The Discovery of King Tut's Tomb

97 years ago today, on November 4th of 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter and his team finally unearthed a long sought-after Egyptian treasure: one solitary step, leading down to the tomb of King Tutankhamun.

Carter’s team had been searching the Valley of the Kings for nearly 15 years, much to the dismay of their primary financier — George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. He’d begrudgingly awarded the team just one last dig season to locate the tomb of the then-obscure boy king of the 18th dynasty, and Carter finally delivered. Following a hasty excavation of the staircase, the tomb was opened on November 26th.

At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold — everywhere the glint of gold.
— Howard Carter

Worldwide fascination with the discovery almost immediately took hold. And while “Egyptomania” was nothing new, having persisted throughout America and Europe for hundreds of years (particularly inspiring the death-obsessed 19th-century Victorians) — King Tut was the first pharaoh to benefit from the rise of modern mass-media. Jazz Age Chicagoans were inspired anew by the widespread coverage of the tomb’s many extravagant possessions, and Egyptian motifs began to appear across America in textiles, art, fashion, movies, literature, furnishings, and architecture.

Chicago has a number of remnants from its post-Tut obsession with “Nile Style.” The city was deep into an Art Deco building boom at the time, and many Egyptian symbols and golden details worked their way into our distinctive architecture. The Oriental Museum at the University of Chicago, founded in 1919, opened the “Chicago House” in Luxor, Egypt in 1924 to begin surveying and documenting ancient markings in the Valley of the Kings. Chicago’s cemeteries, meanwhile, remained popular spots to build Egyptian-style obelisks & tombs.

While we may never know just what it is about Ancient Egypt that remains perpetually fascinating to all of us in the modern day, at least we know the fascination is nothing new. So break out the hieroglyphics, ogle the colorized photos of Carter’s discovery, and head on down to the Field Museum to marvel at some mummies. Tis the season!



P.S. During your stay, take in some of Chicago’s “Egyptomania”-inspired offerings:
See: Reebie Storage (1922), Belle Shore Apartments (1929), Hotel Intercontinental (1929)
Eat: Sultan’s Market, Cairo Kebab
Drink: House of Hookah (BYOB)
Do: Oriental Museum, Field Museum, Graceland Cemetery

Patti Swanson is a Chicago historian, event planner, and a Room 13 industry member.

Like history? Check out “Chicago History 101: The Speakeasy Series” — hosted at Room 13 each November thru April. For details, dates, and topics, visit

Open House Chicago Weekend: 10/19-20!

It’s that time again! Open House Chicago returns for its ninth year of open doors across the city, and the Old Chicago Inn + Room 13 will be participating yet again, topping the list of must-see Lakeview destinations. On both Saturday and Sunday, October 19-20, the public is invited to visit the Inn from 10am-5pm and enjoy a cocktail at Room 13 — no reservation required.

Of course, we’re only one of more than 350 sites across the city. From historic churches and theatres, to iconic apartment buildings, unique neighborhood museums, and state-of-the-art architecture firms, the weekend offers an almost overwhelming amount of things to see. To help out, we’ve compiled a short list of sites you should prioritize, and few ones you can easily visit at a later date.

Must see:

  • Fine Arts Building — If the lure of manually operated elevators, a 5th-floor violin fabrication shop, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s former studio space isn’t enough, know that it’s a rare treat to be allowed into the Fine Arts Building’s beautiful Studebaker Theatre.

  • Columbia Yacht Club — Unless you’re already in with a a few members of the Club and can afford to drop a pretty penny for membership, this might be your only chance to climb aboard the MV Abegweit and check out some of its most unique features.

  • The Old Chicago Post Office — The Eisenhower Expressway runs right through this behemoth of a building built to handle the shipping demands of mail-order giants like Montgomery Ward and Sears. Closed since 1997, and currently in the midst of a massive renovation, who isn’t curious to see what the inside is like?

  • Illinois Athletic Club — Downtown college campuses are usually pretty tricky to gain access to sans university ID. SAIC’s unique ballroom space in the former Illinois Athletic Club building is worth a visit, having been lovingly restored by its historic preservation students. (And check the elevators for original IAC insignias!)

  • Edgewater Beach Apartments, Casa Bonita, and Park Castle — Three of the most stunning and iconic apartment buildings on Chicago’s north side will be open for the weekend, and you won’t want to miss seeing the extravagant 1920s pools hidden in each of the trio.

  • Carl Schurtz High School — In 5 years, Prairie architect Dwight Perkins designed over 40 public schools for Chicago… but Schurtz was most certainly his masterpiece. Definitely put this one on your list, as CPS schools aren’t usually publicly accessible to random strangers.

