Chicago

Chicago


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It is not exactly known when Native Americans first lived in the region of present-day Chicago, but evidence shows that they lived there at least as early as 8,000 B.C. By the late 1600's, there were many tribes in the region. The Potawatomi Indians were the most important tribe and dominated the others. In 1673, Indians directed Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet and missionary Jacques Marquette to Lake Michigan via the Chicago River. The two men learned that the Indians of the region called the area around the mouth of the river 'Checaugou', after the wild garlic that grows there.

After the Revolutionary War, settlers increasingly focused attention on the vast western frontier. In 1779, fur trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable established a settlement on the north bank of the Chicago River. The settlement's position on Lake Michigan suited the government's plan to create a permanent presence in the area and in 1803 Fort Dearborn was built on the south bank of the river. Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833, when it had a population of just 340.

The construction of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, an inland waterway linking the Great Lakes to the Illinois River and thus to the Mississippi River and New Orleans, fueled Chicago's boom. Swarms of laborers were drawn by the canal construction and swelled Chicago's population. At the same time the local real estate market rocketed and land speculation caused prices to increase dramatically. Lots that had sold for US$ 33 in 1829 went for US$ 100,000 three years later. The canal opened in 1848 and commercial ships began to ply the Chicago River from the Caribbean to New York. Thanks to the canal, Illinois farmers had greatly improved access to Eastern markets and the Chicago Board of Trade opened to handle the sale of their grain. The Board still exists and is one of the city's great financial institutions.

After the Illinois & Michigan Canal was finished, many of its laborers went on to work in the railroad construction. By 1850, a line had been completed to serve grain farmers between Chicago and Galena, in western Illinois. A year later, the city gave the Illinois Central Railroad land for its tracks south of the city. It was the first of numerous land-grant railroads. It is one of the reasons why so many tracks radiate out from Chicago. The city quickly became the most important hub for America's freight and passenger trains and held on to that status until WWII.

As in many other northern cities, the Civil War boosted business in Chicago's burgeoning steel and tool-making industries and provided plenty of freight for the railroads and the canal. At the end of the Civil War, in 1865, the Union Stockyards, unifying disparate meat operations scattered about the city, opened on the South Side. Chicago's rail network and the development of the iced refrigerator car meant that meat could be shipped eastward, to New York. It spurred the industry's consolidation and Chicago's growth. By the end of the 19th century, the city's population had grown to almost 2 million.

In 1933, Ed Kelly became mayor of Chicago. He strengthened the Democratic Party in the city and created the legendary 'machine', which would control local politics until the 1980's. Politicians handed out thousands of city jobs to people who worked hard to make sure their patrons were reelected. The 'machine's' power reached its peak with the election of Richard J. Daley in 1955. Daley was reelected mayor five times before he died in office in 1976. With an uncanny understanding of machine politics, he dominated Chicago in a way no mayor had before or since.

The last of the Chicago stockyards closed in 1971. All over the city, factories and steel mills closed, because companies moved to the suburbs or to the southern U.S., where taxes and wages were lower. Chicago's industrial base slowly eroded; a process that was accelerated by a decade of economic decline. Fortunately, in 1974, the Sears Tower, at that time the world's tallest building, was opened in the Loop and a year later the Water Tower Place shopping mall opened downtown. These two events started a developing trend that spurred the creation of thousands of high-paying jobs in finance, law and other areas. Developers started realizing that Chicago's urban environment was an attraction in itself.

In the fall of 1982, efforts started to propel reformist Harold Washington into office. He became Chicago's first African American mayor. The result was political and social chaos from 1983 to 1987, much of which was caused by ugly racial overtones and the fact that the old guard refused to cede any power or patronage to a reform-minded mayor. The irony is, however, that when Washington died, seven months after he was reelected in 1987, he and his allies were just beginning to enjoy the same spoils of the 'machine' they had once tried to break down.

