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Egyptmania: A Festivity for the Pharaohs Roundup

Illinois Obscura Society was created in partnership with Enjoy IllinoisSign up to find out more about the back room tours, unusual adventures, and incredible parties that Atlas Obscura will be putting on in Chicago and greater Illinois. 

All photography by Patricia and Michael Wilson

On the last day of July, 2015, The Illinois Obscura Society hosted an event at the famed home of the (fictional) Indiana Jones, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago in Illinois. This institution is devoted to the serious research of Middle Eastern artifacts, but for one night, they let us invade their halls in elaborate 1920s costumes, complete with custom hooch, gypsy jazz, and even some belly dancers.

The museum is full of artifacts from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Assyria and other places. Some were created 9,000 years ago. All of them are important to our understanding of ancient cultures, and we were privileged to be in their presence. 

This didn’t stop us from having fun. Folks came in all manner of costume, from 1920s flappers to Moroccan merchants to barbershop dandies. And yes, Indiana Jones was there in many different forms. 

Swing Gitan accompanied the evening in “Gypsy Jazz” style. The instrument shown here is called a cimbalom, a form of Hungarian hammered dulcimer. 

Dancing in a museum? Just another Atlas Obscura event. Some of these folks were quite talented.

Our bartenders got into the “spirit” of things serving 1920s-style gin cocktails and local craft brew.

Letherbee Gin is NOT made in a bathtub, but it is made in small, premium batches. We were honored to have them sponsor the alcoholic portion of the festivities.

Renowned Egyptologist Emily Teeter regaled us with tales of the museum’s founder, James Breasted, whose true life exploits rivaled those of his fictional stereotype, Indiana Jones.

These gentlemen were found wandering the halls gazing at the antiquities and taking part in our scavenger hunt.  Though they didn’t win the scavenger hunt, they certainly were winners in the costuming department.

This gentleman, in fine 1920s fashion, was not observed to be tap dancing, probably out of respect for the artifacts nearby. We know he had it in him, though.

Although the event is over, the Oriental Institute remains. This is a hidden gem in the Chicago area for anyone interested in visiting one of the world’s finest collections of Middle Eastern artifacts. 

Illinois Obscura Society was created in partnership with Enjoy IllinoisSign up to find out more about the back room tours, unusual adventures, and incredible parties that Atlas Obscura will be putting on in Chicago and greater Illinois.