Curious City

By WBEZ Chicago

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 Apr 5, 2020

 Aug 3, 2018


Ask questions, vote and discover answers about Chicago, the region and its people. From WBEZ.

Episode Date
Chicago's Hillbilly Heaven
Why tens of thousands of Southern migrants made the Uptown neighborhood home, only to leave a short time later. And WBEZ's Natalie Moore tells us about her investigation into the history of racially restrictive deeds and covenants, and how YOU can help.
Apr 14, 2021
How Bagels Got To Chicago And Where To Eat Them
Curious City reporter Monica Eng and editor Alexandra Salomon try to help one listener who claims NY has better bagels find some good ones in Chicago. Plus, we trace the local history of the donut-shaped bread: From its arrival in the U.S. with Jewish immigrants to mass production to a renaissance of local artisanal bakers who have gone back to the traditional way of making them.
Apr 08, 2021
Three Historic Chicago Hoaxes And Pranks
Chicago historian Paul Durica shares famous ruses, hoaxes and stunts pulled by (and on) local media.
Apr 01, 2021
The Environmental Impacts Of The Chicago River Reversal
We dug into the Curious City archives and pulled out one of our favorites, a story about the Chicago River. Chicago’s bold maneuver to reverse the Chicago River diverted sewage away from Lake Michigan, allowing Chicago’s continued growth. But it was hardly a perfect solution. The effects of the groundbreaking engineering feat are still being felt today -- even as far as the Gulf of Mexico. Reporter Carson Vaughan has that story.
Mar 25, 2021
COVID-19, One Year Later
We’ve reached the one-year anniversary of Chicago’s stay-at-home order. From schools going virtual to plastic shields lining the grocery store check-out lane, just about every aspect of life has been affected by the pandemic. To mark all the change this year has brought, we hear some essays from folks who’ve written about their experiences. Plus we look to the future and visit some vaccination sites to answer a listener’s question about what the vaccine means to people. From “cautious” to “hopeful,” they tell us what they’re most looking forward to next.
Mar 18, 2021
A History Of Chicago Music Venues With Musician Andrew Bird
This week on the Curious City podcast we revisit a live show reporter Monica Eng hosted in early 2020 with Do312Chicago and singer-songwriter Andrew Bird. The violin playing, whistling musician asked us to tell him more about the history of some Chicago venues where he’s performed. We learn a fraternal lodge used to make their home in the Metro building in Wrigleyville. The Lyric Opera House historian ruins some of Monica’s favorite architectural gossip while busting some of the building’s famous myths. Plus, we hear about the gangster and working class roots of the 150 year old Hideout in Lincoln Park.
Mar 11, 2021
Who Was Billy Sunday?
This week on the Curious City podcast we dig back into the archives to share one of our favorite stories about the song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “Chicago (That Toddling Town).” The song pays homage to the partying and excess of the roaring 20’s during Prohibition. It also contains a lyric about a man who tried to save the soul of Chicago. Who was he and how did he end up in the song? Plus, we hear from several small businesses about what they’ve been doing to keep their businesses going- and some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Mar 04, 2021
Why The Sweet Steak Is The “Most Chicago” Sandwich
Though little known on the North Side of Chicago, the sweet steak has been attracting long lines of fans to South Side eateries for 50 years now. The sandwich starts with a steamed bun, piled high with grilled onions, chopped ribeye steak, American cheese, sweet pepper relish, sliced tomatoes and hot peppers — all doused in a signature reddish sweet sauce. Curious City’s Monica Eng digs into the origins of the sandwich and what’s in store for the future. Hint: it has to do with walnuts.
Feb 25, 2021
To Chicago, With Love: What Do Transplants Love About The City?
One Curious Citizen wanted to know what people who moved to Chicago love about the city. From fireflies to the way people walk, we hear what transplants say makes Chicago so special. Plus Curious City’s Monica Eng helps answer a question from another Chicagoan who's frustrated that the city’s playgrounds are still closed while so many other restrictions are easing up.
Feb 18, 2021
What’s Up With All Those Billboard Ads For Lawyers?
Curious City took a road trip and counted almost a hundred billboard ads for lawyers along I-90/94 on the border between Illinois and Indiana. Audio producer Steven Jackson investigates why there’s so many of these billboards in this area, especially for personal injury attorneys. He shares insights from lawyers, marketers, and historians. (Features a cameo appearance from President Lyndon B. Johnson.)
Feb 11, 2021
From Plastic Bags To Hot Potatoes: Hacks For Staying Warm This Winter
Chicago winters can be long and brutal. Curious City’s Monica Eng spoke with postal workers and other Chicagoans who spend a lot of time outdoors about how they dress for warmth during the winter. Also, we hear from a listener who asks what happens to the colorful landscaping along Michigan Avenue during the winter months.
Feb 04, 2021
Why You Should Skip Delivery Apps And Other Ways To Support Local Businesses
A listener wanted to know some practical things he could do to support struggling businesses. Monica Eng shares tips from industry experts on how to support small businesses like bookstores and music venues. She also talks with chef Beverly Kim about how female restaurateurs in Chicago have been supporting one another during the pandemic.
Jan 28, 2021
Why Are There So Many Thai Restaurants In Chicago?

This week we hear why Chicago has so many Thai restaurants and a renowned Thai chef offers up some tips for how to get the full experience of Thai cuisine. Hint: no chopsticks.

Jan 21, 2021
Did All Chicagoans Support The Civil War?

In this week’s episode we revisit a question we first answered in 2018. What was Chicago’s response to the Civil War? Chicagoans support for the war was actually quite varied and changed as the war progressed. To answer the question we focus on the experience of Irish Americans and African-Americans and look at how the war went from popular to controversial in Chicago in just a few years.

Jan 14, 2021
Why The 1992 Loop Flood Is The Most Chicago Story Ever

On April 13, 1992, Chicago was struck by a man-made natural disaster. The Great Chicago Flood of 1992 occurred completely underground and, fortunately, nobody was hurt — but several factors make it one of the most Chicago stories ever. In this episode from the archives, hear how clout, corruption, and construction without permits led to half the Loop being evacuated.

Jan 07, 2021
Here Are The Winners Of The 2020 Haiku Contest

It’s the last day of 2020, which means we’re revealing the winners of our 2020 Haiku Contest. Plus, hear an interview from our friends at Reset, WBEZ’s daily talk show. In a multimedia project titled “The River Speaks,” a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago gives a unique personality to each of the six branches of the Chicago River.

Dec 31, 2020
A Different Perspective On Our Story About The Walnut Room

In a response to our recent episode about the Walnut Room, listener Joyce Miller Bean shares her family’s experience of racism and discrimination when visiting Marshall Field’s in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Dec 22, 2020
What’s Up With All The Geese In Chicago?

Maybe you find them annoying or maybe not, but one thing is certain: Chicago’s got a lot of geese. So this week we’re taking on your geese questions, from why they’re here to techniques for controlling their population.

Dec 17, 2020
How A Department Store Became Part Of Chicago’s Christmas Traditions

From the Walnut Room restaurant to its window displays, Marshall Field’s figured out how to draw in the crowds during the holiday.

Dec 10, 2020
The Radical Existence Of Lucy Parsons, The ‘Goddess Of Anarchy’

In this episode, reporter Arionne Nettles tells us the story of Lucy Parsons, a Chicago labor activist and anarchist known for her fiery speeches and dubbed “more dangerous than 1,000 rioters.” But who she was and what she fought for was complex — and just as complicated was her true identity.

Dec 03, 2020
A Most Unusual School Year: Part II

In Part II of our special series on education during COVID-19, reporters Susie An and Kate McGee share stories of two high school juniors going through the college application process during remote learning and several college freshmen experiencing a strange first semester. Some of those college students are studying remotely from the homes where they grew up while others packed up and headed off to campus, only to face a quarantine.

Then, we hear from Curious City question askers and experts about what they’re thankful for this year.

Nov 26, 2020
A Most Unusual School Year: Part I

We’ve spent the last couple of months reimagining the Curious City podcast and trying out some new ways to answer your questions. And now, the wait is over. We’re ready to let you hear what we’ve been up to. We’re still going to be answering your questions, but in this episode, we’re collaborating with our audience a little differently. Two WBEZ education reporters share how a family and a teacher are coping with remote learning.

Nov 19, 2020
Where Does Your Poop Go?

In 2015, Satchel Lang was a curious five-year-old Chicagoan who didn’t want poop’s destiny to remain such a mystery. Now 11-years-old, we catch back up with Satchel and revisit the answer to Satchel’s question that reveals how poop and pee in the Chicago area get processed by an agency called the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

Nov 15, 2020
What My Family’s Great Migration Story Reveals About Chicago Blues

In the 20th century, millions of Black Americans who lived in southern states packed up and moved to northern cities — drawn by the promise of greater freedom and better jobs. Many headed to Chicago, and they brought a musical genre with deep African roots that reflected the realities of Black life: the blues. Reporter Arionne Nettles’ grandparents were among those who came to Chicago from the South, and when they established themselves in the city, they found success in the growing blues industry.

Nov 08, 2020
What Chicago’s Architectural Clues Reveal About How We Lived

If you’ve lived in or visited an older home or apartment building in Chicago, like question asker Biz Knapp, chances are it has an odd door or some other quirky feature that seems out of place today. But the evolution of apartment layouts signifies more than just a change in style or materials — They also provide architectural clues about the way Chicagoans once lived. We revisit those clues in this episode from 2017.

Then, we catch up with Evanston elementary drama teacher Michael Rodriguez. You might recognize his voice from an episode back in August, when he shared his excitement for the new school year. Now, about two months into his remote learning routine, we hear if things are going the way he expected.

Nov 01, 2020
Chicago Residents Say Rats Are A Problem, So What Is The Solution?

We’re back on the rat beat! Through WBEZ’s Citizens’ Agenda project, Chicagoans expressed concerns about the large number of rats in their neighborhoods. So we walk you through what you, your neighbor and your elected officials can do to tackle Chicago’s rat problem. Later in the episode, hear from Chicago-based professional wrestler Colt Cabana, who wants to know your questions about the city’s wrestling history.

Oct 25, 2020
What Was It Like To Dance At The Warehouse Club In Chicago?

House music got its start in the early 1980s — and it originated right here in Chicago. Many people say The Warehouse, a prominent house music club, is where the music genre got its name. Curious City talked with house heads (superfans) who danced at The Warehouse as teenagers to learn more about what the scene was like in Chicago.

And, stick around to hear from a mother who has transformed her Logan Square garage into a remote learning classroom, where preschool, kindergarten and second grade all happen under one roof.

Oct 18, 2020
Carl Sandburg’s Chicago

The famous poet and writer Carl Sandburg spent more than two decades in Chicago, from 1912 to 1930. In this archival episode from 2017, we explore how the city’s people and places helped shape his work — and gives us a personal window into Chicago’s past.

Plus, the City of Chicago created programs to provide eligible Chicago Public School students with devices and free Internet access for remote learning. We hear from residents at a Back of the Yards community event about how these programs are working.

Oct 11, 2020
Here’s How Climate Change Is Impacting Lake Michigan

Recent wildfires on the West Coast and Mayor Lightfoot’s plan to replace lead service lines in Chicago have brought the environment to the top of our minds. And as reporter Monica Eng found last year, Lake Michigan is already being affected by climate change. For a look at what we can expect moving forward, we return to a question from 2019. Plus, we take another peek inside the new school year in the city.

Oct 04, 2020
How Accountable Is The Mayor For Police Misconduct?

For the last couple of months, we’ve been bringing you stories from our archive as we experiment with some new formats. Now, we wanted to share one of the stories we’ve been working on. As protests continue over police brutality and systemic racism in the justice system, WBEZ Criminal Justice Reporter Patrick Smith breaks down how the police accountability system works in Chicago, how these decisions are made— and what power the mayor holds in cases of police misconduct.

If you want to share feedback on this episode, send us comments to

Sep 26, 2020
What We Do — And Don’t — Know About Chicago’s Lead Water Problem

The Mayor announced a plan to replace the city’s extensive network of lead service lines. So what does that mean for Chicago residents and the water they drink?

Sep 19, 2020
What A Murder In My Family Reveals About Chicago’s Chinese Gangs

The inaugural citywide Curious City Scavenger Hunt: Chicago Eats Edition is coming to an end, so we’re capping off the past month of unlocking clues by revisiting a family mystery. In this episode from 2018, reporter Monica Eng digs into her family’s past to answer a listener’s question about the history of Chinese gangs in Chicago — and make sure to stick around for an update at the end of the story.

Sep 13, 2020
Why Did So Many Chicago Bars Disappear?

While our recent episodes have been taking you to different neighborhoods throughout the city, this week we’re visiting a Chicago neighborhood institution: the tavern. Recently, there have been a lot of debates surrounding whether to keep bars open during the COVID-19 pandemic and how to do so safely. And some of Chicago’s bars have struggled to stay in business. But even before the pandemic, bars have been disappearing.

Sep 06, 2020
Displaced: When The Eisenhower Expressway Moved In, Who Was Forced Out?

