Curious tales from Chicago's past

Your questions have inspired stories of Victorian sexuality, seedy motels, missiles, doughnuts and more.

December 23, 2013

Shawn Allee, Logan Jaffe and Jennifer Brandel

The Chicago Fire. Mrs. O’Leary’s Barn. Fort Dearborn. Al Capone. We’re not going to talk about any of that here.

Instead, you’ll find chapters of Chicago history missing from most textbooks. We bring you stories from Chicago’s past that range from near-death pair-o-chute rides to rides on funeral train cars; forgotten zoos to abandoned hospitals; produce markets to telephone exchanges; asylums to sidewalks.

All of these stories started from questions you’ve asked and you’ve helped us report. There are enough of them that it’s worth recapping what we’ve learned about Chicago’s peculiar past — through the lens of residents’ own curiosity.

The audio playlist above begins with an hour-long special featuring questions that span from the 1800s to today. You’ll hear about Victorian-era sexuality, forgotten graves near an insane asylum, radioactive secretsmissiles that were a little too close to home, a long-gone amusement park, seedy motels and … doughnuts, of all things. Below, we follow up with videos that tell what happened to Union Park’s menagerie, what is was like to be a visitor at the 1893 World’s Fair and why residents on the city’s Northwest Side were afraid of Dunning Asylum for the Insane.

If you want to bring alive the history of Chicago, the region or its people ask your question right now! Otherwise, enjoy tales of local history — Curious City style!

Good reads: 

Hosting the enemy: our WW II POW camps

The story of Dunning, a ‘tomb for the living’

After Haymarket: Anarchism on trial and a city in search of its soul

The 311 on Chicago’s early phone numbers ... and letters

Gulp! How Chicago gobbled its neighbors

Would Jane Addams be considered a lesbian?

History of downtown bridgehouses

Marina City: Ideals in concrete

Riverview: Laugh your troubles away

What happened to Nike missile sites around Chicago?

How has Chicago’s coastline changed?

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