Two of Chicago’s most valuable — and under-appreciated — public amenities have gotten together to enhance your love of the Windy City. The Chicago Park District has donated 10,000 historic photographs of the city’s parks to the Chicago Public Library, which has made them available to see for free on the intarwebs.
This is where your journey down the rabbit hole begins: http://digital.chipublib.org/digital/collection/ChicagoParks/search
If you’re expecting to see trees and grass and other park-like things… you’re correct. There’s lots of that. But a lot of other things happen in Chicago’s parks. There’s politics. Public toilets. Fashion shows. Car crashes. Square dances. Men hefting tires. Kids doing arts and crafts. Children drinking something that’s almost certainly probably not a can of beer.
You know that lovely Seward Park that people love so much in Cabrini Green? It was kind of a craphole before the Park District got a hold of it.
The collection goes back to 1930, but amazingly there’s not a single photograph of a squirrel. Obviously, this is some kind of anti-squirrel conspiracy.
The park that gets the most love is Portage Park, conveniently located in the Portage Park neighborhood, with 1,129 photographs. The least loved park is Bessemer Park in the South Chicago neighborhood, with a mere two photos. Both show the fieldhouse under construction in 1968.
If you’re thirsty for more, there’s another 50,000 photos that you can view in person in the Special Collections department at the Harold Washington Library.