The Ike was the city’s first superhighway. In this special presentation, people affected open up about how it scattered ethnic neighborhoods and changed many lives forever.

Aug 30, 2020
Chicago’s Historic Japanese Neighborhood — And Why It Disappeared

While the Curious City Scavenger Hunt: Chicago Eats Edition continues to take you all across the city, we’re pulling stories from our archive that dive into the history of Chicago’s neighborhoods. This week, a story from 2017 takes us to Lake View, which once had a thriving Japanese community — but it fell victim to a push for assimilation. As one Japanese-American puts it: “You had to basically be unseen.”

Aug 23, 2020
The Chicago-Invented Delicacies That Help Define The City’s Food Scene

With the “Curious City Scavenger Hunt: Chicago Eats Edition” now underway, we’re revisiting a story about foods created right here in Chicago.

Aug 16, 2020
Was There A Burial Mound In Chicago Shaped Like A Lizard?

A listener noticed an odd detail on an old map. Curious City investigated whether it was the site of an ancient burial mound.

Aug 09, 2020
Sculpting History: Who Decides What Historical Markers Go Up In Chicago?

As statues are removed in cities across the United States, we revisit a story about what it takes to get one put up in the first place.

Aug 02, 2020
The Story Behind “Go Cubs Go” And The Man Who Wrote It

Folk singer Steve Goodman grew up going to Cubs games, and this diehard fan had a lifelong goal—to write a hit song about baseball.

Jul 25, 2020
How Often Should I Wash My Mask? And More Of Your Questions About Face Masks

From office use to wearing them outdoors, we clear up some of your lingering confusions about face masks.

Jul 19, 2020
Protest Art Has Covered Boarded Up Businesses — Will It Be Preserved?

Plywood boards on storefronts became canvases during the protests over the killing of George Floyd. One Chicagoan wonders what will happen to the art now.

Jul 12, 2020
Why Are There So Many Music Venues In Uptown?

A rising population, developing landscape and evolving entertainment all helped form a need for the Chicago music venues we know today.

Jul 05, 2020
As Chicago Reopens, Is It Time To Let My Parents Meet Their Grandchildren?

As new parents to twins, Ricardo and Marcela Serment wonder if it could finally be time to invite some helping hands into their home.

Jun 28, 2020
Performers Speak Out About Racism In Chicago’s Improv And Comedy Scene

In this episode we speak with comedians Ashley Ray, Josie Benedetti and artistic performer Angela Oliver about how systemic racism has impacted Chicago’s improv and comedy scene, what they’ve experienced onstage and off and what it will take to change things.

Jun 14, 2020
Reflections On A Week Of Protests And Unrest

As Chicagoans respond to the death of George Floyd, WBEZ’s Natalie Moore, Monica Eng, Chip Mitchell and Sarah Karp take us through the moments that defined this historic week.

Jun 06, 2020
What To Expect From Farmers Markets This Season

Since the pandemic began, people have been concerned about food—how safe it is, how to get it, whether it would be available. We answered many of those questions a couple of months ago. But now, with new state and local regulations coming out for how to reopen, things are slowly beginning to change. And Curious Citizens have asked us what it means for things like Chicago area farmers markets, take out and restaurants. We answer a few of those questions here:

What will it be like to shop at the outdoor farmers markets in the Chicago area?

The City of Chicago still hasn’t released its guidelines or set a date for the reopening of farmers markets within the city limits—much to the chagrin of organizers and shoppers. But several local area markets, including those in Oak Park and Evanston, are already open, along with dozens of others across the state. The Illinois Farmers Market Association has also put out recommendations for safety.

So even though city guidelines haven’t been announced, many Chicago area market operators already have a clear idea of what this year’s socially distant season will look like—and many have been operating virtually in the meantime. Here are some of the most common rules they say will be in place, once markets open for in-person shopping:

  • All markets we checked with in Chicago will require face coverings for all vendors and patrons for entry.

  • Market managers will limit the number of people who can be inside the shopping area at any one time. And, once inside, visitors will be encouraged to walk through the market in just one direction, keeping 6 feet from all others.

  • Managers and farmers want customers to pre-order and pre-pay for their produce in advance so they can pick it up from the market without any money changing hands. They encourage shoppers to use an app called WhatsGood that aggregates the products of all the market vendors in one spot for pre-order and delivery.

  • Most social aspects of the markets, like musical performances, yoga, chef demonstrations and kids activities have already been cancelled or at least delayed until the situation can be re-evaluated later in the year. At Chicago’s Green City Market, organizers have moved some activities, like their kids’ Club Sprouts, into the virtual sphere.

  • Logan Square Farmers Market organizers have developed detailed rules that they will combine with any city rules that emerge in the coming days. They also plan to experiment with a reservation system where shoppers can sign up for a specific time to enter the market in order to manage the flow of traffic and avoid long lines for entry.

Christine Carrino, a spokesperson for the City of Chicago, says they plan to share more information about the future of Chicago farmers markets sometime in early June.

What are farmers markets going to sell?

Shoppers can expect a more limited selection of items at farmers markets when they reopen for in-person shopping. Many market managers tell Curious City that they are going to focus on vendors selling fresh plants, herbs, fruits and vegetables in the early weeks. This will allow them to keep crowding down and expand gradually as shoppers get used to the new rules.

Jessica Wobbekind, executive director of the Logan Square Farmers Market, said they may add things like bakery items later in the season, but not prepared items—like tacos. This is to discourage people from hanging around the market and socializing.

Still some sacred farmers market traditions will remain in modified form, like the famous Oak Park Farmers Market doughnuts made at Pilgrim Church. They are still being sold at the market, but have to be pre-ordered through the WhatsGood app and pre boxed for pick up—so maybe they won’t be quite as hot.

What’s the best way to make sure local businesses—rather than third party delivery companies—are getting the money from takeout orders?

Under the stay-at-home order thousands of Illinois restaurants moved to a takeout and delivery model, including many in Chicago. Some restaurant owners say the model has served them surprisingly well and will remain a lasting part of their business—even at high-end dining establishments. Curious City looked at the safety aspects of this model in a previous story, but today there’s a lot more scrutiny on the economics of it.

That’s largely because Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a directive in May requiring third party delivery services to disclose their fees on the customer’s receipt. This has cast a new spotlight on who is actually benefiting from the fees charged by companies like GrubHub and Uber Eats. Sometimes these companies can take up to 30 percent of the total bill.

If you want to ensure your local restaurant is getting the most money from takeout transactions, here are a few tips, according to restaurateurs we’ve spoken with:

  • Take a look at your next takeout or delivery receipt to see how much you are actually paying in various fees. The disclosure rules are already in effect in Chicago. You might see that some restaurants have added in-house COVID fees to their bills, and they should be able to answer customer questions about what these fees cover.

  • Don’t always believe what you see on Google or delivery sites in terms of how the restaurant’s takeout procedures operate—sometimes it’s wrong. If possible, call the restaurant first and ask them about their set up. Some may have their own in-house delivery person or have limited delivery. Others may have good curbside pick up options to avoid delivery altogether.

  • While most restaurants prefer contactless credit card transactions at this time, they also have to pay the credit card company fees for every transaction at around 1.75 percent. Call to ask if they have other payment options that they prefer.

  • Whether you are picking up or getting delivery, figure out the tip in advance by either putting it on the credit card when you order or having a clean envelope with the cash tip taped to your front door or in the part of your car (back seat or popped trunk) where the staffer is placing your food during curbside pickup.

What kinds of creative things are restaurants doing to maintain their business during COVID-19?

The prognosis for restaurants in Chicago—and across the nation—is not good. Many have announced permanent closures, others are hanging on by a thread and some may reopen only to fail, according to the National Restaurant Association.

While city and state authorities are still formulating rules for when and how local restaurants can reopen their indoor dining rooms, they recently announced rules for the next small step—allowing outdoor dining. You can read the city and state rules on these links.

Curious City has heard a lot of ideas from Chicago restaurateurs about how they might reshape in-person dining experiences, like removing half of the tables from the dining room, putting up bookcases between tables, creating tent-like structures around tables and even erecting plexiglass barriers. But a couple of our question askers wanted to know what other things restaurants were doing right now to adapt and try to sustain themselves safely in the time of COVID-19.

Some of the most creative innovations to keep restaurants open and people fed during COVID-19 have included everything from takeout meals you cook yourself at home to mixed cocktails (after the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation allowing restaurants and bars to sell the sealed to-go drinks).

Here are just a few examples of some of the creative adaptations now on offer in Chicago:

  • Logan Square’s award-winning Fat Rice restaurant has transformed into Super Fat Rice Mart, which sells whole kits to make the erstwhile restaurant’s signature dishes including Macanese vegetable curry and ginger and pork dumplings. More adventurous types can try the “Mystery Box” option, with ingredients and recipes for three unknown (in advance) Fat Rice dishes.

  • Pasta restaurant Daisies in Logan Square is now selling their fresh pasta along with produce and groceries from local farms, including milk, butter, flour and eggs.

  • The popular Gibson’s Steak Houses are also selling aged prime cuts of meat, normally unavailable to ordinary consumers, for cooking at home.

  • El Ideas in Douglas Park on 14th Street is offering curbside pick up of its tasting menus paired with an optional Zoom meeting with chef Phillip Foss later in the night. Here diners can talk with Foss about the dishes and hear the inspiration behind them. “Even though dining rooms are closed,” Foss says, “I think people still want a way to connect.”

  • And one of the biggest surprises has been the sudden (relative) affordability of meals from Chicago’s top-rated Alinea and the Alinea group. Customers regularly paid more than $200 a head at the flagship Lincoln Park restaurant that now offers a nine-course tasting menu for about $50 per person through curbside pick up.

A few companies have tried to aggregate a lot of these creative offerings across the country including Chicago-based enterprises Dining at a Distance and Tock.

How else can you help out your local restaurants?

Kelly Cheng of Sun Wah BBQ in Uptown has a few tips for customers who want to help make the whole contactless takeout experience work better for everyone:

  • Order early. This helps the restaurant organize its workflow. For example, order at noon for a 4pm pick up

  • Try to do curbside pick up at off-times for quicker curbside service when you arrive. If you must pick up at a popular time (like 6:30pm), be patient. Dozens of others have probably chosen the same time for dinner pick ups.

  • Make sure you are clear about how the pick up will go—like, do you text when you get there or call to retrieve your order?

  • Consider putting a flag on your antenna or a sign in your window that says “Picking up Order for John Doe.” Cheng says, “It can be hard sometimes to hear and understand each other through masks and this way you can be sure you don’t have to get out of your car and interact.”

  • Park safely. “We have seen a few near accidents as people have parked in bike lanes while waiting for their pick up,” Cheng says.

  • Don’t pop your trunk until you see the staffer coming out of the restaurant with the food, “especially if it’s raining,” Cheng says.

Thank you to question askers Jennifer Ptak, Diane Danbury, Leslie Harris and Mary Beth Nevulis for your great food questions.

Monica Eng is a WBEZ reporter. You can contact her at

May 31, 2020
Farmers Like Me Are Seeing Crop Prices Drop — But We're Resilient

As the state and the city take new steps to reopen life during COVID-19, we're releasing our last episode of Life Interrupted, a weekly series about daily life in Chicago during the pandemic. On this last episode, we meet Kate Huffman, a sixth generation farmer. Despite the economic uncertainty right now, she says farmers will come through.

May 27, 2020
I Survived Tuberculosis In The 1950s, So I’m No Stranger To Quarantine

At the beginning of the 20th Century, a global public health crisis hit Chicago—a widespread outbreak of tuberculosis. The highly contagious respiratory disease spread easily from person to person and attacked the lungs. Without a vaccine or a cure, doctors attempted to treat positive cases with sunshine, fresh air and by quarantining the sick away from the general public. Chicagoans who couldn’t afford to go to a private facility were sent to the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Peterson Park, which back then was at the edge of the city.

At the age of 12, Lillie Campbell was taken away from her family and quarantined at the MTS, where she remained for three years in the 1950s. She’s now 74, and she says that experience stayed with her and even inspired her to go into the medical field.

While some Chicagoans are showing signs of quarantine fatigue after just two months under the Illinois stay-at-home order, Campbell recounts what it was like to live through the TB outbreak and how it has prepared her for the pandemic the world is living through today.

What follows is an edited transcript of Campbell’s recent interview with Curious City.

How did you find out you had TB?

It was a very ‘hush hush’ disease—you didn't talk about it if you had it. You were considered very lowly, very unclean, like you were dirty. I think my teacher was one of the first people to begin to notice [I was sick] and they didn't let me go back to school. The thing I do remember most was the doctor who treated me, and he said to my mother, ‘I've seen this before.’

My mother was just heartbroken. She didn't cry, but she was very visibly shaken. [The doctor] let me spend one last night with my mother and my brothers and sisters. He explained to her that the whole family would have to be tested.

She had to bring me to [the sanitarium] that next morning. We didn't talk the whole way. There was really nothing much to say.

What was it like to be in quarantine at the MTS?

I was there from when I was 12 until I was 15. I was isolated. You couldn't go outside. Your nurses were afraid of you. They were very kind to me as long as my mother was standing there, but the moment she left, all hell broke loose. And we had to learn quickly—you're on your own. And I had to realize that it's either do or die.

