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The Legacy Walk (Chicago)  
 
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On October 11, 2012, the twenty-fifth anniversary of National Coming Out Day, Chicago's Legacy Walk was officially unveiled in a formal dedication ceremony. Amidst the fanfare of a glbtq veterans' military color guard, the flags of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the playing of Taps, the solid cast bronze plaque honoring Sgt. Leonard Matlovich was revealed from beneath the draping of a rainbow flag.

Matlovich's plaque was one of a series of honorary plaques unveiled simultaneously--each recognizing the contributions glbtq individuals have made to world history and culture.

Sponsor Message.

In all, eighteen plaques were mounted on the ten pairs of "Rainbow Pylons" that designate the half-mile stretch of Chicago's North Halsted Street as the nexus of the city's diverse glbtq community--the first, and still the world's only, architectural streetscape recognizing the contributions of glbtq people.

Affixing the plaques in a place of honor for public recognition is an unprecedented act to reclaim and celebrate glbtq contributions to world history and culture. These stories are set in bronze so that our lives, our heroes, and our legacy will never again be edited or redacted from history.

The Legacy Project is the brainchild of activist Victor Salvo who was inspired while witnessing the first unfolding of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights in 1987. Seeing the vastness of the Quilt, and the staggering loss it represented--and convinced that AIDS would eventually claim everyone--Salvo thought, "These people are gone now and we are here to remember them. But who will remember who came before us when we are gone?" The idea for an outdoor memorial recognizing glbtq contributions to history was born.

In 1999 a Special Commemorative Issue of TIME Magazine highlighting the "Top 100 People of the 20th Century in Science" included a story about British Mathematician and Nazi "Enigma Code" breaker Alan Turing. Salvo, who regarded himself a "seasoned gay activist" was shocked that Turing, a gay man whose contributions changed the course of world history, was unknown to him. A survivor of a suicide attempt when he was a teenager, Salvo was especially troubled to learn that Turing had been driven to take his own life--an incalculable loss to humanity.

Turing's importance to history, yet his oversight in most history books, turned Salvo's pipe-dream of an outdoor memorial into an obsession. He sought the advice of several long-time community activists who had worked to bring the pylons to North Halsted. His friend and mentor, Arthur Johnston, arranged a pivotal meeting with noted historian George Chauncey, whose advice and encouragement sent Salvo on a personal quest to learn as much as he could about glbtq contributions to history.

Having recognized that the pylons on North Halsted were the ideal stanchions to support the bronze plaque memorials he envisioned, Salvo went to work engineering the attachment method that would effectively turn the pylons into totem poles celebrating various glbtq heroes from history.

His work progressed steadily until it was announced that Chicago's LGBT Center on Halsted would break ground in 2003. Salvo was convinced by Johnston to delay implementing his plans for five years until the Center was completed. The Legacy Project memorial to glbtq historical figures was shelved.

In 2008 while working with writer and historian Owen Keehnen on a job sorting archival materials for donation to the Chicago History Museum, Salvo came across a copy of the TIME Magazine article on Alan Turing that had inspired his plans for the pylons. For the first time in five years, Salvo shared his idea; Keehnen encouraged him to resurrect the plan.

Salvo still had his original design drawings and blueprints for the plaque placement on the pylons. While researching the mechanics of starting a non-profit, Salvo began speaking to various members of Chicago's activist community, local historians and academics, the Northalsted Business Alliance (which is responsible for the pylons), and city officials--all in an effort to flesh-out the creation of what would be called THE LEGACY WALK.

Simultaneously, in an effort to illustrate the types of life-stories that might be part of an eventual Legacy Walk installation, Salvo and Keehnen began two years of work researching available sources to identify exemplary candidates for nomination. They crafted over 160 compact biographies encapsulating the accomplishments of notable individuals from over 30 nations, representing over 20 different fields and disciplines, from every walk of life and every facet of the glbtq communities.

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Top: A pylon on North Halsted Street at night.
Above: An attached Legacy Project plaque commemorating Jane Addams.

  
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