In 1989, Richard M. Daley, the son of Richard J- Daley, was elected mayor of Chicago. Like his father, Daley had an uncanny instinct for city politics. Unlike his father, he has shown much more political savvy in uniting disparate political forces. Daley moved to solidify his control of the city in a way his father would have applauded, but in a much more enlightened manner. During his rule, the parks became much cleaner and safer and the schools, which were among the worst in the United States showed marked improvement. A new generation of professionals discovered the joys of urban living, among them Chicago's vibrant cultural and social scene. Billions of dollars in private investment flowed into neighborhoods and the city's diversified economic base enabled it to weather the recession of the early 1990's better than others in the U.S.

Chicago is in the northeast of Illinois. It covers over 520 km² (200 sq miles), making it the third largest city in the United States. Chicago stretches for 40 km (25 miles) along the southern tip of Lake Michigan, and then sprawls inland to the west. Its metropolitan area stretches in the north to the Wisconsin border and in the south to industrial suburbs on and beyond the Indiana border. An enormous variety of goods are manufactured in the area. Despite an overall decline in industry, Chicago has retained large grain mills and elevators, iron- and steelworks, steel fabricators, meatpacking, food-processing, chemical, machinery and electronics plants.

In addition to its noted expressways and boulevards, Chicago has a system of elevated and partly underground railways that extend into the heart of the city, making a huge rectangle, the celebrated Loop, which gives its name to the downtown section. It draws its name from the elevated train tracks that encircle it.

The ancestors of Chicago's population were Irish, Italian, German, Polish, Mexican and Asian immigrants, as well as people who moved to Illinois from the southern United States. The result is a city with an unrivaled tradition of jazz and blues, an astonishing architecture, an international cuisine and some of the world's most awarded newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, which is among the most widely read newspapers in the United States.

In Chicago you will find examples of almost every architectural style in the United States. The intersection of Madison and State Streets is the center point in a numbering system that lets you navigate Chicago without knowing any street names. From this point, all street numbers are predicated on north, south, east or west, depending on which way they radiate. Many of Chicago's neighborhoods are named for their location in relation to the Loop (South Loop, Near North, West Side, etc).

Chicago is the commercial, financial, industrial and cultural center for a vast region and a mid-continent shipping point. It is a major Great Lakes port.

When to go

The weather in the region around Chicago varies extremely. September probably offers the best weather, with warm days and little rain. In July and August, it can get really hot, with temperatures ranging from 27 to 32°C (80-90°F) and a high humidity. During the winter, January to March, it is often windy, damp and cold, with temperatures that usually vary between -11 and -2°C (12°F and 29°F). In winter it can also snow for days on end and temperatures and brisk winds will guarantee that you'll spend most of your time indoors then.

Most major celebrations and festivals in Chicago take place in summer. During weekends, all sorts of events are organized in the city's parks and neighborhoods, especially musical festivals, as blues and jazz musicians have been flocking to Chicago since 1915. Chicago's Grant Park is probably the place where most of the music festivals are held. On Labor Day weekend, the Chicago Jazz Festival is held there, while on the first weekend in June, it hosts the Chicago Blues Festival. The festival lasts for three days. The weekend-long Chicago Gospel Festival is held in the park soon after that. In July, Taste of Chicago is celebrated. It is a huge event that closes Grant Park for 10 days leading up to Independence Day on 4 July. The German-American Festival is a nice Oktoberfest-type event that is held in the heart of an old German neighborhood at Lincoln Square during the third weekend in September. Between January and March, Chicago is least busy and hotels and airfares are usually at their cheapest.

Places of interest

Art Institute of Chicago

The Chicago Art Institute is on the eastern side of the Loop and it provides reason alone to visit Chicago. It is one of the world's premier galleries, since it has found generous patronage among Chicago's wealthy. Their contributions have funded a magnificent collection that spans 5000 years of art. The bronze lions flanking the steps are some of Chicago's most famous icons.

Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center is only a few block north from the Art Institute. It offers music concerts, galleries, exhibitions, beautiful interior design and a permanent museum. It also includes the Museum of Broadcast Communications, where you can see nostalgic radios and displays on broadcasting from before the digital age. The radio era is remembered with the recordings of local stars like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, while television exhibits include videos of pioneering shows and historical events such as the first Kennedy-Nixon presidential election debate of 1960, which took place at a Chicago television station.

