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The long, long RV trip, Week 9: Circus Graveyard; Taste of Chicago Festival

This week’s stops:

  • Still in the Chicago burbs
  • Downtown Chicago

Thanks to all who are following along on my long long RV trip. This week I put last week’s Chicago food explorations into high gear at the Taste of Chicago Food Festival.

We boarded one of those famous CTA trains and went from the burbs into the city for the fest, a summer staple of Chicago’s Grant Park for more than 40 years.

This would conveniently allow us to sample a bunch of iconic Chicago favorite foods and restaurants all in one place!

However, my friend Craig and I made an interesting, if somewhat macabre, stop along the way first.

Showman’s Rest and Circus Train Wreck Cemetery

Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Train Wreck Memorial

Knowing that I love historic cemeteries AND I am a former circus performer, my friend Craig said we must make a pilgrimage to Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, IL. What he wanted to show me was the “Showmen’s Rest” area.

The Showmen’s Association of America maintains a graveyard for deceased circus, carnival, and outdoor show people. Strolling through the cemetery I saw many familiar names from history, some undoubtedly relatives of friends of mine.

It is also the last resting place of many of the victims of one of the greatest circus tragedies in history, the wreck of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train of 1918. Eighty-six people died that day when an unloaded train crashed into the circus train. The 56 train wreck graves in this part of the cemetery are dedicated to the unnamed, unclaimed, and unrecognizable victims.

Craig said that in his youth, the circus cemetery was in a different part of the Woodlawn Cemetery next to the railroad tracks. He said there used to be statues of animals like lions and elephants. Those seemed to have disappeared when the train wreck graves were moved to their current location among the Showmen’s Rest plots, marking the 100th anniversary of the infamous wreck.

As this is not a military grave, I am not sure why people left coins. Out of respect, no doubt. Since I am a former circus performer, I left one too.

Taste of Chicago food festival

Taste of Chicago Food Festival

After a short CTA train ride into the city, we arrived at Grant Park for the Taste of Chicago Festival

The crowds were large, as was the police presence. This was soon after a devastating mass shooting that took place at a 4th of July parade in the Chicago suburbs.

Actually, every concert and event we went to during my time in the Chicagoland area seemed to have a larger-than-normal police presence. Gun violence in this city is a serious problem. Every morning’s news seemed to bring more news of shootings and homicides that seldom make it to the national news.

Problems like this are not things that ever crossed my mind in the past. But I have to confess, every time we were in large crowds, I found myself watching for anything out of the ordinary and looking for exits and hiding places. It won’t stop me from going places, but I hate that we even have to think that way.

Thankfully, Taste of Chicago went off without a hitch.

After getting a photo with festival sponsor John Deere’s heavy equipment version of a Chicago pizza cutter (above), Craig and I set out to start tasting.

Festivals like this are wonderful for discovering new foods and restaurants. I came away with three new Chicago favorites: Connie’s Pizza, Robinson’s BBQ, and Eli’s Cheesecake!

Let’s start with Connie’s, my new favorite Chicago deep dish pizza. This was a festival, so pizzas were not baked on premises but brought in from the nearby restaurant and heated here. And it was STILL the best Chicago pizza I have had. Perfect crust, cheesy, awesome sauce. I am a Connie’s fan and would choose it over any of the others.

That’s saying a lot, as Gino’s East and Lou Malnati’s also make great pizzas, but Connie’s is my favorite.

One of the reasons is the cheese is on top of the sauce, not under, as is more traditional in Chicago. I just think this works better, but you may disagree.

We then ventured over to Robinson’s BBQ for rib tips, which were perfect—having just the right amount of smoke and an amazing sauce.

Lifelong Chicagoland resident Craig says he always picks up a bucket of Robinson’s rib tips to take home anytime he gets even remotely near their Oak Park, IL, restaurant. After getting a taste at the festival I can see why I would, too.

For dessert we had Eli’s Cheesecake, a regional Chicago favorite. It was perfect. Dense and rich and oh-so-creamy with a thin, light crust. It was EVERYTHING I want in a cheesecake.

While Eli’s ships their cheesecakes around the world, they do have a store in Chicago and another at O’Hare airport, in case you visit at times other than the festival.

Learn more about the annual Taste of Chicago Festival here.

A post Taste of Chicago stroll

Statues in downtown Chicago representing industry and agriculture

After getting our fill of delicious food, we decided to walk off some of that food.

Downtown Chicago always provides interesting things to look at, especially since incredible architecture surrounds you in all directions.

My favorite find of this walk was outside of the Chicago Board of Trade building.

The beautiful 12-foot high statues, pictured above and representing industry and agriculture, were actually lost for 49 years. They originally stood outside the entrance to the original Chicago Board of Trade building in 1885 but were moved when that building was torn down in 1929.

Through the generosity and goodwill of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District, they were returned to the Board of Trade in 2005. However, the name of the artist who created the breathtaking pieces of art remains sadly lost in the mists of time.

NEXT WEEK: Circus World Museum, Wisconsin Dells, Reconnecting with “bookmark” friends

Previously in Cheri’s long, long RV trip:

##RVT1064

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RUSS W
5 days ago

We have to make a stop at Wildberry Cafe for a wonderful breakfast meal during any trip to Chicago. They have 4 or 5 locations in the greater Chicago area and serve the best pancakes ever. Called Signature Berry Bliss, these pancake have fresh fruit, berry mascarpone filling, vanilla creme anglaise, and blackberry coulis. So, so delish!

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