Chicago at the turn of the century through the eyes of Rudolph F. Michaelis | Sightseeing | Chicago Reader

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Chicago at the turn of the century through the eyes of Rudolph F. Michaelis

From 1900 to 1905, his photographs captured slices of everyday life.

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Crowds stroll along a promenade in Lincoln Park. - RUDOLPH F. MICHAELIS / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Rudolph F. Michaelis / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Crowds stroll along a promenade in Lincoln Park.

It’s a pity that Rudolph F. Michaelis never got his due as an artist during his time in Chicago. Born in Marion County, Missouri, in 1869 to German immigrants, Michaelis came to Chicago in the early 1890s. He worked for J.P. Sullivan & Co., a south-side interior design shop. In 1905, he relocated to Berkeley, California, where he set out as a self-employed house painter.

Grand Boulevard (now Martin Luther King Drive) on May 22, 1901 - RUDOLPH F. MICHAELIS / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Rudolph F. Michaelis / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Grand Boulevard (now Martin Luther King Drive) on May 22, 1901

Glass-plate photographs discovered in Michaelis’s attic in Berkeley nearly eight decades after his death show that Rudolph was not much of a painter. He photographed a few of his canvases, which included ho-hum scenes of the lakefront and an awkward composition of cats playing musical instruments. But his photographs of Chicago are absolutely beautiful. From roughly 1900 to 1905, Michaelis took pictures of peaceful city parks, burned-out apartment buildings, lonely streets, and bustling crowds.

Funeral procession for Sam Moy, “King of Chinatown,” in May 1902 - RUDOLPH F. MICHAELIS / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Rudolph F. Michaelis / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Funeral procession for Sam Moy, “King of Chinatown,” in May 1902
Funeral procession for Sam Moy, “King of Chinatown,” in May 1902 - RUDOLPH F. MICHAELIS / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Rudolph F. Michaelis / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Funeral procession for Sam Moy, “King of Chinatown,” in May 1902

While it’s too bad that Michaelis didn’t stick with photography, we are fortunate in that his collection was donated to the University of California-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. The Bancroft Library offered the Newberry Library the photographs Michaelis shot in the midwest.  v

Children gathered outside of the Chicago Orphan Asylum - RUDOLPH F. MICHAELIS / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Rudolph F. Michaelis / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Children gathered outside of the Chicago Orphan Asylum
Girls pose among the tulip beds at Washington Park Conservatory. - RUDOLPH F. MICHAELIS / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Rudolph F. Michaelis / COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Girls pose among the tulip beds at Washington Park Conservatory.

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