TRAVEL FEATURE: TO GO BOX posted after main bar


The upscale retailers along North Michigan Avenue may want an arm and a leg for their merchandise, but at least freedom is free – through December, anyway.
Visitors can find a respite from the holiday crush at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, a multi-media exploration of the First Amendment that is located at the base of the Chicago Tribune tower. Directors have waived the nominal $5 admission fee through the rest of the year.
With its interactive video kiosks and simple explanations, the 10,000-square-foot museum is geared toward middle- and high-school students. But adults may also enjoy the high-tech refresher course on the five rights central to the First Amendment -- freedom of religion, speech and the press and the ability to assemble and petition the government.
“It takes an educated populace and an active populace to be vigilant about those freedoms because they are hard-fought, hard-won freedoms that are very fragile,” said Nathan Richie, director of programs and exhibits. “They can be taken away without us really paying attention.”

The Freedom Museum, supported by the McCormick Tribune Foundation, opened in April 2006 along the Magnificent Mile. Perhaps because of its high-profile location, the site has generated respectable foot traffic of about 50,000 people a year, including school groups.
The main exhibit hall is dominated by a stainless steel sculpture entitled “12151791,” which signifies the Dec. 15, 1791 ratification of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The cascading metal pages that comprise the artwork are etched with the thoughts of regular people about freedom.
Displays include computerized biographies of the Founding Fathers, a short video about the “Marketplace of Ideas” and an audio juke box of popular songs that once fell afoul of censors. Historical artifacts help illustrate some of the eras that are discussed.
As visitors wend their way through the museum, a central point emerges: America’s tradition of personal liberties has been inconsistent, given the nation’s history of slavery, persecution of Native Americans and initial discrimination against women voters. One display notes that President Abraham Lincoln muzzled reporters during the Civil War.
The Freedom Museum also emphasizes that personal freedoms are still being defined to this day, sometimes by the courts. An example is the divisive constitutional issue of abortion. Richie said the Freedom Museum also plans to highlight the ongoing debate over security versus privacy in the post-Sept. 11 world.
“Our history and the history of freedom are really made of multiple ongoing struggles for freedom,” he said. 
A temporary warts-and-all exhibit on presidential elections runs until Nov. 9, 2008. It explains some of the strategies that candidates must employ to raise campaign funds and to define their image – or the image of their opponent. One section plays some of the more infamous attack ads of the last 40 years.
Kevin and Ryan Althoff, on a visit to Chicago from High Point, N.C., walked by the Freedom Museum a couple of times before deciding to enter. They said they were impressed with how the exhibits communicate the complex topic of personal rights.
“I think (people) think about them, but we’re not as educated as we should be,” Kevin Althoff said.
Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or .


The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, 445 N. Michigan Ave., is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays).  Admission charges are waived through the month of December. For more information, go to www.FreedomMuseum.US .