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Joe "40,000" Murphy (né Cerny)

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About the Artist/Site

Joe “40,000” Murphy was just a regular guy from Bridgeport, on Chicago’s South Side, but he lived his life as one long special event, and he built a private monument to honor it in his three-flat on 34th Street, near the heart of the old working class Lithuanian enclave.

He grew up in the same neighborhood as Andy Frain, who built a large company that provided ushers for numerous event venues across the Chicago area. Murphy became a key lieutenant to Frain and chief usher. He reportedly got his nickname from his oft-repeated response to the question about how many fans were in the stands of Chicago’s baseball teams during the 1920s, a time of less-than-stellar performance: “40,000…empty seats” (at least that’s one version; he told others at different times).

As usher, Murphy had the opportunity to meet all kinds of celebrities from a variety of entertainment fields. And most, if not all of them, were recorded in his enormous assemblage of images — snapshots, publicity stills, cartoons, and other printed matter –plastered across the walls and ceilings of his home and a five-car garage across the street. They document a fabulous world of banquets and braided uniforms, mink-clad actresses and showgirls in evening wear, ball players and professional wrestlers. Among those featured on the walls of Murphy’s home were Sammy Davis, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Durante, Jumbo the Elephant, Joe E. Brown, Ann Blyth, Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Roy Rogers, Jayne Mansfield, James Arness, and a very young Marilyn Monroe. Most of these photos show these luminaries being escorted at public events by a jovial Joe Murphy.

“Me, Murph, I knew ‘em all. All the big shots, the sporting greats, the big city pols, the movie stars, and even a few presidents,” he said in a 1973 Chicago Tribune profile. A fixture at public events for decades, Murphy encapsulated Chicago’s mid-century history in his photo-and-collage environment. It represented a major tribute to an entire generation of entertainers.

Joe “40,000” Murphy enjoyed showing off his environment, which he called the Murphy Museum, penning in his own decoration and notes to many of the pictures. Parts of the site survived into the late 1980s, but when his family sold the building the material was sold off or discarded, so the site is no longer extant.

~William Swislow



Map and site information

939 West 34th Street
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 41.832464 / -87.650124

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