Chicago Reader: Chicago at the turn of the century through the eyes of Rudolph F. Michaelis


Funeral procession for Sam Moy, “King of Chinatown,” in May 1902. Photo Credit: Rudolph F. Michaelis / Newberry Library

“It’s a pity that Rudolph F. Michaelis never got his due as an artist during his time in Chicago. Born in Marion County, Missouri, in 1869 to German immigrants, Michaelis came to Chicago in the early 1890s. He worked for J.P. Sullivan & Co., a south-side interior design shop. In 1905, he relocated to Berkeley, California, where he set out as a self-employed house painter.

“Glass-plate photographs discovered in Michaelis’s attic in Berkeley nearly eight decades after his death show that Rudolph was not much of a painter. He photographed a few of his canvases, which included ho-hum scenes of the lakefront and an awkward composition of cats playing musical instruments. But his photographs of Chicago are absolutely beautiful. From roughly 1900 to 1905, Michaelis took pictures of peaceful city parks, burned-out apartment buildings, lonely streets, and bustling crowds.

“While it’s too bad that Michaelis didn’t stick with photography, we are fortunate in that his collection was donated to the University of California-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. The Bancroft Library offered the Newberry Library the photographs Michaelis shot in the midwest.” (Nichols, 8/5/20)


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