chicago-best-kept-secrets

Best Kept Secrets of Chicago

Filed Under: Chicago, Sightseeing
Most visitors to Chicago arrive with a checklist of things to see. It's no secret that architecture, museums, the Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the lakefront, restaurants and theaters are why folks come. But there are Chicago secrets, some that even locals don't know about. We do. Now, you will, too.

Basilicas

Spread throughout Chicago are 3 Roman Catholic basilicas, churches whose architectural and decorative features are so special that Rome has recognized their unique beauty with that elevated designation. None is downtown. Our Lady of Sorrows dedicated in 1902, is the oldest. Its ceiling, especially, is a wonder. A scene from the film The Untouchables was filmed here in 1987. St. Hyacinth, is a jewel of a church (dedicated in 1921), set in the heart of what is still a heavily Polish community. Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass here. If features an interior charm reminiscent of the old country. The newest of the three, the gothic-modern Queen of All Saints was completed in 1960 and was named a basilica two years later by Pope John XXIII. You'll see why. Call ahead to be sure someone is around to show you in.

Cemetery Town

Chicago is a great cemetery town, but Oak Woods Cemetery is particularly fascinating. Adrian "Cap" Anson is buried here only a few yards from Harold Washington, who in 1983 became Chicago's first African-American mayor. Anson was the Hall of Fame baseball player/manager/owner with the Cubs in the late 1800s who was notorious for his racism. Rejecting common practice, he wouldn't allow his teams to play exhibitions against teams with black players. Also at rest here: Olympic icon Jesse Owens, not far from 6,000 Confederate POWs who died in a Chicago prison camp. A monument and cannons mark the spot. Get a list and map at the front office.

1893 World's Fair Souvenir

Visitors learn quickly that the Museum of Science and Industry, in Jackson Park, is housed in what was the Palace of Fine Arts during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, one of the greatest of all World's Fairs. What they usually miss is the one-third scale replica of Daniel Chester French's monumental sculpture, "Statue of the Republic," honoring America on the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage here. The original, which stood 65 feet tall, dominated the fair's basin but was destroyed in an 1896 fire. In 1918, French's replica -- covered in gold leaf like the original but 24 feet tall -- was dedicated in Jackson Park. See it at the corner of Hayes and Richards Drives. It's a dazzler. And unlike the plaster original, this one's bronze. It will last, as will another Daniel Chester French masterwork: the grand statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

West Side Grounds

When Joe Tinker famously flipped a baseball to Johnny Evers, who relayed it to Frank Chance -- a Chicago Cubs double-play combination immortalized in a poem and plaque in the Hall of Fame. It didn't happen at Wrigley Field. The Cubs, a powerhouse in the early 1900s, played at the West Side Grounds from 1894 through 1915. The modest grandstand is long gone, but the field -- much of it -- is still a field, tucked between buildings at the University of Illinois Medical Center, flanked by Polk, Wolcott, Taylor and Wood Streets. It was home of the Cubs when they won their last World Series, in 1908. It’s a field of dreams that you can walk today.

Essanay Studios

Hollywood wasn't quite Hollywood yet when George Spoor and Gilbert "Broncho Billy" Anderson moved their primitive Chicago movie studio in 1908. It was moved from Wells Street, near today's Old Town neighborhood, to 1333-45 W. Argyle St. in Uptown. Essanay Studios, cranked out silent features and shorts for 10 years. In late 1914, the great comedian Charlie Chaplin split from producer Mack Sennett and worked at the Chicago studio. The connection was fleeting. Chaplin left town within a year and the company soon after, but his presence, along with that of Wallace Beery, Ben Turpin and a local kid named Gloria Swanson makes this hallowed ground. The Essanay logo is still on the door. A surviving stage, named for Chaplin, is the auditorium for St. Augustine College, which now occupies the building. Ask at the front desk for a peek inside.