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DAY TRIP: History is a breeze

Windy City museum takes you on a tour through time, from an epic disaster to a king-sized hot dog

CHICAGO – Can there be anything more interesting than immersing yourself in history?

Perhaps, but the Chicago History Museum does its best to make you forget what those things might be and instead show you what you’ve missed. 

Its “Chicago: Crossroads of America” permanent exhibit offers the opportunity to get on the L (elevated) car No. 1, which was built in 1892. The car was used to transport passengers to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. You can picture yourself on the way for a day of exceptional amazement, and I’ll be joining you.

While we really can’t go to the Exposition, we can go into the connecting galleries. In this exhibit, we’ll go to a jazz club and get a look at the past fashions displayed in a Marshall Field’s window. 

The galleries that combine to make up “Crossroads of America” stretch from the early days to the present. “City on the Make” includes the time of Native Americans, Fort Dearborn and the fur trade, and some of the major players in the local economy, including meatpacking and the stock yards.

In “City In Crisis,” we hit the hot spots, such as the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, the Eastland ship disaster of 1915 and Gangland Chicago of the 1920s.Sweet Home Chicago features the communities of the city and celebrates the people and their neighborhoods.

Then we’ll come to the community gallery, which contains changing exhibits, followed by “Second to None” and its focus on new ideas and innovations. We’ll also find toys – Lincoln Logs and Wrigley gum – just a few of the items that were or are made in Chicago.

This is just the beginning of the many things we can see and learn about at the museum. If visitors happen to get hungry or want a break, the North & Clark Cafe offers breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday and lunch on Sunday.

Another permanent exhibit that might tempt us is “Sensing Chicago.” Here we’ll use our senses to find out more about The Windy City. This is particularly fashioned for the younger set. Children can jump into a large-sized, Chicago-style hot dog, hear the sounds of the Great Chicago Fire, smell the Union Stockyard, ride a high-wheel bicycle, and catch a fly ball at Comiskey Park.

Two other permanent exhibits turn the spotlight on Abraham Lincoln where we’ll see artifacts from John and Jeanne Rowe’s Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln collection and learn more about the Civil War, Lincoln’s 1860 election and his assassination.

In “Lincoln’s Chicago,” we’ll find out that Lincoln considered Chicago his second home. We’ll be treated to views of Chicago as it was during Lincoln’s lifetime.

While we’re here, let’s go to the movie and learn more about big events in Chicago’s past in the “The Great Chicago Adventure Film,” which is shown periodically each day and runs about 30 minutes. Sports fans can even relive sports victories and political folks can cheer President Obama. The show begins at 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, at 11 a.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday.

On display until April 12 is “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America.” This exhibit is about the aerodynamic style of the time expressed optimism and a desire for speed, power and efficiency that suited life in the 20th century. Products from Chicago that fit this bill are Farmall tractors, Radio Flyer wagons and Sunbeam’s appliances. Items on display here date from the 1930s to 1950s.

Coming March 28, “Millions of Moments: The Chicago Sun-Times Photo Collection” will open. This is an opportunity to view just a sliver – 150 photos – of the museums 5 million negatives from the paper ranging from the 1940s to the beginning of the 21st century. 

Other exhibitions also are on display now, and those who can’t visit but have internet access can look at the online exhibitions. I enjoyed “A Ride Around Chicago,” but there are several more to choose from.

Tomorrow is the first day of February. It’s time to hit the road running, and find some adventure. The Chicago History Museum is a good place to start.

If you go …

What: Chicago History Museum

Where: 1602 N. Clark St., Chicago

When: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday; 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Nov. 26, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1; holiday hours 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Nov. 25, Dec. 24 and Dec. 31

Cost: $19 for adults, $17 for seniors 65 and older and students age 19-22; children ages 18 and younger if Illinois residents get in free (non-Illinois residents 12 and younger get in free); see website for special discounts and free days

Distance: About 107 miles from Dixon

Accessibility: Accessible to wheelchairs

Information: or 312-642-4600


One block north of the museum at Clark and LaSalle streets; enter on Stockton Drive. The cost is $10 with museum validation. Credit cards are accepted. Spots are reserved for those with mobility devices.

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