Event—Public Programming

Chicago's Only Castle: The History of Givins' Irish Castle and Its Keepers


Listen to an audio recording of this program.

Chicago’s Only Castle: The History of Givins’ Irish Castle and its Keepers regales its reader with the history of a treasure buried on Chicago's far Southwest Side of which few people beyond the neighborhood seem to be aware.

The compelling stories of the five keepers of the Castle unfold against the backdrop of, and directly connect to, Chicago’s rich history, including the Great Chicago Fire, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the cable-car era, the dawn of the automobile, and the Century of Progress International Exposition of 1933-34.

The inspiration behind the building, and its first occupant, was Robert Cartwright Givins, a Renaissance man of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Givins was a well-known real estate developer active across the Chicago area, a popular novelist of his day, a vocal citizens’ advocate, and a globetrotter whose travel reviews were published in the Chicago Evening Post. He was at one time announced in local papers as a candidate for mayor of Chicago.

In addition to Givins, Julia Thayer of the Chicago Female College, the Burdett family, the Siemens family, and Beverly Unitarian Church have been “keepers” of the Castle, and their dynamic stories are told in the book. Thayer was a poet and president of the Chicago Female College, a finishing school for girls, that was housed in the Castle for a time, J. B. Burdett, was an inventor and an early automobilist. With his wife, Jessie, Burdett won one of the earliest automobile races in Chicago, the 40-mile journey to Joliet held in 1901. Miroslaw Siemens, a prominent Chicago physician of Ukrainian descent, was a founder of the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago and a benefactor of St. Nicholas Catholic Cathedral when it first opened as a church. He was the leader of the group that sponsored the Ukrainian National Pavilion at Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair held in 1933-34. Beverly Unitarian Church, the last Castle-keeper, has a long history beginning in the Englewood neighborhood supporting equal rights, justice for all, seeking truth, and helping the less fortunate.

After the presentation, Magidson will sign copies of his book, which will be available for purchase. The proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to The Castle Building Fund to help rescue, preserve, and maintain the landmark building.

Errol Magidson is an adjunct professor of psychology at Saint Xavier University and former professor for 33 years at the City Colleges of Chicago, where he was named Distinguished Professor in 2002. Magidson has spent more than 3,000 hours on Chicago's Only Castle (edited by Linda Lamberty, Historian, Ridge Historical Society) and received an arts grant from Chicago philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus for the production of an accompanying documentary. Magidson was interviewed about the film project on "WTTW's "Chicago Tonight," and on WGN-TV's “After Hours with Rick Kogan."

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