My kind of town

Published 3:12 pm Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Actually the more correct title of this song was “My kind of town (Chicago is).” Many people my age and just a bit older would remember this as one of the classic Frank Sinatra songs. What they might not remember is that it was part of the musical score for the movie, “Robin and the 7 Hoods.”

The song was nominated for the 1964 Academy Awards as the best original song before eventually losing out to a song any father of daughters has heard many times, “Chim, Chim, Cher-ee” from the classic film “Mary Poppins.”

The lyrics praise the city of Chicago and some of its greatest institutions, like the Wrigley Building and the long suffering Chicago Cubs.

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Recently ML and I had the chance to visit the “Second City” or “Windy City” as it is often called. I can’t really recall staying in a large city for an entire week without visiting anywhere else, but it gave us the chance to really soak up many of the different things that make this one of the great cities of the world.

One of the very first things we had to do was buy a jacket since the temperatures had dropped to record lows. As Southwest Georgia sweltered in 100+ degree heat, we got to enjoy a brief respite with daytime highs in the 60s.

The base for our visit was the restored Knickerbocker Hotel. Opened in 1927, its 14 floors were finished in less than one year at a cost of $3 million. Al Capone had a speakeasy there during the Prohibition Days. Many years later it became part of the Playboy Club empire with Hugh Hefner maintaining a suite there.

With ML’s art history background, it was no surprise that we would first visit one of the biggest art museums in the world, the Art Institute of Chicago. It contains one of greatest collections of Impressionist art in the world, including many by my personal favorite, Claude Monet.

It is also home to the iconic painting by Grant Wood, American Gothic. Showing a woman standing beside a man holding a pitch fork, it is one of the best known works of American art from the 20th century. The popular television series, “Green Acres,” imitated the portrait in its opening scene.

The museum is near the Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, which was the largest fountain in the world when it was completed in 1927. It is constructed of Georgia marble.

Chicago has a large and vibrant theater presence. We attended the “Blue Man Group” and “The Million Dollar Quartet,” which chronicles the only night that Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins ever played together.

We arrived early at the Apollo Theater for the Quartet performance. It was right next to the “El,” or the elevated railway. The neighborhood was not shoddy, but was probably the only place we ever felt even a little bit uncomfortable.

We darted into a non-descript eating place only to be exposed to a crowded white tablecloth restaurant. My pasta dish was seasoned with squid ink. I am not really sure what that is, but despite its appearance when it arrived at our table, I savored every bite of the dish.

Chicago is known for its pizza, but also has many world-class restaurants. We tried to stick to smaller local establishments favored by the locals and we were never disappointed.

Chicago was in many ways defined by the great fire of 1871, supposedly started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. However, it turned out this was not true and over a century later the great-grandchildren of Mrs. O’Leary were given an apology by the mayor of the city.

The fire destroyed 18,000 buildings and left 90,000 people homeless. However, it allowed the city to rebuild bigger and stronger than ever.

As the city grew, so did its immigrant population. Many of the Chinese that had been in California as part of the gold rush moved to Chicago. We visited not only the modern day Chinatown where they settled, but also Greek town and Little Italy.

I even managed to get ML to visit the Shedd Museum of Natural History, the home of “Sue,” the largest and most complete dinosaur fossil on earth. My enticement was that our grandson wanted a new dinosaur shirt.

Architecture has always been part of the heritage of Chicago. It is home to the Sears Tower, which was the tallest building in the world for 25 years. They now have a glass ledge where you can literally step out over the city. It is on the 103rd floor. I have a picture to prove my wife, who is afraid of heights, actually took the dare.

The establishment of public art has long been part of the city’s plan. A large work of art by Picasso stands in front of City Hall. The “Bean” is one of the latest public art commissions. It looks like a giant blob of mercury and is wildly popular. The city is full of parks, large and small, that make this community of almost 9 million people seem livable.

From distinctive neighborhoods to the Miracle Mile, which contains every expensive shop known to man, Chicago has anything that a major city can offer. It is beautiful in the early summer, with flowers everywhere and a lake at its front door.

Despite many trips to this city over the years, I never tire of visiting. I guess that just like Ol’ Blue Eyes, I can say that Chicago is my kind of town.