Chicago is a bold and cosmopolitan city that was like a phoenix during the
late 1800s due to the city burning for 2 days. It started as an accident in a
barn and because of the drought that left the wooden building dry, it quickly
spread killing hundreds then leaving thousands homeless. Afterwards,
there were donations given from around the country as well as the world and the city began
to rebuild with a different mindset.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 devastated the city but led to what is considered
the Golden Age of construction and growth. Architects borrowed from the classics
and used brick along with metal to design stronger buildings, there were no
shortage of opportunities. Businesses like Marshall Field and company were
rebuilt then later expanded. Buildings like St. Michael's Church, which was
gutted but still standing, was rebuilt. Chicago is a city that has been through
fire and flood, it has quite a few stories to tell.
15) Shedd Aquarium
Lincoln Park Zoo had a fantastic freshwater fish collection but Chicago needed
something that would transform it into a true metropolis. Founder of Marshall
Field and Company, John Shedd, had such an idea. He wanted to create Chicago's
own stand alone aquarium along the lakefront and started it with a two million
dollar gift back in the 1920's. He added another million to make sure that
it would be just as formidable as other notable museums from the start. With the
support of his business and civic colleagues, the Shedd Aquarium Society was
formed in 1924.
The best and most innovative techniques from around the world were examined
and in November of 1927, the groundbreaking took place. Two years later the
Grand Beaux Arts building was completed and on May 30, 1930 was the official
opening. John G. Shedd passed away in 1926 and only got to view the first drawing of the
building, so his widow cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. The aquarium
hosts exhibits from the Caribbean Reef, a recreation of the Amazon along with corresponding species
special exhibits on jellies as well as other sea creatures, in 1927 it was
designated as a historic landmark. The Shedd Aquarium is like sailing the waters
of the world without leaving the heart of the city, quite a wonderful place to
Dolphins Performing at the Shedd Aquarium
14) The Rookery
Located at 209 South LaSalle Street, the Rookery is a uniquely designed
masterpiece built in the late 1880's. It's partly named in dubious honor
of the politicians that inhabited the locations predecessor, the City Hall
Building that was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Also, the number
of crows and pigeons that inhabited the exterior also gave it its name. It was
built by architectural firm Burnham and Root, who were going for a bolder, more
modern design. They mixed iron frames, brick façade and elaborate artistry that
took elements from Moorish, Byzantine, Venetian as well as Romanesque designs.
The design was once attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright but he only updated the interior design
in 1905 by using Carrara marble to cover the
wrought iron finishes. That one change along with his brilliant attempt to keep
the original design while integrating his own vision helped to elevate the
building's status. That renovation finished in 1931 and in 1975, the Rookery was
designated as a national historic landmark. Today the Rookery is home to many
well known companies including BNP Paribas and Brooks Brothers.
Focusing on humanities and history, the Newberry Library is a non circulating
private, independent research facility. Walter Loomis Newberry, a businessman and
philanthropist, died at sea on his way to France 1868. Between the years of 1868
and 1885, his two daughters and his widow died. Their deaths set in place a $2.15
million bequest to start the library, some of the collections in the library
date back to the Middle Ages and the Napoleonic Era as well as older times.
There are approximately 1.5 million books, more than 5 million pages of
manuscripts and half a million historic maps in residence. They also host events
such as the Newberry Book Fair where patrons can choose from over 120,000 books
to purchase for two dollars or less. There are even genealogy events to help
people research and discover more about their ancestors. Whether you're tracing
your roots or seeing the world as it was, Newberry is one of fun things to do in
Chicago. The best part is that all exhibitions are free and open to the
12) Smith Museum of
Stained Glass Windows
One of the many attractions in Chicago's Navy Pier, this museum is the first of
its kind in the U.S. and opened in February 2000. There are both secular and
religious windows divided into Victoria, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary
collections. Most displays were originally installed in Chicago's religious,
residential and commercial buildings from local, national as well as international studios.
When many hear the name Tiffany, they think of quality due to the famed
Tiffany Glass Company. Louis Comfort Tiffany
designed hundreds of businesses and residences in the late nineteenth century,
he became well known in the U.S. Over a dozen of the displays are from
Tiffany's Glass Company's New York Studio. Other displays include memorial
windows, religious windows, triptychs and figure portraits all in glass. If you
are looking for quiet things to do with the family, there are over 150 pieces to
explore and enjoy.
