Chicago, located in the northeast corner of Illinois along the southwestern bank of Lake Michigan, used to be a marshy backwater where a lot of Potawatomi Indians lived, until a Haitian trader by the name of Jean-Baptiste du Sable settled along the banks of the Chicago River, where he built a trading post, and married a Potawatomie woman. In the early 1800s, there were a lot of battles going on between the U.S. Army and the Indians, who by 1816 decided to let the U.S. just have Chicago.


In the early part of the 1800s, Chicago was a frontier town, and began to serve as a trade and transportation link between the eastern and western states. Meanwhile, they let a lot of Eastern European immigrants come in to help with the stockyards, meat-packing, manufacturing and whatnot. Unfortunately, they inadvertently let in a bunch of Sicilians and Irishmen, after which there were a few quite nasty cholera and typhoid fever epidemics, which were solved by reversing the flow of the river so as to flush the sewage downstream instead of into the river. Then there was a big fire, after which many of the people with any sense decided to pack it in. chicagofire.jpg

In the 1920s the U.S. government decided that it would be a good idea to outlaw alcoholic beverages. This allowed gangsters like Al Capone to pretty much take over; before, they only had theft, prostitution, graft, gambling, murder-for-hire, etc. Once they got all the money and power, they more or less controlled the local government, and it's still sort of like that even now, even though alcohol is legal. Except now the city's population is about a third white, a third black, and a third Hispanic, so Chicago politics is complicated. There's about 3,000,000 people in Chicago.

In the mid-1900s, the city fathers decided it would be nice if the poorer people stayed in one or two parts of town, and developed the ingenious concept of segregated housing projects toward that end, and the system continues to this day, although the housing projects closest to the nicer areas are in the process of being torn down and sold to developers. The reason I mention this is to explain why most of Chicago's attractions are located on the north side, as opposed to the south and west sides of the city, which is where the generally darker/poorer people (like myself) live.

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Chicago used to have the distinction of being the murder capital of America, but apparently it's not anymore. There are, however, a lot of nice restaurants with food from all over the world. There's plenty of nice shopping to be done, especially along North Michigan Avenue, known locally as the "Magnificent Mile." There's also a lot of live music venues and clubs that feature all sorts of music, from house to blues to jazz to classical to something called indie rock. In 2004, the city opened Millennium Park, a public venue featuring a hyper-modern outdoor amphitheater, a restaurant, and several large works of public art. The park is directly north of the Art Institute, Chicago's oldest and largest art museum, and several blocks south of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Chicago is home to Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, among various other colleges, universities and trade schools. There are also two art schools -- Columbia College and the School of the Art Institute, both located downtown, which explains why the kids are dressed like that.

Chicago has a rich theater scene, featuring Broadway shows and smaller, independent theater companies such as Steppenwolf (founded by John Malkovich and Gary Sinise) and the Neo-Futurarium, among others. Chicago is also home to the Second City comedy theater, whose notable alumni include Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, and Steven Colbert.

You'll probably arrive in Chicago via the Midway or O'Hare airports -- for your information, it doesn't really matter which; they're both roughly the same distance from the city, and they're both easily accessible by train. You'll probably want to stay in the River North area, since that's where most of the hotels and motels are. There are also some reasonably-priced hostels in some reasonable locations.



Posted on Monday, September 25, 2006 at 10:49 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment