Grant Park: Icons on Chicago’s “Front Yard”

After writing a couple of great articles about the Art Institute of Chicago and Second City, I talked pal Jon Rochetti into another article, complete with some of his photos, from his recent trips to Chicago.



Even before the Chicago Fire of 1871, civic leaders realized that the city’s lakefront was something that should be protected to be enjoyed by all Chicagoans. 

Chicago’s Grant Park (map) lies between the downtown business “loop” and The Magnificent Mile (Michigan Ave.) and Lake Michigan.  It covers 319 acres and hosts three exceptional museums: the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute, and the Field Museum of Natural History, along with many of Chicago’s favorite icons.

Much of the park is actually landfill from the Chicago fire and the city’s first underground subway system. An old tunnel system was built to hold underground telephone cables but after construction was completed, the owners secretly installed 24-inch gauge railroad tracks and used the tunnels to deliver goods and mail until the 1950s.  You may recall the 1992 Chicago River tunnel flood. Same tunnels.

At the center of the park is Buckingham Fountain, one of the world’s largest fountains, was built in 1927.  If you have the opportunity, don’t miss the dazzling light and water show nightly during the summer from 9-10PM. (Free) 

Croatian-born (then Austria-Hungary) sculptor Ivan Mestrovic’s sculpted a pair of horse-mounted Indian warriors, known as “The Spearman” and “The Bowman” (the latter scene in the photo above). They are located at the main entrance of Grant Park at Congress Plaza (Congress Dr. between S. Michigan Ave. and Columbus Dr.)  At 17 feet high, the statues were erected in 1928. Mestrovic is widely recognized as one of the world’s most renowned post-Renaissance religious sculptors.

The Pritzker Pavilion replaced the old Petrillo Band Shell when Mellinium Park within Grant Park was opened in 2004.  It’s host to all types of music and festivals including the Grant Park Music Festival – the only remaining free outdoor classical music fest in the U.S.  The Pavilion seats 4000, plus has room for 7,000 on the lawn.  Although the festival runs much of the summer, other concerts and performances including ballet, dance, jazz and other types of music and performnances happen almost nightly.

Cloud Gate or “The Bean” as it’s affectionately known (or not so affectionately) to locals, is a steel sculpture that’s been highly polished so that it has an almost mirror quality to it. Take your self-portrait in its reflection and try to find a seam”¦ impossible!!! 

Crown Fountain is another recent addition. Incorporating two 50-foot LCD panels behind glass; the two main towers project images of over 1,000 faces of Chicagoans while integrating a water show. Walk the porcelain fountain and see if you feel like you are walking on water. 

There are numerous other statutes, parks-within-parks, statues, flower gardens and wonderful views of Chicago, but best of all, Grant Park is one of Chicago’s best places to just sit and watch the world go by.



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Mary Jo Manzanares is a traveler, travel blogger, and podcaster. In addition to her blog, Traveling with MJ, she hosts the Where Else to Go podcast, and is the founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine. Her travel ethos is value luxury - luxury for real people - and her goal is to help travelers know when to splurge and when to save. Mary Jo has been a speaker at various industry events around the world. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Her most recent travels were to Stockholm, a Baltic cruise, and Universal Orlando Resort.

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