You had to get cards that had certain color codes—like everybody strived to get a green one [because] that meant you could go outside. You could not socialize with other people, other children, so you grew up very fast.

What kept you going?

You know, I’ll never forget that my dad--he sent me a poem. It was called “If” by Ruyard Kipling. And he wrote it out by hand and I'll never forget it. And it stuck with me.

Lines like:

If you can meet with triumph and disasters and treat those imposters just the same.

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting...or in being hated don’t give way to hating.

The whole thing was just encouraging, just the fact that he said don't hate someone because they hate you, to take a disaster and make it the best that you can. The whole thing spoke to me because I needed encouragement. I needed to know that what I was going through wasn't the end of me and I had to faith in what my parents had given me and have faith in God and to hold on. And I got through. So that part to me was crucial.

Given your experience, what advice do you have for people?

We're acting like we're in a barbaric age. We're mad. We want to blame the mayors and the governors. We want to stand at city halls with guns.

You need to learn to sit quietly [and] just do what you need to do. This isn't gonna last forever. It's gonna get better. If you sit back and say, ‘OK. I'm in this. I don't like it, but it's gonna be okay. I just gotta hold on. I'm almost at the door ... And after a while, we'll be OK.’

This isn't just the United States’ problem—this is the world's problem. Wherever it came from, whoever started it ... it doesn't matter. What we have to do—and I firmly believe this—is to help each other ... But that's not what's happening. It's every man for himself. People saying, ‘well, I want to go outside. I'm tired of being cooped up. And then I want to go to work.’ So then when your child gets sick or your grandmother or your sister or brother, then, what are you going to do? There is no quick fix for this ... But the bottom line is, yes, we should quarantine. We should understand that this is not something [officials are] trying to take from you ... [they’re] trying to keep you from getting something. We’ve just got to be patient.

But we'll never be the same. You're never the same after a terrible illness or a problem or a hurt or loss. You're never the same and you're not supposed to be the same. That's the point ... But it's all in how you allow it to change you.

The question that inspired this interview:

Curious City question asker Laurie Nayder was strolling through Peterson Park on the Northwest Side with a friend when they ran into a park staffer. The staffer took them on a tour around the park fieldhouse and shared that the building and grounds had once been home to the state’s largest tuberculosis sanitarium. Nayder wanted to know more about what went on inside the buildings still standing in the park today, so she asked Curious City about the history of the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium. We answered her question in this piece from 2018, based on the historical record and remembrances of several former patients, including Lillie Campbell.

Monica Eng is a WBEZ reporter. Contact her at

May 24, 2020
I Thought Ramadan Would Be Depressing This Year — But It's Been A Blessing

In today's episode of Life Interrupted: Deanna Othman looks forward to sharing meals with friends and family during Ramadan. Now, she’s relying on faith to get her through isolation.

May 20, 2020
Why Is Chicago Still Seeing So Many New Cases Of COVID-19?

The Illinois stay-at-home order was supposed to slow the spread of COVID-19. So one Curious Citizen wonders how so many people are still getting sick.

May 17, 2020
I'm Bringing A Baby Into The World In the Middle Of A Pandemic

In today's episode of Life Interrupted: A first pregancy is normally filled with a lot of excitment but also a lot of anxiety. So what's it like to bring a baby into the world during a global pandemic?

May 13, 2020
Has The Stay-At-Home Order Improved Chicago’s Air Quality?

With less traffic on the roads and some businesses shut, one Curious Citizen wonders if the air we’re breathing is any cleaner.

May 10, 2020
Our Daughter Is A Nurse On The Front Lines Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

Life Interrupted is a new weekly series from Curious City about daily life in Chicago during the pandemic. In today's episode, as their daughter treats COVID-19 patients in intensive care, Suzie and Bob Pschirrer wonder if military families feel the same mix of pride and fear.

May 06, 2020
Who Created The Cook County Forest Preserves?

Around the turn of the century, the great American wilderness was disappearing. That’s when an architect named Dwight Perkins devised an ambitious plan to save Chicagoland’s natural treasures — by creating the state’s first forest preserves. . Over the next 15 years, Perkins would weather legal battles and partisan squabbling in pursuit of his vision.

May 03, 2020
I Started Sewing Clothes For My Barbies — Now I’m Sewing Face Masks

Life Interrupted is a new weekly series from Curious City about daily life in Chicago during the pandemic. In today's episode, Lucy Keating first learned to sew on her grandmother’s Singer sewing machine. Today, she’s reviving her skills to make masks for COVID-19.

Apr 29, 2020
Looking For Quarantine Recipes? Try This Chicago-Invented Dish

Two Albany Park chefs turned a Chinese-Korean chicken dish into a signature Chicago food. Listen to the history, then go to for recipes to make at home.

Apr 26, 2020
Your Stories Of Love And Dating During COVID-19

Whether you’re single or in a decades-long relationship, it’s likely coronavirus has had an impact on your love life. With Illinois’ “stay-at-home” order and new social distancing rules in place, the pandemic has fundamentally changed how we’re supposed to interact with one another, and that can include our romantic partners. Now, some couples are unexpectedly navigating long distance because of quarantine; other single folk are trying out virtual dates now that bars and restaurants are closed.

Chicago dating coach Bela Gandhi said the disruption caused by COVID-19 has made people seek out relationships and romantic encounters.

“People are craving connection more than ever because it's constrained,” she said.

“I think it's heightening the feeling for a lot of people that they would really like to have a romantic partner.”

Dating app data matches Gandhi’s observation. The app Hinge reported a 30% increase in messages among users in March. According to Tinder, there were more than 3 billion swipes on March 29, the highest number of recorded swipes for a single day in the app’s history. People have also been turning to non-dating-specific apps and games to meet and spend time with loved ones — some people reported that they’ve scheduled virtual dates and even attended wedding ceremonies in the Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing.

We wanted to get to the stories behind the stats, so we asked you how your relationships and dating lives have fared during COVID-19. From learning how to use sex toys while staying socially distanced to quarantining on a boat with an ex-flame, here's what you had to say about love, sex and dating during the pandemic.

Virtual blind dating made me rethink my approach to love

Relationship status: Dating someone virtually through a new kind of matchmaking service

The backstory:

Most of Michael Gorman’s dating life has been facilitated through apps like Tinder and OkCupid. So when someone in his workout group chat posted a link to a signup form for a new Chicago dating experiment called “Quarantine Bae,” he figured he had nothing to lose.

“I wasn’t doing anything else with my time ... why not give it a shot?” he said. “Especially right now when the world is a very isolated place, I’ve been living for all of the video chats and other opportunities to connect with other human beings.”

Quarantine Bae is a virtual matchmaking service started by two single friends who wanted to help connect other single people vulnerable to loneliness during quarantine. Co-founder Stefanie Groner said she was jaded by most dating apps, so she wanted to create something different.

“We thought to ourselves, ‘Can we design more meaningful interactions and a different way to date that’s relevant for coronavirus?’ ’’

Enter COVID-19:

Quarantine Bae matches people based on their preferences listed in the sign-up form and sets them up half-hour-long “blind” Zoom dates. The calls are audio-only, and participants don’t receive any information about each other going into the call.

Michael said he was more nervous going into his first Quarantine Bae date than he’s ever been before.

“I couldn’t come up with things to talk about or questions to ask him about his life,” he said. “It was kind of like [being in] that new Netflix show called Love is Blind.”

Despite his nerves, Michael said the Zoom conversation “never got slow or uninteresting.” When his BaeMaker (matchmaker) checked in with him afterwards to ask if he wanted his match’s photo and phone number, he said yes. He said he was surprised when he saw what his match looked like.

“I didn’t realize he was black, and when I saw the picture, I was taken aback a bit,” he said. “I was still interested in him — it didn’t matter — but it did surprise me a little bit.”

Now what?

Since their initial Zoom call, Michael said he and his match have gone on three video chat dates. He said he appreciates how Quarantine Bae set things up, because it pushed him to re-evaluate what’s important in a potential match.

“When you’re swiping on Tinder, it’s very superficial — you’re not giving people a chance to be an actual human,” he said. “If you’re limiting yourself to other people who meet your predefined idea of a perfect match, then you’re losing out on tons of potential opportunities to connect with people.”

He said he hopes services like Quarantine Bae stick around after the pandemic is over.

“I honestly wish there were more dating apps that didn’t have pictures, that didn't make you predisposed to see someone a certain way. To the extent that dating has become problematic, superficial … I think this is a great opportunity to hit the reset button and think about how we actually want to date in the 21st century.”

I’m socially isolating 24/7 with a former Tinder date

Relationship status: Quarantining on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico with an on again, off again flame.

The backstory:

Claire Oliphant matched with a guy on Tinder in the beginning of 2020. He’s from Chicago and like her, he’s into art and traditional music. He’d traveled to her hometown of New Orleans by boat. She says they dated for a week and a half, and “it was very fun, super intense.” But after that, he disappeared.

She says she didn’t hear from him until “he showed back up” a few weeks later. The two decided they would just “be friends.” Then he disappeared again. Both times, Claire was crushed. “Each of the break ups and disappearing were really intense, and I was very sad about them.”

But she likes to think of herself as a “pretty adventurous person.” So when he turned up again and invited her to wait out the pandemic on his two-person boat in the Gulf of Mexico, she decided to be spontaneous and join him — despite the fact that the two of them “haven’t gotten along for longer than a week and a half at a time.”

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to have an adventure instead of sitting in my apartment at home passively reading the news.”

Enter COVID-19:

Claire didn’t know how long the stay-at-home order would last when she hopped on that small boat with a guy she’d been back and forth with more than once. Recently, they had their first big “yelling argument” since they set sail together.

But she says for the most part, they spend their days drawing, fishing, swimming and cooking elaborate meals with dried food.

“And then at night we've been singing songs and telling stories, which is pretty fun.”

She also said the two have slept together since setting sail — “Everywhere. We’re very far away from many other people, so it doesn’t really matter where.” But she’s staying realistic about their future.

“Even though it feels very domestic to be in this tiny space and to be so close to somebody for this long … I’m not having, like, daydreams of being with him after this.’’

Now what?

Claire’s isn’t sure when she’ll actually get off the boat. Currently, no ports or marinas in New Orleans are allowing people in. She hopes she’ll be able to get off somewhere in Florida, but doesn’t know how she’ll get back to New Orleans from there.

“I keep going back and forth, like maybe I should … try to go back now,” she said. “But I feel like I've put a lot into this adventure, and I feel pretty committed to it.”

Regardless of what happens, Claire says this situation is changing the way she thinks about love.

“I'm going to look at people in the future and be like, ‘Can I be quarantined with them for 18 months?’ ”

My open relationship is getting extra complicated during quarantine

Relationship status: Navigating social distancing with a girlfriend who’s quarantining with her other boyfriend

The backstory:

Drake Stewart had never been in a polyamorous relationship before his current one with his girlfriend. The two met on Tinder last April and immediately connected on a deep level, Drake said.

“I was really into it,” he said. “[But] in the back of my mind, l knew this person told me that she was in an open relationship, and I didn’t really know what that meant.”

In the first few months of dating, before the pandemic started, Drake said he and his girlfriend would spend two weeks full weeks at a time together. Then, she would tell him she needed to be with her other partner. Drake said it was painful each time, but that he learned to cope.

“It kind of happens in cycles. And each time I learn a little bit more or unlearn a little more, and I can manage it better,” he said. “I feel like we're getting healthier each time this happens, and we're both very open and we talk about all of our feelings.”

Enter COVID-19:

These cycles of being together then apart continued until the week Gov. Pritzker announced Illinois’ “stay-at-home” order. Drake says both he and his girlfriend were “a bit freaked out,” but that they’d decided they would continue to see one another.

But a couple of days after the Governor’s order was issued, his girlfriend called, said her other boyfriend wasn’t doing well and that she’d decided she was going to go stay with him.

“That just kind of felt like a stab in the heart,” Drake said. “And since then, we've been talking, but we haven't been able to talk about how that has made me feel or impacted me.”

Now what?

It’s been more than two weeks since Drake and his girlfriend have touched each other or been in each other’s homes. Last week, Drake said they celebrated their one-year anniversary by cooking their own food separately and bringing it to his girlfriend’s backyard to eat it from opposite ends of a picnic table.

“It f***ing sucks not being able to be there and like, hold her or be held,” he said. “The only thing I want to do is see this person.”

Drake said this extended separation has forced him to really think about his feelings for his girlfriend and what their relationship means to him.

“I feel like, if anything, this will just show us how fragile life can be and not to take it for granted. So I'm going to try to spend more time with this person. It's just solidified my belief [that] this person needs to be in my life, he said.

I’m not giving up my sex life even during quarantine

Relationship status: In a new relationship but quarantining apart

The backstory:

Max Dinerstein had their first date with their partner, who works as a cook, on Jan. 24 of this year. They say it had been going “really well,” so when Max’s mother’s birthday rolled around on March 20, and Pritzker had already shut down the city’s restaurants to dine-in customers, their partner came over to help cook a special birthday dinner.

