In praise of our national park

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The Pullman National Historical Park (PNHP) has become a focal point of the Pullman community. In the beginning, Pullman residents worried that the National Parks, as a government agency, would be too stodgy and hung up on rules and regulations. As community activists evolved from their grassroots beginnings to become professional organizers, they found that many government agencies put up the hurdles to jump, climb or claw their way over. But the passage of time has provided nothing but positive results from the PNHP, with the programs, presentations, exhibits and displays created by the park rangers adding immensely to Pullman’s status as a must-see Chicago site.

Way back in 1892, when the 1893 World’s Fair was being planned for Chicago, the town of Pullman was already known as a “must see” stop for anyone visiting Chicago. One of George Pullman’s enhancements in conjunction with the World’s Fair was the circular plaza known as Market Hall. Being an astute businessman, Mr. Pullman decided to give visitors to the World’s Fair the option of staying in his planned community. Today, the buildings in Market Hall have been converted into apartments, but back in the day, each window on the second floor of the building represented a room where a visitor could stay while visiting Chicago for the fair.

Much more recently, Pullman buildings served as the inspiration for one of the settings in feature-length cartoon “The Polar Express.” The director was Robert Zemeckis and his grandparents lived in Pullman. The story behind that inspiration can be found in the book “The Art of the Polar Express.”

Pullman National Historical Park came about rather quickly relative to other parks in the system. It all began in earnest when President Obama came to Pullman on Feb. 15, 2019, and signed the Pullman National Monument into being. The difference between a “monument” and a national park is its protected status.

A major reason for the rapid succession to national park status was the advance work done by the Historic Pullman Foundation. The offices were arranged so that The National Park Rangers were able to move into their own offices at the Pullman Visitor Center the day President Obama signed the legislation. That move jumpstarted the effort to turn the monument into a park.

The value of being a National Park cannot be overestimated. As a monument, the status could be changed, as was the case when President Trump reduced the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent. Eventually, that monument was restored to its original size. Also, the funding for a monument is dependent on philanthropy and fundraising, while a national park gets its funding through congress.

A historical national park extends beyond a single property. It must contains a mix of residences and other structures, which all must be restored to match their original appearance.

The National Park Service, as the main organization overseeing the PNHP’s status serves, as the umbrella for the following partner organizations: Historic Pullman Foundation, Pullman Community Organization, Bielenberg Historic Pullman House Foundation, and National A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum. Each of these partners has the goal of broadening the awareness of Pullman’s historical impact.

The Bielenberg Historic Pullman House Foundation is centered in the Pullman House Project Welcoming Center, 605 E. 111th St., the recently restored home of Pullman General Manager H.H. Sessions. The Center hosts exhibits, visitor orientation, community tours, and the Pullman Club Coffee Shop. It also serves as the starting point for guided tours into those houses in the community that are decorated in period furniture representing how Pullmanites originally lived.

Another partner, the Historic Pullman Foundation, is celebrating its 50th Anniversary. The HPF is a professionally staffed nonprofit that supports the PHNP, manages Pullman’s Exhibit Hall, does fundraising, and sponsors new programming, with changing exhibits and events. The HPF uses the Pullman Exhibit Hall to stage exhibit and showcase artifacts and memorabilia that allow the public to learn more about the history of Pullman.


It’s been a few years since the Spaghetti-Os have been able to get together but Bonny Sandona has kept in touch with many of its members. Bonny has been over the moon since she recently found a place for her club to get together. The Tuscan Gardens in suburban Glenwood has scheduled an event on the first Sunday of the month featuring a pizza-and-salad special or menu offerings. From 2 to 3 p.m. the Frank Rossi trio will provide entertainment with a mix of music that we’re all familiar with. The first event, which took place in February, was attended by more than 100 people. Consider this an opportunity to make up for the COVID break we were forced to take.

“Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” is available for anyone interested in sharing or revisiting their life in Roseland. Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or email:

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

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