Highlights of Chicago

Chicago skyline (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

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.

view of downtown Chicago from the Sears Tower observation deck (click here to see this photo with annotations)

Here's the view from the observation deck of the Sears Tower, a must do for any visitor to the city.

Click on the photo to bring up the same shot in a new window, with annotated pointers to some of the downtown landmarks shown on this page.

'The Picasso' sculpture

No-one has ever figured out whether this is meant to be an angel, a horse or a woman, and the artist didn't give a title to his work, so Chicagoans just know this statue outside the Daley Center as "The Picasso".  Regardless of what it is, children love to slide down its sloping metal base.

Artwork like this one inspired a whole wave of statuary which gives the city a great deal of character, an effect which was strengthened by a local ordinance passed in 1978 which required developers to spend a certain percentage of their budget on such public displays.

A few of the other famous works include the 39 foot high Miro statue, which is almost directly opposite the Picasso, a very large glass and stone mosaic by Marc Chagall called "The Four Seasons", and a huge red steel girder creation called "Flamingo", visible below and right of the center of the previous aerial photo of Chicago.

fountain outside Navy Pier (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

You might be forgiven for wondering why a place called "Navy Pier" would be located in the center of America's midwest, many miles from the ocean.

In fact, Chicago really was a major naval port during the two world wars, and many soldiers did board troop ships on this half-mile long pier for the trip through the great lakes, down the St Lawrence river and across the Atlantic.

Today the pier is the boarding place for tours of the harbor, and there are numerous attractions along its length, including a children's museum, a stained glass window and a 140 foot high ferris wheel, great grandchild of the world's first ferris wheel, which was constructed for the 1893 Chicago World Expo.

James R. Thompson Center   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Chicago is a real feast for those who love architecture.

As well as being home to many of the world's first skyscrapers, there are also smaller but still significant structures designed by world-famous architects like Frank Lloyd-Wright whose houses, including his own home and studio, can be visited.

In addition to the huge and awesome structures like the John Hancock center and the Sears Tower, still high up the list of the world's tallest buildings, there are many other interesting and attractive buildings like the James R. Thompson Center, shown here.

Chicago River

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.

the clock outside Marshall Field's department store

On State Street, that great street, this old gentleman ensures that the large clock outside Marshall Fields department store keeps good time, regardless of what sun, rain or snow can throw at him.

Like many of America's great department stores such as Sears and Montgomery Ward, old Marshall Fields' glory days are gone, but it's still interesting to walk through and see the costly and elaborate displays during holiday seasons like Christmas - just watch out for icicles falling from the skyscrapers, which kill or seriously injure people every year!

Buckingham fountain (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

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.

Buckingham fountain monster

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.

Adler planetarium

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 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 at the Field Museum

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 an impressive array of Egyptian mummies, Maya artifacts, stuffed animals and meteorites.

Chicago skyline at night (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

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.

Bahai temple at Wilmette (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

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.

Evanston beach under snow   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Lake Michigan is a major feature of Chicago, and something which adds significantly to its appeal, not just by its appearance, but also by the cooling effect it has on the city during summer.   The often mushy "lake effect" snow it causes in winter is somewhat less appealing.

Even after four years of living in Chicagoland, I still have trouble imagining such a large body of water being fresh, and it took me a long time to come to terms with the idea of long sandy beaches in the heart of the continent.

Fortunately I had the help of the Evanston department of recreation to preserve me from any actual enjoyment of these prodigies of nature while I lived under their control.   It's no wonder that I came to think of them as the Evanston department for the prevention of recreation; nor is it surprising that the first edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Chicago has a photograph of seven separate warning signs at the entrance to one Evanston beach.

It's quite beyond me why they would imagine that anyone would even want to sunbathe on a snow-frosted beach, let alone wade or swim in a lake filled with icebergs.

downtown Chicago across icy Lake Michigan (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

It's good to have photographs like this around to remind me why I left Chicago, twice.

At times it seemed like Chicago was a giant black hole relentlessly sucking me in, even before I was living in America.

I well remember the awful "Noo Joisey" accent of a recruiter calling me at two thirty in the morning to tell me about a job in Chicago as I and my family in New Zealand were trying to sleep; whether she did this out of ignorance or lack of respect I'll never know, but even then I knew enough about Chicago's climate not to want to live there.

Nevertheless, after nine months in the country, and the death of the first high-tech company that I was working at, I landed work with Motorola in Chicagoland, that great expanse stretching from Gary in Indiana, all the way up to the Wisconsin border, and perhaps beyond.

After 12 months I quit and headed to the gentler climes of New Jersey, only to land up in Chicago yet again, after the death of another company.   Eighteen more months and another commercial entity's near-death experience, and I moved down to a new job in Evanston, which is where this photo of downtown Chicago was taken from.

On the far right of the photo is the Sears Tower, in the center the John Hancock center, which I always thought was more attractive than the Sears Tower, and on the extreme left you can just make out one of Indiana's few remaining steel mills belching out steam and smoke.