Mercy for the Devil: The Later Career of Mercedes McCambridge 

I am a huge fan of the horror genre and one of my all-time favorite films is 1973’s The Exorcist directed by William Fredkin, based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name (also a personal favorite). Recently, I was tasked with working on updating the WLA’s collections page when I made an amazing discovery: our archives held the collection of a major star of this film. 

Figure 1. Photo of Mercedes McCambridge from the Mercedes McCambridge Collection, undated.

Mercedes McCambridge, who often felt more comfortable being addressed simply as Mercy, is perhaps the most famous graduate of Mundelein College*. Many students who take classes in the Mundelein skyscraper today do not realize that the building’s auditorium played a crucial role in the education of an Oscar-winning actor. A few years ago, my colleague Nathan recounted the impact of Mundelein College on McCambridge’s career in another post on the WLA blog titled “Acting Up: Mercedes McCambridge and Sister Mary Leola Oliver.” At the WLA, we often speak about McCambridge’s Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, awarded in 1949 for her role as Sadie Burke in All the King’s Men. I have, on several occasions, had reason to hold her Oscar in the course of research and am always amazed by the oddly heavy trophy. It was not until I was rewatching the 1973 horror classic that I realized that I had heard Mercy’s voice before I even knew what the WLA was. This discovery sent me on a journey of researching Mercy’s storied life. 

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“A Community Dream:” The Extended Evolution of Chicago’s Broadway Armory Park

Solitary man in the enormous gymnasium of the Broadway Armory Park. In the 1980s, the massive structure was retrofitted into the city of Chicago’s largest indoor recreational facility. Photograph housed here at the WLA. Courtesy of Friends of the Parks.

When exploring the Edgewater neighborhood on Chicago’s north side, one would have a hard time failing to notice the Broadway Armory. This ornate, gigantic structure—first built as an ice-skating rink in 1916—takes up an entire city block. Repurposed as an armory in response to WWI and race riots in Chicago, by the 1970s and 80s the building was falling apart and barely used. What was to become of this gigantic building?  

Historical photograph of the Broadway Armory Park, located in Edgewater on the corner of Thorndale and Broadway. Courtesy of Edgewater Historical Society. – 5th image of slideshow
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