Born and raised in Chicago, I consider myself knowledgeable if someone asks me about a city landmark or attraction. However, Chicago holds secrets that are fascinating.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of taking a “ Glitterati on the Gold Coast Walking Tour“ tour presented by the Chicago History Museum. I was excited and looking forward to it, because as much as I visited the museum before, I had yet to take one of their tours. The Gold Coast neighborhood is known to be an affluent neighborhood and back in 1882 when Potter Palmer moved into the area, other wealthy people who also left their mark on Chicago, followed. I looked forward to knowing more about this time and how these people with familiar names lived.
The Chicago History Museum is one of my favorite places. Smaller than what you see on the museum campus, it has just as much to see and do with many exhibits all about the “Windy City”.
Saturday morning’s tour of the Gold Coast met at the museum before walking to the Gold Coast neighborhood. As I walked into the lobby, I met our tour guide Franny and the rest of the attendees. Before we set off, Franny let us know that the tour was about 1 hour and 30 mins and that we would be walking about 1 mile.
The museum is by Lincoln Park, so our first stop was the Couch Tomb. Did you know Lincoln Park was once a cemetery? Yikes. This building was left in place after about 2,000 buried bodies were moved to other cemeteries because it weighs about 100 tons and no one was able to get in. It remains a mystery how many people are buried inside. We walked by the Abraham Lincoln statue sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and the monument created by Stanford White. Something I never really paid attention to is that Lincoln’s writings and speeches are engraved on the monument.
Next up was the Archbishop’s Residence, a grand house with reputed 19 chimneys. Fun fact, the alley behind the coach house is still made of wood. Pre-Chicago Fire, sidewalks and streets were made of wood which contributed to the spread of the fire. This alley remains historically preserved.
Franny then lead us to Astor St. which was at the center of glitz and glamour. It was historically landmarked in 1975. We walked by the Patterson – McCormick Mansion whose architect was also Stanford White designed for Joseph Medill, owner of the Chicago Tribune, as a gift to his daughter for her wedding. Now condos, it is estimated that the original single family home had somewhere between 40-90 rooms. We walked along more homes that were at one point larger than life. Where one bedroom or even closet was the size of an average apartment today. Also in this area you can see an early design of Frank Lloyd Wright. One of the last stops was the location of Potter’s “Castle”. Demolished in 1950, Potter and Bertha Palmer, yes, of the Palmer Hotel, lived in a lavish home. Franny had pictures of the original home. If it were still standing it would epitomize everything residents and society of the Gold Coast aspired to be at that time.
Heading back to the Chicago History Museum, I was pleasantly surprised to know that we also received complimentary admission into the museum for that day.
I had an enjoyable time on the tour filled with tidbits not only about Chicago but people who helped make it what it is today. I recommend it not only for visitors but locals who want to learn more about the city’s rich history.
For available tours and more information about the Chicago History Museum visit their website.