operated the museum during its public hours, in
with Historical Society President, Alex Savastano, Past President,
Stanley, and other Society members.
Later, a fourth instructor, Pam Pugh, joined the program. An
elementary teacher from the East Side’s Gallistel Language Academy, she
is also a lifetime resident of the East Side, and a member of the
Among the projects undertaken by the Museology Class during its one
afternoon per week meeting (three hours, from 3:00 to 6:00 P.M.) were
documenting, organizing and presenting of the material donated by James
Martin/Columbia College, as well as the interviewing and videotaping of
area residents and their recollections of area history as they lived
Society Changes Its Name
In March of 1995, the members of the East Side Historical Society voted
to change the name of the society to Southeast Historical Society, so
the organization’s name would more properly represent the communities
membership that comprise the group.
Tomorrow's "History" is Captured Today
The Southeast Historical Society continues its search for documents and
artifacts of the past, while making a concerted effort to record the
in a fashion that will be organized and retrievable for historians in
future. In an era when the present is almost as plastic as it was
when the region was first developed, such record keeping becomes
The Southeast Historical Society has two working locations. The
P. Fitzgibbons Historical Museum is located in the Calumet Park
at 98th Street and Avenue G. The operating hours of the museum
from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. each Thursday of the year, except Christmas and
New Year's days. The Museum is also open on the first Sunday of
month from 12:00 to 3:00 PM.
The society's business address is 9801 S. Avenue G, Chicago,
60617, in the Calumet PArk Field House The
office telephone is 773-721-7948 in the office of the East Side Chamber
This brochure -- and its February 2001, revision -- were
society member Kevin P. Murphy.