Northern Illinois Destinations

I think I’ve been to the Adler Planetarium four times in my life. I remember going there once when I was quite young indeed and the planetarium show scared me. They were talking about the other planets and mentioned that the atmosphere of Jupiter was poisonous. I had uncorrected nearsightedness at that age* and the image that accompanied that statement looked frightening to me, like some kind of wall that was melting gruesomely. I sometimes wonder what that image actually was.

So, as a result, I wasn’t a fan until I got to be much older (and got glasses). I think we did one field trip there, but don’t quote me on that. The next time I am certain that we went was when I was in my teens or early twenties and the show was different. The one thing I came away with that time was that the Planetarium show was great, but that the building itself is very small, and the exhibits were not terribly exciting.

I returned again in August of 2016. There is a planetarium in Salt Lake City that Alex and I didn’t have a chance to visit, so I promised him a trip to the Adler during our Chicago trip. The building is much larger now. Well, they haven’t actually enlarged the building, because it’s a landmark, but they added a glassed-in portion that’s probably as large as the original building itself, plus it has several sublevels.

When we went, there were exhibits on telescopes, the nature of the universe, a model solar system that is beautiful but certainly didn’t look to scale to me. They also have a meteorite that you can touch. One can also see the oldest planetarium in the city, the Atwood Sphere, which dates from 1913 and has 692 holes drilled in it, each representing one of the brightest stars in the sky.

See what I mean about this not looking like it’s to scale? Jupiter and Saturn are almost touching and they look awfully close to Venus there.

The Adler Planetarium was named for Max Adler, an executive at Sears Roebuck & Co. (presumably Adler was the “Co.”), who donated the money to build it. Adler had seen some planetaria in Europe and felt that the United States needed one. The planetarium opened in 1930 (so the Atwood Sphere obviously was somewhere else prior to that point; where, I don’t know).

So I was much more impressed by the Planetarium this time than last time. Alex and I were trying to cover a lot of territory in a short time, so we went to a show that was held in one of the sublevels and had a flat screen rather than a dome, so I owe him a dome planetarium show. Looks like San Antonio College has a planetarium show on Friday nights. I might be taking a Friday night off sometimes soon and then we’ll have a brand-new South Texas Destination to share.

And I think I’ve found where the Atwood Sphere has been all its life. It was originally housed in the Chicago Academy of Sciences museum. The museum was in the Matthew Laflin building in Lincoln Park until 1994. The sphere was moved to the Adler in 1995, and then in 1999 the Academy of Sciences museum moved to a new building, still in Lincoln Park, and was renamed the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

So it looks like my next trip to Chicago (tentatively scheduled for 2019) will include the Notebeart museum in addition to the Chicago History Museum, the Oriental Institute Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry.

*So here’s how it was discovered that I was nearsighted. I’d been telling people that my perceptions weren’t the same as theirs for years. As an example, I didn’t believe that the candles in a Catholic church were candles. They looked like the blinking lights like on the control panel of the Enterprise on Star Trek. After the service (wedding?) my mom took me up to see that they were, in fact, candles.

I guess my parents chalked things like this up to imagination and it didn’t occur to my parents that this “imagination” that I had was nearsightedness until we went to the circus in 1973. We were waiting for it to start and I asked them what time it was and they both said, “You can’t see the clock?” I couldn’t. They indicated that it was on the wall and I looked way up and down the amphitheater (or was it the Coliseum? No, I’m pretty sure it was the Amphitheater.**). No clock. Finally my mom put her opera glasses in front of my face and adjusted until the clock came into focus. It had been right in font of me the whole time.

** I checked with my dad and, in a surprise come-from-behind victory, it was the Chicago Stadium.

This was the original first paragraph that I wrote for this post: I have to admit that I’ve only been to the Shedd Aquarium (the full name of which is “John G. Shedd Aquarium”) a few times.  I recall a childhood field trip to the Aquarium, one trip with my parents when I was pretty young, and a trip sometime in the early 1990s.

At this point, I remembered that I had a trip to Chicago scheduled and that Alex and I could actually visit the aquarium and wouldn’t need the explanation that I hadn’t been there in over 20 years. So we did.

