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Exhibit Reveals How Chicago Leveraged Transport Resources

A new exhibit now at Northwestern University Library illustrates how Chicago's choices about developing and using its waterways, roadways, railways and other transportation resources have influenced the city's colorful history and reflected its unusual character.

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December 19, 2006 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A new exhibit now at Northwestern University Library illustrates how Chicago's choices about developing and using its waterways, roadways, railways and other transportation resources have influenced the city's colorful history and reflected its unusual character.

Free and open to the public, “Chicago, That Toddlin' Town: The History of Transportation in the City” runs through Feb. 22, 2007, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and Saturdays 8:30 to noon on the first floor of University Library, 1970 Campus Drive, Evanston. (Note: The library will be closed for the holidays from Dec. 23 through Dec. 26 and again from Dec. 29 through New Years Day.)

Materials in the exhibit, for example, shed light on the ways in which, in 1900, the City of Big Shoulders accomplished one of engineering's greatest feats -- reversing the natural flow of the Chicago River so that disease-causing sewage and pollution went into canals instead of Lake Michigan. 

“Chicago is not a great city that became a great transportation center. It is a great transportation center that became a great city,” says Kay Geary, public services librarian at Northwestern's Transportation Library and curator of the exhibit of books, photographs, illustrations, maps and posters. The library holds one of the most extensive transportation collections in the world. 

The exhibit also spotlights ways that city planners have been ahead of their time. Materials on the Chicago phenomenon of “snow parking” -- that time-honored practice of asserting dibs on a parking space during a blizzard by shoveling it out and marking it with chairs -- include criticism by writer and activist Studs Terkel, defense of the practice by Mayor Richard M. Daley and law journal commentary on its legal and philosophical implications.

Short-lived Chicago transportation innovations also are depicted. At the turn of the 20th century, for instance, sprawl pushed Chicago cemeteries onto the city's fringes and made expensive, difficult journeys over unpaved roads a necessity for mourners. In response, the El system briefly offered a funeral car service that allowed mourners and casket to board trains at specially equipped stations and ride to the cemetery in “the comfort and elegance offered by the rapid, smooth running of a high-class electric car.”

Exhibit items also celebrate the world's second automobile race -- a 54-mile course from Chicago to Evanston and back -- sponsored by the Chicago Times Herald on Thanksgiving Day, 1895. Inclement temperatures and eight inches of snow allowed only six cars to participate and only two to complete the race. At the end of what turned out to be a seven-hour event, only a Times Herald reporter remained at the finish line to witness a Duryea Motor Wagon earn first place.

For further information about the exhibit or the University's Transportation Library, call (847) 491-4321.