Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Chicago's Shadow City
(Above: Descending into the secret tunnels underneath Chicago.)
Last night, I was flipping through the channels on my television when I chanced upon an episode of Cities of the Underworld on the History Channel. I love this program, despite the fact that I rarely learn anything new. But last night was different. I came away from the experience enlightened--and totally humbled. It just goes to show you that there's always something new to discover.
I've spent a fair amount of time in Chicago. In fact, my mother grew up there. But until last night, I had never heard about the vast network of tunnels that stretch under the Second City. After a day of searching the Internet, I've come to the conclusion that there hasn't been much written about them. Very few people seem to know they exist. Here's what I've discovered so far . . .
The underground tunnels link many of the buildings in a part of Chicago known as the Near South Side. Some say that they started out as a system for hauling coal in the early 20th century. However, during the Prohibition years, when alcohol was illegal in the United States, the tunnels became a center of activity for the gangs that virtually ran the city. The passages were used to smuggle liquor from speakeasy to speakeasy, but they also formed handy escape routes whenever the police stopped by for a visit. Eventually, subterranean rooms were even built to house gangsters' private parties.
A stretch of the old tunnels can be found under the famous jazz club, The Green Mill. Once owned by a colleague of Al Capone, the club was a favorite gangster hangout in the 1920s and 30s. You can read more about the tunnels underneath the building here and even see a video here.
I also learned that there's a long forgotten railroad under Chicago (shown below). Built in secret more than 100 years ago, it was intended to transport coal, mail, and other goods from building to building. (I'm still not sure how it is or is not connected to the tunnels mentioned above.) Though they've been out of use since 1959, the railroad tunnels still exist. In fact, you can still reach them through the basement of the Marshall Fields department store! Read more here.
If any of you have additional information about Chicago's underground, please be sure to send it this way!