Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration: A Chicago Spotlight

Hidden behind the clean-lined and somewhat inconspicuous exterior of Andersonville’s Swedish American Museum lies one of Chicago’s best kid gems: the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration.

By now, my inner Swedophile has made herself known a few times on this blog, but it bears repeating that I’ve yet to come across something related to the Scandinavian country that I didn’t love. Even though we’re more than four thousand miles away from Stockholm, this counts as yet another one of those things.

Before I take you on my tour, I’d like to note something shameful. I actually only visited this beautiful children’s museum to do just that, and failed to tour the rest of the Swedish American Museum. One of these days, I’ll move beyond the lobby, the gift store, and the top floor to meander through the rest of the exhibits. I’m sure I’d love them, too.

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Having been on our Chicago bucket list for some time, Baby Bear and I were thrilled when a friend invited us to a group play date at the children’s museum. As a bonus, it was on one of the museum’s free days (the second Tuesday of each month, as noted below).

Upon entering, we were met by one of the friendliest museum employees I’ve yet to encounter. As we sat comfortably in the foyer chairs next to the ornate Viking ship (which  entranced the babe) and waited for others in our party, she happily provided us with information about the museum. She also asked how we all knew each other and commented on how she is still in touch with women from her own mom and baby group from several decades ago. By the time we finally went upstairs, I felt like we were buds. In my experience, you don’t get that kind of sincere customer service from many museums in the city.

Despite it being a free day, I was extremely pleasantly surprised to learn that the children’s museum wasn’t crowded in the least. At most, I saw only about a dozen people, including babies. Already I knew this was my kind of place.

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This brightly colored map greets you off the elevator. I tried to show BB where we visited, but he couldn’t have cared less. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I took my first look inside, my inner kid came to life and wanted to run from one thing to the next.

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The sign above says the museum is intended for children between 6 and 12 years of age, but I think it’s great for babies, too. I’d just suggest waiting until they can at least sit up on their own. 

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There’s a Swedish farmhouse! (Or stuga, according to the site.)

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I was tempted to wear one of the little smocks, but decided my 2016 clothes would have to suffice. Maybe when Baby Bear can wear one with me.

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This is one of the things I’m most excited for Baby Bear to grow into so we can explore more. The little house is equipped with things authentic to the time period, including the dining and bedroom areas you can see here, plus a kitchen full of  old-timey cookware.   

A farm!

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The entire museum has a homesteading feel to it. Here on the farm, kids can milk the wooden cow, gather firewood, pump for water….

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And gather pigs for the slaughterhouse apparently. But really, how was I not to feel instant camaraderie with this breastfeeding mama pig? With the exception of only having one baby attached to me, I’m in this position daily.

A ship!

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Baby Bear and friends loved to stand up against the little box seats and push the oars back and forth. They would have been terrible rowers, but anyone who would hire a crew of 11-month-olds has it coming.

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After he grew tired of rowing, Baby Bear (of course) found some stairs leading him up to the top of the ship. Hey, this apartment kid has to practice his stair climbing some time, doesn’t he?

A pioneer log cabin complete with a garden!

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The garden was especially fun because all of the veggies are made from cloth. Yet another reason why I think of this place as a pinnacle of homesteading; it’s full of wooden, metal, or cloth toys and details. Fun, educational, and less plastic waste!

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Now if only I could read that Swedish blessing (I assume?).

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This cabin reminded me of how grateful I am to have been born in this cushy era. Can you imagine winters in this house? 

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Wait a second, chickens don’t lay apples.

And, jumping ahead about a century, space!

You may be wondering why in the hell they would have a space exhibit. Well, it turns out Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon after Neil Armstrong, is Swedish American.

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Some Swedish equipment (I believe it was a camera) that was used in the moon landing.

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Finally, there’s Buzz! Those chairs were the really exciting part here, though. That red button set off a countdown. Once the timer ran out, the chairs vibrated and rumbled to simulate blast off. Baby Bear and friends were a little alarmed by the new sensation, but they handled it like pros. I’m not sure I’m prepared for him to become an astronaut!

Rest assured, there’s even more to this museum that I haven’t shown you, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun.

In addition to what I’ve highlighted here, and other fun things for kids to climb on and explore, there’s plenty of educational text to accompany each play experience. Children can leave the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration with a great understanding of what it was like for Swedish immigrants coming to America (and by extension, what life was like for many other kinds of immigrants of that era too).

I truly do think this is a great activity for any kid or parent who’s a kid at heart. Plus, after your visit you can go ahead and visit the Swedish Bakery down the street, or just look at the little Swedish horse on the corner.

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Plan Your Visit

Location and hours

The Swedish American Museum is located at 5211 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640. The Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration has different hours than the rest of the museum. They are as follows:

  • Monday to Thursday: 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The museum is closed on several holidays, so make sure to check online before visiting on those days. For more information, click here.

Cost

The museum offers free admission on the second Tuesday of every month. 

Otherwise, admission for non-members is as follows:

  • Adults: $4
  • Children, students, and seniors: $3
    • Children under the age of one are free
  • Families: $10

Parking and transportation

The museum has a free parking lot located on the northeast corner of Ashland and Foster. From there, it’s a very short walk to the museum. Otherwise, Andersonville has plenty of paid street parking.

The nearest CTA ‘L’ stop is the Berwyn Red Line, which is about a half-mile walk away. As always, there are bus options available to you as well. I encourage you to map your trip using Google Maps if you need help.

Stroller or carrier?

