The Windy City, one of the most spectacular large cities in the country, if not the world, is situated just off Lake Michigan in the northeastern corner of Illinois. As Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah sing in their classic anthem about the town’s legendary thoroughfare, Lake Shore Drive:
Running south on Lake Shore Drive heading into town just slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound.
And it starts up north from Hollywood, water on the driving side.
Concrete mountains rearing up, throwing shadows just about five.
Sometimes you can smell the green if your mind is feeling fine.
There ain’t no finer place to be, than running Lake Shore Drive.
Every time I hear that song, I long for the Indian summer weekends spent in Chi-Town. But where did its main alias, “the Windy City,” come from?
Often, people attribute the nickname to the weather, but it is not statistically windier than most other cities. Some attribute it to the cold winds that blow off Lake Michigan. This idea was pushed in the late 1800s when the city was marketing itself as a summer retreat that offered cool breezes from the lake that tempered the heat and humidity of Illinois’ summers. Still others attribute the nickname to a feud between Chi-town and Cincinnati, again in the late 1800s, over their many sports rivalries. It appears that Chicago had at one point tried to steal Cincinnati’s beloved nickname of Porkopolis when the Chicago surpassed Cincinnati in the meatpacking industry. And while no one may ever agree on the roots of the nickname, my favorite origin is all the hot air that Chicago politicians blow.
Chicago is home to numerous significant landmarks. The Willis Tower (formerly and affectionately still known as the Sears Tower), was built in 1973 and was the tallest building in the world at the time; it is currently the second tallest building in the USA. The Magnificent Mile, a very prominent section of Michigan Avenue that is home to some of the nicest retail shops and restaurants in the country, traces its roots to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Wrigley Field, home to the beloved Chicago Cubs, was built in 1914 for the Chicago Federal League baseball team the Whales. The stadium sits on Clark and Addison, a hub in the section of town known as Wrigleyville. It has many internationally recognized features, including the ivy-covered outfield walls that sometimes baffle players trying to track down a scorching hit; the rooftop bleacher seats and colorful billboards that sit across from the stadium; and of course the singing of ‘Take me out to the ballgame” during the 7th Inning Stretch made most famous by the late Harry Caray.
One of Chicago’s best known tourist attractions is the Navy Pier, a 3,300-foot long jetty on the Chicago shoreline. Construction began in 1914 and was completed in 1916; at the time it was the longest pier in the world. Formerly known as the Chicago Municipal Pier, in its heyday of the 1920s, it averaged well over 3 million visitors a year to its dining facilities, playgrounds, dance halls and auditoriums. When the US looked sure to join World War II, the Pier was closed to the public and adapted to accommodate 10,000 Navy service personnel for training. Shortly after the war, the University of Illinois used it as a college classroom for teaching returning vets; and then after a period of disuse, it returned to its original job of tourist attraction. In 2012, Navy Pier beat its attendance record that was set in 2000 with 9.2 million visitors.
There is so much more to tell about this wonderful city, and if we were to go further, we would start with the ‘85 Bears. But alas, this column is meant as just a teaser to remind us all of the wonderful places in our Small World. So if you are determined to know more, just catch a flight to O’Hare, hop on the “L” and head into the City. Grab a Chicago dog when you get off the train, and don’t forget to visit the Belmont Station (served by the brown, red and purple lines), as it was voted the most romantic stop for missed connections by Craigslist.