Another Display at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass
The company was formed in 1988 by college graduates whose approach is to create
adjustable seating and stages that can properly present their work in a way that
creates a unique experience for the audience. Founding ensemble member and
Director of Artistic Development, Heidi Stillman, encourages members to create
bold works as well as develop their skills through intensive workshops to create an
enduring impact on the community. They have received numerous awards including a
Tony in 2011 for Outstanding Regional Theatre, patrons can preview, see a
matinee or evening show featuring great acting and writing from local talents at
this unique theatre.
The Lookingglass Theatre Company
In 1896, the Near Eastern studies department of the University of Chicago moved
into the Haskell Oriental Museum. Originally filled plaster cast reproductions
and a small exhibition of antiquities, the exhibition grew thanks in part to
John D. Rockefeller. James Henry Breasted, faculty member and archaeologist,
joined the university in 1894 and became the head of the Haskell Oriental
Museum in 1901. He wanted to establish an institute that traced the roots of
Western Civilization to the ancient Middle East.
After World War I, he wrote to Rockefeller and proposed the idea of the
institute that included a research trip to the Middle East. Rockefeller pledged
$50,000 for five years for the institute and in 1919, the Oriental Institute was
founded. That same year Breasted purchased some artifacts from Egypt that
the mummy case of Meresamun and a statue of Sekhmet. In addition to Egypt, the
museum also houses artifacts from digs in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.
Modern technology has allowed the museum to record and trace artifacts as well
as employ modern techniques that will preserve the material for the future
Lammasu on Display at The Oriental Institute Museum
9) Chicago Cultural
After the Great Chicago Fire, many residents started receiving the works of
distinguished authors to replace those lost. The books were held in a temporary
space, an old water tank, and were made available to the public. By 1876, they had
close to 120,000 volumes and the search intensified for a more permanent site.
With 26 million people coming to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and the
success of the World's Fair, Chicago realized that it could become a true
metropolitan city rivaling any in America or Europe.
As they worked on the Dearborn Park library project, the Library Board
entered into an agreement with the American Civil War veteran association that
created a dual purpose building that was home to both the Chicago Public Library
and an army memorial. Once the financing was set and an architectural firm was
chosen, ground was broken in 1892. The library, nicknamed the
People's Palace, was completed 5 years later.
In the 1970's, the Chicago Library established itself as a
landmark but needed renovation to the tune of close to $30 million. The library
moved to a new location in 1974 and to save the old building from demolition, it
was granted historic designation in 1974. In 1977, the library became the
Chicago Public Library Cultural Center. After that, new locations were built and
renovated with space for theaters, dance studios and more. The People's Palace
has regular events that are free of charge to visitors around the world, making
it one of the top things to do in Chicago.
The Grand Staircase in the Chicago Cultural Center
8) Holy Name
The Holy Name Cathedral is the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the United
States and the seat of the Archbishop of Chicago. The Chapel of the Holy Name
was established at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in 1846. It became a
freestanding chapel in 1849 and in 1851 the church was built on the south end of the
cathedral. Because of its size, it served as the diocese cathedral until it was
destroyed in 1871. Work on the new Holy Name Cathedral began with the
cornerstone being laid in July 1874, Chicago then elected their first archbishop
The Cathedral is built in the Gothic revival style and the bronze doors are
the first features to greet worshipers. Each door is 1,200 pounds but can be
pushed with the push of a finger thanks to hydraulics. The sculpture
Resurrection Crucifix and the Stations of the Cross that are cast in bronze as
well as framed in red marble are the most striking features of the cathedral.
In addition to the fine craftsmanship of the cathedral, it contains two fine pipe organs.
Behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field is the second oldest Major League ballpark.
Built in 1914, it started out as Weeghman Park that was named after owner Charles Weeghman. It was Chicago's entry into the Federal League of Baseball Clubs,
which was founded in 1913. Weeghman paid a quarter of a million dollars to build
the stadium that seated 14,000 spectators. Thanks to an antitrust lawsuit brought by the
Federal League against the other leagues that languished in the courts, the
Federal League experienced financial hardship and folded in 1915.