One thing that I’ve noticed about Chicago is that retail was a big deal there in a way that it doesn’t seem to have been in other cities. In Pittsburgh, for example, the Carnegie family was a big deal — the Carnegie Museums, Carnegie Mellon University, etc. In Chicago, one of the leading families was the Field family and you see their name on the Field Museum, for example. Marshall Field & Co. also was instrumental in the founding of the Shedd Aquarium.  you see, John G. Shedd was an executive at Marshall Field & Co.

Shedd Aquarium Dome

Shedd Aquarium Dome, 2016

I wasn’t really thrilled by the aquarium when I was younger. For my first visits, I was too short to really see into the tanks comfortably (I loved the reef in the center of the building, though, since the glass goes all the way down to the floor). I loved the architecture, though. There are carvings of sea life, like scallop shells and sea stars, in the details on the building, and the octagonal dome above the reef is gorgeous. The rest of the building is long sort of galleries with an arched ceiling that gives the building a unique feel.

In 1991, they opened the Abbott Oceanarium and then they made another addition in 2003.  Today the Shedd Aquarium is home to 32,000 animals, including dolphins, beluga whales, and sharks. There is also a tank holding sea lampreys, which are a major pest animal in the Great Lakes.

Most of the museum is accessible to wheelchair users. If you give the museum two weeks’ notice they can also get a sign language interpreter for deaf visitors. Also, as I write this, there are plans to add special features for blind visitors.

When we left Chicago, I was wondering if I got any decent pictures of Lincoln Park. As it turned out, the only pictures of the park that weren’t of the zoo that I got, as it turned out, were one picture of the Couch mausoleum that I took from a moving bus (so it’s not the best picture ever), a few pictures of the Albert Caldwell Lily Pool, and a couple of pictures of the beach just a little south of where Lake Shore Drive would intersect with Belden Avenue if Belden Avenue went through. Which it doesn’t.

Anyway, I haven’t found anything that I liked well enough to showcase in my post on Lincoln Park, so on to the zoo. I have 47 pictures from the zoo, so I’m sure that I can find something that I can work with there.

Lincoln Park Zoo began, for all intents and purposes, with two swans in 1868. In 1874, a bear cub joined the swans, and the zoo was underway. I’m not sure when exactly the “there are two swans and a bear cub in Lincoln Park” gave way to a formal “Lincoln Park Zoo,” but the first zoo director, Cyrus DeVry, was hired in 1888, so it’s likely to have been somewhere in that period.

Over time, the zoo grew, with the addition of new buildings and species. Today, there are over 1,000 specimens of over 200 species in the zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo Entrance Animals

The animals above the entrance to Lincoln Park Zoo

At the moment (and for the foreseeable future), Lincoln Park Zoo is free to the public. I don’t normally talk about admissions fees because that’s not “evergreen.” Someday the admissions cost will go up which means that one of two things would have to happen.  One, I would have to track the cost of admission to absolutely everything that I’ll ever write about that has an admission fee (the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Antonio Zoo, the Empire State Building,  the Ruins of Pompeii) and then keep those pages updated. Two, I would have to resign myself to having out-of-date information on my page. And, honestly, this is what would be more likely to happen.

I’m making an exception to the above rule in this case because not having an admission charge is highly unusual. There are 142 accredited zoos in the United States and of those, from what I can tell, fewer than ten have no admission fee. In the case of Lincoln Park Zoo, the money to run the zoo is largely covered by the fee for parking in the lots near the zoo and the sale of food and souvenirs. They take donations as well, and I threw a few dollars in that bucket while I was there. Any shortfall beyond that is covered by the city. The parking lot, by the way, is not a “throw a quarter in the meter” type parking. It costs roughly the same as any private parking lot in a big city. Therefore it’s more cost-effective to drive if you have several people in the car with you. On this visit, we didn’t drive; we didn’t have a car available to us. We took the bus.

As one would imagine from the location, Lincoln Park Zoo is a lovely, parklike zoo, with lots of greenery. It’s a nice place to do some walking and watch the people and the animals.  There is food available at the zoo, the most prominent of which (at least it’s the only one that stood out to me) is the food court at the Park Place Café. This food court has been there since Alex was maybe three, so it’s likely to turn out to be a long-term fixture at the zoo.

