Thursday, September 15, 2011



The buildings in the foreground of this photograph stand along Michigan Ave, which did indeed once run beside Lake Michigan. Despite many efforts by commercial interests to cut it up, Grant Park now stands along the lakeshore, protected by the protests of the people of Chicago under the leadership of public figures like department store magnate Montgomery Ward. Just as Central Park in New York acts as the lungs of that city, so does Grant Park provide a welcome green carpet next to the blue lake. Nevertheless, the skyline with its tall buildings is magnificent, quite appropriate for a place which is often considered the birthplace of the skyscraper, epitomized by the large black Sears Tower, tallest building in the United States. 


 Architecture buffs will enjoy a tour among the many renowned buildings lining the banks of the much tormented Chicago River. Heavily polluted by the city's vast stockyards and slaughterhouses, the flow of the river was reversed in 1871 to carry the foul effluent away from the lake. The abuse continues even now - each year on St Patrick's Day the river is humiliated once again by being dyed bright green.  

Leaving the artificiality of the city's concrete canyons, we head across Michigan Avenue to Grant Park, a very welcome antidote to the glass, steel and tarmac. The centerpiece of this large park, which is just a small part of the lakeside green strip which runs for many miles north and south of downtown, is Buckingham fountain, named after the brother of its donor, Kate Buckingham. Built in 1927, it's twice the size of its model, the Bassin de Latone at Versailles, and shoots a stream of water worthy of Chicago 150 feet into the air. It performs its display throughout the warmer months, both by day and illuminated at night.


Amongst other pieces of symbolism, the aquatic monsters surrounding the central fountain represent the four states around Lake Michigan - Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. An informed person might well think that this poor creature's current activities are very appropriate for any animal unlucky enough to find itself in what was once a very polluted section of the lake; even today, disturbing the layers of muck at the bottom of the lake is likely to result in the release of a very toxic cloud of industrial chemicals. 

The Adler Planetarium is one of three institutes which together comprise the Museum Campus at the south end of Grant Park. A statue of Copernicus sits outside the planetarium, a conscious reminder that Chicago is the second largest Polish city in the world, thanks to the number of immigrants who came here and continue to come here. The second member of the campus is the large Shedd Aquarium. I haven't been inside the planetarium, the aquarium, or the Art Institute across the park, mostly because none of them offer much in the way of opportunities for photography.

Sue the Tyrannosaurus has plenty of room to wander around inside the cavernous spaces of the Field Museum, the third member of the Museum campus. Sue is the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered, and the cause of a considerable amount of controversy - found in 1990 in South Dakota, the legal battle for ownership took five years to resolve and it wasn't until 1997 that the Field Museum made the winning auction bid of $8.4 million and brought Sue to Chicago. Now she gets to stare all day at the delicious but unsuspecting morsels who turn their back on her, while she enjoys the company of Egyptian mummies, Maya artifacts, stuffed animals and meteorites.


The Chicago skyline at night, photographed from the Planetarium across the frozen surface of Lake Michigan. By taking the photo on a weeknight in winter it's possible to get adequate darkness while there are still workers in their lit-up offices. This is one of the photographs that's been stolen from me most often - I keep having to request web hosts to remove this picture from people's websites, and I've even had to use lawyers' letters to squeeze money out of a couple of people who were using it commercially. 

Heading north from downtown Chicago we come to the Baha'i temple at Wilmette, which is easily reached by car or the El ("elevated railway", an extremely ugly but functional system, and as much part of Chicago as Navy Pier or the Sears Tower).
Of the seven Baha'i temples around the world, this one and the one in New Delhi, India, are two of the most attractive. In 2003 the Wilmette temple had its fiftieth anniversary, and at the time I photographed it there was restoration work being done outside, to fix up the damage caused by Chicago's tropical summers and arctic winters.

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