Between 1915 and 1916, Weeghman was able to purchase the Chicago Cubs from
the Taft family and move them into the ballpark. The Cubs won the pennant and
the World Series in 1918. They won again in 1920 and the park became known as Cubs Park. After
the Wrigley family purchased the team from Weeghman, the park was renamed
Wrigley field. Since then it's been home to many historic moments, such as: Baby
Ruth's famous "called shot" in the 1932 World Series and the 500th homer from
Ernie Banks. Today the park seats nearly 42,000, almost three times as many as
when it was built, they built over 60 private boxes and added other amenities.
Even if you're not really into the game, checking out where it all started makes
Wrigley one of the fun things to do in Chicago.
6) Museum of Science
The current residence of the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), also
known as the Palace of
Fine Arts, was constructed in 1893 along lake Michigan for the World's Columbian Exposition that
was designed by Charles B. Atwood of Burnham & Co. Professor Lorado Taft of the
Art Institute of Chicago led a campaign to restore the building and turn it into
an art museum as well as an industrial art school. Even though the referendum to sell $5
million in bonds to pay for the restoration was approved, it was not to happen.
Museum of Science and Industry
Head of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Julian Rosenwald, took his son to
Munich's Deutsches Museum in 1911 and after seeing how taken his son was with
the science museum and its interactivity, Rosenwald was inspired to create a
similar institution in Chicago. In 1926, Rosenwald pledged $3 million toward its
creation and gathered support from local business leaders who were inspired by
his dream to inspire the genius of tomorrow's engineers, scientists as well as doctors. He
planned to use the old Palace of Fine Arts as the location and was successful.
Turbine Inside the Museum of Science and Industry
The building was designed in the Industriale style while the exterior would
replicate the Columbian Exposition design using 28 kilotons of limestone. Work
began in 1927-1928 but not without controversy. Some wanted to name the building
the Rosenwald Industrial Museum but Julian Rosenwald did not like it. Instead they agreed to the name it goes by today and the stationery would add "Founded
by Julian Rosenwald". Unfortunately, he died the year before the MSI opened its
doors in 1933 with its first exhibit, Coal Mine. Over the years, the museum
would host exhibits from a variety of industries, including space, flight, the
Titanic and a 7,200 square-foot exhibition on the future of energy. Kids and
adults will always find fun things to do, learn and see at MSI.
5) Lyric Opera
/Civic Opera House
Seal, David Byrne, Luciano Pavarotti, Zubin Mehta are just some of the
performances at the Lyric Opera/Civic Opera House venues. Chicago's first opera
house was destroyed in the Great Fire and the second was opened nearly 20 years
later. In 1929, the Civic Opera House opened but collapsed due to the Great
Depression. It wasn't until 1954 when Carol Fox, Lawrence Kelly and Nicola
Roscigno cofounded the Lyric Theatre of Chicago that the city really got to see
and appreciate the sophistication of the art form. That same year, Carol Fox
introduced soprano Maria Callas to American audiences in Norma.
Exterior of the Lyric Opera House
In 1956 the Lyric Theatre became the Lyric Opera of Chicago, after dozens of
productions, some with double and triple bills, two of the three founders left to found the Dallas Civic Opera
and this left Carol Fox to head the Lyric.
Rudolph Nureyev, soprano Danica Mastilovic and tenor Jose Cura all had American
debuts at the Lyric. The Civic Opera House is the home of the Lyric Opera and
has seating capacity of over 3,500 seats. It produces contemporary works and
events in addition to the operatic repertoire, including Sweeney Todd as well as The
Great Gatsby. The Civic Opera House has something for everyone and that's why
it's so high on the list of fun things to do in Chicago.
4) Millennium Park
On a hot Chicago day you can go to Millennium Park to see the kids playing
around in the water of Crowd Fountain, it was reated in 1997 and was the brain
child of Mayor Richard Daley. He wanted a public space for residents where
families could enjoy outdoor music concerts, art and the views. With the
participation of world renowned architect Frank Gehry, this 24.5 acre park is a
great achievement for the city, not only because of its design but because of the
public and private partnerships that made it happen.
