Sweet Home Chicago, Part Two: A Pyramid and Oz

Alhthough I’ve done a lot in the Windy City, there’s always more to do.  This trip I decided to spend the night so I could wander around downtown a bit more than usual.  The weather was beautiful so I took a nice walk up Chicago Water TowerMichigan Avenue and down the riverwalk. 

In the 800 block of North Michigan Street, you can see one of the few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire — the Chicago Water Tower.  You can’t miss the castle-like design of this 154-foot tower, which many city residents used as a directional to find the ruins of their homes following the disaster.

Jack Brickhouse StatueI stumbled on a statue of Jack Brickhouse, the legendary sportscaster of the Cubs and White Sox on WGN.   I enjoyed people watching and was almost lured down the steps to the Billy Goat Tavern, which I love, but wanted to preserve myself for going out later that night.  If you’re not familiar with the Billy Goat, it’s worth a visit.  Its address is Michigan Avenue, but it’s LOWER Michgan,  underneath the street.  Look for the stairs at the corner of Michgan and Hubbard across from the Chicago Tribune building.  Ignore the sign on the door that says “Enter at Your Own Risk” and go inside a legend.  The Billy Goat is famous for two reasons: 1) it is the inspiration for the “cheezborger” skit performed by Bill Murray and John Belushi in the early days of “Saturday Night Live”; and, 2) it is home to the “Cubs Curse.”  Visit the tavern’s Web site to learn more about that one! 

That night I finally had the chance to visit Buddy Guy’s Legends blues club at its original location before it moves in a couple months — great food, great music, reasonably priced.

Haymarket Riot MemorialThe next morning, my first stop was the Haymarket Square area of Chicago, where violence broke out in 1886 at a rally supporting striking workers.   The Haymarket Riot  resulted in several deaths of policemen and civilians, and is still a controversial subject today.  A bronze memorial marks the spot.   

The TinmanNot too far north in the Lincoln Park neighborhood is Oz Park, dedicated to Oz author Frank Baum, who settled in Chicago not too far from the park, located on Webster Avenue between Halstead and Larrabee.  “Dorothy’s Playlot” provides a place for children to play, while “Emerald Gardens” offers a quiet place for strolling and reading.  Throughout the park are statues of Dorothy and Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion.  

Jack Benny StatueNorth of Chicago on Lake Michigan is Waukegan, Ill., the birthplace of classic comedian Jack Benny.  I went there to see his statue at the corner of Genesee and Clayton streets, but there’s plenty more to see.

The last stop on this Chicago trip was an exotic one, to say the least.  Northwest of Waukegan is Wadsworth, Ill., Pyramid Houseand the site of a pyramid shaped house.  The private residence is six stories high, 17,000 square feet, and covered with 24-carat gold plate.  Several Egyptian statues, including  a 64-foot-high Ramses, and a replica of King Tut’s tomb are also located on the site.

The last stop this trip was a downtown Chicago restaurant tradition, but that turned out to be deserving of its own post  . . .

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Sweet Home Chicago, Part One: Gangsters and Elephants

On the road again — this time to Wisconsin to spend time with my daughter and do some wedding planning.  Of course, for me to get to Wisconsin, I have to go through Chicago, which is one of my favorite cities.  I’ve been here several times, so I’ve seen many of the major tourist and “roadie” attractions (at least the type I like), and there are some dozzies!  For the first timer, make sure you make the “gangster” rounds.  You can take tours or there is plenty of information from books and the Internet that will show you where famous shootouts happened (some of which still have bullet holes as proof); the site where Dion O’Banion’s flower shop used to stand; the storefront that used to be a funeral home for many of the famous dead; the Biograph Theater, which looks the same as it did the day John Dillinger was gunned down in front of it when he came out with the “lady in red”; and, the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Other interesting stops include:

  • the site of the start of the Great Chicago Fire, which is marked by a flame sculpture.  Ironically, the site is now occupied by the Chicago Fire Department Training Academy.
  • a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the northern suburb of Niles.
  • the first McDonald’s franchise opened by Ray Kroc, now a museum, and the site of mass murderer John Wayne Gacy’s home, both in Des Plaines.
  • Mt. Carmel Cemetary in Hillside, contains a couple of interesting grave sites.  The Capone family is buried here, including Al, as well as some other famous gangsters, but I think the most interesting grave is that of the “Italian Bride.” Julia Petta.  Petta died at age of 29 during childbirth.  A beautiful-life-size statue of Petta in  her wedding dress marks the site; her bridal portrait, after which the statue was modeled, graces the stone.  During the six years following her death, Petta’s mother had disturbing dreams that  her daughter was still alive.  When she finally got permission to have the body exhumed, it was discovered that the young woman’s body had not decayed.  After the body was reburied, a second picture was added to the stone — that of Petta in her casket after she was exhumed showing the “incorruptible” state of her body.
  • Another interesting cemetary is located in Forest Park, not too far away.  Showmen’s Rest, in Woodlawn Cemetary contains the graves of hundreds of circus performers, more than 50 of whom were killed in a train crash nearby.  Due to the nature of the horrific crash, these mostly unidentified performers are buried in a mass grave.  Five mourning elephant statues guard the site.
  • Of course, if you like to get your kicks on Route 66, this is the traditional starting point.  The Mother Road actually starts downtown near the lake on Jackson, but this is a one-way street heading the wrong way, so you need to start one block over on Adams; a sign marks the official spot.  As you wind your way through the city streets of Chicago, onto the neighborhood of Cicero and further west, you can still see some remnants of hotels and restaurants.  Be sure to start the trip with a skillet breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, where women and children still get free boxes of Milk Duds,  and grab a hot dog at Henry’s Drive-in where the hot dog “is a meal in itself,” or some chicken at Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket.

One other restaurant note:  There’s a fantastic steak and seafood place called Al Capone’s Hideaway and Steakhouse between St. Charles and Elgin, about 45 minutes west of Chicago.  You have to follow the signs posted on trees along a winding back road to get to this former speakeasy with a rich history, and it’s well worth the trip.

Next up — the new treasures found on THIS trip!