Of all the ideas and concepts people have come up with in recent years for preserving our history, The Chicago Legacy Walk stands out as the most unique. It’s the sort of thing one might expect in San Francisco rather than Chicago, but Chicago definitely has their pride on for this project.
Victor Salvo, the Executive Director for the project, which is co-sponsored by the City of Chicago (not to be construed as funded in any way by the city), exists on a ½ miles stretch of North Halsted Street in Downtown Chicago and to call it breathtaking from the beginning would be understating it’s visual appeal but the significance to LGBT History Month and National Coming Out Day (October 11th) and its impact on generations to come who wish to know their legacy is even more staggering.
I had the extreme pleasure to interview Victor Salvo over the telephone and got more details regarding the dedication of the Legacy Walk on October 11, 2012. Below, the designation, “SD” stands for me, Stephanie Donald, while the “VS” stands for Victor Salvo.
SD: (Looking at the walking map) What is the “NBA” Info Kiosk listed on the walking map?
VS: That stands for North Halsted Business Alliance. What those are, well, actually electronic touch panels that are affixed to three of the pylons that have information regarding the businesses on that street and the panels will actually be linked to our website and people can find out where individual (businesses) are located.
SD: Why was North Halsted Street selected for this project?
VS: Because it’s the hub of the LGBT community and the pylons were there. The city installed the pylons in 1998 to officially designate (North Halsted Street) the nexus of the LGBT community. So it was logical to put the installations there.
SD: How many possible kiosks or plaques could you have along this ½ mile trek?
VS: There are 17 kiosks along the trail with two (plaque placements) on each kiosk for a total of 34 possible plaques. The first two years are to install and favor the first 34 possible plaques along the walk. In 2012, we’ll do 18 and then in 2013, we’ll do 16.
SD: From the time of nominating someone to receive a plaque until you actually put up their memorial plaque?
VS: The plaques will only be installed and dedicated on National Coming Out Day (October 11th). We actually began our Capital Campaign a year ago on October 11th and we didn’t have our licensing agreement with the City of Chicago yet and until we had that agreement we couldn’t actually embark on our funding process and after we obtained that we started the vetting process for our core candidates around which we would have our first candidates for the plaques but we didn’t actually start the plaque sponsorship program until February of this year.
SD: The city is not funding these plaques so if anti-gay people or just plain vandals were to damage these plaques, it’s up to the foundation to replace them?
VS: Correct! They’re heavily insured. Also, there are cameras on every street corner and no parking in front of the kiosks so it would be almost impossible for someone to damage or take one of the plaques without being seen and they’re mounted so it isn’t easy to remove them. Each plaque weighs 100 lbs. (Laughs) Trying to lift one would be an eye-opening experience!
SD: What are they made out of?
VS: They’re cast bronze. They’re also sealed in acrylic so anyone trying to paint like graffiti on them we can easily clean off, including stickers and posters. The company that’s contracted to maintain them could tell you exactly what they’re protected by but they’re guaranteed to practically be indestructible.
SD: Where are you raising the money from? What percentage from business and what percentage from private donations?
VS: Pretty much all of the plaques are sponsored by business or private individuals or friends or groups of friends.
SD: Is North Halsted Street where Gay Pride will be held?
VS: Oh yeah and we also have something called North Halsted Street Market Day which is the largest market fair attended by about 800,000 people.
SD: 800,000 people! I have to laugh about that since where I live here in Florida in Brevard County that about 80% of the LGBT community is worried about losing their jobs and stays in the closet so they don’t attend Gay Pride. The City of Melbourne has outlawed a Pride Parade as “obscene” so they have a picnic in Wickham Park that amounts to a hundred or so people who get drunk, try to pick someone up and that’s about it!
VS: Yes, there are people here who don’t remember that there are places in the United States that are like that so we’re very fortunate here.
SD: Who nominated the first people to be immortalized on the plaques you’re about to unveil?
VS: The First plaques were mostly an outgrowth of research that was done over the years because we worked on it on the intellectual/capital side of it was four years. Some of them just bubbled to the surface in the beginnings of the project back in 2009. What occurred to me was that I really didn’t have a formalized business structure for all this even though I’ve been working on this for ten years. So I basically starting writing mini-biographies of these people and compiling them so I had something to give folks. So many of the people who are there now are there because they were part of the initial research process. Then other people started getting nominated once the website went up.
SD: I was wondering why you selected Oscar Wilde, a British gay celebrity, over Walt Whitman, an American, when all of your other honorees seem to have some direct American ties?
VS: Whitman was on the ballot but he just wasn’t selected by the committee. He (Whitman) probably will be in the 2013 vetting. We really didn’t know what the level of interest would be the first year. We had to know we had enough sponsors for the 36 spaces that we had. So Whitman was part of the first class of inductees but nobody chose to sponsor him.
The Official Legacy Walk Video
The Chicago Legacy Walk is definitely a concept that’s time has come. A vast majority of today’s younger LGBT people have no idea who most of these faces and names on these plaques are. The people who began this project no doubt are aware of this mass historical amnesia or they never would have embarked on this ambitious plan to begin with.
So besides a reason to visit Chicago for their fine accommodations, dining, music, culture and recreation, we now have a reason to take a walk through the heart of the LGBT business community on North Halsted Street, learn about our heritage and culture and visit those businesses that supported this exemplary project that shall shine as an example for other LGBT communities for perhaps centuries to come.
By Stephanie Donald
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