With a decently spacious elevator and no shortage of room to park, bringing my stroller was a breeze. Especially during this heat, it’s nice to not have to wear my little furnace.

Final Word

I plan to make several trips back to the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration. If Baby Brown Bear enjoyed it as much as he did before he could even walk, he’ll absolutely love it as he continues to grow.

With so many engaging activities for kids of all ages, a helpful and accomodating staff, and a not-crowded atmosphere, this has quickly become one of my favorite Chicago spots.

Garfield Park Conservatory: A Chicago Spotlight

And now, for a lighter topic, let’s talk about one of my absolute favorite places to visit in Chicago, the Garfield Park Conservatory. First opened to the public in 1908, the Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the oldest and largest greenhouse conservatories in the U.S. (and probably the world!).

Its gorgeous, must-see campus includes two acres of public greenhouse space and 10 acres of outdoor gardens. Plus, it is free. Even if it were not, I would gladly pay 100 times over because it is so spectacular. Stepping into the warm, earthy air of the Conservatory truly makes you feel like you’ve escaped to another land.

Let me show you what I mean.

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Palm House

The largest room in the Conservatory, the Palm House is home to more than 70 palms (though it feels like hundreds) in addition to many other types of plants. As you may expect, it is very tropical (read: warm). Wear layers if it’s cold outside because you will be a little toasty in your winter attire.

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Fern Room

Though it’s hard to choose, this is probably my favorite room in the Conservatory. Jens Jensen, the Conservatory’s designer, designed this room to allow visitors to see what Illinois looked like millions of years ago. In my humble opinion, prehistoric Chicago was stunning. I could spend hours in here (if it were not quite so warm, that is).

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Horticulture Hall

A nice resting spot during the day, this room apparently turns into quite the event space at night. Right now it features a chandelier that seems to be channeling Disney’s EPCOT. The futuristic Luftwerk design “is a kinetic chandelier of water and light inspired by the circular geometry of the Flower of Life–the universal symbol of creation. With each illuminated droplet, circular trays catch the water below, magnifying ripple shadows across the floor of the Conservatory’s Horticulture Hall.” With tranquil music to accompany this design, it’s very peaceful.

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Sugar from the Sun

This room guides visitors along four botanical environments–water, air, sun, and sugar–to help them learn how plants grow and are sustained. An educational room, it’s great for learners of all ages.

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Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden

This room is the most interactive, which is fitting because it is designed as a space for children. In addition to beautiful plants and ponds, a terrace overlooking the room features a huge slide (pictured below). I expect to Baby Brown Bear will be burning a lot of energy here in the not-too-distant future. For now, there is a little baby area with mats and informative and stimulating seedling artwork.

This room’s bonus is the Golden Snitch display (also pictured below) hanging from the ceiling. Upon further investigation, I discovered that they are actually rosemary and sage-filled “fireflies” as a nod to the Pagan ritual for the Winter Solstice. But a girl can dream.

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Desert House

This room is home to several cacti and succulents. During one recent visit, I learned that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti are succulents that are usually covered with spines instead of leaves. The more you know.

During my first visit, this room was actually undergoing some kind of construction. When I returned, I casually asked someone what they had done. He said, “There was a rampant snake problem they had to deal with.” He must have seen the absolute horror on my face (remember, I am extremely afraid of snakes), because he quickly added, “No, I’m totally kidding. They were just updating the room.” I still kept a close eye out for any slithering movements.

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Aroid House

This is a room I typically don’t spend much time in, but it’s a shame because it has a lot to offer. “Aroid” apparently “refers to a specific flower structure that is common to many houseplants,” so there are a lot of things that everyday gardeners may recognize here. My favorite features are the glass sculptures created by Dale Chihuly (as seen below). The “Persian Lily Pads” are a bright pop of color against an already vibrant green background.

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Show House

Before you enter the Show House, I encourage you to do a little drum roll. This room is breathtaking. Stop to soak up the dazzling array of colors before you. Breathe in the intoxicating fragrances around you. It’s honestly hard to digest so much beauty. Logistically, it’s also a good room for a break because it’s cooler than the rest.

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Outdoor Gardens

City Garden

This outdoor garden is supposed to be both an homage to urban gardens in the structure and materials used, as well as a challenge to what we expect an urban garden to be. As you can see below, it feels like an extension of the dreamland you enter when you go to the Conservatory. It’s hard to believe you’re still in Chicago.

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Monet Garden

This space, which is also quite beautiful, is inspired by Monet’s gardens in Giverney, France. From all my visits, it seems to be a less explored part of the Conservatory, so make sure you actually take the time to find it.

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Plan Your Visit

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Location and hours

The Garfield Park Conservatory is located at 300 N. Central Park Avenue, Chicago, IL 60624. It is open 365 days a year from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when it stays open until 8:00 p.m.

Parking and transportation

It is easily accessible by car and even has a free parking lot next to the main entrance. I’ve never had a problem finding a spot, though I’ve never visited on a weekend. It’s also right next to the Conservatory-Central Park Drive Green Line ‘L’ stop.

Food and drink

I plan to bring a packed lunch and picnic in the gardens this summer, but in case you forget food, there’s also a gift shop that sells snacks and beverages.

Stroller or carrier?

While most of the Conservatory is handicap and stroller-friendly, the Fern Room does not have a ramp to my knowledge. Therefore I’d suggest either wearing baby or packing your carrier in your stroller so you can explore to the fullest.

Final Word

What are you waiting for? Seriously. If you have lived here all your life, you need to visit. If you only have one hour to spare, you need to visit. Stop reading this and go!