As to the animals, well, there are animals at the zoo. I think that the western lowland gorillas made the biggest impression on me. This is at least in part to the fact that a silverback was leaning up against the join between two windows when we were there, allowing me to get several really lovely pictures of him. Of course, gorillas and Lincoln Park Zoo have had a long association. In 1930, the zoo acquired a gorilla named Bushman. Bushman lived for another 21 years at the zoo, and during my childhood, most of the adults in my life had fond memories of him. He was taxidermied and is on display at the Field Museum of Natural History.

Alex and I took a trip to Chicago on August 8 through 11, 2016. Partly the trip was because I was homesick; I hadn’t been home in six years.  But part of the trip was because my now-ex has most of our photographs from our previous trips to Chicago. I started writing about Chicago destinations in past posts, but since my ex has the pictures, I couldn’t post any pictures with them.

So here are a few pictures that I will, ideally, be moving to those posts, and probably a few more that I’m particularly fond of.

First, is the Field Museum of Natural History. Arguably my favorite museum in Chicago (if it’s not my favorite, it’s a very, very close second to the Art Institute of Chicago). I’m not sure which image(s) I’m going to use, so I’ll post three of my favorites here. I reserve the right to come back and say, “Ooh! Here’s another nice one!” at some later date.

Field Museum Chicago 2016

The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, 2016. Alex and I were in the Museum Campus until after the museums closed so I was able to get this nice photograph of the north entrance without any people in it.

Tsavo lions, Chicago, 2016

The Lions of Tsavo, two of the most famous “residents” of the museum. These lions (well, the lions that used to wear these skins) killed and ate around 35 people in Tsavo, Kenya, in the 19th century. The lions’ skulls are also on display in the same case. You can see one of the skulls there in the lower left-hand corner.

Sue the T-Rex, 2016

Sue the tyrannosaurus rex. Sue is yet another popular “resident,” visible in Stanley Field Hall

Millennium Park was my next post, so here are a few of my favorites from there. I will definitely include the first image because I attempted to describe it in the post and failed miserably, so why not include a photo?

decorative wall, Millennium Park, 2016

The back of the plot of land that eventually became the westernmost part of Millennium Park had a wall similar to this along the back of it.

I spent several minutes trying to find the best reflection of the skyline on the Cloud Gate (also known as the “Bean”), but didn’t find any that really spoke to me. Maybe later, after further examination, I’ll find one, or maybe I’ll just have to make the sacrifice and go back to Chicago at some point other than the height of the tourist season (imagine a fake sigh here). So, instead, here’s one I really liked of the Crown Fountain.

Crown Fountain, 2016

Crown Fountain, Millennium Park Chicago, 2016

I think I’ll stop here for now and return to this topic in two weeks or so with photos from the Art Institute of Chicago and Grant Park, also perhaps of Lincoln Park, though most of those pictures I took were of the zoo, which I haven’t posted on yet. And then, two weeks or so after that, we’ll go forward with (in two-week increments) Lincoln Park Zoo, the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and some of the highlights of Chicago architecture. We should be in November by then.

I’ve run some numbers and it looks like I’ll be able to return to Chicago to take photos of the Museum of Science and Industry, the Oriental Institute and perhaps some suburban destinations, in 2018 or 2019.

But I think I’m going to take a five-month hiatus on that topic.  It seems weird to be talking about Chicago destinations right now (particularly since almost all of my photographs of Chicago have disappeared down the rabbit hole) when I just booked a trip to Chicago for August.  I haven’t been home in six years, so this will be nice.

Chicago Harbor Light 2010

Chicago Harbor Light, 2010. Taken with my old Palm Treo phone, if I recall correctly.

At the moment this is the tentative schedule:

Monday: Fly into Chicago.  Grant Park, Art Institute of Chicago, pizza.

Tuesday: Museum Campus during the day and Navy Pier in the evening.

Wednesday: Chicago Botanic Garden (Navy Pier if we fail to make it on Tuesday).

Thursday: Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park, fly home.

At some point, I want to visit some of my favorite architectural sights, including (but not limited to) the Chicago Cultural Center and The Store Formerly Known as Marshall Field’s.