Magnificent Mile

Magnificent Mile is a stretch of Michigan Avenue that runs from the Chicago River north to Lincoln Park. It is mostly referred to as 'Mag Mile' and it is lined with shops. On Mag Mile, you can find anything from upscale boutiques to huge chain stores. Its most famous landmark is the Tribune Tower, a 1925 gothic masterpiece that houses the Pulitzer-prize winning Chicago Tribune. The newspaper's eccentric owner had his reporters send rocks from famous buildings and monuments from all over the world to Chicago. These rocks are now embedded around the base of the building. The Magnificent Mile is northeast of the Loop.

Navy Pier

The huge Navy pier on Lake Michigan's shore was Chicago's municipal wharf from 1918 to 1930. Later, it became the first location of the University of Illinois at Chicago. During the 1970's and 1980's, the pier dilapidated because of a lack of maintenance, funds and interest. With the help of around US$ 200 million it was converted into a combination amusement park, children's museum, meeting center and food court. Nowadays the pier is visited by some 7 million people each year. The Navy Pier is immediately east of downtown.

Field Museum of Natural History

The Field Museum of Natural History houses some 20 million artifacts, including mummies, native American artifacts, stuffed animals and the remains of dinosaurs. Probably the most interesting part of the museum is the walk-through exhibit that attempts to capture the scope of Africa by taking visitors from bustling city streets to expansive Saharan sand dunes. In the museum you can also see a recreated Egyptian burial chamber with 23 mummies and a Dinosaur Hall filled with skeletons, the oldest of which are tens of millions of years old. In 1997, the museum acquired the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex for US$ 8.4 million. It was found several years earlier by a rancher, who sold it for US$ 5000. It is the best-preserved skeleton of the meat-eating dinosaur yet found.

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium holds the world's largest collection of aquatic life forms. The original building dates from 1929, but later the spectacular multilevel Oceanarium was added. It has a centrally located tank that is home to 500 tropical fish ranging from nurse sharks to moray eels. In the Shedd Aquarium, you can also see Beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, harbor seals, sea otters and penguins.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is Chicago's most popular neighborhood. It is a bustling place where you will always see people practicing in-line skating, walking dogs, pushing strollers and driving in circles for hours looking for a parking-place. In Lincoln Park you will also find the Biograph Theater, where gangster John Dillinger was gunned down by the FBI in 1934. In 1868, Lincoln Park Zoo was founded. Entry is free and among its inhabitants are huge monitor lizards, Galápagos turtles, naked mole rats, fruit bats and spiders. The zoo is known for its successes with the breeding of gorillas and some three dozens were born there in the last two decades of the 20th century alone. There are also chimpanzees that have been taught to draw on poster board with crayons. Some of the animals' 'works' have been shown in galleries. Lincoln Park borders Lake Michigan northeast of the downtown Loop.

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field is home to the Chicago Cubs baseball team. It is one of the oldest stadiums in America and it draws thousands of tourists every year, who come to pose under the classic neon sign over the main entrance. The baseball shrine is an old fashioned ballpark, where the scoreboard is still changed by hand and where fans fought tooth and nail to prevent the stadium being kitted out with lights. If you don't have tickets, or don't want to see the Cubbies lose, you should stroll over to one of the streets next to the stadium and have a chat with the guys who hang around all day waiting for a ball to be hit out of the park. You can also have a beer in one of the nearby sports bars. Many of the surrounding flats have adapted their roofs with bleachers for watching games. Players take fans on tours of the stadium several times during the season. Wrigley Field is north of Lincoln Park. The El elevated train goes straight to the stadium, as do several bus lines.

Chicago Historical Society

The Chicago historical Society is a well-funded museum in the lower end of Lincoln Park, south of the zoo. The museum focuses on the 'average person'. The role of the commoner in the American Revolution sets the tone for the humanistic exhibits. One of the displays is titled Fort Dearborn and Frontier Chicago. It shows how settlers and Indians changed each other's lives. The Pioneer Court gives hands-on demonstrations in the intricacies of making candles, weaving blankets and knitting clothes. None of the work was easy. A large part of the museum's 2nd floor is devoted to Chicago's development and history. It offers good views on the role of immigration and industry, as well as the problems of slums and the lives of the rich. The museum has excellent special exhibitions that cover diverse topics as how bungalows allowed almost every family to afford a home and how WWII affected the average American family.

