WBEZ Chicago: What’s That Building? Cardinal Meyer Center

“It’s easy to miss a building on the southeast corner that has a significant historical distinction: The money to build it came in part from the sale of Abraham Lincoln’s original, handwritten version of the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Now an office building owned by the Catholic Archdiocese and called the Cardinal Meyer Center, the building has several additions to the original 1864 structure, which was a hospital and rest home for Civil War soldiers. That part is on the northeast corner of the blocklong building, the four-story part you see first if crossing the pedestrian/bike bridge from the east. The T-shaped part there is four stories high, its arched windows hooded and its roof supported by carved brackets.

“This was the Soldiers’ Home, designed by William W. Boyington, who also did the Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station, the Joliet Prison, the old Illinois State Capitol, the Iowa Governor’s mansion and many other noteworthy buildings. Funds to build the Soldiers’ Home were raised by the Great Northwest Sanitary Fair in 1863. At the time, “sanitary commissions” were something like the Red Cross — civilian volunteer groups providing health care and other support to Civil War soldiers.

“In Chicago, the sanitary fair was organized by two women, Mary Livermore and Jane Hoge. The two women met while taking care of Union soldiers in 1861 at Camp Douglas, which was adjacent to this site and later became a POW camp for Confederate soldiers. Livermore and Hoge visited military hospitals in southern Illinois and Kentucky, and in 1863 launched the idea of a sanitary fair to raise $25,000 to build a sanitary home for returning soldiers.

“They had an audacious idea. On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, in which he declared all enslaved people in the Confederate states ‘are and henceforward shall be free.’

“Ten months later, Mary Livermore wrote to Lincoln to ask for a donation to the fair. ‘The most acceptable donation you could possibly make,’ she wrote, ‘would be the original manuscript of the proclamation of emancipation.’ Rep. Isaac Arnold, a Chicago congressman and one of Lincoln’s strongest supporters in Congress, seconded the idea.

“Lincoln agreed and sent his handwritten copy of this already-historic document. In the letter he sent along with the document, Lincoln wrote, ‘I had some desire to retain the paper, but if it shall contribute to the relief or comfort of the soldiers, that will be better.'” (Rodkin, WBEZ Chicago, 9/1/22)

Head the full story at WBEZ Chicago

What’s That Building? Cardinal Meyer Center; The site used to be a hospital for Civil War soldiers and was funded partly by the sale of the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, Dennis Rodkin, WBEZ Chicago, 9/1/22


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