Chicago's First Lady

On Tuesday, July 21, 2015, I went on Chicago’s First Lady, the Chicago’s Architectural Foundation’s boat tour with my mom. Our boat took off at 5:30 PM, and although I didn’t catch our tour guider’s name, I felt like she looked like a Jan. Before we took off, there were some quick informational tips about lifeboats, where they were placed in the boat, which was great. However, if I was on a boat that capsized on the Chicago River, I might just accept my fate. I wouldn’t want to have all of those shots and grow a third arm. On second thought…that might actually be helpful though, so who knows what I would do.

Before we set sail, there were (of course) stupid Chicago jokes, how Chicago actually was called Chicagou, and it was spelled differently, enunciated differently, and has the meaning of stinky onions. I have honestly heard that so many times, I do not find it funny anymore. But realistically, this little tid-bit was for the tourists and non-Chicagoans, not me, so I got over myself. As we were taking off, Jan told us about Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, how was the first resident of Chicago and had a fur shop across the river, where we were docked. I pictured the River Walk with dirt streets and a single man running a fur shop. I actually realized I laughed out loud at the thought of the idea. It is funny, right? Well, considering how commercialized it is now, you would not find a fur shop of that kind along the River Walk now, so I thought it was funny. No? Not funny? Guess you have to have strange humor like me, I guess. At first I wasn’t going to take notes, but Jan kept mentioning some cool facts about the buildings that I didn’t know, so I whipped out my phone, opened up the Notes App, and only typed up the ‘cool facts’.

The Jewelers Building was built in 1926 and only had residents who were jewelers. Why? Because these men (I’m only assuming because I wasn’t alive, but it was the 1920s, we know how it was then) would bring all of the jewels and jewelry home every single night, and then bring all of them back to the jewelry store the very next day. That being said, they needed heavy-duty security.

Let’s take a show of hands: Who knew the Chicago Tribune had the nickname ‘Freedom Center’? Certainly not me, and I wouldn’t even gotten the reference to the first amendment, if Jan didn’t make a joke about it. The Chicago Tribune has the capability to print out 70,000 newspapers every hour if for some reason they needed to do that. When Jan said that, I automatically thought about how printing out 70,000 newspapers sounds like a really good prank to pull on someone.

Then Jan told us about how the Chicagoans used to use the river as a garbage disposal. This I actually knew about from the Chicago History classes I took in high school and at UIC. But what I didn’t know was that ever since the river’s flow was reversed, it started slowly but surely, creating cleaner water. Jan had said that scientists test the river water every so often and they recently said that hopefully in the next seven years, the fish would actually become edible. Even if I weren’t a vegetarian, I still would never eat a Chicago River fish. Ever since I was a child, I always had a strange fascination with opera houses (I blame the Phantom), so when Jan pointed our attention to the Civic Opera House, I whipped out my phone, ready to get the 411. Jan told us that the Civic Opera House has an Art Deco style, was built in the 1930 and the original plan to rent out the offices and rooms failed because of the depression.

Next stop was Chicago’s Old Post Office, that was built in 1921 and then had a limestone addition added on in 1932. During its time, it was the largest postal office in the world, and a lot of big companies (Sears) sent out their thick catalogs to households all over. It was closed in 1996 until a British man named Mr. Bill Davies bought it in 2009 for $24 million. However, he has yet to do anything with it…he obviously hasn’t heard the saying, “the British are coming!” because he’s taking his sweet ’ol time. Speaking of British people buying Chicago properties… Jan talked about our glistening giant, the Sears Tower. I will call the Sears Tower by its true name until I die, and so will my children. It is a tower and cannot be offended that I refuse to call it by its new name.

(I am NOT a Brit hater, I love the Brits, I’m just still upset about the name change.)

The other places we passed and that were discussed were the Chicago Board of Trade, City Bank Building, Merchandise Mart, House of Blues, River City, Marina City, NBC Towers, Sheridan Hotel (has the largest ballroom in Chicago), Lake Point Tower, and last, but not least, Navy Pier! Want to learn more about those? Take the tour!

Jan closed out our tour by giving the famous Mark Twain quote, “It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago. She outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them." Overall, I enjoyed myself and my mom had fun too. Sometimes natives have to do the tourist things to learn something new.

Want to take a ride on Chicago’s First Lady? Find out ticket information here:

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