Chess Records

The record label of Chess Records occupied a modest building on South Michigan Avenue from 1957 to 1967. It became a temple of blues and a spawning ground of rock and roll. The Chess brothers, two Polish Jews, ran the recording studio that saw the likes of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon. Chuck Berry recorded four top-10 singles there, while the Rolling Stones named a song ('2120 S Michigan Ave') after a recording session in 1964. Today, the building is owned by Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation, a non-profit organization that was set up by the late musician to promote blues and preserve its legacy.

Spertus Museum

The small Spertus Museum has excellent displays on the 5000 years old history of the Jewish faith, life and culture. It includes the Zell Holocaust Memorial, which has oral histories from survivors, as well as the names of relatives of Chicagoans who died. The basement is devoted to a children's area called 'Artifact Center', where kids can conduct their own archeological dig for Jewish artifacts. Spertus Museum is in South Loop.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park is an enclave within the city. It owes much of its existence the University of Chicago, a school where graduate students outnumber undergrads and where 18 Nobel prize winners for economics were produced since the award was first presented in 1969.

The bookish residents give Hyde Park a pleasant, insulated, small-town air. Most people visit Hyde Park for its Museum of Science and Industry, which is dedicated to high-tech gadgets. It also features some bizarre exhibits on the human body, including a transparent dissected female mannequin and a preserved man and woman whose bodies have been cut into thin cross sections.

Another interesting sight is Robie House, Frank Lloyd Wright's poster Prairie-style house, designed in 1909. All rooms in the house cluster around a central hearth. It may sound cozy, but the neighbors hated it. In the end Mr. Robie's wife left him and Mr. Robie went broke. Nowadays, the house belongs to the university and is open to the public. Hyde Park is 11 km (7 miles) southeast of downtown Chicago and can be reached via the Metra train from the Loop's Randolph Street and Van Buren Street stations.

Oak Park

Oak Park is an affluent suburb of Chicago that has been preserved as a National Historic District, because Ernest Hemingway was born there in 1899 and because a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright set up a practice and experiment with building styles there in 1889. Most of the Hemingway memorabilia can be seen at the Ernest Hemingway Museum. The entrance fee includes admittance to Hemingway's birth place, where you can see his first room. A route that visits all 25 Frank Lloyd Wright buildings is set out in the district. You can get a walking-tour map at the Oak Park Visitors Center. One of the highlights is the Unity Temple; Wright's first attempt at poured-concrete construction. It dates from 1904 and is one of his most famous works. Wright remodeled his home and studio repeatedly and as a result, it shows off all the hallmark styles associated with the architect. Oak Park is 15 km (9 miles) west of Chicago's Loop and easily accessible via the El elevated train.

Around Chicago

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

On clear days you can see the miserable steel-making town Gary from Chicago. Gary is 48 km (30 miles) southeast along the shore of Lake Michigan. The Indiana Dunes are beyond that town. They consist of more than 32 km (20 miles) of sandy beaches and dunes that were formed by the prevailing winds on Lake Michigan. The dunes are dotted by development and the odd steel mill, but many long stretches of pristine beach and shoreline are encompassed in state and national parks.

The focus of the National Lakeshore Park is the Bailly-Chellberg Visitor Center and Trail. The trail is 3 km (2 miles) long and passes through areas where dogwood, Arctic berries and cacti grow. Along the path you will also find restored log cabins from the 1820's and a farm built by the Swedes in the 1870's. The beaches in the Indiana Dunes State Park can get very crowded with locals, especially during summer. If you are looking for a less crowded beach, you should head for the Kemil Beach, which is dominated by Mount Baldy on its far eastern end. Mount Baldy is a 36 m (120 feet) high dune that provides excellent views over the lake and its shoreline. South Shore trains depart frequently from downtown Chicago for the Indiana Dunes, which are 64 km (40 miles) to the east. The I-94 is the best option to get close to the parks by car.