Then, the Illinois “stay-at-home” order went into place the next day, and Max hasn’t seen their partner since.

“We're two months into a brand new relationship. We've said ‘I love you’ to each other, he's met my parents, and now I can't see him indefinitely.”

Enter COVID-19:

While the enforced distance is tough on a new romance, Max is looking forward to the ways social distancing will change how they’ll need to communicate with their partner — about all aspects of their relationship, including when it comes to virtual sex.

“I'm not saying we're going to go all the way back to Jane Austen when you wrote each other like 12 letters and then you're like, ‘Cool, we've had one dance and we’re in love.’ I don’t want that,” Max says. “But I do think that communication of [one’s] needs and wants in dating is going to change.”

With no ability to indulge in physical activity, partners and love interests have no choice but to really communicate their desires, Max said.

“Everybody is now kinky for long distance sex, unless they live with their partner … [and] sex while social distancing is still possible.”

Max recently ordered a sex toy that allows you to control your partner’s toy from a distance through an app. Max has used these kinds of toys before, but never with their current partner. They say they’re excited about giving it a try — even though they know it could feel awkward the first time around.

“We’re just doing whatever we can to get that sweet, sweet serotonin.”

Now what?

Max, who considers themselves an expert on sex toys, said some friends reached out to them asking which toy they should invest in to keep their sex lives active during quarantine. 

“And that's information I'm happy to give people, because if it means they're staying inside, great — that's my public service. I think people are trying non-traditional approaches to dating. And people are really open to things that they might not have been [before social distancing].”

My ex and I reconnected for real

Relationship status: Rekindling lost love through virtual space

The backstory:

When Ellen Mayer, a former Curious City intern, created an OKCupid profile in 2017, she said she was “just looking for something casual.” But her first time on the app, she found a connection she hadn’t expected. She decided to meet up with this person for a date on a Rogers Park beach.

“It was very romantic, and we clicked very quickly,” she said. So quickly, in fact, that she says she was falling in love by the third date. “He took me to a poetry night at The Hideout and read a poem that knocked me off my feet.”

She said the first six months were so good she almost couldn’t believe it. But things took a turn after that. Both Ellen and her partner were dealing with mental health issues, and their relationship became strained.

“A lot of it had to do with outside forces,” she said.

After a year of dating, they decided to part ways, even as they both acknowledged that someday they wanted to try again. Ellen said she got back on the apps, but the lack of closure kept her from moving on. So at the end of last year, she decided to cut things off with him completely.

Enter COVID-19:

Quarantined alone in her apartment, contemplating what seemed like it could be the end of the world, Ellen said she began to rethink her decision to end things last year. With all that time to think about what really matters, she says she couldn’t stop thinking about him.

“I would joke about it and be like, ‘I’m not going to call my ex,’ and lots of people would be like, ‘Yeah, don’t do it!’ ” she said. “But then I started thinking about it more and started thinking that maybe I did want to be in contact with him and maybe try to reopen that relationship.”

Just as she decided to reach out, Ellen said her ex called her up. “We were both on each others’ minds.”

Now what?

Like everyone else, Ellen and her former ex are taking things day by day as they adapt to a changing reality under COVID-19. They have been going on virtual dates and working their way through the New York Times’36 Questions That Lead to Love.” She says the pandemic has made her reevaluate things that had been making her hold back.

“I had all these rules in my head of what the timeline should look like and when I would be ready. And living through a global pandemic puts things in perspective,” she said. “There’s certainly a piece of it that’s like, ‘It’s the end of the world. Be with the one you love.’ ”

Now, after a week of what she calls “rekindling,” she said she’s thinking about what it will mean to be together if social distancing remains in place for months or even a year.

“It’s a little bit all or nothing if we decide that we want to be sharing space physically,” she said. “But I’d be lying if I said I don’t like the idea of being able to share space with a partner in this time. We’ll see how it goes.”

Apr 19, 2020
This Synagogue's Story Mirrors The History Of Jewish Migration Across Chicago

As many Chicagoans celebrate Passover, we’re sharing a story about the history of Chicago’s Jewish community through one congregation.

Apr 11, 2020
Pets And COVID-19: What You Need To Know

Chicagoans have become familiar with how COVID-19 is spread from person to person and what types of safety measures they should be taking during this time.

But WBEZ has gotten several questions from pet owners who are wondering about the risks to their furry friends, things like--are cats and dogs susceptible to the virus and who will care for my pet if I get hospitalized with COVID-19?

Scientists recently confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 in domestic pets- two cats and two dogs. But science journalist David Grimm says researchers, at this stage, believe the risk of transmission is low because the cell biology of animals is so different from humans.

Still, there are precautions people need to take.

In this episode, we explore how to best care for your pets right now, what to do if a pet owner gets sick with the virus and how our furry companions may also be responding to the emotional stress their owners might be experiencing right now.

More about our questioner

Dr. Samuel Farbstein is one of several people who asked WBEZ questions about pets and COVID-19. Samuel was wondering about whether his two dogs, J.C. and Benji, could possibly contract the virus and if they would be contagious if they did.

He’s an internist at DuPage Medical Group and has been reading all the medical literature about the novel coronavirus so he can up with his patients’ questions and concerns. He thinks J.C. and Benji sense he’s under an unusual kind of stress, and says they’ve tried to offer him some comfort.

“I [spent] 8 hours at my computer dictating yesterday and [both dogs] were basically at my side making sure I couldn't walk without stepping on them,” Sam says. “They knew I needed it; they know I'm under stress. They read us well.”

Jesse Dukes is the Curious City audio producer. You can follow him @CuriousDukes.

Apr 05, 2020
How To Safely Enjoy The Outdoors During COVID-19

Governor Pritzker’s “stay-at-home” order has left lots of Chicagoans wondering how ⁠they can safely enjoy the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the city’s lakefront, adjacent parks, the 606 and Riverwalk have been closed because people were congregating in large groups, many natural areas in the region remain open.

So people can still go outside to walk, run or bike ride, as long as they remain six feet away from other individuals. If these rules are followed, experts say spending time outdoors can be really good for mental and physical well-being.

We've received at least 14 questions in the last couple weeks about the safety and logistics of outdoor recreation during the COVID19 crisis. In this episode, we talk about how you can safely be outside, and why it matters. 

Mar 28, 2020
How To Eat Safely During The Coronavirus Crisis: Tips, Resources, FAQs

WBEZ is answering lots of your other frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 outbreak in Illinois here.

Life in Chicago has changed dramatically this past week, from schools and restaurants closing to evolving policies around social distancing and public events. As Chicagoans — and most people across the country — hunker down at home over the next few weeks, Curious City is answering questions about how to safely deal with food, cooking and eating during coronavirus.

Please keep in mind that what is known about the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, is still evolving. This information does not constitute professional medical advice. For questions regarding your own health, always consult a physician.

How safe is it to shop at the grocery store?

The main issue with grocery shopping is your exposure to other people and contaminated hard surfaces like grocery carts, freezer handles and credit card swiping machines. Delivery services also involve some contact with people who may handle your produce.

“Stay away from other shoppers, [and] don’t hover over someone’s shoulder trying to get the last toilet paper,” said Martin Wiedmann, food safety professor at Cornell University.

For this reason, you should shop as infrequently as possible and at off-peak hours. Stores including Jewel-Osco, Dollar General, Target and Whole Foods are even creating special hours for seniors and vulnerable populations. You may also want to check with elderly neighbors to see if you can shop for them.

When you must shop, keep a safe distance from other shoppers, wear gloves, wash hands, wipe down surfaces and don’t touch your face.

Cook County Resources

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said people can call (708) 633-3319 to speak with county public health professionals or email questions to The county is also launching a text alert system that people can sign up for by texting ALERTCOOK to 888-777.

Can the virus be transmitted through raw food?

As far as experts are aware, at this time, you cannot get the virus from ingesting food. However if you were to touch food that contains the virus and then touch your mouth or eyes or other mucus membranes, you could get it. But the risk is extremely low.

“The current thinking is that you really have to inhale it or touch your face and have it come into contact with your mucosa,” said Dr. Jessie Abbate, an infectious disease specialist at Institut de Recherche pour le Développement France.

Martin Wiedmann, a professor of food safety at Cornell University, said it’s important to keep the big picture in mind.

“Nothing we do right now is zero risk, and food consuming has never been zero risk,” he said. “The lowest risk today will be packaged foods and canned foods. But that doesn’t mean we should not eat fresh vegetables. We’ve got to take care of our overall health, too.”

Can the virus be transmitted through cooked food, like bread?

See above. The current information suggests that ingestion is not an infection pathway for Covid-19 whether through cooked or raw food.

“If you eat it … it goes into your stomach [where it cannot be transmitted],” said Dr. Jessie Abbate, an infectious disease specialist at Institut de Recherche pour le Développement France. “Along the way, it could potentially come into contact with your mucosa [where it might theoretically attach and infect], but it's very unlikely that this is how it transmits.”

Can the people who prepared my food transmit the virus to me?

Experts say the virus is transmitted person-to-person, through the air or on hard surfaces where it can live up several hours or days. Again, it is not thought to be transmitted through the ingestion of food, but there may be a low risk transmission through fecal contact, where a food worker does not properly wash hands. All food service professionals are supposed to be trained in safety procedures to avoid such transmission, however.

What are my takeout and delivery options, and are they safe?

In the Chicago area, a site called Dining at a Distance has been building a database of more than 1,000 local restaurants and their options for pick up, delivery and other ways to support restaurants.

If you opt for pick up, experts recommend doing so at off-peak hours when you will not likely be waiting in a room with others. If possible, wait outside away from other customers.

If you are doing delivery, you may want to opt for “no contact” delivery, where the delivery worker leaves the food at your door or other desired location indicated in your online or phone order. But don’t forget to tip. These people are doing important work in trying times. Same principles apply for grocery delivery.

After you get the takeout or delivery dishes, treat packaging as you would any surface out of your control by wiping it down, washing or discarding it, and washing your hands again. Again, all professional workers are supposed to be trained in safe food handling, but these are special times. Transfer food into your own clean dishes and enjoy.

How do I safely store food?

Although authorities urge people to avoid hoarding, many have and will continue to stock up on food during this time. Inevitably, many will buy more than home refrigerators or freezers can hold. These are some aspects of the crisis that Cornell food safety professor Martin Wiedmann is worried about. He said consumers need to be careful about refrigerating excess food in the hall or on their porch, because most of those perishables need to be kept under 40 F for safety.

He also warned against things like washing meat in the same sink where you wash vegetables, causing cross-contamination. He noted you don’t need to wash any meat you are going to cook.

“Wash your hands before you cook food. Keep raw food, raw chicken, raw meat, etc. away from produce. … Cook things at the proper temperature using USDA temperature guidelines,” he said.

He said it’s extra important to take these precautions today. “If someone gets foodborne illness now because of something else — not coronavirus — and has to go to a hospital or has to travel, that exposes them to greater risk.”

What pantry staples should I buy to make versatile recipes for my household?

Chef Sarah Stegner said her top six pantry staples for this time are dried beans, onions, nuts, oatmeal, plenty of salt and some kind of oil.

For versatile meals, she recommends roasting a chicken (at 450 F until the thigh registers 165 F), or you can buy a roast chicken to-go from a restaurant.

“I like this because you can get multiple meals out of it,” she said. “And once you have that chicken and [eat most of the meat], you take the bones and the trimmings and make a stock or soup out of it.”

You can also freeze that soup to have it ready to go in case someone in your house gets sick.

Longtime Chicago chef, baker and restaurateur Ina Pinkney suggested keeping your refrigerator full of eggs and your freezer full of frozen soup. She also suggested cheering up the household by making breakfast for dinner, something like pancakes.

“I think it’s the most comforting way to end a day,” she said.

You can find the recipe for Pinkney’s famously light, heavenly hot pancakes here. Pinkney said you can find the potato starch in the “Jewish food section of your grocery store.”

How should I cook and care for a member of the family who is sick?

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention says that when someone in the household is sick, they should stay in their room and be cared for by only one family member.

The CDC further advises people who suspect they have COVID-19 to “use a separate bathroom, if available” and “not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.”

Authorities have not devised any special dietary recommendations for patients with the virus, but the CDC does recommend drinking plenty of fluids.

Is it OK to have friends over for dinner?

Experts say no, and the CDC recommends “limiting food sharing” in general. As unsavory as this is, we spit when we talk and touch our faces — more than we realize — and that can spread the virus, said Dr. Jessie Abbate, an infectious disease specialist at Institut de Recherche pour le Développement France. You can be carrying the virus, and be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.

“If you're having a dinner party with someone who is infected and shedding [spreading the] virus, you're all gonna get it,” Abbate said.

Essentially, when you have dinner with a neighbor, you’re having dinner with them and anyone they’ve had dinner with over the last two weeks.

If you still want to have people over, Abbate suggested really limiting who you invite. If you have a friend across the hall that you want to see, she said “stick with them and no one else. Now you have a slightly larger family.”

What are some ways to keep enjoying meals with other people?

While it’s hard to be isolated from friends and family, especially during mealtimes, here are some creative ways Chicagoans are keeping meals fun and social.

