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Grayslake North Students Explore Hubbard, Iroquois Theatre Fire at History Fair

About 200 students participated in the History Fair this week, with several moving on to the regional competition.

Growing up, Karolina Ptasinski found herself immersed in the Polish culture.

With her entire family being from Poland and her mother teaching at a Polish school, Ptasinski learned the language and participated in Chicago's annual parade dedicated to the Polish culture.

So when it was time for Ptasinski to select a topic for Grayslake North High School's third annual History Fair, it was a no-brainer for her to choose a topic to honor her heritage. She decided to research the Polska Konstytucja, or the Polish Constitution.

Ptasinski project is one of several from Grayslake North that qualified for the Chicago Metro History Fair Regional Competition, slated for March 2 at Niles North High School.

About 200 juniors in Grayslake North's U.S. History and American Studies classes participated in this week's History Fair, which was the culmination of a research project that started in September.

"We're really proud of the kids," said teacher Emily Weiss.

'The Invisible Hero'

Sam Schaefer, Prav Bains and Emily Smith won the Principal's Award for their project that explored a lesser-known historical figure in Chicago, Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard. And they presented their project with flair. Rather than using a traditional display board, their project was displayed in a handmade, 6-foot-tall canoe that included a small, hand-carved oar with the name of their project on it.

When it comes to Chicago history, most people have heard the big names. French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet reached the area known as Chicago by canoe and "found potential in the marshland," said Schaefer. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the city's first non-Native American settler, started the first trading post. Hubbard, however, seems to be overshadowed, Bains said.

Hubbard, she said, brought in the fur-trading business, opened the city's first meat-packing plant and helped train Civil War soldiers.

"He is invisible today," said Bains. "When it comes to Hubbard, people are clueless."

'The Titanic of the Theater'

Jenni Morgan said it seems many people are also unaware of the history of a large theater fire that occurred in Chicago.

The Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903 killed nearly 600 people, she said, including women and children.

"It was such a devastating fire, but people haven't heard about it," said Morgan. "It was the Titanic of the theater."

Morgan became interested in researching the fire after her mom read a book about the incident. A stage light sparked and a curtain caught on fire. Because there had been a rush to open the theater, it lacked some key safety features, including fire vents and sprinklers, Morgan said. Additionally, when people tried to leave the theater, some doors wouldn't open because they were designed to only open inward, and there were no lighted exit signs above the doors.

A number of changes occurred as a result of the fire, including doors that open outwards and panic bars on doors.

'Polska Konstytucja'

Much like Hubbard and the Iroquois Theatre fire, Ptasinski researched a topic that she thinks many people are unfamiliar with. She initially started looking into the Polish National Alliance, or PNA, which was founded in the 1800s to support Polish immigrants.

Ptasinski used to attend PNA camps and always saw the organization as mainly a social group.

"But they really do a lot for the Polish community," she said, including offering insurance coverage.

The organization also founded the parade that's held on May 3 each year. Ptasinski has participated in the parade many times, and her sister has competed in the parade pageant, but Ptasinski didn't know the history behind it. The parade honors the Polish Constitution, which was signed on May 3.

She enjoyed seeing "how it all connects."

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