Other activities

The Chicago River is excellent for canoeing. Along the way you're likely to see deer, red fox, beaver and birds. The river used to function as Chicago's industrial sewer, but it has been cleaned up and on its shores parks are developed and houses are built. Kayaking can also be enjoyed along the Chicago River and on Lake Michigan. The best place to access both waters is from the Chicago Harbor at Navy Pier, where the Chicago River empties into Lake Michigan. Diversey Harbor, not far from downtown, is another good launching point.

Since the river has been cleaned up; fishing has become very popular in Chicago. A special Fishing Hotline was set up to answer questions about what to catch, when to cast and how. Most of the lagoons in the city's parks are stocked in the summer and charter boats can be rented to go out on Lake Michigan. Coho salmon, rainbow trout, chinook and perch are among the fish you might catch in the region.

A distinctly Midwestern activity is bowling. It was once known as 'the opiate of the masses'. There are countless bowling alleys in Chicago, but during the winter, when outdoor activities are limited, they get very crowded. One of the most charming places to practice bowling is Southport Lanes in Wrigleyville, a 75-year-old bar with 4 lanes and handset pins.

Transportation

Chicago has two major airports, including O'Hare International (ORD), which is the world's busiest air hub. It is 27 km (17 miles) northwest of downtown and continues Chicago's historic role as a U.S. transportation hub. Hundreds of flights connect O'Hare with some 300 destinations worldwide each day. Midway (MDW) is 19 km (12 miles) southwest of downtown and much smaller. It is primarily served by discount carriers. The El is an elevated train. It is the quickest and cheapest mode of transportation between O'Hare and Midway airports and the Loop downtown. Shuttle buses connect both airports with major downtown hotels regularly. It is also possible to take a taxi from the airport to the city, but they are quite expensive. All the major car rental companies have outposts at both airports and branches in the city.

Greyhound has numerous buses connecting Chicago with the rest of the United States and Canada each day. The buses are average, but the fares are cheap. Indian Trails is a regional line operating buses similar to Greyhound's. The Greyhound station is southwest of the Loop, not far from Amtrak.

Chicago is also one of the busiest rail hubs in the United States. The city is the nerve center of Amtrak's national and regional train service and the railway's national headquarters are within Union Station, southwest of the Loop. There are three different trains that connect Chicago with the West Coast. The trains to Seattle and Portland pass through the stunning landscapes of the northern Rockies and Montana, while others pass through dramatic canyons in both the Rockies in Colorado and the Sierra Nevada in California. Long-distance trains connect Chicago with Texas, Washington D.C., Boston and New York. They run once a day. Short-distance trains run more than once a day and service Detroit, Saint Louis, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids in Michigan. Amtrak trains are often fully booked, so it is wise to reserve your journey well in advance.

It is easy to visit Chicago by car or motorcycle, as highways converge on Chicago from all directions. None of the routes is especially scenic or otherwise recommended.

The El is the most convenient way to cover larger distances within Chicago. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is the city's public transportation system. It is not bad by American standards and consists of the El and buses. CTA buses go almost everywhere in the city, but the schedules are somewhat erratic and complicated. There is also a network of commuter trains that connect downtown Chicago with its suburbs. The trains are known as Metra.

The best way to explore Chicago is by foot. The city is built on flat terrain and it is easy to navigate. The only way to really get the flavor of Chicago is to explore it by foot. Chicago is one of the few cities in the United States that can be explored without the need of a car.

Accommodation and food

There is a wide variety of hotels, bars and restaurants in Chicago. From January to March Chicago is least busy and hotels and airfares are usually at their cheapest.

Chicago is in the northeast of Illinois, 290 km northeast from Springfield and 950 km northwest from Washington D.C.


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Miscellaneous Information

Latitude:    n/a
Longitude: n/a
Elevation:  175 m (574 ft.)

Population: 3,000,000
Cost-of-living compared to Washington D.C.: n/a

Hours from UTC: -6
Daylight savings time: Late October through late March

City phone code: 312 inside the Loop; 773 outside
Country phone code: 1

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