During my recent trip to Chicago, I took an afternoon stroll around Northerly Island, located just behind the downtown Museum Campus on the lakefront. This narrow peninsula was once home to Meigs Field, a tiny airport that opened on December 10, 1948 and by 1955 was the busiest single-strip airfield in the country. In its latter years, the airfield served mostly private planes, but I have a vivid recollection of landing at Meigs in a prop engine puddle-jumper many years ago, so commercial airlines must have used the field at one time. Landing and taking off from Meigs Field was a scary proposition. The runway was short and dead-ended into Lake Michigan; my first landing was my last – purposely. I was certain my plane was going into the drink.
In 1994, Chicago’s Mayor Daley announced plans to close the airport and build a park in its place. Nine years of legal battles ensued until, in a controversial move on March 30, 2003, the Mayor ordered private crews to destroy the runway in the middle of the night, bulldozing large X-shaped gouges into the runway surface. Daley subsequently excused his actions, insisting that post-9/11 risks of terrorist-controlled aircraft attacking the downtown waterfront necessitated the closing of Meigs Field.
These days, Northerly Island is strewn with wildflowers. Metallic angel sculptures rise amidst blossoms, pointing the way down narrow asphalt paths winding between the Adler Planetarium and the old air tower. Butterflies drift from bloom to bloom and songbirds warble melodies from nests secreted in tall grasses. Eerily, concrete runway markers – the only remnant of the once busy airfield – poke their heads above thick vegetation growing on the old landing strip. Walking through this idyllic park, it is hard to imagine that it may soon undergo yet another radical transformation. Continue reading