As I’ve said before, I haven’t spent that much time in Lincoln Park, personally.  I think I’ve been to Lincoln Park Zoo maybe five times in my life (my family preferred Brookfield Zoo) and while I’ve driven past the park on Lake Shore Drive probably a dozen times or more, I haven’t spent much time in the park itself.

While researching this post, I found one thing that was surprising.  Lincoln Park is apparently 150% the size of Central Park.  It probably wouldn’t take as long to explore, however, since, at seven miles in length, Lincoln Park is four times as long and, at 1500 feet wide, is only about half as wide.

Lincoln Park is home to the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago History Museum (formerly known as the Chicago Historical Society), the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, a conservatory (the plant kind, not the music kind) and the usual park amenities — sports fields, playgrounds, public art (including statues of Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln), a field house, and things of that nature.  The city website says, in part, “The Chicago Park District is committed to making its facilities accessible to and usable by all patrons and visitors. This commitment is ongoing, proactive and intended to meet the needs of a diversity of individuals with disabilities.” So the park itself should be wheelchair accessible.

Much like Milam Park here in San Antonio, Lincoln Park is built on land that once was the city cemetery (there was also, like with Milam Park, a Catholic cemetery across the street).  The story I was told was that they dug up the bodies (with the exception of the Couch family — their mausoleum is visible from LaSalle Street where it intersects with Stockton Drive).  The truth is messier than that.  The land that was chosen to become the city cemetery was, as so much of Chicago was at the time, swampy and disgusting.  The residents worried that they might come down with cholera or something from the corpses stewing in the cemetery, so they started to agitate to have the cemetery removed.  Some of the bodies were removed, but then the Great Chicago Fire hit.  the fire spread as far north as Fullerton Avenue, which means that the land that had been the city cemetery was in the path of the fire.  Many of the grave markers were wood and burned as a result.  Near as I can tell, if no one came forward to say “Great-uncle Fred is buried here,” they just left the body there. Artist Pamela Bannos, in her Hidden Truths project, estimates that there are at likely thousands of bodies still left under the park.

I have to admit that the title of this post made me roll my eyes. Because, of course the Art Institute of Chicago is in Chicago.  Except not really.  Just as two examples, there is the Chicago Zoological Park, which is located in Brookfield, Illinois (and which, consequently, is commonly called “Brookfield Zoo”) and the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which is in Glencoe. So I guess it’s not as silly as it would seem.

Much like the Field Museum of Natural History, I have a lot of early memories of the Art Institute. I remember going to the Art Institute with my parents and some other adult when I was very young indeed.  Literally the only concrete memory I have of that trip to the museum is a sweeping staircase and a large glass wall.  I was so young that I honestly wasn’t sure if the staircase was a real place or not.  Then, once I had some kind of continuity of memory (so around ten or so), we went back and there it was. They describe it as a spiral staircase though it’s more, well, sweeping than what I usually think of as a spiral staircase, plus it only goes around a little more than one time. Now in my memory, there was something that I, at such a young age, identified as a large statue of a mushroom on the floor beneath it (I haven’t been able to identify the mushroom.  Maybe the mushroom was part of a dream.)

I have, of course, returned to the Art Institute many times over the intervening years and have plenty of more concrete memories of it than some stairs and what might or might not be a mushroom.  When I was maybe 10 or 11, my parents became members of the museum for a time and we took frequent advantage of the free admission for members. My dad needed to go downtown to do research during my adolescence and I went with him several of those times.  The Art Institute was one of my favorite places to go during those days (and twice I brought a friend with me).

I am, by the way, not the only person in my family who has early semi-formed memories of the Art Institute as a nice place to visit. In 2010, Alex and I were spending the one day of our four-day trip to Chicago downtown.  We had gone for the Taste of Chicago festival and once we were done there, I suggested that we visit the Art Institute (since they’re both in Grant Park). We were tired, and Alex was reluctant, but agreed to just stick his head in. So we did, we walked maybe five steps in and Alex said, “I dream about this place.”  I asked if they were good dreams and he said that they were. So he comes by that honest.

