Thursday, September 27, 2012

Last Day in Chicago

By Chuck

Today was our last day in Chicago. We decided to play it light and easy--one real destination and then home again. At the last minute this morning, Claire decided we could try the hotel restaurant: This saved us time and money--we could eat before we caught the Double Decker bus to the Field Museum of Natural History, rather than try Wildberry Pancakes and Café in the middle of our route. Turns out that trying to keep fruit and yogurt fresh by means of the hotel ice machine and an ice bucket just doesn't work out too well.

Aaron, our Chicago guide, providing us with a free harmonica blues concert. We found out a good Blues joint is only 2 blocks away from our Best Western Hotel; but, by evening we are generally more than ready to call it quits.

 Another beautiful Chicago building.

The Flamingo by Alexander Calder

The only scene from the movie musical, Chicago, that was filmed here.

Finally, the actual Marshal Field building, known for the clocks on its corners.

We hated to admit it, but we liked the Trump Tower.

This is the Jeweler's Building. It had elevators that would allow the armored cars carrying their diamonds to deliver them to their floor, a security precaution. Hah! Apparently, no one told them that Al Capone controlled the fancy speakeasy at the top during the Prohibition years.

By this time, we had developed very sore necks over the past several days from all the craning to see the tops of skyscrapers. Thank goodness, we are done for a while.

Soldiers Field has had two lives. Once it was a Classical stadium with Roman columns and housed 100,000 fans; it was thought to be too large for the Chicago Bears and was redesigned and modernized and now holds about 65,000.

This is the outside of the Field Museum. It is about a city block in size and houses wonderful collections on almost everything.  We got the comprehensive ticket for Seniors that allowed us to see the general collection, a movie and two special exhibitions.

The first exhibit we saw was Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannasaurus Rex ever found. She is 40.5' long, has a skeletal weight of 3,922 pounds and is quite impressive. Her head is so heavy that they have to use a lighter substitute in the display, to support the weight.  We opted to see the 3D movie about her and thought it was very well done, combining CGI and documentary styles.

The special exhibit, Extreme Mammals, was quite interesting.  It showed a variety of animals, living and extinct that were unusual: the biggest, smallest, and most amazing mammals of all time.  We were able to inspect oversized claws, massive fangs, extraordinary snouts, amazing horns, and other traits that make these mammals truly remarkable.

This was an interesting graphic display comparing the size of Africa to that of several major countries.  So, it is larger than the U.S., India, Argentina, Europe and China combined!

3D Movie fan preparing for battle

The Field Museum from the Upper Floor, looking back toward our entrance.  We were quite pleased with the openness of the entire museum. It was also, happily, lacking in crowds--In fact, when we arrived at 10:30am, we thought we had come on a day when it was closed! Fortunately, we were mistaken.

Aerial View of the Principality of Monaco from the series Lilypad, A Floating Ecopolis for Climate Refugees. This floating amphibian city, half aquatic and half terrestrial, is a solution for refugees displaced by the rising waters created by climate change.

We loved our day here and spent 5 hours!  What a treat to live in this city and have constant access to the Art Institute and the Field Museum.
Observations and Recollections

The name "Chicago" is derived from a French rendering of the Native American word shikaakwa, translated as "wild onion" or "wild garlic"; in other words, it was a smelly swamp where people hunted, but no one wanted to live.  Everything west of Michigan Street is on land fill made possible by the horrific Chicago Fire of 1871;  Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Ahern published the story that the fire started when a cow kicked over a lantern while a woman was milking it. Though the woman was not named in the original report, Mrs. O'Leary was soon identified, since her barn had been the source. Various illustrations and caricatures soon circulated, depicting Mrs. O'Leary with the cow. The story took the population's imagination and is still widely circulated.  Ahern admitted in 1893 that he had made the story up because he thought it would make colorful copy.  Anti-Irish attitudes at the time encouraged stories scapegoating the O'Leary family. It was claimed that the supposed accident happened because she was drunk, or that she hid the evidence to avoid being blamed. Neighbours later claimed to have seen shards from the broken lamp, but none of these stories could be verified.  She was ostrasized, her life ruined, and it is said she died of a broken heart.

As Chicago grew, in the 1800's, it became necessary to plan for sewage disposal. After the first attempt, raising much of central Chicago to a new grade, the untreated sewage and industrial waste now flowed into the Chicago River, then into Lake Michigan, polluting the primary source of fresh water for the city. The city then responded by tunneling two miles (3 km) out into Lake Michigan to newly built water cribs. Finally, in 1900, the problem of sewage contamination was largely resolved when the city reversed the flow of the Chicago River so that it flowed away from Lake Michigan, rather than into it. This project began with the construction and improvement of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and was completed with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that connects to the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi River. So, the Chicago sewage problem has apparently been shipped down the river to another community.

Although weather is severe here, the appellation, "Windy City" is apparently not from the weather. Rather, New Yorkers applied it to the words of politicians and other worthies who extolled the virtues of Chicago while competing for the right to host the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893-4.  Speaking of weather, we have been delighted by our good fortune in having marvelous weather our entire stay.

Millennium Park was privately financed and expected to cost $150 million in 2000. It was finally finished in 2004 at a cost of $450 million. But, it is a great park.
The famous "Corn Cob" buildings (aka Marina City) were the site of a scene in Steve McQueen's movie, The Hunter, where during a car chase in the garage of the building, his character pushes a bad guy's car over the railing and into the Chicago River. There have been reports that people once had a Frisbee tossing competition between the two buildings.

The historical Route 66 began at the Chicago Art Institute. Virtually all railroads once ran through Chicago. According to our guide, "You have a better chance of getting away with murder in Chicago than with being governor and not being convicted of corruption.  "Six Illinois governors have been charged with crimes during or after their governorships; four were convicted."

The Marx brothers grew up on the South Side of Chicago and lived there until they moved out onto a farm to avoid the draft in World War I.

We have been repeatedly impressed by the friendliness of people in Chicago: People would stop and ask if we needed directions, if we stared at our map too long. Cars--other than taxi cabs--rarely honked. Hotel personnel would smile and ask, sincerely, if they could help. Our hotel was $167 a night, including the only free downtown hotel parking in Chicago--we felt smug when our guide mentioned a "bargain" hotel for $250 a night with tiny rooms and horrible beds.  Our room is quite large, and we love the location--we can walk (and walk) to any central location.

Total tab for five days and nights in Chicago: $1324. This is just under $266 per day. I shudder to think what it must run folks who travel less austerely than we do.

We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.  ~ Carson McCullers