As I've mentioned in previous posts, when Jen and I decided to leave Chicago, we put together a list of 44 uniquely Chicago experiences we wanted to have before leaving. Some of these were things we had done before, and others were entirely new to us, spanning numerous neighborhoods and categories.
Our Chicago Bucket List as it appeared when we created it
- The former home of Nelson Algren: Chicago's literary history is not short on impressive names, but the first one I think of specifically in conjunction with the city itself is Algren.
- Wicker Park: I lived in the Wicker Park neighborhood for years and managed to never once actually visit the small park for which it's named.
- Nelson Algren Fountain: Inscribed with a quote from Chicago: City on the Make: "For the masses who do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart.”
- Chicago Water Taxi: With cars, the L and the bus system, it's easy to forget about one of the city's most obvious means of transportation.
- Chinatown - One of Jen's selections, and something that's become a recurring theme in our adventure lists.
- Oz Park: One of Chicago's quirkier neighborhood parks, with statues of all the characters from The Wizard of Oz.
- Cafe Luigi & Toro Sushi: Two of our favorite restaurants, conveniently located side by side in Lincoln Park.
- Shit Fountain: One of my first finds from Atlas Obscura, I laughed when I read about this and just had to see it for myself.
- Greektown: I'd been here before, but it had been at least a few years, which made it a perfect date night for Jen and I.
- The Chicago History Museum: Another one of the City's great cultural institutions that I had never before explored.
- Money Museum: I probably walked past this a hundred times without ever being aware of it's existence.
- Graceland Cemetery: I took a tour with the inimitable Adam Selzer, after which we sought out the grave of Captain George Streeter. It was on this tour that I really understood for the first time how you can learn the entire history of a city by walking it's cemeteries. It was also here that I first encountered the work of sculptor Lorado Taft.
- Palmer House Hilton: In a city where almost every building downtown seems to be famous for something, this one is foremost among them. Also, allegedly, birthplace of the brownie.
- Chicken Vesuvio: Often mistaken for a traditional Italian dish, it's origins are actually none other than Chicago.
- House of Blues Gospel Brunch: Everyone knows Chicago for it's Blues, but it also has a long connection to Gospel music.
- Busy Beaver Button Company: Another item I found through Atlas Obscura, and one of my first tastes of the unusual collections in the city.
- The Untouchables Tour: a bus ride through Chicago's infamous gangland history.
- Carroll Ave: A street that has been literally swallowed by the city. It wasn't that hard to find, but finding it did something to me that's a bit hard to explain. It brought back to first living in the city, when every street seemed to connect to a hidden world and conceal some mystery.
- The Haymarket Memorial: The statue had been moved, so we had to seek this item out twice.
- The Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier: A most appropriate place for it, as the very first Ferris Wheel was unveiled at the Chicago World's Fair.
- The S.S. Eastland Memorial: Remembering the site of one of the worst maritime disasters in modern history.
- Volare: Our favorite local Italian restaurant and a memory of when Jen and I had just started dating.
- Piero's Pizza: Everyone in Chicago has their favorite place for deep dish. This is Jen's.
- Museum of Science and Industry: A truly extraordinary collection, including a captured WWII U-boat (U-505).
- Remnants of the White City: Not much remains of the city built within the city to house the Chicago World's Fair.
- Fountain of Time: Another sculpture by Laredo Taft. Less well known than Eternal Silence, but significantly more impressive in my opinion.
- The Livonian Wolves: An unusual sculpture in a small South Side park.
- The Art Institute of Chicago: Of all the museums and cultural attractions in the city, this was the one I came to know best.
- The largest corn maze in the world at Richardson Adventure Farm.
- Adler Planetarium
- Shedd Aquarium
- Apple Festival
- Lincoln Park Zoo
- Starved Rock
- Windy City Live
- Little Italy
- National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame
- Violet Hour Obsession
- Stan Mansion
- The hidden temple in the break room at the Field Museum
- The Sears Tower Glass Observation Deck
- The Burnham Park Mermaid
- Navy Pier Haunted House
- The Obama Kissing Rock
We've made it through item number 28, and we'll continue to chip away each time we return for a visit. It may take us some time, but then, isn't that why it's called a bucket list?
Of the items on the list, it's hard to say which was my favorite or which had the most profound effect on me. The process of researching and then exploring each item has changed the way I get to know a place, making even old haunts suddenly and surprisingly new. My intention was to create a list diverse enough to be representative of the city, and in that respect I think Jen and I succeeded. We got outside of our comfort zone (which is to say the 15 city blocks between where we lived and worked), and what started, for me, as a farewell exercise has become a passion. When I'm not working these days, you can typically find me seeking out whatever is unusual or unique about my surroundings. Or writing about it.
Our Chicago Bucket List as it looks presently