  • Call for advice. Prairie Grass Cafe chef Sarah Stegner is manning a cooking hotline from 2 to 4 p.m. everyday at (847) 920-8437.

  • Stage virtual dinner and cooking parties with friends on apps like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Facetime, like this group of Italians.

  • Share a challenge with household members to come up with the most creative dishes with the staples you still have on hand.

  • Finally learn how to make bread. All you need is flour, water and salt. You don’t even need yeast if you make your own sourdough starter with water and flour.

  • Involve the kids. Chicago chef Cheryl Knecht Munoz is posting daily lessons and recipes you can cook with children home from school on her Sugar Beet Schoolhouse blog.

  • Use the good china and light a candle, says Chicagoan Eilleen Howard Weinberg.

  • Anshe Emet Day School chef Ben Randall is posting daily recipes for kids at SageBZell on Instagram

  • Louisa Chu of the Chicago Tribune plans to start cooking through the Tribune recipe archives on Instagram as well.

Special thanks to our questioners

Thanks to everyone who sent in food-related coronavirus questions, including: Ned Lot, Jennifer Ptak, M.Hamilton, Helen Micari and Mary Beth N.

Mar 19, 2020
Chicago’s Got 1 Thai Restaurant For About Every 33 Thai People: How Come?

Fourteen-year-old Evan Robinson is a Chicago foodie — you might have even seen him on Master Chef Junior. Over the years, when he’s gone to see his orthodontist on 55th Street in Hyde Park, he’s noticed a tasty mystery.

“We always see all these different Thai restaurants,” he says, referring to Snail Thai Cuisine, Siam Thai Cuisine and Thai 55 Restaurant.. “I think that’s crazy that there are three [within] one block right here.”

Evan’s dad, Christopher, has lived in a lot of Chicago neighborhoods and says he’s noticed similar situations there, too.

“There seemed to be a Thai restaurant in almost every neighborhood,” Christopher says.

So Evan and Christopher wrote in to Curious City asking:

Why are there so many Thai restaurants in Chicago?

While there may not be a Thai restaurant in every Chicago neighborhood, there are a lot. According to Thai officials, the greater metropolitan area has about 300 Thai restaurants, but only about 10,000 Thai residents. This breaks down to about one restaurant for every 33 Thai people — twice the national average.

In the 1970s, thousands of Thai doctors, nurses and students started immigrating to the U.S., and Illinois was the third most popular destination (behind Los Angeles and New York City). A few of these immigrants started opening restaurants in the early ‘70s, and by the 80’s and ‘90s Chicago was in the middle of a Thai restaurant boom.

“It seemed like every few months a Thai restaurant popped up,” says nurse-turned-chef Chanpen Ratana, who at one point owned four Thai restaurants in Chicago.

Experts believe this big early wave of Thai immigration laid the familiarity with — and demand for — the solid Thai restaurant scene we have today.

As to why so many of these Thai immigrants decided to go into the restaurant business: Thai chefs, business scholars and government officials say it has to do with a culture of cooking and entrepreneurship. Plus, a Thai government “gastrodiplomacy” program aimed at promoting Thai cuisine across the world has given many local restaurants an extra boost.

Thais know food

Chef Arun Sampathavivat of Arun’s Thai Restaurant says a big reason for the large number of Thai restaurants in Chicago — and across the world — is that Thais are natural cooks.

“Thai people usually love to cook. They can cook anything,” Sampathavivat says. “Unlike most people who are not comfortable in the kitchen, most Thais can cook spontaneously right away. It's in them.”

While it might sound like hyperbole, several people interviewed for this story gave a similar explanation, and Sampathavivat’s own story suggests there’s some truth to it. He came to Chicago as a University of Chicago graduate student with no cooking training, then became one of the most celebrated Thai chefs in the world.

Sampathavivat also notes that many Thais are exposed to quality food culture at an early age as a part of their religious practice.

“When Thais go to temple, we bring food to offer to the Buddha, and we have to bring the best we can,” he says. “There is almost an implicit contest. Like, ‘The better I do, the higher level of heaven I can go to.’ The result is that you learn about great food at the temple even outside of your own family.”

Thai culture promotes entrepreneurship

In a 2016-2017 survey, Thailand ranked second among 65 countries in number of business owners, which carries a high social status in the country.

“Thailand is very positive toward entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship” says Ulrike Guelich of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in Bangkok. “We have 20% of the population who are starting a business and 20% who run established businesses.”

For Sampathavivat, Thai entrepreneurship comes out of his countrymen’s love of freedom.

“Thai people don’t like to be hired by anyone,” he says. “They are not [very] good employees, but they can be a good boss, because they like to have their own thing. They like to be independent.”

Despite this independent streak, Sampathavivat says, many Thais are happy to replicate the models of existing businesses and even open them in the same area.

“Thai people like to follow the kind of fashion or trend,” Sampathavivat says. “When one is doing this, the other one likes to do it, too. And before you know it [the same businesses are] all over the market just as fast as they can start.”

This may help explain some of Chicago’s Thai restaurant clusters — past and present — in Hyde Park, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Albany Park and downtown.

The Thai government gives restaurants support

And if a culture of cooking and entrepreneurship isn’t enough?

In 2000, the Thai government launched a gastrodiplomacy program aimed at expanding tourism to Thailand by promoting authentic Thai restaurants around the world. The program funded food research and provided money to help restaurateurs design, launch, market and maintain standards in their restaurants.

Some have credited the program with the heavy presence of Thai restaurants in the U.S., but data show many were well-established long before the program started.

“We go to events like Chicago Gourmet and promote Thai food. We don’t subsidize the restaurants but just do the marketing campaigns for them,” says Chicago Thai Trade representative Usasri Kheorayab.

Part of that marketing campaign includes something called the “Thai Select” program. It highlights restaurants that maintain specific quality standards and levels of Thai authenticity. Thai commerce officials award qualifying restaurants with the “Thai Select” seals that you can find in the windows of dozens of Chicago-area Thai restaurants.

More about the question asker

Evan Robinson was born and raised in Chicago, where he’s now a freshman at William Jones College Preparatory High School. He became a finalist on MasterChef Junior when he was just 10 years old.

“That was an amazing experience, because I got to meet a lot of other kids who like cooking like I do,” he says.

After MasterChef Junior, “I got a lot of opportunities to do things like work with Whole Foods and the Mushroom Council, where I had a series of videos where we substituted meat with mushrooms for healthier dishes that tasted as amazing, if not better, than they did before.”

When he’s not at school or cooking, “I like to play video games and hang out with my friends.”

His favorite dish at Snail Thai in Hyde Park is an egg noodle dish called birds nest noodles.

But he’s alway up for trying new restaurants with his family. A big fan of eel rolls and spicy salmon rolls, Evan says he’s been eyeing “a new sushi place that opened up in Hyde Park that looks pretty cool.”

Monica Eng is a reporter for Curious City. You can follow her @MonicaEng.

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What A Murder In My Family Reveals About Chicago’s Chinese Gangs

Editor’s Note: This story was first published in 2018.

On a warm September night, a gunman walked into a West Side restaurant, greeted the manager, and shot him three times. Hours after the murder, Chicago cops were still trying to figure out if the shooting was gang-related, the Chicago Tribune reported.

This may sound a lot like Chicago in 2018. But the murder actually happened in 1936. The alleged gangs were Chinese and the killer was after my family.

That’s one of the reasons I recently took on a Curious City question about the history of Chicago’s Chinese gangs also called tongs. The questioner didn’t leave their name, but they wanted to know how these powerful gangs got started, what they did, and what happened to them.

I wanted to know the answers to these questions to help me finally understand why my family members were targeted for murder back in 1936. But as I dug into the history of Chicago’s Chinese gangs, I realized that my family’s story offers insight into the social structure and unwritten rules that defined Chicago’s Chinese-American community during much of the 20th century.

How did these Chinese gangs get started in Chicago?

It turns out that the tongs my family got caught up with in Chicago actually originated as secret societies in China. They were divided into two main factions: the On Leong and the Hip Sing. These rival gangs first arrived in the U.S. in the 1860s with Chinese railroad workers. They operated in cities from San Francisco to Chicago to New York, and in just about any town with a large Chinese population.

Part of their role was to provide protection for members within Chinese immigrant communities. This protection was essential when low-wage Chinese workers came under attack for bringing down railway worker pay, says Gangland Chicago author Richard Lindberg.

“As a means of self-protection, the Chinese community organized extensions of the tongs of Imperial China here,” he says. “And then they divided along traditional tong lines of the Hip Sing and the On Leong, which were the principal rivals of 17th-century China.”

In his book, Lindberg writes extensively about the operations of Italian and Irish gangs, but says he found much less open information on Chinese gangs.

“Asian crime in Chicago is not well-documented simply because it was conducted under the veil of secrecy for most of its history,” Lindberg says.

Historian Huping Ling offers one of the few detailed accounts of Chicago tongs in her book, Chinese Chicago: Race, Transnational Migration, and Community Since 1870. She describes On Leong as a  “self reliant, quasi-legal and social organization of Chinese immigrants.” Ling says Chinese immigrants relied on organizations like On Leong and Hip Sing because they “received little protection from the homeland government or the host country authorities.”

The On Leong Merchants Association Building on Wentworth Avenue in Chicago’s Chinatown was once the organization’s headquarters. (Today, the building is a community center.) On Leong was one of two rival Chinese gangs that first arrived in the U.S. in the late 1800s. Courtesy of Chicago Daily News negatives collection and Chicago History Museum

Not just crime, but also social services

While these gangs were most closely associated with crime, Ling points out they also operated as social service agencies in the Chinese community. Among other things, they helped with translation, education, burials, business licenses, and immigrant resettlement. They also served as de-facto courts, resolving a wide range of community and family disputes.

While I’m not sure if my family ever relied on the tongs for these services, Chicago arts advocate Nancy Tom says hers did. In the 1950s she married into the prominent Tom family, who served as business and civic leaders in Chinatown and beyond.  At that time, she says, the On Leong was a central force their community.

“If anyone got into trouble or anything, they would go to the On Leong and they would protect them, but all of it was for a fee,” Tom, 82, recalled. “[If], say, an uncle was stealing from another uncle, they would settle all of that. So they were useful for everything.”

Tom says her own mother-in-law turned to the On Leong when there was an inheritance dispute after the death of the patriarch in their family. She says the community simply had more faith in these institutions than the American courts.

“They didn’t trust the outside,” Tom says. “They didn’t trust because they didn’t understand what was going on. So [they thought] it would be better to fight with your own, within your own community. They felt more secure.”

The dark side: rules and violence

As I learned all of these things about Chicago’s tongs and their roles in keeping order and peace, I had a hard time reconciling that image with the brutal gangs allegedly involved in gambling, drugs, and the murder of my family members — specifically my great-great uncle John and grandpa Harry Eng in 1936.

But then I learned about something called the tong’s “one-mile rule.” It prohibited restaurants and laundries from opening too close to each other, and, in my family’s case, it explained a lot about how keeping order and committing murder could go hand-in-hand.

Newspaper accounts of the 1936 murder say that my great-great uncle John and my grandpa Harry opened a restaurant called the Paradise Inn in West Garfield Park, right around the corner from an existing Chinese restaurant called get this The New Paradise restaurant.

Courtesy of Chicago Tribune, 26 Sep 1936, Sat, Page 3

When I asked my 90-year-old Uncle George about the case a few years ago, before he passed away, he said that our restaurant was in flagrant violation of the one-mile rule. And when something like this happened, he said, the wronged party could go to their tong boss and complain.

“They’d say, ‘Hey boss, look at that. I was making money and the other guy just came in and chopped it up. Go and kill him.’ Then a guy would go in, get an order of chop suey, and bang — it happened so often,” said Uncle George, who married my father’s sister and was an elder in the Hip Sing tong.

But he also noted that tongs often gave violators warnings to close their business before they escalated matters. But Uncle George said my grandfather and his Uncle John ignored the warnings.

“So they just got somebody to go and kill someone,” he alleged. “At that time the target was [grandpa] Harry Eng, but then somebody inside the store stayed there John Eng and they killed him instead.”

So what stopped the gang from continuing to hunt down my grandpa Harry after that September night in 1936? Uncle George said that shortly after the murder, my grandpa was visited by On Leong representatives who wanted to have a “friendly discussion.”

“They said, ‘Hey Harry, you better join my tong and we can protect you.’ And Harry accepted the suggestion,” he recalled.

So in 1936, my grandfather joined the On Leong, the gang that allegedly authorized a hit on him and his uncle. It may seem like a weird move, but it allowed him to live another 30 years, create a successful restaurant group, and a have a family with six kids, including my dad.

And, as a bonus, that meant I got to be born.

According to Monica Eng’s uncle George (top left), her grandfather Harry Eng (seated second row, left) joined On Leong after his uncle John Eng was murdered. Harry Eng’s association with the tong allowed him to stay alive, bring relatives over from China, and raise his growing family. Courtesy of Monica Eng

So what happened to the tongs?

