10 things you might not know about Chicago

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Thomas Owen/WGN-TV.

Thomas Owen/WGN-TV.

CHICAGO — We all know why they call Chicago the “Windy City” — or do we?

For young and old, Chicago has boasted a myriad of historic moments, faces and innovations. Many of these are well-known to locals and outsiders: President Obama is from here. We are the nation’s third-largest city (though not for long). We are a city of neighborhoods, of diversity, and of two-dozen miles of gorgeous lakefront.

But deep beneath the sand, and behind the rough cement in the city’s thriving downtown, lie secrets and facts of which even Chicago’s proudest and oldest may not be aware.

Here are some facts about Chicago you may not know:

10. What’s in a name?

We’ll start off relatively easy with this one. Why is Chicago nicknamed the “Windy City”? Many know it’s not because of the weather, despite that being a reasonable explanation. Others know it has something to do with the city’s politicians. But why, exactly?

The most well-accepted theory is the nickname for Chicago actually came from New York. In the late-1800s, Chicago was vying for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Its competition? New York, and Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun, lambasted Chicago’s blustering braggadocio, saying citizens should not pay any mind to the “nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not hold a world’s fair even if they won it.”

Dana’s original editorial was never saved, lending room for speculation, but the Chicago Public Library and Chicago Historical Society both support this theory that if Dana did not coin the term himself, he at the very least popularized it. Nonfiction author Erik Larson also cites Dana in his book, “The Devil in the White City,” which chronicles the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as well as a serial killer, H.H. Holmes, who preyed on its attendees.

9. Get your kicks.

Perhaps the U.S.’s most famous historical highway, Route 66 started right here in Chicago. The route was used by farmers, truckers and those moving from the east to gain easier access to small communities between Chicago and the Los Angeles area. Route 66 ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, and passed through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The road was established in 1926, but the final remnants of the highway gave way to the interstate system in 1984, and it was decommissioned in 1985.

The historic Route 66 began at Chicago’s Adams Street in front of the Art Institute.

8. Let’s head to Weeghman!

America’s second-oldest ballpark, Wrigley Field, didn’t always have that iconic name. The park was originally constructed in 1914 as Weeghman Park, and it housed the Chicago Whales of baseball’s Federal League. The field was named after Whales founder Charles Weeghman, who would later buy the Cubs after the Federal League folded in 1915. The park then became Cubs Park in 1920 after the Wrigley family bought the team from Weeghman.

In 1926 it was given the name is still has now: Wrigley Field, in honor of William Wrigley Jr., the Cubs’ owner.

The cost of building for Weeghman Park was estimated at $250,000.

7 . There are a bunch of dead clowns buried in the suburbs.

In Forest Park, Ill., lies “Showmen’s Rest,” a mass burial site that holds the bodies of dozens of circus performers who were killed in a train crash. The 26-car circus train was heading from Illinois into Hammond, Ind., in 1918, when an empty train, piloted by an engineer who had fallen asleep, crash into theirs.

Most of the bodies were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery — many unidentified, some going by their stage names on the headstones, such as “Baldy” and “Smiley.”

6. Zip it up

Chicago is host to many inventions, including the zipper. Chicago inventor Whitcomb L. Judson developed the chain-link fastener, the precursor to the modern zipper. Dubbed the “clasp-locker,” the device made its debut at the 1893 World’s Fair.

In 1913 Sweden’s Gideon Sundback later improved on the invention. The original device was made to help people fasten their shoes.  The zipper didn’t become popular on clothing until 1935.

5. Don’t change the channel

The first-ever remote device designed to control a television was developed by Chicago’s Zenith Corporation in 1950. A precursor to the wireless device we often see now, Zenith’s “Lazy Bone” could turn the TV on and off and change the channel, but was connected to the monitor by a cable.

In 1956 the practical remote control for television sets was introduced into American households.

4. What a view

Chicago’s Willis Tower (known to many still as the Sears Tower), boasts an extraordinary view above the city. But the landscape doesn’t end there: Four states are visible from the building’s “Skydeck”: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Willis Tower is currently the nation’s second tallest building, behind only One World Trade Center in New York.

3. Welcome to the jungle

Chicago is featured in countless pieces of literature, film and music. One of the most well-known pieces of journalism, “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, chronicles the lives of immigrants in Chicago’s meatpacking district. The book helped shed light on the harsh conditions and poverty through which many immigrants suffered during that time. Though it centered on a fictional character, it reflected real circumstances.

“The Jungle” went on to be a prominent example of journalism exposing the class gap in many industrial cities. But it also struck a chord with readers by unearthing harsh realities of food health and safety — or lack thereof. It was published in 1906.

2. Cubs win! Cubs win! 

Though legendary broadcaster Harry Caray is most well-known for being the voice of the Chicago Cubs, he actually spent more years of his career calling games for other teams — including another in the same city.

Caray, who was from St. Louis, Mo., was the announcer for the Cubs’ most hated rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, from 1945 to 1969. He then worked on broadcasts for the Oakland Athletics for a season in 1970 before calling games for the White Sox from 1971-1982. He joined the Cubs broadcast in 1982 after legendary announcer Jack Brickhouse retired.

It was with the Cubs when Caray became an pop culture icon, including Will Ferrell famously impersonating him on “Saturday Night Live.” Caray passed away in 1998.

1. Rise up 

In the 1850s, the entire city of Chicago was raised. That’s right, raised. To help combat a drainage issue, engineers either relocated, built up or hydraulically lifted buildings and streets.

The effort was due to the fact the city was roughly on the same level as Lake Michigan, meaning there was a lack of natural drainage. The drainage issue meant the city experienced “sickly” conditions, according to news reports at the time. In 1854 cholera killed 5 percent of the population.

According to the Chicago Tribune:

Over a period of almost two decades, Chicago’s buildings were jacked up 4 to 14 feet, higher foundations were built beneath them, the storm sewers were placed on top of the streets, and the streets were then filled up to the level of the front doors of the raised buildings.

According to the Tribune’s recounting of the mission, the project not only solved the problem, but was a good example of the city’s character at the time.