Artist unknown

Image of top half of the totem pole in Haskell Hall

Created c. 1948
Installed 1987

Paint on carved wood
Approx. 3 stories high (~29 feet)

Located at Haskell Hall
5836 S. Greenwood Ave.

Courtesy of the Museum of Science and Industry






At the booth shared by Burlington, Great Northern, and Northern Pacific Railroads at the 1948 Chicago Railroad Fair, amid the hustle and bustle of an extravaganza of American tourism, a totem pole stood out among the fifty acres of exhibits. Erected as a visual symbol of the Pacific Northwest to promote tourism to the Territory of Alaska and the continental Pacific Northwest, this pole was commissioned by the railroads in the era of the potlatch ban as a visual symbol of the diverse cultures of the region. After the fair, it was brought to the Museum of Science and Industry as part of a large gift by the fair's organizers that included a number of railcars and stagecoaches; while most of the gift remained on display as evidence of the supremacy of American industry and technology, the totem pole languished in the basement of the museum, collecting dust and grime for forty years. In the span of time the pole was unattended, a great deal of information was forgotten.

It is unclear exactly by whom or where the totem pole was carved, though we can make some educated guesses. The act of commissioning a totem pole also clouds our interpretation of this work; because it was not carved for any traditional use, many of the decorative conventions are eschewed in favor of matching public expectation of a totem pole with simple geometric forms and gaudy, artificial colors. However, this totem pole, now erected in the stairwell of Haskell Hall, the home of the Department of Anthropology, can be an important visual source for understanding an era of First Nations art production where the traditional avenues of inspiration were struggling under government oppression.


Written by Lauren Eames, BA/MA 2017



Hiering, Lisa J. “Two Northwest Coast Totem Poles at the Museum of Science and Industry.” BA thesis, University of Chicago, 1982.

Keithahn, Edward L. Monuments in Cedar. Seattle, Washington: Superior Publishing Company. 1963.

Sinnott, Terri L. Letter to Marshal Sahlins, 6 October 1986.

Wherry, Joseph H. The Totem Pole Indians. New York: Funk and Wagnalls/Wilfred Funk, 1964.