Northerly Island: Echoes of 1945

At times, in some places, lost histories echo in surprising ways. This has been on my mind this week in Chicago, where I had the opportunity to visit the location that the Windy City proposed as Capital of the World: Northerly Island.

From Northerly Island, the view of the Chicago skyline.

From Northerly Island, the view of the Chicago skyline.

As Chicagoans know, Northerly Island today is not an island at all, but a man-made peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan near the Field Museum and then runs parallel to the shoreline. Created in the 1920s as part of Daniel Burnham’s vision for chain of lakefront islands, it connected to Chicago at first with a bridge and then with the causeway that remains. In 1933-34, Northerly Island was the site of the Century of Progress Exposition; beginning in the 1940s it served as an airport. Although managed by the Chicago Park District, a magazine writer noted in 1966, it “is not now and never has been beautiful.”

Largely deserted on the cool weekday of my walk, Northerly Island remains a work in progress, with a beach, a concert venue, a yacht club, and crews at work on the landscape. Among its great assets are the spectacular view of the skyline of the city, which seems a place apart despite being within walking distance. On the island, there is no explicit evidence of the world’s fair, and no sign that Chicago once offered Northerly Island to the United Nations as a site for its permanent headquarters.

The Meigs Field terminal building, now a visitor center. In the foreground, "Action is the Answer," by Carla Winterbottom.

The Meigs Field terminal building, now a visitor center. In the foreground, “Action is the Answer,” by Carla Winterbottom.

And yet …

At the farthest accessible point of my walk stands the 1961 terminal building for the former Meigs Field, reminding me of the visions for commercial aviation that helped Chicago and other world capital hopefuls argue that they could become the central gathering place for the world. More startling are the two artworks in front of the terminal building.  Recent installations, both are renditions of planet earth. One is a colorful display promoting environmental activism.  The other is a dark earth in chains, imploring the viewer to “unlock creative energy” to combat climate change.

In these ways, the global aspirations of Chicago in 1945-46 echo on Northerly Island still.

8 thoughts on “Northerly Island: Echoes of 1945

  1. Hi there.

    I am trying to find information of one or both of the plaques at the base of the globe for a puzzle I’m working on. There is a phrase there that includes the words “embrace the _____”. I need the missing word(s) to fill in the phrase. Would you be able to find that out for me?

    I’m also looking for information from tiles on the ground under the giant brachiosaur at the Chicago Field Museum. There are several tiles underneath the dinosaur reading “LEW FITTINGS CO.” I need the three number/letter/number characters on the last line of each tile.

    Thanks if you can help me…

  2. Brian, I’m sorry I don’t have these answers for you, but I am posting this in case someone else knows. (What puzzle are you working on?)

    • Thank you Sascha. That worked.

      Charlene: I’m working on a Geocaching puzzle that requires keywords or other information from the Chicago area. I’m still looking for the information from the tiles under the dinosaur.

      • Interesting – good luck, everyone. I don’t live in Chicago, but I am glad if my posts are helpful.

    • Thank you again Sascha. I’m done with armchair geocaching for now. At least if they send me a survey about the experience, I can tell Groundspeak how difficult the caches are that they can be done from my armchair. :)

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