  • Starshaped Press — Jen Farrell is one of our city’s most talented artists, and her letterpress studio is a feast of antique metal type, old-school printing, and printed works celebrating the magic of Chicago. Her studio doesn’t have regular public hours, so be sure to drop by.

  • O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant — Although the MWRD hosts its own one-day open house each spring, the facilities aren’t open to the public very often. Water reclamation is an important ecological process, and surprisingly cool to see in action (algae and lasers, anyone?).

  • Holy Trinity Cathedral — This exquisite church is one of only two designed by architect Louis Sullivan, blending elements of his trademark style with the lush ornamentation of the Orthodox tradition. Tours are offered infrequently, making this site well worth your time.

Skip this time:

  • The Chicago Temple — Don’t get us wrong, the Sky Chapel is an amazing sight to see. Fortunately, the kind folks at First United Methodist Church offer free tours to the top with regularity: Tuesday through Saturday at 2pm, plus Sundays after service.

  • Baha’i Temple — The breathtaking Baha’i House of Worship and informational welcome center are open daily to the public for free. Trekking up to Wilmette to see it is a great way to spend a beautiful day, but not the most efficient way to spend your Open House weekend.

  • Northwestern Observatory — Visiting an observatory during the day?! Why bother, when the public is welcome to tour the facility (and peek through the telescope) every Friday night between 9 and 11pm. Astronomy students are always on hand to answer questions.

  • Second Presbyterian Church — The interior of the Second Presbyterian Church is a marvelous buffet of Arts & Crafts eye candy, including Tiffany windows, hand-painted murals, and luscious wood paneling. But, with docent-led tours four days a week, you can visit the space almost anytime.

  • The Plant — This super cool, slaughterhouse turned urban farm and waste-conscious food business facility offers its own free open house every Saturday from 12-2pm. With a plentiful array of workshops, events, tours, and presentations, you have more than just this weekend to check it out.

  • Garfield Park Conservatory — As a Chicago Park District facility, the Conservatory is free and open daily from
    9-5, with extended hours on Wednesdays. There are many ways to dive deeper into the plant life of the “landscape art under glass,” from free self-guided activities to guided group tours for just $10 per person.

Happy exploring!

Patti Swanson is a Chicago historian, event planner, and a Room 13 industry member.

Like history? Check out “Chicago History 101: The Speakeasy Series” — hosted at Room 13 each November thru April. For details, dates, and topics, visit

Leif Erikson Day

On September 2nd of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared October 9th the annual, national observance of Leif Erikson Day in the United States. But who was Leif Erikson? Why should we care? Well, while you don’t get Leif Erikson Day off of work the way you do with Columbus Day, the history buffs of the Old Chicago Inn think maybe that should be the case.

Columbus Day, of course, pays homage to the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who famously sailed the ocean blue back in 1492. Chicago was eager to celebrate his journey in the late 19th century, hosting the infamous World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 to honor the 400th anniversary of his voyage. Wait, 1893? Yes. Like many large-scale municipal projects, we opened the Fair just a bit behind schedule.

The problem with celebrating Columbus as the “discoverer” of the so-called New World is well-known. Setting aside the fact that the North and South American continents were already occupied by about 54 million people, Columbus wasn’t even the first European to land on American (er, Caribbean?) shores. That honor belongs to Nordic Viking explorer Leif Erikson — or quite possibly, a different sailor entirely.

What we can be sure of is this: Erikson and his Viking crew landed on the shores of modern-day Canada around 1000, establishing a camp on the island of Newfoundland. Unlike Columbus, the Vikings didn’t dominate, murder, and enslave the natives they encountered — for the most part, they minded their own business, collecting resources like timber and grapes, and exploring the area before returning with frequency to their Greenland home.

October 9th was chosen as Erikson’s honorary holiday to pay homage to the day in 1825 when the ship Restauration arrived in New York from Norway, kicking off a large-scale migration of Scandinavians to the United States. Chicago would become the new home of hundreds of thousands of Norwegians and Swedes throughout the late 19th century and well into the early 1900s.

So to Leif — we raise a glass. Join us this October 9th for a special cocktail honoring his legacy, and the legacy of the Nordic immigrants who helped build Chicago!

Vennlig hilsen,

P.S. During your stay, be sure to visit some of our iconic Scandinavian destinations:
See: The Swedish American Museum
Eat: Ann Sather’s, Svea, and Tre Kronor
Drink: Simon’s Tavern
Do: Andersonville Midsommarfest

Patti Swanson is a Chicago historian, event planner, and a Room 13 industry member.

Like history? Check out “Chicago History 101: The Speakeasy Series” — hosted at Room 13 each November thru April. For details, dates, and topics, visit