Five Little Known Fascinating Facts About Downtown Chicago

With everything Chicago has to offer, it’s not surprising that some of the most interesting facts about the city have either faded into obscurity or become tangled in rumor and myth. Let’s set the facts straight:

Windy City Nickname and the Birth of Skyscrapers

Skyline of Chicago, birth of the skyscraper

One of the most common misconceptions is about the city’s nickname, The Windy City. Almost everyone believes it has to do with Chicago’s often windy weather. Actually, the nickname is a reference to blustery politicians of the mid-to-late 1800’s, who were accused of being overly boastful about the city. The myth persisted because skyscrapers, which were invented in Chicago, channeled winds off Lake Michigan through the brick and mortar canyons, often strengthening them to gale force strength.

Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park
Once an hour on the hour, from April to mid-October, Buckingham Fountain produces a major water and light display. Photo courtesy of Chicago Park District.

Buckingham Fountain, located at the southern end of Grant Park on Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive, was modeled after the Latona Basin in Louis XIV’s gardens at Versailles. The main basin represents Lake Michigan the four green sea horses symbolize the four states that touch the lake: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Although the fountain is an iconic structure, it became even more widely recognized after being featured in the opening scenes of the TV sitcom Married With Children, and as the starting place for the The Amazing Race. The Fountain has remained intact except for the theft of two carved fish heads, which were eventually recovered when a salvage yard was offered the pieces. The buyer thought they looked very familiar and reported them.

Corinthian Columns In the Cancer Survivor’s Garden, Grant Park

Corinthian columns in the Cancer Survivor’s Garden

Twin 45-foot Corinthian columns are the centerpiece of the central plaza in the Cancer Survivor’s Garden, located at the northern edge of Grant Park near Randolph Street and Lake Shore Drive. These two free-standing columns are remnants from the former post office, customs house, and subtreasury building, which was built more than 100 years ago and demolished in the mid-1960’s. Along with other debris, the columns were unceremoniously dumped into Lake Michigan to stabilize the lake’s eroding shoreline near Pershing Road. Rediscovered years later, they were extracted, restored, and installed in the garden.

Balbo’s Column

Balbo’s Column, From the 1933-34 World Exhibition

Balbo’s Column, the only in-place structure that remains from Chicago’s 1933-34 World Exhibition, stands just east of Lake Shore Drive, opposite Soldier Field in Burnham Park. The column, which was removed from the ruins at the Roman temple of Ostia and transported by boat to the United States, was a gift from Italy, commemorating Italian General Italano Balbo’s historic trans-Atlantic flight to Chicago.

and finally…

Why Is Downtown Chicago called “The Loop?”

“The Loop” is a reference to the “EL” (elevated train), whose tracks loop around the central downtown business district.

The “El” (elevated train tracks) “Loop” around downtown Chicago

3 thoughts on “Five Little Known Fascinating Facts About Downtown Chicago”

  1. In my sole visit, I am staggered to find that “The Windy City” doesn’t refer to the blustery conditions. It always seem to be blowing when I visited.


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