Bubbly Creek: The infamous Chicago waterway adds another moment, flooding the Chicago Maritime Museum

Bubbly Creek flooded the Chicago Maritime Museum, impacting artifact storage the most.

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The foot of flooding by sewage/storm water from Bubbly Creek in the Chicago Maritime Museum is most problematic in the archives and storage area. Credit: Dylan Hoffmann, Chicago Maritime Museum curator

The foot of flooding by sewage/storm water from Bubbly Creek in the Chicago Maritime Museum is most problematic in the archives and storage area.

Credit: Dylan Hoffmann, Chicago Maritime Museum curator

The Chicago Maritime Museum made quite a splash with its own footnote to waterways history.

Bubbly Creek flooded the museum, which sits on the river floor of the Bridgeport Art Center, with about a foot of sewage/runoff Sunday night/Monday morning.

The displays, most of which were elevated, did not take much damage. Of more concern are the storage of artifacts and offices.

“Problem is, it is sewage and not rainwater,” William Derrah pointed out. “I am mostly worried about the artifacts.”

The museum documents the maritime history around Chicago and includes the Ralph and Rita Frese Canoe Collection. The size of the Frese collection saved some of it from damage. Derrah is still housing some of it in his basement.

Derrah, who is on the operating board and is one of the historians and artifact people, is the point person on incorporating Ralph Frese’s archives into the museum’s catalog. Derrah was 16 when he first met the late Frese, a Hall of Fame canoe-maker and watercraft collector/historian.

The foot of flooding by sewage/storm water from Bubbly Creek in the Chicago Maritime Museum is most problematic in the archives and storage area. Credit: Dylan Hoffmann, Chicago Maritime Museum curator

The foot of flooding by sewage/storm water from Bubbly Creek in the Chicago Maritime Museum is most problematic in the archives and storage area.

Credit: Dylan Hoffmann, Chicago Maritime Museum curator

“We are the museum about the history of the waterways, and we just suffered for it,” Derrah said.

One of the coolest parts of the museum is the back deck on Bubbly Creek. Part of the museum’s appeal comes from hosting things such as diving meetings, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant workshops and “Third Friday” presentations.

The Bridgeport Art Center is on the north side of 35th, between Bubbly Creek and Racine. The building is a piece of Chicago history, most famously housing the Spiegel catalog at one point. The museum, designed by renowned architect Dirk Lohan, fits in perfectly, with its layers of artistic offerings in its current life.

“The problem is, Bubbly Creek is the city’s pressure release,” Derrah said.

The Racine Avenue Pumping Station, near Pershing Road, normally sends sewage to the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant. In heavy rain, the deep tunnel takes on extra water and, in extreme instances, such as Sunday night, the locks are opened. The high lake levels might have lessened the impact of opening the locks and contributed to the flooding from Bubbly Creek and the Chicago River.

Bubbly Creek as it looked in more idyllic times in a file photo from the spring of 2016 from the back of the Chicago Maritime Museum. Credit: Dale Bowman

Bubbly Creek as it looked in more idyllic times in a file photo from the back of the Chicago Maritime Museum. Credit: Dale Bowman

Dale Bowman

“Normally, Bubbly Creek has no flow, then it suddenly starts flowing like a river [in such events],” Derrah said. “A couple of times, we watched it coming up close to the door.”

This time, it came in.

The museum was closed during the pandemic, and Derrah said: ‘‘We had begun discussions on how we would open up. That is all on hold until remediation.’’

Many questions remain about what insurance will cover in damage and remediation. Decontamination will be needed. Perhaps freeze-drying will be used to save some artifacts.

To support the museum and for more information, go to chicagomaritimemuseum.org.

A file photo of the exhibit space of the Chicago Maritime Museum. Credit: Dale Bowman

A file photo of the exhibit space of the Chicago Maritime Museum.

Dale Bowman

Stray cast

If only we stopped weighing fish, we could have more 3-pound yellow perch and 8-pound smallmouth bass.

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