I tell people that Monet is my favorite artist.  It’s not because he is popular or because his artwork would match my sofa (I have two, both taupe, so probably pretty much anything would match my sofa(s) equally well (or poorly, I guess)). Monet is my favorite artist in part because  I’m pretty severely nearsighted (though less so in my later years than I was in my youth). The softer focus, particularly of works during the late 1890s actually feels kind of like home to me.  Another reason why I am so fond of Monet is because on one of my memories from probably 1977 or so, my mom and I kept identifying certain paintings as something we particularly liked.  And nearly always, we were in agreement, and almost every time, the painting was by Monet.  The Art Institute has the largest collection of works by Monet outside of France, so there are a lot of Monet paintings to choose from if water lilies aren’t your thing.

The Art Institute is home to a few other well-known works of art. You may have heard of some of them:  Chagall’s America Windows, Hopper’s Nighthawks, Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, Wood’s American Gothic, and a whole bunch of others you might not know by name, such as the Toulouse-Lautrec self-portrait of himself at the Moulin Rouge (the distinguishing feature of this one, however, is the woman with the sort of bluish/cyan face in the foreground, which was for a time tucked underneath the frame, so I am apparently not the only person who finds her unsettling) and also the painting of Dorian Gray used as the painting in the 1945 movie with Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford and  . . . Hurd Hatfield?

The spiral staircase notwithstanding, the Art Institute is wheelchair accessible (wheelchair-friendly entrances are located at the main entrance and also the Modern Wing entrance).

We’ve seen Grant Park before, first in my post on Taste of Chicago, and then again in my post on Millennium Park (and we will see it once more in what will likely be my next Northern Illinois Destinations post, which is likely to be on the Art Institute of Chicago).  I grew up within walking distance of a suburban park that was, according to my figures, about 30 acres.  At 319 acres, you could fit that neighborhood park inside Grant Park over 10 times.  This made Grant Park seem like the biggest park ever to me.  Of course, it isn’t.  It isn’t even the largest park in Chicago (though we never spent much time in Lincoln, Jackson, or Washington Parks, which are all larger than Grant Park, and none of these parks that I’ve mentioned are even among the hundred largest parks in the country).

I can’t find any hard statistics, but it certainly looks like Grant Park is the oldest park in Chicago.  It would be hard for a park to be older, since the land was set aside for public use in 1836 and Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833 and as a city in 1837. Since the Grant for whom the park was named is Ulysses S. Grant, the park was not always named for Grant.  The original name of the park was the not-terribly-original “Lake Park.”

While the land of the then-Lake Park was to have been left open to keep the view of the lake available to everyone, over time buildings accumulated in the park, including a three-story exposition center where the Art Institute of Chicago building stands today.  The Illinois Central Railroad also got a right-of-way along the lake shore in 1869.  I am not sure what that did to the view, since they were in the process of raising the street level to alleviate flooding (and the consequent health hazards).  I think they must have raised the park. After the Great Fire in 1871, they enlarged the park with debris from the fire, and apparently they have used landfill to enlarge the park more over time.

The Museum Campus, which is home to the Field Museum of Science and Industry, the John G. Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium (the first planetarium in the United States, apparently), forms the southern boundary of Grant Park, the northern boundary is Millennium Park, the eastern boundary is Lake Michigan (of course), and the western boundary is Michigan Avenue.

In addition to the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium, Grant Park is also home to Soldier Field, the Petrillo Music Shell (where I made my parents stick around after Taste of Chicago one year long enough to see Chicago perform one song), Buckingham Fountain, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Chicago was pretty forward-thinking in terms of public art and Grant Park has accumulated a number of art pieces over the last century and a quarter.  The oldest piece of art I can find is the Rosenberg Fountain.  Joseph Rosenberg got his start as a newsboy in Chicago and he often was thirsty working in the hot sun.  He made his fortune (at what, I have yet to determine) and in his will commissioned a public drinking fountain so that people who visited would not be thirsty.  The monument is still a fountain, but the water is no longer available to drink, at least not officially.   There are a lot more public drinking fountains in Chicago than there probably used to be, as well.  The map lists eight “comfort stations” in the park (nine if you include Millennium Park) and where there is a “comfort station” there is usually a drinking fountain, in my experience.