Uncle George said the U.S. tong wars fueled by gambling issues, territory disputes, and revenge continued off and on for a few more decades. But in the mid-’60s, leaders decided to hold a national peace summit in Washington, D.C. It brought together tong leaders from across the U.S., including from Chicago.

“We said to each other, ‘You’re On Leong big shots and I am a Hip Sing big shot, so we should talk and not kill each other anymore,’” Uncle George remembered. “So in 1960-something, we get to Washington, D.C. to have a meeting. We talked about why we had to kill each other, and that we are coming to America to make some money and a living, and so we should settle down without all this killing.”

After the peace summit, he said, the tongs also decided to stop protecting members who violated the truce. “We decided that we would let the American government take care of them and let the guy go to jail.”

This summit ushered in an era of relative peace, with some notable exceptions. But generally the On Leong kept to its territory in the South Side Chinatown, and the Hip Sing operated out of its base in the North Side Chinatown at Argyle and Broadway.

This would all change in 1988, when, with an informants help, the FBI raided both tongs and shut down their gambling operations. The raids led to convictions of Chinese tong leaders and investigations of Chicago cops, an alderman, and a judge who abetted their activities.

Uncle George said the raids and closure of their private casinos took a toll on membership.

“To be honest, those organizations depended a lot on gambling to make money,” he said. “People liked to join to enjoy that kind of life. But now the government said you cannot have the Chinese gambling shops. So it got pretty hard to get people in the On Leong and Hip Sing because there was no more gambling.”

In the intervening years, other institutions in Chicago have taken on some of the tongs’ traditional roles. Organizations like the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the Chinese American Service League, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, and Chinese Mutual Aid Association have filled in many of the business and social service needs.

Municipal courts and police now play a bigger role in the lives of Chinese-Americans, community members say. And on the gambling side, mainstream casinos have targeted Chinese consumers with Asian entertainment and food, as well as convenient buses from Chinatown to their poker tables and slot machines in Indiana.

But that’s not to say the On Leong and Hip Sing tongs have completely disappeared.

“They didn’t really go away, they’re both still here,” Ling says. “They’ve just become one of the many community organizations in the area.”

Indeed, both still occupy buildings in their respective Chinatowns. Hip Sing offices sit next to the Argyle El stop, and the On Leong occupies a small building around the corner from its once grand headquarters on Wentworth Avenue — now a community building called the Pui Tak Center.

The Hip Sing Association currently has its headquarters in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Monica Eng’s uncle George, who was a Hip Sing elder, attended meetings at this location next to the Argyle El stop. (Bashirah Mack/WBEZ)

But are they still involved in the same activities?

Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says his department doesn’t publicly comment on any of its ongoing gang investigations — Asian or otherwise. And when I called and stopped by the two organizations, they didn’t answer the phone or respond to my questions.

As for my own family, as far as I know, our connection to the tongs ended with my Uncle George. I don’t even have any family elders left to ask. The last of that generation passed away in the last decade. And their kids, who are senior citizens themselves, don’t know much about these admittedly secret societies.

After a recent lunch with my cousin Winston (Uncle George’s son) in Uptown, I asked if he’d walk over to the Hip Sing Association building with me. We rang all the buzzers, but no one answered the doors. Winston said he used to drive his dad, who was well into his 80s, to the building regularly for Hip Sing meetings.

“But did you ever go up and see what was going on?” I asked.

“Not really, I usually waited downstairs,” he said. “And when I went up, it was mostly just a lot of older Chinese guys smoking cigarettes and hanging out.”

More about our reporter

Monica Eng at the grave of her grandfather Harry Eng and grandmother Nora Sit Eng in the Chinese section of Mount Auburn Memorial Park in suburban Stickney, Illinois. (Katherine Nagasawa/WBEZ)

Monica Eng is a veteran Chicago journalist and WBEZ reporter whose great-grandfather Joe Eng came to Chicago around 1920. Within a few years, he opened restaurants in West Garfield Park, including The Chicken Shop and a “dine and dance” ballroom called the Golden Pumpkin.

After losing all the businesses after the stock market crash, Joe launched new restaurants in the early ’30s with his relatives, his daughters, and son Harry Eng. These included the Paradise Inn on the West Side, the ornate Hoe Sai Gai on Randolph Street, and House of Eng on Walton Street.

Monica has never formally worked in restaurants, but has written about hundreds in her years as a food journalist at the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. She continues to explore food, health, and history on her Chewing podcast.

Monica Eng is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at

May 06, 2018
What Are Chicago’s Oldest Laws?

Looking around Chicago today, you won’t find many stink balls or cannons—but did you know the city has ordinances regulating both? When these laws were first passed more than a century ago, aldermen may have believed they posed a real threat. But today, these old laws don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.

Logan Square resident Ty McCarthy was wondering whether Chicago had any outdated laws on the books. So he asked Curious City:

What are some of Chicago’s oldest and weirdest laws?

To find some weird laws, we pored over Chicago’s municipal code—which anyone can search online—and pinpointed several ordinances that were passed more than 50 years ago.

Click here to view our special presentation featuring nine of Chicago’s most obscure laws.

Apr 28, 2018
Which Historical Monuments Have Sparked Controversy In Chicago?

From a statue honoring police to a tribute to Confederate prisoners, these monuments have raised debate over how history is represented.

Apr 22, 2018
Map Quest: Searching for Chicago’s ‘Lizard Mound’

A Curious City fan asked us about an odd detail on an old Chicago map. Was it really a Native American burial mound?

Apr 15, 2018
Mold-A-Rama-Rama! The Secrets Behind Chicago's Plastic Souvenir Empire

How a Chicago-area family turned cheap plastic souvenirs into a nostalgia empire.

Apr 08, 2018
Seeing Red: What’s Up With That Stoplight On North Lake Shore Drive?

The light near Chicago Avenue causes mile-long backups. City officials are proposing a solution, but you might be in traffic for a while.

Apr 01, 2018
Picture This: Did The Art Institute of Chicago Ever Rent Out Paintings?

Robert K. Elder would love to decorate the walls in his living room with original paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago. So he was floored when a friend told him that her mom rented two pieces of artwork back in the day. This was hard for Robert to imagine. Like, what would that even look like? Someone strolling onto Michigan Avenue with a rented Monet stuck in his or her backpack? Curious City looked into whether this story has any truth to it. 

Mar 25, 2018
From Blizzards To Heat Waves: Is It Actually Harder To Predict Weather In Chicago?

Beach weather one day and freezing rain the next: Chicago weather can be unpredictable, but how do we compare to other cities?

Mar 18, 2018
9 Chicago Pizza Mysteries Solved
Mar 08, 2018
Bed Rest And Sputum Tests: Inside Chicago's Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium

Former patients recall the tests, treatments, and trauma nearly 250,000 Chicagoans experienced over the sanitarium's near 60-year-long existence.

Mar 01, 2018
How 1920s Chicago Public School Design Reflects Changes In Education

More public elementary schools were built in the 1920s than in any other era. Their design reflected new ideas about child development and health.

Feb 22, 2018
Not In Your Front Yard: Why ‘For Sale’ Signs Are Banned In Oak Park

The village insists a decades-old rule to fight blockbusting continues to protect a precious suburban commodity: diversity.

Feb 18, 2018
How Often Do People Defend Themselves With A Gun?

For more than 20 years, researchers have tracked how often Americans defend themselves with a gun. So why can’t they agree on an answer?

Feb 11, 2018
What's It Like To Live In Chicago's Loop?

A family, a dog owner and tenants of a men's hotel explain why the Loop offers a sense of community amid the hustle and bustle.

Feb 04, 2018
What Makes Chicago A Destination For Improv?

Eight improvisers who got their start in Chicago explain what draws so many aspiring funny people to the city’s improv scene.

Jan 28, 2018
What Happens To The Lincoln Park Zoo Animals In The Winter?

Do the animals go somewhere warm, like Florida? Does the zoo give them coats? We took a behind-the-scene tour of the zoo to find out.

Jan 21, 2018
Why Aren't There More Statues Of Women In Chicago?

Statues of historic men can be found throughout Chicago’s parks and plazas. But one Curious Citizen wonders, "Where are all the women?"

Jan 14, 2018
What’s With That Demolition Dust? The Rules And Risks Of Residential Teardowns In Chicago

Tearing down an old home can release dust containing asbestos or lead. Curious City found that Chicago rarely enforces laws meant to minimize contaminant exposure.

Jan 05, 2018
Curious City: The Mystery Collection

Answers to listeners' questions about the mysterious side of Chicago that lies beyond the soaring skyscrapers and the sheen of the Bean.

Dec 31, 2017
Blacksmiths: The 'Plastic Surgeons' On Chicago's Payroll

The City of Chicago employs 20 full-time blacksmiths. But what do they do? And what's with the ancient job title?

Dec 24, 2017
Are Taxpayers Footing The Bill For Patriotic Tributes At College Games?

A 2015 Senate investigation found that the DOD did in fact pay college sports teams to stage patriotic tributes at games. Curious City finds out whether they still do.

Dec 17, 2017
What Would You Do With A Million Dollars? Whether Participatory Budgeting Is Worth The Effort

Some wards vote on how to spend some taxpayer money. Does it help spread the wealth or is it just a feel-good exercise?

Dec 10, 2017
So, Why Did It Take So Long For It To Be Mayor Jane Byrne's Turn?

It took decades for Chicago's first and only female mayor to land an official honor from City Council. Is there a reason it took so long?

Dec 03, 2017
Where Does Your Poop Go?

Curious City finds out where your poop goes by taking a journey through the Chicago-area sewer system.

Nov 26, 2017
Little Fingers And Screechy Sounds: Why Do So Many Kids Learn To Play The Recorder?

The recorder often inflicts squeaky torture on parents. Music teacher Valerie DePriest explains why it became a staple in music education.

Nov 19, 2017
Without Native Americans, Would We Have Chicago As We Know It?

Names like Marquette and Joliet are cited in history books. But it was Native Americans who first set Chicago on a path to develop into a major metropolis.

Nov 12, 2017
Don't Believe The Height! Why Chicago Suburb Names Flat Out Lie About Their Elevation

From Chicago Heights to Mount Prospect, here's why Chicago suburb names flat out lie about their elevation.

Nov 05, 2017
Why Chicago's Chinatown Is Practically Invisible On Apartment Rental Sites

The listings are there — just in Chinese. Is this a form of discrimination, or a way to preserve a neighborhood's character?

Oct 29, 2017
Cycling In Cemeteries? Why Some Chicago Graveyards Are Changing Their Rules About Bicycles

The answer has to do with shifting ideas about bikes and the proper way to mourn the dead.

Oct 22, 2017
Which Natural Disasters Are Most Likely To Hit Chicago?

The good news is Chicago probably won’t be hit by hurricanes and earthquakes. But the area is becoming more vulnerable to other disasters.

Oct 15, 2017
Do Chicago’s Arab And African-American Muslims Share Mosques? If Not, Why Not?

Chicago area Muslim leaders weigh in, and they open up about what divides and unites the community.

Oct 08, 2017
Forest Foresight: Who Created The Cook County Forest Preserves?

Architect Dwight Perkins' ambitious plan to save Chicago's natural landscapes raised a question: Which kinds of nature deserve to be preserved?

Oct 01, 2017
Who Came Up With The Iconic Chicago White Sox Look?

The brainchild of a 22-year-old executive, the White Sox look hit a home run with fans and, half a century later, rappers.

Sep 24, 2017
The Cha-Cha Slide And More: Which Dances Were Invented In Chicago?

Don your dancing shoes as we track down the Chicago band members, musicians, and dancers who helped create five iconic moves.

Sep 17, 2017
Baring It All: Why Boys Swam Naked In Chicago High Schools

John Connors says swimming naked in high school gym class was “torture.” Curious City looks at why schools enforced the policy for decades.

Sep 10, 2017
Chicago's Forgotten Civil War Prison Camp

Camp Douglas’ deadly reputation was kept in shadows but now there’s a surprising movement to bring it to light.

Sep 03, 2017
Push Carts, Popsicles, And Patience: How To Be A Paletero In Chicago

Being a paleta vendor may seem like a sweet life, but we learned that selling Mexican popsicles is anything but a walk on the beach.

Aug 27, 2017
City Of Big Agriculture: Here Are The Crops Chicago Was Once Famous For

The city deserves cred as an industrial giant, but it was also the first city of flowers, a pickle powerhouse and the heart of American celery.

Aug 20, 2017
What Happened To Chicago’s Japanese Neighborhood?

Lake View once had a thriving Japanese community, but it fell victim to a push for assimilation. As one Japanese-American puts it: “You had to basically be unseen.”

Aug 13, 2017
Chicago Bathhouses: A Century Of Sanitation, Sex And Sweat

A quick tour of places where residents would chill, get clean and — sometimes — get down.

Aug 06, 2017
Is Notoriously Segregated Chicago Becoming More Integrated?

On paper, Chicago is more integrated than it was a few decades ago. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Jul 30, 2017
Carl Sandburg's Chicago: The Places, People, And Events That Shaped His Writing

From 1912 to 1930, the famous poet and writer lived and worked in the Chicago area. Step back in time to experience Sandburg's Chicago.

