The big city of Chicago is located in the northeast of Illinois and lies on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes. Two rivers flow through Chicago, entirely or partially. They are the Chicago River downtown and the Calumet River in the industrial far South Side. The Chicago Portage connects the watersheds of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, thus making Chicago part of a continental divide. The Chicago River is connected, by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, to the Des Plaines River, which flows to the west of the city. If you are going to Chicago for a weekend, check out the guide for a long weekend getaway in Chicago.
The freshwater Lake Michigan and its proximity to Chicago are very important to the city’s history and economy. In the past, it was the Chicago River that handled much of the region’s waterborne cargo. However, today, the huge lake freighters use the Lake Calumet Harbor on the South Side. The lake also positively influences Chicago’s climate—it moderates it, making the neighborhoods facing the water slightly warmer during the winter and slightly cooler during the summer.
The Chicago River has been much tormented during the city’s history. It was heavily polluted by the vast stockyards and slaughterhouses. In 1871, the river’s flow was reversed to carry the foul effluent away from Lake Michigan. But, the polluting abuse of the river continues to this day—each year on St. Patrick’s Day it is dyed bright green.
Widely considered as the birthplace of the skyscraper, Chicago is the home of many tall and magnificent buildings. Michigan Avenue used to run beside Lake Michigan, but today it is flanked by several fine examples of modern architecture. The Sears Tower, the new tallest building in the United States, is in downtown Chicago. Boat rides on the Chicago River are a wonderful way for the visitors especially interested in architecture to enjoy the impressive skyline of the city’s structural monuments.
Once the artificial part of the city becomes enough for the visitor, Grant Park is conveniently situated just across Michigan Avenue. It is a very welcome break from all the glass, steel, and concrete. As it is in the city’s center, there has been much commercial interest to use the park’s land for construction. However, thanks to the strong protests of the people under the leadership of public figures like department store magnate Montgomery Ward, the park still stands along the lake-shore, acting as the lungs of the city.
The green carpet of the park stretches as a lakeside green strip for many miles north and south. The central monument in the park is the Buckingham fountain. It got its name after the brother of the woman who donated it, Kate Buckingham. It was built in 1927 as a reproduction of the Bassin de Latone at Versailles in France, only two times larger. This fountain functions during the warmer months, both by day and by night when it is illuminated. It shoots a stream of water 150 feet into the air. There are four statues of aquatic monsters surrounding the central fountain. They are said to represent the four states around Lake Michigan: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Located at the southeast end of Grant Park is the Museum Campus. It is comprised of three institutes: the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. There is a statue of Copernicus outside the planetarium, which can be seen as a reminder of the large number of Polish immigrants that have come to Chicago in the past and still do—Chicago is the city with the second-largest Polish population in the whole world.
The Field Museum houses the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex, Sue the Tyrannosaurus. After it was found, in South Dakota in 1990, it was the cause of a controversy over its ownership. The legal battle lasted for five years, and in 1997 the Field Museum earned the right to be Sue’s new home by bidding $8.4 million at an auction. Among the other things exhibited in the museum are Egyptian mummies, Maya artifacts, stuffed animals, and even meteorites. Across the street from Grant Park is the Art Institute, another popular tourist destination. One of the many interesting sights in Chicago is the Baha’i Temple at Wilmette. Of the seven Baha’i temples in the world, the one in Chicago and the one in New Delhi in India are the most beautiful.