The most prominent piece of art in the park is a statue of Lincoln by Augustus Saint-Gaudens that has sat in the park since 1926.  For some unknown reason, there is no statue of Grant in Grant Park.  To see a statue of Grant, you have to go to Lincoln Park. I love my hometown, but there are some things I just can’t explain.

Then there is my favorite piece of art in the park.  Technically, it is a piece of architecture.  While not as famous as its sibling in New York or the local Board of Trade, Chicago does have a stock exchange. At one time, the stock exchange was housed in a building designed by the firm of Adler & Sullivan.  The old stock exchange building once stood on the corner of Washington and LaSalle Streets, kittycorner from the Chicago City Hall building. The building was demolished in 1972, and in a way, the demolition of the stock exchange building was the wake-up call that led to the preservation of so many historic buildings in Chicago since then.  Unfortunately, the only part of the stock exchange building that remains is the entrance arch, which stands behind the Art Institute.  They erected the arch in the park in 1977 and I think I discovered that it was there not too long after that.  The home of the Goodman Theatre used operate out of a theater on the Art Institute grounds and my mom and the cousin we used to visit in Florida took my first cousins once removed and me to a Children’s Theater play there in what would have been 1978.  On the way out of the theater, I saw the arch and, much to my mother’s confusion, it was love at first sight.

Near as I can tell, Grant Park is wheelchair accessible.  Frequently, the website for a place will come right out and say it, but I can’t find anything definitive.  Millennium Park’s website says that it is; Grant Park’s not so much. However, it’s Chicago, so the ground is level.  I seem to recall some stairs, maybe at Congress Plaza, and I’m almost certain that there are stairs leading up to the Lincoln statue, and I don’t know if there are ramps there.  The intersections all have curb cuts, from what I can see on Google Maps.

Technically, I guess, I should be profiling Grant Park first, since Grant Park is older, and larger, and more important to the city’s history.  But I’ve been researching Millennium Park recently, so I’m going to profile it first while it’s fresh in my mind.

When Millennium Park first debuted, I had been in San Antonio for more than a decade.  All of the reporting on it was of the same vein as the official city website’s statement, You might never guess that Millennium Park, recipient of the 2009 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, was once an industrial wasteland.  I am well aware that human memory is flawed, but for the life of me, all that I could remember on the site was a grassy area with a colonnade and a row of trees backed by a low wall with some kind of decorative columns on top.  Despite articles praising Millennium Park for saving us from unsightly boxcars, I couldn’t remember a single dam boxcar. Additionally, several articles talked about the new colonnade that was in the park, and as I said before, I distinctly remember a colonnade on the corner of Michigan and Randolph.

Finally after one too many articles, I finally went digging through old photographs and realized that the boxcars that people were worrying about were there, but they were below grade, meaning that if you weren’t looking at them from above, you can’t see them.  And I wasn’t in the habit of looking out of really high-up windows down at the street level in that direction in that area.  From the Sears Tower, yes.  From the seventh floor of Marshall Field’s, sure.  From the third floor of the Chicago Cultural Center towards Washington Street, even. But I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when I was in the buildings that front on that area (including the Prudential Buildings, the AON tower, or anything of that sort), and could see down into that ditch.

You see, most of downtown Chicago has been raised.  When Chicago was founded, the area which is now downtown was on more or less the same level as the lake, which meant that there was nowhere for the water to go, and the city was a swampy mess. In the 1800s, the city decided to put a system of drainage ditches where the current roads were, then build new roads on top of them.  Then they would raise the buildings to the new street level.  This new higher street level carries through all of the Loop, but farther north, you can still see some buildings that are at the original grade.  If you stand at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Illinois Street, you can see what I’m talking about because while I used the term “intersection,” the streets don’t actually intersect.  Illinois Street is a good ten feet or so below the level of Michigan Avenue.

So now we’re going to leave this and come at it from another direction. Chicago’s location on Lake Michigan is in large part why it became the major city that it is. Ships would come up the St. Lawrence and through the Great Lakes to Lake Michigan, then would load or unload cargo, or both, then go back out.  Because the cargo needed to get to and from the ships, Chicago became (and still is) a major railroad hub. Because of this, there are rail lines and even rail yards in the downtown area. I’m trying to find the article I read where they talked about how the tracks that are meant by the words “industrial wasteland” above, property of the Illinois Central Railroad, were inviolable.

