The Marquette monument

March 12, 2012

The statues stand at one of the corners of the Emerald Necklace, where Marshall Boulevard swings east into 24th. Three men of the 17th Century are sculpted in bronze--an Algonquin man, a Catholic priest and a French soldier.

Father Jacques Marquette is the man in the middle, and the monument is officially dedicated to him. Chicago also remembers the Jesuit with two streets, a major park, a public school, a Southwest Side neighborhood, a downtown office building and at onetime, a police district.

Marquette was born in France in 1637. He was ordained at 28 and came to French North America as a missionary. Most of his early work was in the lands that are now Ontario and Michigan.

In 1673 Marquette was part of an expedition sent to explore the Mississippi River. On the return trip he became friendly with the Illini tribe. Marquette was heading back toward Lake Michigan, so the Illini told him about a shortcut.

This was the Chicago portage. The expedition took the Illini's route and found out it worked fine. Just a short hop between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system--hey, this might be a good place for a city someday!

The Illini had asked Marquette to return, and tell them more about his religion. During the later part of 1674 he set out for their settlement near Starved Rock. The weather turned bad and Marquette came down with dysentery, so he spent the winter on the portage. This gives him the distinction of being Chicago's first European resident.

In the spring Marquette reached the Illini. But his health was getting worse, and he soon decided to return to the French settlements. He never made it. Jacques Marquette died at what is now Ludington, Mich. on May 18, 1675.

The Marquette Monument was designed by Hermon Atkins MacNeill and dedicated in 1926. Over 15,000 school children had signed a petition asking for a statue of the missionary-explorer. The French soldier is Louis Jolliet, who traveled with Marquette. The Algonquin is representative of the many friends Marquette made among the native peoples.

Nobody is sure exactly where Marquette lived on the Chicago portage. The traditional site is near 2635 S. Damen Avenue, and a marker was erected there in 1930.