175 Ways to Love Chicago: 5 Ways to Experience Chicago’s History and Traditions

Louis Sullivan-designed tomb in Graceland Cemetery

From celebrating St. Patrick’s Day Traditions, to looking for historic homes, we’ve asked Alderman Edward Burke, the longest serving alderman in Chicago history, to share his 5 favorite ways to experience the Chicago history and traditions that are sometimes hidden in plain sight.

Alderman Edward Burke

Celebrate Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day traditions. Every St. Patrick’s Day, crowds of people gather to see the Chicago River is dyed a brilliant Emerald Green – an event that is bigger than even the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for some Chicagoans.  For 50 years, two families – the Butlers and the Rowans – have crisscrossed the River, adding a biodegradable dye that transforms the waters of the Chicago River a festive green color.  This is a great way for families to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as the waters change before their very eyes under the historic bridges spanning the River.

Celebrate the valor and heroism of Chicago’s firefighters. Generations of brave men and women of the Chicago Fire Department have put their lives on the line from 1857 to the present day.  See Chicago’s storied fire history at the Chicago Fire Academy.  Situated on the spot where the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 allegedly began, the Fire Academy features a small exhibit of antique firefighting equipment and other testaments to the extraordinary devotion, citizenship and courage exemplified by our firefighters. [Editor's Note: Learn more on the Explore Chicago Tours FIRE! Great Chicago Fire tour.]

Visit Chicago’s many beautiful cemeteries. Hundreds of acres of some of the city’s most beautiful green spaces are hidden behind the walls of Chicago’s historic cemeteries. From Calvary to Oakwoods, and Graceland to Rosehill, Chicago’s soil contains the remains of larger-than-life Chicagoans, from former Chicago mayors to urban planners to some of the city’s most successful entrepreneurs.  Let their tombs and monuments remind you of their service, political savvy, civic leadership and dedication to Chicago and its residents.

Visit Chicago’s public monuments. Some of the Chicago area’s greatest public servants are memorialized with grand monuments, such as the Stephen Douglas Tomb in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood commemorating the civic leader and U.S. Senator whose name is best remembered in association with Abraham Lincoln’s.  There are still others, such as former Chicago City Council member and U.S. Senator, Paul A. Douglas, who gave up a tenured professorship at the University of Chicago and joined the Marines at age 50 to serve his country following Pearl Harbor in World War II, for whom no monument currently exists.  Honor and recognize these great historical figures by visiting public monuments located throughout the city. [Editor's Note: ExploreChicago.org has directories both for Chicago War and Military Monuments and Chicago's Public Art Collection, which includes a number of monuments that celebrate Chicago's history.]

Visit historical sites and markers. In 1937, Mayor Ed Kelly had bronze plaques placed throughout the city to commemorate notable sites and events in Chicago’s history.  While some of these have since disappeared, many are still there, designating places like Mary Todd Lincoln’s home at 1304 W. Washington St.  Seek out these plaques and other resources such as the Chicago Tribute Markers of Distinction, for a self-guided tour of Chicago’s rich history.

Alderman Edward M. Burke represents Chicago’s 14th Ward on the city’s Southwest Side.  Alderman Burke is Chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Finance, and has the distinction of being the longest serving alderman in Chicago history.  Alderman Burke was a Chicago Police Officer before joining the City Council in 1969, and has authored several books on the heroism and sacrifice of the brave men and women of the Chicago Police and Fire Departments.

This post is part of the 175 Ways to Love Chicago project (view more posts here), which features the perspectives of 35 unique Chicagoans. Presented by the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, in celebration of Chicago’s upcoming 175th birthday on March 4, 2012. http://www.explorechicago.org

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