Treasure trove of festive finds unearthed in Marshall Field’s vault

CHICAGO — When Macy’s sold the top floors of its 13-story building at 111 N. State St. in Chicago in 2018, it created a dilemma.

For decades, those floors were used primarily for executive offices and storage. The floors were home to hundreds of boxes with thousands of items from the storied history dating back to the store’s days under the Marshall Field’s moniker.

Since June, a team from the visuals department has worked diligently to un-box and catalog all of those items.  What they found was a treasure trove of memories and visuals items from as far back as the early part of the 20th Century.

“It is like going to a museum,” Andrea Schwartz, who’s worked at the State Street store for more than 20 years, said.

“We try definitely to not throw anything away in retail.  And especially visually, we know how to repurpose,” Schwartz said. “So it’s really a fun discovery and it just brings back the heritage.”

It is a Chicago heritage dating back 166 years, when the forebearer to Marshall Field’s first opened its doors on Lake Street.  The business grew over the years and now encompasses an entire city block bordered by State Street to the West, Wabash Avenue to the East, Randolph Street to the North, and Washington Street to the South.

The items discovered include several fashion items that once made their homes on mannequins.  Two different pairs of ornate, custom slippers dating back nearly a century were among the finds. And a 6-foot “Snow Queen” display from 2004, used in the famed Marshall Field’s Holiday and Christmas windows.

Also found packed away, were ornaments, handmade by the visuals department employees decades ago to hang on the Great Tree displayed every season.

“The work, the thousands of ornaments that you’d need for one tree, the Great Tree is amazing,” Jeffery Mahel, a longtime visuals department employee for Macy’s and Marshall Field’s, said. Mahel was tasked with cataloging many of the items.

For now, Macy’s has set up a section of its 7th Floor to display the historic items.  Many other items have been donated to The Chicago History Museum for safekeeping and use in exhibits.