clock menu more-arrow no yes
Ken Griffin | Provided photo

Filed under:

Someday Ken Griffin will be as famous as Daniel Cook

Names change. Deal with it. Besides, Ken Griffin is a perfect match for the donor-compromised former Museum of Science and Industry.

There were only a few protesters. Clumped together on the sidewalk outside Macy’s on State Street, holding signs that read, in essence, “Save Marshall Field’s!” Not the store — it had already been sold, lock, stock and Frango mints. But the name. They were protesting the new owners changing the store’s name to Macy’s.

And in that single moment, any sympathy I might have had for their cause drained away. I could practically feel it pooling at my feet. I’m as nostalgic as the next guy, if not more so. But with all the wrongs in the world, to wake up, lace up your sneakers, paint signs, go downtown and stand in the street to protest the subtraction of one sequin from the little nostalgic tapestry shimmering at the back of your mind, well, it’s almost obscene, right?

After that, I became an immediate adaptor of name changes. Guaranteed Rate Field? Sure! Willis Tower? You betcha! There is no John Hancock Building — it’s “875 North Michigan Avenue,” now, thank you very much.

So when the Museum of Science and Industry — make that the former Museum of Science and Industry — announced it will henceforth be known as the “Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry” thanks to an infusion of $125 million from the richest man in Illinois, I smiled and thought, “Great!”

Nor am I alone.

”Griffin is donating $125 MILLION dollars to the museum,” Gail Torkilsen commented after a story about the change. “Nice. No one should be upset. Thanks Mr. Griffin for your gift. I’m proud of you.”

True, a few dug in their heels.

”It will always be the Museum of Science and Industry!!!!!” objected Mary Weinstein. And my grandmother called her refrigerator an “icebox.” Nothing to be proud of.

Yes, there is sarcasm over what Griffin’s money is buying. ”Oooooh I can’t wait for Ken Griffin Museum of Science and Industry‘s new exhibit: why coal miners were better off without a union contract and how the existence of black lung is not real,” Kyle Hillman quipped.

That touches on the key point. It isn’t as if the MSI — whoops, the KCGMSI — isn’t already compromised, already nestled in the pocket of big money donors. Between nostalgic exhibits touting the faded industrial giants of the past — a coal mine, a sprawling toy train layout — and exhibits that are practically product placements for corporations, the river of donor money has ready dug a fairly deep trench in what should have been called “The Museum of INDUSTRY (and science).”

Go and visit a real science museum — in Toronto, in London — and you’ll realize that ours is more of a walk-in point-of-purchase display. Adding Griffin’s name is like slapping a fresh layer of rouge on the cheeks of a streetwalker after a long night — neither detracting from nor improving an entity whose allure is debatable.

Frankly, I’m surprised anyone would want to associate their name with the place. Then again, I am not rich. Being rich is more than having a lot of money. There is an implied validation — you’re rich, therefore you’re smart and good-looking and flawless. This isn’t true, but that truth eludes you. Or rather, you pay flunkies to keep that truth from you, to create this little shabby Potemkin Village around your precious self, a rolling fun house of mirrors reflecting you, but taller, younger, handsomer.

And deathless. Never forget that. Whether building subterranean, end-of-the-world compounds in Montana or freezing their heads cryogenically, awaiting the day medical science can revive them, rich people not only insist on being rich now. They want to be rich forever.

Thus, we can take comfort in reminding them that, despite slapping their names over everything, they still die and are forgotten, just like the rest of us. Even if it means being forgotten in plain sight.

What do I mean by forgotten in plain sight? Where is Chicago located? Cook County, right? Any idea who Cook was? I imagine most people live their entire lives here, see the name reproduced a million times and never wonder. Not once.

OK, OK, I’ll save you the effort: Daniel Pope Cook, abolitionist, newspaper publisher and Illinois’ first attorney general. He died at 33 in 1827, and his last name being on countless official documents doesn’t change that, doesn’t mean he is any less dead, or any less forgotten. Something for Ken Griffin to think about.

Columnists

State Rep. Delia Ramirez launches congressional bid in new heavily Hispanic district in Illinois

Politics

Rep. Jan Schakowsky endorses Alexi Giannoulias’ Democratic primary bid for Illinois Secretary of State

Columnists

It’s a family firearms Christmas

View all stories in Commentary