Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chicago's Shadow City

(Above: Descending into the secret tunnels underneath Chicago.)

Last night, I was flipping through the channels on my television when I chanced upon an episode of Cities of the Underworld on the History Channel. I love this program, despite the fact that I rarely learn anything new. But last night was different. I came away from the experience enlightened--and totally humbled. It just goes to show you that there's always something new to discover.

I've spent a fair amount of time in Chicago. In fact, my mother grew up there. But until last night, I had never heard about the vast network of tunnels that stretch under the Second City. After a day of searching the Internet, I've come to the conclusion that there hasn't been much written about them. Very few people seem to know they exist. Here's what I've discovered so far . . .

The underground tunnels link many of the buildings in a part of Chicago known as the Near South Side. Some say that they started out as a system for hauling coal in the early 20th century. However, during the Prohibition years, when alcohol was illegal in the United States, the tunnels became a center of activity for the gangs that virtually ran the city. The passages were used to smuggle liquor from speakeasy to speakeasy, but they also formed handy escape routes whenever the police stopped by for a visit. Eventually, subterranean rooms were even built to house gangsters' private parties.

A stretch of the old tunnels can be found under the famous jazz club, The Green Mill. Once owned by a colleague of Al Capone, the club was a favorite gangster hangout in the 1920s and 30s. You can read more about the tunnels underneath the building here and even see a video here.

I also learned that there's a long forgotten railroad under Chicago (shown below). Built in secret more than 100 years ago, it was intended to transport coal, mail, and other goods from building to building. (I'm still not sure how it is or is not connected to the tunnels mentioned above.) Though they've been out of use since 1959, the railroad tunnels still exist. In fact, you can still reach them through the basement of the Marshall Fields department store! Read more here.

If any of you have additional information about Chicago's underground, please be sure to send it this way!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anaka:Yay! I'm so glad there's finally something about Chicago in here (I live in Chicago)! you should watch the show Hidden Chicago if you want to learn (a bit) about it's secret landmarks. I tried to find something about the world fair for Anaka's Diary, but the only (I think) intact besides the Museum of Science and Industry is an outhouse. Maybe you can find something about the world fair I couldn't...

5:04 PM  
Blogger ookamishinzui said...

That's so cool! My sister really likes Cities of the Underworld, but I've only seen it a few times.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Grandma lives in the south side!

P.S call me spiffy

5:53 PM  
Blogger Jin Ai said...

Darnit, I want a shadow city (in NY)!
That's really cool, though; it's almost exactly like Kiki Strike's.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool! Anaka, hi!

7:08 PM  
Anonymous ananka said...

Anonymous#1: I'll look into it! Have you checked out the Wikipedia entry here:


Anonymous #2: Hi Spiffy!

Anonymous #3: Hi to you, too!

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! I live in Chicago's burbs. But I guess I don't live close enough to check out this Shadow City on a day-to-day basis. Darn...

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so need to check it out! (i live in the Chicago burbs)
I bet i can go down there during Spring Break!


7:51 PM  
Blogger Kitty said...

Cool! I love underground cities! That's the reason why I started reading Kiki Strike! Underground tunnels... They should knocking down some walls to see it there's a secret room! ^-^

7:58 PM  
Blogger FN da World Dictator said...

I luv underground cities! There's one in fresno, california, the forestiere underground gardens. I planning to make my own!!

8:06 PM  
Blogger Ariana said...

I've known about the tunnels under the Green Mill for a long time I should have sent you the link when I first learned about them! =)

My personal favorite underground cities are the ones in Cappadocha. I even wrote a school report on them!

I've been to Chicago, but not it's underground...Does the "L" count? (The "L" is Chicago's subway)

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, aren't the forrestiare gardens becuz some dude couldn't plant stuff above ground so he had to dig dig dig to way deep?
anaka: do u kno anymore about da tunnels in fresno?

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Cupcakedoll said...

Random aside:
I picked up Inside the Shadow City because it was about underground-ness. I've been fascinated by tunnel-dwellers ever since seeing the 90s TV series Beauty and the Beast way back when. I spent years planning to be a tunnel person when I grew up, before the facts* rained on my parade.

*facts=the actual tunnel people are just vagrants-- mostly large, male, and on drugs. I am small, female, and like having all my brain cells, so I wouldn't fit in well.

11:00 PM  
Anonymous invisible turtle said...

...It's okay, cupcakedoll. Make your own tunnels and let girls who enjoy brain cells in!
But research first. I really don't want to be responsible if the tunnel collapses.
PS: I went into a mine for a field trip! It was awesome! I want to go underground again!
That was rather long...

7:09 AM  
Anonymous Nellie said...

Another reason to go to Chicago!;)
Spiffy: My aunt likes the word "spiffy" :D

11:23 AM  
Blogger Jin Ai said...

Oh, that reminds me of this one time when my dad and I were in Korea, and we went to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between N/S Korea. There were these four huge tunnels that the North Koreans had made trying to illegally tunnel into South Korea...It was kind of funny because they covered all the walls with this black stuff and claimed they were mining. How dumb did they think the South Koreans were?? Haha.
We actually got to go into one of the tunnels, which was really amazing, but the hard part was going back up - there was this really long, steep path they made from the tourist center to the actual tunnel, and we had to walk for about twenty minutes straight!

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nope, thanks Ananka (people keep telling me Wiki's fake--people keep changing it (New York is now the Evil Empire state, according to it).

~Anonymous 1

9:13 PM  
Anonymous ananka said...

Anonymous: True, but I think the entry for the Columbian Exposition (as it was called) is actually pretty darn good.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They tested Wiki verse other online enciclapedias, and found out it was more accurate then the others even though everyone can change it!!
++ Mysterie

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Kiel said...

Thanks for posting Ananka!

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Kiel said...

Yay! i think Al Capone is one of the most interesting people ever!
...(i kinda pressed :Submit: before i finished)

yay moosejaw

11:29 PM  
Anonymous Kiel said...


heres a link. the tunnels were connected to another set in canada. (Moosejaw to be specific)

sorry i keep commenting!

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am one of the biggest fans of kiki strike and i have always wanted to look in a under ground tunnel like the irregulars . i live in Chicago so now i can thanks

11:26 AM  
Blogger FN da World Dictator said...

I found a weird hole in my backyard...cuz I tried making an underground city...almost accidently killed myself.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Patsee said...

There was something about it in the Chicago Tribune awhile back, (if anyone here reads the Tribune) in the "Unauthorized Access" section they ran for a while.

Unfortunately we civilians can't get in.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Air is Where said...

Yeah, i think i saw that! controlled by the mob, entrances were mostly in bars. The mob completely controlled the corrupted police! Sorry, kinda a history junkie, which is why I'd love to see the shadow city or the inside of the pyrimids when they weren't robbed.

5:06 PM  

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