Chicago is known for standards like Willis Tower and the Bean, but the city and its neighbors also has a few destinations made for those looking to veer off the beaten path—and the team at Atlas Obscura knows where to find them.
The Atlas Obscura website provides a worldwide guide to 10,000 “hidden wonders.” Co-founder Dylan Thuras and associate editor Ella Morton recently finished trimming that collection to 600 places for the book Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.
What hidden wonders await in the Chicago area? Thuras and Morton joined Morning Shift with these recommendations for offbeat Midwest travel:
A gravestone for nuclear waste in Lemont, Illinois
“If you go into the Red Gate Woods you will see a gravestone marked with the phrase ‘Do Not Dig’ ” Morton said.
Buried under that stone are the remains of Chicago Pile-1, the world’s first nuclear reactor. It was built during the Manhattan Project, underneath the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field.
The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wis.
Thuras calls the house an “unbelievable, incredible, collection of collections.”
Built in the 1940s by Alex Jordan, the house is a sort of museum, though Atlas Obscura likens it to “a trip through the wild and fantastic imagination of Alex Jordan.” A highlight includes the world’s largest carousel.
The International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago
The museum offers rotating exhibits on subjects like “A World Without Polio,” which displays medical machines and instruments like the iron lung. There’s also a research library and a fine art collection.
Thuras said highlighting small museums like this one is an important part of Atlas Obscura’s work.
“The difference between a few hundred more visitors each year actually really makes a difference for keeping the doors open,” he said.
Want more? Click play to listen to Morning Shift’s full conversation with Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton to hear more about their process of compiling hidden wonders.