Those tracks, as well as a parking lot, are still there under the park. The city got airspace rights to the area over the railroad tracks and parking lot, and constructed the park there at current street level.

Millennium Park is likely best known for its artwork.  The two most notable pieces are the Cloud Gate, which is a large bean-shaped sculpture made of reflective plates of stainless steel and the Crown Fountain, which is a black granite area that has two gigantic glass screens, one at either end.  The screens show photographs of the faces of Chicagoans.  The faces smile and things, and then mouths of the faces pucker and water emerges in a, well, fountain from the center, making it look as though the water is coming from the mouths. While it was not part of the intended function of the fountain, the Crown Fountain has become a sort of water park, with people (generally, but not exclusively, children) standing under the stream and playing in the basin.

Millennium Park also has the five-acre Lurie Garden, a new colonnade which surrounds yet another fountain, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (a concert and event venue), the BP Pedestrian bridge and an outdoor public skating rink, all within a 24.5-acre space.  The City of Chicago website says that all of the amenities of Millennium Park were designed to be handicap accessible.

The Field Museum of Natural History has always been my favorite museum.  Some of my earliest memories are of the exhibits, and I swear that I had a dream about the Field Museum in which the artifacts were hung on pegboard hooks, like merchandise in a store, when I was very little.

First, a little (very little!) history.  The Field Museum of Natural History was a sort of outgrowth of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The area which is now Jackson Park was the fairgrounds, and some of the prominent citizens of Chicago decided that this would be a good opportunity to start a hopefully someday-world-class museum. The original museum was called the Columbian Museum of Chicago, but they changed it to Field Columbian Museum a year later and then, still later, to the Field Museum of Natural History.  The original displays were in one of the few permanent buildings constructed for the Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts (which is now the Museum of Science and Industry). Construction on the current building took about three and a half years, from September 1917 to early 1921. The museum’s grand opening at its current home was on May 2, 1921.  Also, apparently they changed the name from Field Museum of Natural History to Chicago Museum of Natural History for nearly 20 years.  I had no idea that the name had been changed like that, so I guess you really do learn something new every day.

When you first enter the museum through the monumental entrance, you arrive in Stanley Field Hall, a vast, open two-story marble space that serves to set the tone for the museum.  In my childhood, there were fountains at either end, and a cast of what used to be identified as an Albertosaurus, but which is apparently now identified as a Daspletosaurus (that’s a new one on me!).  The Daspletosaurus used to be mounted in a very stiff, unnatural position, like it just noticed you taking his picture and being photographed makes it anxious. The bones of another animal lie at its feet.  They have since removed the fountains and the Daspletosaurus has since been remounted in a more natural position and is now in the Dinosaur Hall in the Evolving Earth display (more on that later). The reigning dinosaur in Stanley Field Hall is now Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex. Sue, being one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever found, is mostly real bones.  Her head, however, was crushed, and is too heavy to mount besides, so they created an uncrushed cast and mounted it.

You can see Stanley Field Hall more or less as it looked in my childhood in the movie “The Relic.”  The book that “The Relic” is based on was set in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, so the rest of the interior shots were filmed in a studio, back before the American Museum of Natural History refused to let them film any scenes inside the museum.  Fortunately, the Field Museum was fine with using their museum, so the exterior shots are of the Field Museum and the scenes in Stanley Field Hall were filmed there, but the rest of the interior scenes look like the American Museum of Natural History.

Much of the rest of Stanley Field Hall is the same as it was in my childhood.  I cannot remember if the Brachiosaurus was in Stanley Field Hall during my childhood or if I am remembering other people’s photos of the room. Looking around it looks like I missed it entirely. It looks like they got the Brachiosaurus in 1994 and then had to remove it to make room for Sue.  The original bones are in the back room and a cast of the fossil Brachiosaurus is now outdoors at the northwest corner of the museum.

One side of the rest of the main floor is taxidermied animals, from birds to mammals to sea creatures.  The other side is primarily dedicated to displays about Native Americans.  One little section is the upstairs of the Ancient Egypt display.