Jul 23, 2017
Why Chicago Lightning Bugs Light Up One Neighborhood But Not the Next

A listener’s nostalgia for catching lightning bugs as a kid lead her to wonder: Are there any left these days? Our experts say they’re around, just really, really fickle.

Jul 16, 2017
How Chicago Beaches Get and Keep That Nice Fine Sand

Here’s why you shouldn’t take that "sand between your toes" experience for granted!

Jul 09, 2017
Chicago's Best Stargazing Spots

Chicago's notorious light pollution hides the stars, but here's where you have a fighting chance to peek at the heavens.

Jul 02, 2017
Welcome Back, Otters: Could The River Otter Call Chicago's Loop Home?

Forty years ago, it would have been nearly impossible to find an otter in Illinois, never mind Chicago. Today, could they be here to stay?

Jun 25, 2017
The Meaning Of Boystown: A Conversation About Chicago's LGBTQ Neighborhood

A multi-generational panel talks about what the neighborhood means to them and where they see its future.

Jun 18, 2017
Chicago's Architectural Clues Reveal How We Live

We look at eight building features and what each reveals about how society and urban life has changed over the years.

Jun 11, 2017
Building Skyscrapers on Chicago's Swampy Soil

Engineers once compared Chicago’s soggy soil to jelly cake. How did they build a forest of skyscrapers on it?

May 28, 2017
Rubber Stamp Aldermen: Why Does Chicago City Council Always Vote For What The Mayor Wants?

Most aldermen almost always vote with the mayor, but that's starting to change.

May 21, 2017
City Of Big Potholes: Is Asphalt The Best Choice For Chicago's Streets?

In the past decade the city paid out nearly $3 million drivers whose cars were damaged by poor road conditions. Is asphalt to blame?

May 14, 2017
Boystown: How Chicago Got Its Gay Neighborhood

Political activism and businesses helped shape the city's gay neighborhood, but there's a debate about its future.

May 07, 2017
Curious City: What Happens To Food On Cancelled Flights?

When a flight gets cancelled, it's not only travel plans that get trashed.

Apr 30, 2017
Curious City: The Nazis' Neighborhood

Was there ever a Nazi neighborhood in Chicago? In this special Curious City mini-documentary and online presentation (complete with archival photos and video), we tell the story of how an infamous neo-Nazi group settled in the Marquette Park neighborhood and used it as a home base to gain attention and promote its political agenda. The story of the group’s rise and fall on Chicago’s Southwest Side raises questions about the extent of free speech and how mainstream racism in any neighborhood can encourage hate groups.  

Apr 23, 2017
How A Rat Balloon From Suburban Chicago Became A Union Mascot

Scabby the Rat is now common on picket lines around the world, but the balloon started in Chicago’s historically blue-collar suburbs.

Apr 19, 2017
Safer, Faster, Smarter? The Road Ahead For Illinois' High-Tech Highway

Officials say the Jane Addams Tollway will soon be faster, safer and smarter. But will it deliver?

Apr 09, 2017
First Responder: Why Do Fire Trucks Often Arrive Before Ambulances For Medical Emergencies?

Medical calls outnumber fire calls 20 to one in Chicago. So why does the city own so many more fire trucks than ambulances?

Apr 02, 2017
The Meteorologist’s Climate Change Dilemma

Tom Skilling explains why most TV meteorologists don't talk about climate change, but should.

Mar 26, 2017
Are there fallout shelters left in Chicago?

There are plenty, but let's just say they're not ready for a nuclear apocalypse.

Mar 19, 2017
Searching for Chicago’s Most Family-Packed Neighborhoods

A prospective Chicago parent wants to know where he could be within door-knocking distance of other families with kids. So we mapped them.

Mar 12, 2017
Deconstructing The Chicago-Style Hot Dog

Chicago-style hot dogs are a beloved culinary masterpiece: A snappy all-beef wiener, steamed poppy seed bun, yellow mustard, chopped onions, neon-green relish, two slices of tomato, a dill pickle spear, two sport peppers and a final whoosh of celery salt.

But how did that unique mix of ingredients come to be? In a special Curious City presentation, Chicago’s premier hot dog expert breaks down the history of each ingredient. It’s a tale of immigration to Chicago’s Maxwell street neighborhood a century ago. Click here for the full story.

Monica Eng is a WBEZ food and health reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng

Mar 05, 2017
Out In The Cold: Where Do Chicago’s Homeless Go In The Winter?

Coffee shops, hospital waiting rooms and train cars are a few of the places Chicago’s homeless go to escape the cold.

Feb 26, 2017
Chickens and Goats and Pigs, Oh My! Chicago’s Backyard Livestock Laws

After her neighbor adopted five goats, Jeanne Cuff wondered about Chicago's livestock laws.

Feb 19, 2017
Red Line To Your Heart: What Makes Chicago's Dating Scene Distinct?

We explore a phenomenon called “cuffing” and the (short) lengths Chicagoans will go for love.

Feb 12, 2017
'Gratest' Fear: The Psychology Behind Chicago’s Sidewalk Grates

Sidewalk grates make people feel uneasy. An anxiety expert said this uneasiness is rooted in something much deeper.

Feb 05, 2017
Korean Chicken Wings: Spicy, Crispy, Saucy And Totally Chicago

Two Albany Park chefs fused Chinese and Korean flavors, giving birth to the chicken lollipop.

Jan 29, 2017
Signs Of The Times: How Chicago Bars Got So Many Old Style Signs

We uncover the history and bask in the glow of a ubiquitous Chicago bar sign.

Jan 22, 2017
“Who’s Your Chinaman?”: The Origins Of An Offensive Piece Of Chicago Political Slang
Jan 15, 2017
Icebreakers Of The Chicago River: How Bubblers, Boats And Brawn Keep The City Safe Each Winter
Jan 08, 2017
Curious City Live: This Show Was A Disaster!

In this special podcast episode, Curious City presents three Chicago disaster stories as told at the Old Town School of Folk Music on March 30, 2016. Inspired by questions posed from Chicago-area residents, the tales range from the practically comical Loop flood of 1992, to a terrifying tornado that struck the region, to the city’s infamous Iroquois Theater fire. If you didn’t get your fill of disaster stories, Curious City’s collected even more!

Jan 02, 2017
O'Hare's Ghost: Whatever Happened to Terminal 4?

The area’s premier airport sports Terminals 1, 2, 3 and ... 5. What gives?

Dec 25, 2016
The Willis Tower In 150 Years: Adapted, Demolished or Abandoned?

What will happen to the Willis Tower in 150 years? In this special Curious City presentation, producer Jesse Dukes and the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Jen Masengarb envision three future scenarios for the iconic skyscraper, and for the Chicago of 2166. Click here for the full story. 

Dec 18, 2016
Christmas Tree Lots: Who Are The Folks Who Keep The Season Bright?

Pop-up tree lots sprout up on every Chicago corner during the holiday season, only to disappear. Who are the people who make these happen and what's the business like? As one operator says it, "It’s fast, it’s furious and it’s over in about three and a half weeks."

Dec 11, 2016
When Church Meets State: Picking Apart Prayer in Aurora’s City Council

Aurora leads council meetings with prayer, and it sometimes raises eyebrows. But would a judge ever smack it down?

Dec 04, 2016
City Beautiful? Why Some Chicago Neighborhoods Have Viaduct Art and Others Don't

Murals beautify some viaducts, while others are left bare and dirty. Why the disparity?

Nov 27, 2016
Tips For Hunting Chicago’s Long-lost Recipes
Nov 20, 2016
The Swinging Times of Chicago's Revolving Doors

Tempted to ignore the revolving door? Here are the revolutions that made the city a magnet for this seemingly simple device.

Nov 11, 2016
Do Lotto Dollars Really Fund Education?

Schools are really crimped for cash. Hold up, wasn’t the lottery supposed to help with that?

Nov 06, 2016
Second City: The Origins of Chicago’s One-way Rivalry with New York

There was a time Chicago gave New York a run for its money. How did we end up the Second City?

Oct 30, 2016
Fighting For Scraps: What It Would Take For Chicago To Get Citywide Composting

Minneapolis and San Fran do it. Even Oak Park’s got a program. What gives? Photos of how municipal composting works in Oak park, interviews and the prospects for change in Chicago.

Oct 23, 2016
From Rust to Repurposed: A Second Life for Chicago’s Abandoned Bikes

That sorry-looking bike on the curb could end up in the hands of a local kid or even a family overseas. Full story with additional interviews and photos: 

Oct 16, 2016
Daley vs. Little Italy: Did the Mayor Drop UIC on the Neighborhood Out of Spite?

Why did Richard J. Daley push for the UIC campus to rise from the heart of a long-standing ethnic neighborhood? In this special Curious City presentation, reporter Monica Eng examines the pervasive suspicion that the mayor’s choice rose from a political spat or — even worse — from disdain for the Italian-American community. Click here for the full story.

Oct 09, 2016
From Rails to Trails: The Economic Impact of Chicago’s Repurposed Railways

As The 606 stokes fears of economic displacement, the city wants to repurpose more rail lines. What's the state of research on this?

Oct 02, 2016
The Making Of Polish Chicago

This Curious City special mini-documentary answers how the Polish became one of Chicago’s largest and most influential ethnic groups. And, come to think of it, is there anything to the claim that the city has the most Poles outside of Warsaw?

Sep 18, 2016
The Painters Who Give Chicago's Grocery Signs The Human Touch
Sep 11, 2016
How Chicago Beaches Get and Keep That Nice Fine Sand

Here’s why you shouldn’t  that "sand between your toes" experience for granted!

Sep 04, 2016
Displaced: When The Eisenhower Expressway Moved In, Who Was Forced Out?
Aug 28, 2016
Why The 1992 Loop Flood Is The Most Chicago Story Ever

How clout, corruption, and construction without permits led to half the Loop being evacuated.

Aug 21, 2016
Why Is Gambling Banned On The CTA?

Commuters are regularly hit with the announcement “Gambling is prohibited on CTA trains.” We find the reason behind the rule and look for those who inspired it.

Aug 14, 2016
Zeppelin Poseurs: Why Chicago's Airship Dreams Never Took Off
Aug 08, 2016
A Tale of Resale: How Big Chains’ Produce Ends Up in Local Grocery Stores
Jul 31, 2016
Why Chicago Lightning Bugs Light Up One Neighborhood But Not the Next

A listener’s nostalgia for catching lightning bugs as a kid lead her to wonder: Are there any left these days? Our experts say they’re around, just really, really fickle.

Jul 25, 2016
The Heart Of The City: Finding Chicago’s Geographic Center

It smells like garbage and gym shoes, but, surprisingly, the city’s geographic center says a lot about Chicago’s soul.

Jul 18, 2016
Hidden in Plain Sight: Inside Downtown Chicago's Windowless, Doorless Buildings

Here’s a peek at what goes on inside some of these “mystery buildings” and how their architectural disguises have evolved over the decades.

Jul 10, 2016
Getting to the Bottom of Lake Michigan's Legendary 'Shark Attack'

Rumor has it a young George Lawson was attacked by a shark while swimming at a Chicago beach in 1955. Is it true, or just a bunch of bull shark?

Jul 01, 2016
Stories Behind CTA ‘L’ Lines’ Strange Curves, Dips and Twists
Jun 13, 2016
What Killed The Cook County Fair?
Jun 06, 2016
The Killing Of Fred Goree: A White Cop, A Buick And Segregation In The Age Of Negro League Baseball
May 30, 2016
Escape From Chicago: How Long Would It Take to Evacuate?

The city’s cagey on estimates, but suggests you bring your best walking shoes.

May 23, 2016
Mixed Signals: Do Chicago's Crosswalk Buttons Actually Work?

The city’s pushing pedestrian-friendly design, but it’s left one consideration at the curb.

May 16, 2016
Why Chicago BYOBs Like Nobody’s Business

Combine gangster-era liquor laws with a twist of modern creativity, add a dash of laid-back spirit, and you’ve got a cocktail that makes Chicago the BYOB capital of the country. 

May 09, 2016
Chicago’s Killer View: The Skyline’s Toll On Migratory Birds

Each migratory season leaves a flurry of birds dead at the feet of skyscrapers. But does that make a dent in the bird population?

May 02, 2016
Chicago’s Tornado-Proof Delusion
Apr 25, 2016
Illinois Has No Budget, So Where Do State Tax Dollars Go, Anyway?

The answers are crazy. We’ll have fun looking. But you’ll probably be pretty mad by the end. Things are worse than you thought.

The bad news:
We’re paying out billions more than we take in. Just without setting priorities.
The state comptroller — who makes the payments — calls it “ad hoc” and “ridiculous.”

The worse news: We’re still letting billions of dollars in services go totally unfunded.

And: We’re breaking the non-profits that provide those services.

Full story, complete with charts.

Apr 11, 2016
Little Eddie's Field Trip: The Union Stock Yards Through the Eyes of an Eighth Grader

Decades ago, Chicago’s  Union Stockyards were the source of meat for the country, jobs for the city and ... field trips for Chicago Public School children. Really. (Related to a Curious City story about meatpacking in Chicago.)