The centerpiece of the park is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a major donor,
which is used to present outdoor concerts and is home to the Grant Park Music
Festival. One of the most intriguing features of the park is Cloud Gate, a giant
metal bean sculpture that looks like a hollow fun-house mirror for kids and
adults. The Crown Fountain is a pair of 50 foot tall glass brick towers that use
LEDs (light emitting diodes) to display digital images of anyone who chooses to
be pictured. Between those towers is a black granite reflecting pool to add to
the ambiance of the park and the fun.
3) Symphony Center -
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
In 1891, businessman Charles Norman Fay invited Theodore Thomas to establish an
orchestra in Chicago. After touring the U.S. and performing the violin in
several orchestras, he returned to New York to become the first violin in an
orchestra that accompanied Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. In 1854, at age 19,
Thomas was invited to play with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Thomas led
orchestras and founded his own Theodore Thomas Orchestra in 1862. He was the
director for the New York Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and was
offered a permanent orchestra by Fay in 1891.
He led the Symphony Orchestra until his death in 1905 and during his tenure
premiered the works of Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss. Since then there
have been nine other conductors with the longest one being his successor, Frederick
Stock. Stock established youth auditions and the first training orchestra in
1919. The orchestra has had nearly 40 overseas tours, with most trips to Europe.
They made their first trip to Mexico in late 2012.
Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier
Winner of 70 Joseph Jefferson awards, three Laurence Olivier Awards and a
Regional theatre Tony in 2008, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) puts on
over 600 performances a year within 48 weeks. The Chicago Shakespeare Workshop
was founded in 1986 by Barbara Gaines and was renamed as theater in 1999.
They were originally housed at the Ruth Page Theater but due to the growth
the venue became too small, it moved to Navy Pier in 1997. CST is known for its
innovative approach to theater similar to the kind shown by the bard for whom
it's named. It offers personal development, career preparation and other
lifelong learning opportunities to students, artists, as well as teachers in
addition to bold performances to patrons. Previous productions include Dickens'
Women, Murder for Two – a Killer Musical, Black Watch and few other works that
include traditional Shakespeare works like As You Like It as well as Twelfth Night.
1) Art Institute of
Ranked nationally and globally, the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) was founded
in 1866 as the Chicago Academy of Design by a group of local artists. It was
initially financed by members' dues, donations, classes and regular receptions,
which helped it to move to its own residence in 1870. With the Great Chicago
Fire came a whole host of financial and custodial issues and a board of trustees
was established in the late 1870's to help stabilize the institution. It
reinvented itself and became the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts whose focus was to
educate as well as exhibit works of art. The shift created a multi-faceted institution and in
1882, it officially became the AIC. Banker, Charles Hutchinson, was elected
president and led the AIC until his death in 1924.
During the 1880's, the AIC outgrew its facilities and it agreed to share the
cost of a new building with the World's Columbian Exposition as it continued its
mission to counter Chicago's growing materialistic image. The building had a
neoclassical design with the names of famous artists carved into the building
and over the years many structures were added to complement the original 1893
building. The collection of 17th century Dutch paintings was its first
acquisition and with other collections came a broadened range of African, Asian
and American arts as well as photographical along with architectural exhibits.
As time went on the original plan of the coexistence of education and
exhibition became threatened as disagreements over leadership as well as direction
resulted in a faculty strike. The result was a clearer understanding of the
schools status and a different reporting structure that helped the school to
expand and create more courses. This move allowed for the separate but peaceful
coexistence of the school and the museum.
Today the museum is open to the public for free on certain days and hosts a
wide range of works from Picasso, Brancusi and other classical artists. There
is also a section for newer forms of innovative art from the areas of
engineering , architecture and emerging media. What makes the AIC tops on the
fun things to do list is that not only is there something for everyone to
appreciate, it's also that matter how many times you go it will always feel
like the first time.
No matter how many of times you visit Chicago, there is always something you
haven't seen yet. It's managed to establish itself as a dynamic local, national,
and international destination if you want to experience different views of the
world in one place. It can be said that the city truly came to life after the
1871 fire but it's also that the people came to really understand the city's
potential and went about showing it to the world.