Last Updated on October 8, 2023

Growing up in the Midwest, the Christmas season always brought with it joy, excitement and anticipation. Given that we didn’t have the myriad of department stores now available to holiday shoppers, it was an absolute treat any time we could visit our department stores as kids when they were decked out for the Christmas season.

Even when they were closed for the day or on Sundays (as they always were), my siblings and I could stroll past the storefront windows, “oohing,” “aahing” and adding that newest toy or outfit to our “Santa wish list.”

With this in mind, I was thrilled to hear that Chicago’s Elmhurst History Museum, located on 120 East Park Avenue, opened its latest special exhibition, “Lost Chicagoland Department Stores,” on October 6, 2023.

Honoring the heyday of Chicago area department stores, such as Marshall Field & Co., Carson Pirie Scott, and more, the new exhibition aims to take guests back in time to learn about the eclectic history of these iconic retailers – just in time for the holiday season.

To produce “Lost Chicagoland Department Stores,” the Elmhurst History Museum collaborated with historian and author of “Remembering Marshall Field’s” and “Lost Chicago Department Stores,” Leslie Goddard.

Through artifacts, images, video, memorabilia, and interactive elements, the exhibit explores the evolution of the retail industry and brick-and-mortar stores beginning in the late 1800s and shares fascinating stories and items from popular city and suburban department stores of the past. Key features of the exhibit include:

  • Animatronic characters from Marshall Field & Co.’s 2004 Snow White & the Fairest of Them All holiday windows
  • Fashion displays from Marshall Field & Co., Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Carson Pirie Scott
  • Special holiday items from Chicagoland department stores including Uncle Mistletoe, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, annual branded gifts, and more
  • Interactive displays, from a vintage hat try-on station to a video interview with Marshall Field V
  • A look inside Elmhurst’s own department stores, including Ollswang’s, Ruby’s, and The Elm

“We are thrilled to share the history of Chicagoland department stores and to bring a bit of holiday magic to our visitors this year,” Sarah Cox, Elmhurst History Museum Curator of Exhibits, said. “Everyone has their own story of visiting a department store, so we hope for the ‘Lost Chicagoland Department Stores’ exhibit to prompt fond memories, such as dressing up for lunch in Marshall Field & Co.’s Walnut Room or picking out Christmas gifts from the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs – but also to remind visitors of the importance of shopping small and shopping local when possible.”

Walnut Room Christmas Tree at Marshall Field & Co. 1945.
Walnut Room Christmas Tree at Marshall Field & Co. 1945. Photo courtesy of Marshall Field & Co.

Special Programs of the Museum

Museum guests may also take advantage of special programs inspired by the exhibit through January 2024, from lectures to holiday events for the entire family. These events include:

Holiday Gift Wrapping Workshop, November 18

Led by Hannah Sundwall, owner and founder of Gift Wrap Boss, participants will learn fundamental professional techniques including seamless wrapping, bow making, and tips on how to wrap oddly shaped presents.

Admission is $10.

Sip Local with Brewpoint Coffee, December 2

In partnership with Brewpoint Coffee, the EHM will present holiday-themed Americana music performed by Old Town School of Folk Music Musicians Anna Jacobson and Jonas Friddle, “Behind the Scenes: Marshall Field’s and Christmas,” a short lecture from former Director of Windows and Marketing Events for Marshall Field’s and Macy’s, Amy Meadows, and treat the first 50 patrons to a free specialty coffee!

Macy’s on State: The Legacy of Marshall Field’s Tour, December 5

Attendees are invited to take a step back in time with a behind-the-scenes tour of Macy’s on State Street, the former home of Marshall Field & Co. Guests will enjoy a one-hour tour of Macy’s with an official Chicago Architecture Center docent who will trace the history of the building as a renowned retail establishment and explore famous locations, including the century-old great clocks, the Tiffany vaulted ceiling, and the Walnut Room. Transportation to Macy’s from the EHM is included.

“Lost Chicagoland Department Stores” will be on display through January 28, 2024.

The Elmhurst History Museum is open to all ages and admission is free.

The museum is open from 1 – 5 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Friday, Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and closed on Mondays. For additional information on exhibits or programs, please