Chicago's Lakefront with Geoffrey Baer

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Charlton Heston in a Speedo

That would top my list of lakefront oddities (maybe anybody's list). Let me explain:

In our documentary about Chicago's Lakefront we show clips of Charlton Heston wearing what looks like a leather Speedo in a low-budget film adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. He made the movie with some buddies a year or so after graduating from Northwestern University. They used classical buildings up and down the lakefront (Soldier Field, Museum of Science and Industry, etc.) as scenery. Let's say his earnest and at times overwrought portrayal of Marc Antony has not exactly aged well.

Other lakefront oddities:

There was a Civil War prisoner of war camp on Chicago's lakefront. It was on the former estate of Senator Stephen A. Douglas. He was most famous as Abe Lincoln's debating partner, but he was also a wheeler-dealer. In Congress, Douglas arranged a land grant that allowed the Illinois Central Railroad to run its tracks right up the lakefront into downtown Chicago. Then he bought and developed property along the proposed route. Douglas died just a year after losing the presidential election to Lincoln. After that his estate at what is now 35th St. was converted to a Union Army training camp called Camp Douglas. Later tens of thousands of Confederate Army prisoners of war were interred there. Many died in the horrible conditions. They were buried in City Cemetery, which is now Lincoln Park. That cemetery was closed because the shallow lakefront graves created a health hazard. Most of the Confederate dead were relocated to Oak Woods Cemetery on the South Side. Today part of the old Camp Douglas is Illinois' smallest state park, and Douglas himself is entombed there under a towering column topped with a statue of the Little Giant.

There's a monument still standing on the lakefront that was given to Chicago by Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. It's a 2000 year old Roman column. It commemorates the arrival at the 1933 World's Fair of a squadron of Italian seaplanes commanded by General Italo Balbo. That's not the only tribute to Balbo in Chicago. The city re-named 7th Street in his honor in 1933.

More oddities to come...

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