The basement, or “ground floor” as they call it on the map, used to be Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Roman and Etruscan artifacts, with a McDonald’s and some dioramas of prehistoric people.  The original dioramas have since been determined to be historically inaccurate and been replaced by better researched dioramas of other prehistoric people.  This was one of my favorite places in the museum, and not for the McDonald’s.  I love learning about the ancient world, and Ancient Egypt has always been one of my favorites. I wouldn’t go back to then on a bet — I like antibiotics and anesthetics and being able to make my own decisions about my body and my life, despite being female.

There is the tomb of Unis-Ankh, the son of a lesser-known pharaoh on display in the museum. My mom and I used to disagree on whether it was a genuine tomb or not. The Field Museum website says, “The reconstruction is based around original pieces of the tomb, creating two authentic chamber rooms dating back to 2400 BC. “ So it’s possible that we were both right — parts of the rooms are genuine, but the rooms themselves are recreations.  Also, in the basement, is a sort of mini-recreation of the Nile, and visitors can try using a shaduf, which is a bucket on a pole on a fulcrum, to remove water from the “river” and other activities.

The Ancient Egypt section seems to be right where I left it, but it looks like the Roman and Etruscan area has been been replaced by an exhibit called “the Underground World,” and the McDonald’s is now the Explorer Cafe.  I glanced at the Explorer Cafe menu and at first I was all, “Pizza and chicken fingers.  Blech.” But when I look farther, I see more variety including salads (they have a Mediterranean salad that sounds pretty good — what’s not to like about kalamata olives and feta cheese?), a third-pound burger, and an Italian beef sandwich.  So that seems promising.

Upstairs is the Plants of the World display, the museum’s collections of artifacts from Asia, the Hall of Gems the Hall of Jades, and my other favorite place in the museum, the Evolving Earth exhibit.  When I was a kid, there was no Evolving Earth display, just the Hall of Dinosaurs, a large sort of light-blue room filled with dinosaur skeletons. The largest of these is the Apatosaurus, which was known as the Brontosaurus for my early childhood, and which used to have the wrong head. When I was a young teenager, we went to the Field Museum after several years of not visiting and I took one look at it and said, “that’s not the same head.”  No one believed me, but, thanks to the magic of the Internet I have been able to determine that I was right.  They replaced the head, which had been from a Camarasaurus, with the correct one in the 1980s. Around the room, near the ceiling, were paintings of the evolution of the Earth, with particular focus on the dinosaurs, done by Charles R. Knight (Knight’s paintings were done when Apatosaurus had the wrong head, so it doesn’t look like the fossil on display now).  I’ve always loved those paintings, and was surprised to find that, like another one of my favorite artists, Claude Monet, Knight had limited vision. While Monet lost his vision gradually over his life, Knight was legally blind from a young age and used special glasses to see well enough to paint.

The “Hall of Dinosaurs” is much diminished from what it used to be, though they still have the same dinosaurs.  The room is about one-third the size, which necessitated putting them at different heights and linking them with ramps.

In my childhood there was a whole room devoted to meteorites, including one that fell in Illinois and passed through the roof of someone’s car.  The section of car was on display as well, if I recall.  That room is gone now, as well.  I can find some evidence that they are working on some kind of fossil meteorite exhibit, but it does not show on the map that one can download from the Field Museum website.

The Field Museum is wheelchair accessible and there is handicapped parking available in the lot closest to the museum.  If one is comfortable on public transportation, the Museum Campus stop of the Metra Electric line is handicap accessible, two bus lines have stops at the museum and it looks like the Red Line train stop at Roosevelt Road is also handicap accessible. It looks as though the East Entrance is the handicap accessible one. Getting to the East Entrance from public transportation may take some effort, since the Metra stop is several blocks away (Google Maps sends you down to 14th street and back up for some unknown reason), and I think the buses let out at the South Entrance, so plan accordingly.

I can find references to the Roman and Etruscan artifacts on the website, but cannot find it on the map for the life of me.  I may have to call the museum to ask whether they have been retired to the back room or if they are on display somewhere and I just don’t see it on the map.