Given how many tour boats are on the Chicago River at any one time, it must be some sort of legal requirement that all visitors take a tour when they are in the city. There are several choices for type, length, and time of tour, but the most common ones are those that take you around the waterways to see the collection of interesting buildings in the downtown area. A primer, as it were – with examples – of 20th century American architecture.
I went with a Wendella’s ninety minute (the deluxe longer tour) architecture tour. In the mix of building information, we got a bunch of assorted history and trivia. It was all presented in a fun and interesting manner, as one would expect. As (seemingly) always, they had to talk about the Great Fire and how the Chicago River was reversed so instead of sending sewage into Lake Michigan, a canal would send it down the Mississippi to St. Louis.
One note of interest that wasn’t presented elsewhere was that all the bridges over the river (including both branches) are movable and can be opened. When not being opened for a movie scene, they are regularly opened twice a year. Once in the spring, when people with sailboats bring them out of winter storage and move them to marinas on Lake Michigan, and then in the autumn when the sailboats go back into storage. I gather the city makes a little festival out of it…..
And speaking as someone whose hairline has receded so much that it has entirely fled the battlefield, if you’re taking one of these cruise / tours on a bright sunny day, a hat, sunscreen, or staying on the lower deck is recommended…..
At night, it’s time to visit some of the more notorious places in the city, thanks to a Nightly Spirits Ghost Tour & Pub Crawl. I’d enjoyed their tour in Denver, so when I saw they had one in Chicago, I had to sign up.
We met at Lincoln Station, a pub in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The place itself doesn’t have a reputation, but it is almost directly across the street from the Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger met his end. The alley were he died is now the home of a large mural depicting him. It’s also alleged to be haunted.
Chloe, our host and guide for the tour, took us to another bar whose name I have forgotten. Eh, it wasn’t anything special – we just listened to more spooky tales of the neighborhood. We did pass Jonquil Park, where there’s a creepy looking statue at the northeast corner. Well, it looks creepy at night. Should have asked Chloe if she knew anything about it, but she was in the middle of telling us about the Valentine’s Day Massacre mob hit, which happened not too far from where we were. I guess it was either too far for a walking tour to visit, or in a rather dull location.
We wrapped it up at Lilly’s, a quirky little bar and performance space. It’s in an oddly shaped building (because it’s at a sharp streetcorner) that looks like it was cobbled together from assorted rooms, and then filled with leftovers from a second-hand store. Seriously, everything is at an odd angle, and very little of the furniture matches. The place is said to be haunted, according to Chloe, but if it wasn’t, we probably wouldn’t have stopped there.
It was fun, even if we didn’t visit many places, and the ghost stories themselves were rather run of the mill.
Next time, some Sciencey-type stuff!