Chicago Board of Trade Sculptures Mystery…Sort Of

By Jenn Harrman on April 24, 2014

TOURSDAILY

Ever hear of the curious disappearing act of two five-ton Greek goddess sculptures from the Chicago Board of Trade Building? These ladies adorned the entrance of the CBOT building that was demolished before the current art deco skyscraper was built. During demolition, the statues went missing and were rumored to have been destroyed. Then, almost fifty years later, they were found in the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, and now they stand in a little plaza next to the current Chicago Board of Trade. A plaque next to them says they were “thought lost forever.” How did they travel across town? Why did they go missing? And how did they end up back ? I decided to do some digging.

cbot sculptures plaza jackson street chicagoDuring the 1920s, many buildings in downtown Chicago had become archaic and thus met the wrecking ball. When this craggy building, designed by architect William W. Boyington of the Chicago Water Tower, was to be erased from the Chicago skyline, the newspaper media showed more interest in the continuation of business as usual than any nostalgia of the past. A temporary facility for the Chicago Board of Trade was ready in an already-built structure before the wrecking ball struck, to help make a seamless transition from demolition to the grand, new art deco skyscraper, designed by architects Holabird and Root. On the last day of the old Board of Trade, traders ended work promptly at 2pm to immediately march to the new location with a marching band playing the sad tune of “Taps,” aka “Day is Done.” With everyone so eager to keep business moving, who would stop to salvage any wreckage from the past? In fact most of the articles I found use that very word, “wrecked,” to describe the rubble of the 1885 building.

goddess sculpture cbot history

While the Greek goddesses didn’t receive any attention in the newspaper articles I consulted, one relic was indeed of great interest to be saved from the destruction. The workers tearing down the building made great care to save the cornerstone. Rumors said that the cornerstone of the Chicago Board of Trade contained gold. Workers scrambled through the rubble and down to the Chicago Board of Trade’s foundation. They wanted to be the first to uncover the potentially valuable container. One worker eventually found it, cracked open its strong box, only to find some old newspapers. The most valuable part was the copper used to bind the box to the cornerstone. No gold, and no mention of our Greek goddess sculptures among the reports of demolition.

Chicago Board of Trade sculpture jackson streetBut I found a clue in a Chicago Tribune article published in 1928, a year before the demolition. The article details that a man named Arthur W. Cutten had an affinity for some of the architectural relics from Boyington’s 1885 Board of Trade building. Cutten was an incredibly wealthy grain operator known as the “Corn King.” He reigned as one of the few men “associated with tremendous deals in grain” during the Chicago Board of Trade’s first forty years. The article reports that the original Board of Trade had stained glass windows which were salvaged and sold to our Corn King. He considered them for “not only their artistic value, but also as mementos of the old board.” It was here that the article mentioned in one sentence that “Mr. Cutten has also asked for the two large statues, representing Labor and Commerce, which stood above the Jackson Boulevard entrance.” Cutten got the statues and supposedly had them transported via wagon to adorn the land of his “Sunny Acres Farm” in Glen Ellyn.

So why does the plaque say the Greek sculptures were “lost forever” when there is documentation that Cutten got his hands on them?

chicago board of trade history plaque plazaTime passed. While under indictment for tax evasion, Cutten died. Though the federal government tried to get their money, Sunny Acres was the property of his widow. She was left with just about nothing, so she sold it to another big swindler in Chicago history –  William “Bill” Johnson. Johnson’s mother lived on the estate, while Johnson managed around 40 gambling halls in the city. He too got caught for tax evasion in the amount of $2,000,000, but got away with paying $250,000. The land changed hands again, until finally the DuPage Forest Preserve bought the land in 1978. By that time, decades had past since Cutten’s day and the statues had been long forgotten. They were discovered hidden behind some white pines, and partially buried in dirt.

After the discovery, the statues were moved to Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton. There they took center stage in a 1991 sculpture exhibit. In the early 2000s the Chicago Board of Trade got wind of their existence from a Forest Preserve newsletter. They then suggested the return of the sculptures. The return coincided with renovations of the Chicago Board of Trade building plaza on Jackson Street.

So the real mystery here is not the mystery of how the statues ended up in Glen Ellyn. The mystery of these sculptures is why their historic marker says they were ever a mystery at all!

— Jenn Harrman and Amanda Scotese