A Historical Surprise Right in Our Back Yard 

 

By Tina Jenkins Bell 
BAPA School Liaison 

Before either Beverly or Morgan Park was annexed as an official Chicago neighborhood, Morgan Park Academy, 2153 W. 111th St., was one of the first schools to offer military or classical education in the area, according to information found in the Morgan Park Academy (MPA) Archive and Museum, located in the Academy’s arts center. 

Over a decade ago, David Hibbs, former Head of MPA’s Lower School, and Dave Honor, an MPA alumni (class of 1967), began working on the MPA Archive and Museum as a result of discussions about MPA’s historical significance in the community, the city, and beyond.  

For example, beginning in 1892, by virtue of the charter of the University of Chicago then running it, the Academy became co-ed and fully integrated, though in 1900 females were dropped from admission.  

In 1893, the first secondary school basketball game in Illinois occurred at the Academy, only about a year after the game was invented.  From 1938 to 1951 the Academy Trustees simultaneously operated Morgan Park Junior College.  

During World War II, graduating cadets often went from receiving their diplomas to a nearby bus, which took them to boot camp. Honors says numerous MP Military School graduates, like former Arlington Park Racetrack owner Richard L. Duchossois, fought with Gen. George S. Patton. Duchossois served five European tours and commanded a tank destroyer battalion in Normandy. 

In 1873, the Mt. Vernon English, Classical and Military School opened in Morgan Park in new buildings funded by contributions, on land donated by the Blue Island Land & Building Company. Four years later, the school was renamed Morgan Park Military Academy. In 1892 the University of Chicago took over the school and ran it until dropping all connection in 1907, when concerned Morgan Park residents and alumni picked up the mantle and reorganized it.  It remained the Morgan Park Military Academy until 1958 when it was demilitarized and became Morgan Park Academy, again coeducational in 1959, and later integrated once more. 

Armed with the knowledge of MPA’s place in history, Hibbs and Honor began researching, collecting and assembling artifacts and school records that date back to the late 1800s. They found and displayed old dorm bunk beds, military and school uniforms, beanies, photos, awards, letter sweaters, old leather book satchels, articles, and costumes from plays. 

Honor, the Academy historian, said he really knew the impact of what they’d done when the sons of a former military cadet asked to tour the museum with their dad. “I was able to show them his permanent school records, and we even discovered a trophy with the guy’s name on it,” Honor said, adding that the man got emotional at the opportunity to walk down memory lane with his sons. 

Always on the search for MPA artifacts and paraphernalia, Honor would really like to locate one of the old charcoal black school blazers. He’s open to other finds and welcomes calls from people who can assist with their continued goal to enhance the museum’s displays. 

Marcia Thomas, Sharon Eichinger, and Linda Cuadros helped to build the database and file, and to archive, and assemble displays. 

MPA’s Archives and Museum can be open for a family, group, or individual tour. Contact Dave Honor, 630-251-4931, or MPA Associate Director of Admissions Allie Bowles, 312-757-5073 to schedule a visit. 

[Editor’s note:  In 2007 Morgan Park Academy published a history of the Academy by archivist and historian, Barry Kritzberg, covering inception to 1907 when the University of Chicago severed its connection to the school. This well-researched book may be out of print, but seems to still be available online. The title and ISBN number are “Morgan Park Academy – A History (Volume I) – The Academy on the Hill” ISBN 978 0 595 44055 9.] 

 

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