Mar 28, 2016
Not in Your Front Yard: Why ‘For Sale’ Signs are Banned in Oak Park

The village insists a decades-old rule to fight blockbusting continues to protect a precious suburban commodity: diversity. 

Mar 21, 2016
Have We Hit Peak Mattress? Why Chicago Has So Many Mattress Stores

If this retail mystery’s keeping you up at night, here are answers. Plus: Have we hit peak mattress? Warning: More puns ahead! 

Mar 14, 2016
Chicago Architects: Why the City’s New Buildings Don’t Look Like Its Classics

Today’s Chicago architects answer why they build the way they do, and to what degree their inspiration comes from the city’s past. Full story, with photos and additional interviews from Chicago architects and developers.  

Mar 07, 2016
Icebreakers of the Chicago River: How bubblers, boats and brawn keep the city safe each winter
Feb 12, 2016
What Happened to Chicago's Rifle Ranges?

Rifle sport shooting was once so popular in the city that even ComEd and schools had competitive teams. Today, there's not a range in sight.

Feb 05, 2016
That Time Chicago Sent a Trainload of Snow to Florida

How one girl’s dream for a snow day came true during the infamous blizzard of 1967.

Jan 15, 2016
The Fall of Chicago's 'Porkopolis' and the Rise of Niche Meat

The city was once the nation’s meatpacking powerhouse. What, if anything, is left?

Dec 23, 2015
Curious City: The Mystery Collection

Answers to listeners' questions about the mysterious side of Chicago that lies beyond the soaring skyscrapers and the sheen of the Bean.

Dec 18, 2015
Ferry-tale: Could a Chicago-to-Michigan Ferry Return from Extinction?

Lake Michigan was once a passenger steamer superhighway. Could a Chicago-to-Michigan route make a comeback?

Dec 11, 2015
The Swinging Times of Chicago's Revolving Doors

Tempted to ignore the revolving door? Here are the revolutions that made the city a magnet for this seemingly simple device.

Dec 04, 2015
Half Day Road and the Origins of a Semantic Slip-up

A half day from ... what? Why this suburban myth is not even half true, and why the same mistake was made again 600 miles away.

Dec 03, 2015
Fare Game: When do CTA Buses Break Even?

A look at how many riders it takes to make a bus profitable.

Nov 20, 2015
Mold-A-Rama-Rama! The Secrets Behind Chicago's Plastic Souvenir Empire

How a Chicago-area famiHow a Chicago-area family turned cheap plastic souvenirs into a nostalgia turned cheap plastic souvenirs into a nostalgia empire.

Nov 13, 2015
Blacksmiths: The 'Plastic Surgeons' on Chicago's Payroll

The City of Chicago employs 20 full-time blacksmiths. But what do they do? And what's with the ancient job title?

Nov 06, 2015
'Poland elsewhere': Why So Many Poles Came to Chicago

How generation after generation of Polish families made the city into a 'Poland elsewhere.'

Oct 30, 2015
Can Chicago Brag about the Size of its Polish Population?

A Grabowski team of demographA Grabowski team of demographers help us test the city’s claim of having the most Poles outside Poland.ers help us test the city’s claim of having the most Poles outside Poland.A Grabowski team of demographers help us test the city’s claim of having the most Poles outside Poland.

Oct 26, 2015
Don't Believe the Height! Why Chicago Suburb Names Flat Out Lie about their Elevation

From Chicago Heights to Mount Prospect, here’s why Chicago suburb names flat out lie about their elevation.

Oct 16, 2015
Shadow City: How Chicago Became the Country's Alley Capital

How Chicago became the alley capital of the country and why so much of the rest of the region is conspicuously alley-free.

Oct 10, 2015
Nice Pipes: The Inner Workings of Buckingham Fountain

The lowdown on how the fountain shoots water so high, and why it was built to impress in the first place.

Sep 04, 2015
Beyond Deep-Dish: Exploring Chicago's Other Native Foods

A list of meaty, messy and often obscure city originals that's meant to get you out of your comfort zone.

Sep 02, 2015
Mystery Boat: Alone and Idle in a Waterlogged Corner of Chicago

Ever see this rusty old freighter off the Bishop Ford Expressway? Its backstory says a lot about the Great Lakes shipping industry.

Aug 26, 2015
Are there fallout shelters left in Chicago?

There are plenty, but let’s just say they’re not ready for a nuclear apocalypse.

Aug 19, 2015
Where are Chicago's Poor White Neighborhoods?

Poverty touches all races in Chicago, but it's more visible among blacks and Latinos. Here's why that happens and why it matters.

Aug 12, 2015
Shoes on a Wire: Untangling an Urban Myth

From teenage mischief to possible drug markets, a search for the real reasons sneakers end up on power lines.

Aug 05, 2015
Chicago's Best Stargazing Spots

Chicago’s notorious light pollution hides the stars, but here’s where you have a fighting chance to peek at the heavens.

Jul 22, 2015
Here's Harold! (The Robot Edition)

The DuSable Museum says — creepy or not — its Harold Washington robot will teach you a thing or two about the city’s first African-American mayor.

Jul 15, 2015
What Really Happens to Chicago's Blue Cart Recycling?

The program is no sham, but a good number of recyclables still head to landfills.

Jul 01, 2015
In Chicago, Eternal Rest Ain't So Eternal
How often do the dead make way for planes, parks and other local development? More than you'd think.
Jun 18, 2015
Beyond The Rattle And Clatter: When The CTA 'L' Is Your Neighbor

Living near the CTA means life in a rattling fishbowl, but some Chicagoans adapt.

Jun 10, 2015
The unsung hero of urban planning who made it easy to get around Chicago

Unsung urban planning hero Edward Brennan tamed a chaotic 19th-century street-numbering system.

May 20, 2015
Were Chicago's Public Schools Ever Good?

We start an era-by-era search for the district’s ‘golden age’ and wonder: Could it be right now?

May 13, 2015
The Legacy Of Michael Jordan In Chicago

The city rode high when ‘His Airness’ played for the Bulls. But what did he leave behind?

Apr 01, 2015
Chicago's forgotten Civil War prison camp
Mar 11, 2015
Building Skyscrapers on Chicago's Swampy Soil

Engineers once compared Chicago’s soggy soil to jelly cake. How did they build a forest of skyscrapers on it?

Mar 04, 2015
The Rise of Casimir Pulaski Day

How Chicago’s Polish community won a Revolutionary War hero a holiday ... in a state he never stepped in.

Feb 25, 2015
No Conspiracy Required: The True Origins Of Chicago's February Elections

Sure, the timing’s awful for campaigning and voting, but it wasn’t some trick concocted by the Democratic Machine. In fact, it was meant to empower voters.

Feb 18, 2015
When Will Chicago Get Its Next Supertall Skyscraper?

A Chinese developer wants to alter the city skyline and break a dry spell in a field we once dominated.

Jan 28, 2015
When is Chicago-area Traffic the Worst?

Let our info about the Let our info about the worst hours, days and seasons for road congestion steer you clear from a traffic-induced personal hell. 

Jan 09, 2015
Wherefore art thou Romeoville?

The Chicago suburbs of Romeoville and Joliet were once named Romeo and Juliet. We explored why.

Dec 29, 2014
Weird And Wonderful Things You Might Not Know About Chicago

What associations do you make with Chicago? Da Bears? Shady politics? Wacky weather? If you feel that list is getting stale, here’s a list of new ones to consider!

Dec 23, 2014
Could Truant Officers Return To Chicago Public Schools?

A state task force likes the idea, but one former officer says the proposed job description could be a bit too much.

Nov 13, 2014
Campus police: real deal or rent-a-cops?

Our case study: The U of C, where a private force polices 65,000 Chicagoans on and off campus.

Nov 05, 2014
We Ain't Afraid Of No (Chicago) Ghosts!

What makes these notable ghost stories tick? Even if you don’t believe them, you’ll never forget them.

Oct 30, 2014
Real Estate And Religion: The Tale Of Seventeenth Church Of Christ, Scientist

How a modest congregation at Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist built and maintained an improbably cool concrete oasis in such an improbable location. 

Oct 22, 2014
Chicago Without The Fire

Historians consider our “what-if” scenario about a city that escaped the 1871 blaze. Would the Loop be a livable neighborhood? Would the skyline be so strident? And would there be such a thing as the Chicago spirit?

Oct 06, 2014
A Second Act For The Uptown Theater?

As Chicago's former grand movie palace turns 90, the question remains: What can be done to restore it? 

Sep 19, 2014
Two neighboring states, one big financial gap

Illinois struggles with debt and unpaid bills, while Indiana is sitting pretty with a surplus topping $2 billion. What’s behind the fiscal gap between these two neighbors?

Aug 28, 2014
A Shot Of History: Ingredients Of The Chicago Speakeasy

The faux speakeasy is popping up everywhere these days, but what made the original Prohibition saloon work?

Aug 07, 2014
So, why did it take so long for it to be Mayor Jane Byrne's turn?

It took decades for Chicago's first and only female mayor to land an official honor from City Council. Is there a reason it took so long? 

Jul 25, 2014
Compare: Illinois Governor Candidates' Views On Concealed Carry

A concerned citizen poses questions about violence and the state’s new law allowing people to carry concealed guns. We find a surprising lack of consensus among the candidates and researchers, too.

Mar 13, 2014
How Much Road Salt Ends Up In Lake Michigan?

Now that our wicked winter’s ending, we look at whether there’s any fallout from flinging so much salt around.

Mar 05, 2014
Just How Bad Is This Chicago Winter?

This winter has felt like one for the ages, but is it really one of Chicago’s worst?

Feb 05, 2014
Gulp! How Chicago Gobbled Its Neighbors

Our animated map shows how Chicago grew from lakeside outpost to booming metropolis over the course of a century.

Jan 27, 2014
Hosting the enemy: Our WWII POW camps

Daring escapes, unexpected romance and more true stories from German prisoners held in our area.

Dec 10, 2013
Neon No More: Lincoln Avenue's Motel Row

Here’s the evolution of the Lincoln Avenue motels, from sensible to seedy to retro spectacle.

Oct 31, 2013
Who's Behind Those Eyes?

The Chicago International Film Festival’s logo has intrigued movie buffs for decades. But is that Charlie Chaplin? Liza Minelli? Here’s the backstory.

Oct 09, 2013
Should We Use The 'L Word' For Jane Addams?

The Progressive Era activist was many things: a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a social reformer, a feminist. But what about ... a lesbian? And, just why should we know in the first place?

Sep 05, 2013
Where Have All The Old-School Doughnut Shops Gone?

Curious City finds the city’s best doughnut spot, while Dunkin’s former CEO spills the secret to the chain’s growth here.


Aug 21, 2013
The Sweet Spot At The Top Of Chicago

The area’s so flat that every bunny hill seems a candidate. But it’s sweet (literally) to find the real deal.

Jun 28, 2013
Pregnancy Tests? Pigeon Poo? What Chicago Aldermen Really Do

Sure, they pass laws and vote on city budgets. But there’s so much more. Think: Pregnancy tests and pigeon poo.

Jun 11, 2013
Working For Change On Chicago’s Sidewalks

Curious City tracks down the average wages of panhandlers and street performers in Chicago.

Jun 06, 2013
Being A Breadwinner On $8.25 An Hour

A listener who hustles to make ends meet wants us to think about people who hustle for even less.

May 21, 2013
So, What’s (Still) Made In The Chicago Area?

Sure, we have fewer industrial giants in our area these days, but if you know where to look you can find the beating heart of industry.

May 20, 2013
Chicago Diners, Side Of Extra Crispy Stories

You’d think food blogger Louisa Chu would be stuffed after this assignment. Nope. Pass her the syrup, she says. She wants to stay and hear more stories.

May 14, 2013
The Story Of Dunning, A 'Tomb For The Living'

In both life and death, the people who ended up at the notorious asylum and poor farm were some of Chicago’s least fortunate residents.

Apr 30, 2013
Did a WWII nuclear experiment make the U of C radioactive?

Our Geiger counter couldn’t detect any radiation footprint from the site of the first sustained nuclear chain reaction. (Whew!) But, was safety first and foremost when scientists ran their WWII nuclear experiment in Chicago?

Apr 17, 2013
Laugh Your Troubles Away

A Curious Citizen’s question becomes your ticket to our multimedia playground, where you can relive the sometimes joyful, sometimes disturbing, and often unnerving stories of a Chicago amusement park.

Feb 19, 2013
Hmmm ... If Only Our Curiosity Had An Anthem

A Chicago transplant asked what — if anything — is unique to Chicago. Answers were slippery, but our songster grabbed the best and wrote a song.

Feb 13, 2013
What Happened to Nike Missile Sites Around Chicago?

Cold War Chicago was once peppered with nuclear missiles ready to thwart a Soviet attack.

Jan 22, 2013
Is Construction Work A Boon For Chicago's Urban Archaeologists?

Curious Citizen Linda Rudy wondered when ground is broken for building or repairs, is anyone there to look for treasure? We catch up with local archaeologists who’ve scoured everything from construction sites, to the White City, to ... grandpa’s outhouse.

Jan 16, 2013