Chicago Relocation

Random super cool historic places to see on the South Side of Chi-Town

July 21, 2014

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John D’Ambrogio

A few Sundays ago, as spring was finally breaking and it was warm enough to venture outside, my lovely daughter and I decided (OK, dad decided), to soak up some history and culture in a few of the better (but mostly lesser known) treasures of the south side.  Some were empty lots , non-descript buildings or little commemorative signs on a busy street.  But hey we’re all very very cool.  So, this is what we saw, in a general northerly to southerly route, in about three hours.

While by no means exhaustive, it is a great pot-pourri of gems that many Chicagoans do not know exist.

Chess records.  One of the, if not the coolest, places in the south loop is the former Chess records at 2120 S. Michigan.  Muddy, Buddy, Willie, Etta James, even The Stones all recorded there.  For a ten dollar bill you can get a tour of the place.  And then wander around the actual studio and mixing room where the magic all happened.  Right here in our fair city.

Site of the Fort Dearborn Massacre.  Back in 1812, during the 2nd American War of Independence (so-called by some back in the day), the American Garrison at Fort Dearborn (modern day Wacker and Michigan) packed up their troops and civilians and headed for the safety of Ft. Wayne, in the Indiana territory.  Alas, they only got to about 18th and near lake Shore Drive (or Maybe Roosevelt Rd., depending on who you ask)  before being surprised and slaughtered by Native American Forces loyal to the British.  Most were killed, a few were taken into bondage, but no one escaped.  Common lore puts the site somewhere near the small commemorative park at the corner of 28th and Calumet, just southwest of Soldier Field.  I wonder how many people who don’t live just there actually realize it….

Site of Mrs. O’Leary’s Barn.  On the far south loop you will find the site of Mrs. O’Leary’s barn.  As any Chicagoan knows, this was the site where her cow allegedly kicked over a lantern on a hot steamy evening in 1871 and forever changed the course of Chicago history.  Some say burning it to the ground was a blessing that let us become a Phoenix, rebuilding ourselves as a truly modern city.  What is there today?  Would you believe it is the Chicago Fire Department training center?  And a very cool, and small, CFD museum.  Definitely worth a top.

Site of Camp Douglas.  Near 31st and Cottage Grove  -  All the is there now is a small commerative plaque, ironically located at a funeral home, noting the former presence of Camp Douglas.  During the Civil War, Chicago hosted one of the nation’s largest POW camps.  From 1862-1865 thousands of confederate soldiers lived and died as prisoners there, under often harsh conditions.  While there is not much to see, but some seriously important real estate to visit and contemplate. Curious sidenote – For a number of month it housed UNION prisoners.  During a rather large POW exchange, the paroled federal POWs had to stay at Camp Douglas while months passed during processing of paperwork.  Needless to say, riots and escape attempts ensued….

Two very cool homes.  Next we hit the homes of two of my favorite musicians.  Did you know that Satchmo used to live right here on the south side?  His tidy little grey stone is right on  at 421 E. 44th (look for the small commemorative placemark).  Pretty cool to think of the legends that came and went I to that home during the ‘20s and ‘30s.    Moving from Jazz to Blues, Muddy Water’s former home at 4339 S. Lake Park, in the North Kenwood community was sadly in foreclosure for years.  Various efforts the past few years have attempted to turn it into a museum – As recent as February 2014 it was under contract as a short sale.  Alas, that deal fell through and its future is still uncertain.  Read about it here.

So there are six things you can do this Sunday afternoon.  I don’t want to give you all the cool, semi-unknown spots – I’ll leave some digging up to you!