Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

The Great Chicago Fire Festival Recap


The Great Chicago Fire Festival took place last night on an unseasonably cool night marked with the third earliest snowfall in Chicago history.  This artistic homage to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 featured buildings on floating platforms and much anticipation for a flaming tour de force that fell flat in its execution.

Arriving to Wacker Ave. at 7pm, chaos reigned as onlookers gathered on the Lower Wacker Riverwalk and the various bridges.  Security and police tried to clear spectators from the bridges due to safety concerns as fireworks were scheduled to begin later in the evening but the police changed their mind.  This left me to fight my way down to Lower Wacker Drive where all of the prime viewing spots had already been taken.  People lined up precariously on stairwells and some resorted to standing on muddy slanted hills to try to get their vantage points.  A man with a lit up Home Run Inn Pizza placard walked around to pass out coupons to all passers and maneuvering through the endless sea of people soon became a fruitless endeavor.

Eventually we settled into a spot under Wabash Bridge only to notice that the bridges had not cleared with thousands of people still standing on them.  Was this a legitimate safety threat?  Had police and security lost all control of public safety?  All of this reminded me of the much maligned Looptopia circa 2007-2008 that was subject to the same public mass disorganization.

Eventually the PA systems turned on to announce the schedule of events and explain the backdrop of the event.  Students did help assemble these great looking floating platforms and there were various community leaders and political big wigs ready to help with the lighting of the everything.  Trendy music popped in and the narration of the history of the Chicago Fire made us remember those fateful Chicagoans who had to deal with a mean southeast wind that would set their city ablaze.

Floating Building Platform

The anticipation of the setting of the fires was met with bemusement and prolong confusion as no fires were lighting up the buildings.  Music and the audio sounds of fires popping kept repeating on the loud speakers but it was clear that a certain element was missing:  fire.  Soon the crowd burst into chants of, “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE” which reminded me of Chicago Fire chants, but no capo to lead the cheering was to be found.  Eventually an announcement was made to admit defeat and capitulation as the gatherers were informed of the electrical malfunction and that now we would be setting the fires via manual mode which inevitably meant more delays.

At this point, the crowd began to thin out as disappointed onlookers were not willing to remain braving the cold for a partial glimpse of buildings on fire.  This gave me a much better vantage point to start shooting pictures, but there wasn’t much to shoot.  From Lower Wacker, you could see Marina City Tower residents gathered on their balconies trying to catch a view of the impending flames below, but the waiting continued.

At last - a fire?

At last - a fire?

Eventually the buildings were set ablaze with much cheering and applause.  The high winds did not help with the flames and we soon realized these buildings were fizzling out, much like the spirit of the event.  At this point, a vast majority of the people started fleeing the scene in an effort to avoid the inevitable public transportation logjam that would ensue.  An announcement soon proclaimed that the fireworks show was soon to begin!

Chicago Fire Fireworks!

Chicago Fire Fireworks!

At last, something to watch with awe and to think about.  Fireworks boomed from all bridges (with people still on them) and the greatest boom came from Michigan Avenue bridge which was just a bit too far out of site.  It was a fun fireworks show to watch and even more fun to take pictures of.  Execution here was great, but the lackluster never was blaze served as a great disappointment on a personal level.  Having been to a Red Moon event before, I was expecting flawless execution and an amazing show considering the $2M spent and considerable newspaper coverage.

The purpose of the event was to unite the city with its various communities being represented as well as to draw in people from all over the city to enjoy our seldom used Riverwalk.  I commend everyone who worked hard on the event and feel terrible that the inclement weather of the last few days resulted in less than perfect execution.  The idea was thought out and the considerable effort showed and I hope for more great city events in the future.

#31 – Visit the Virgin Mary stain at Fullerton and 90/94


Back in 2005, there was a giant wave of rain that rocked Chicago leaving a mysterious water stain under the viaduct at the Fullerton exit on the Kennedy Expressway. A passerby declared that it appeared to be the Virgin Mary, setting off a media frenzy. Flocks of the faithful gathered around the stain, leaving a vast array of flowers, prayer candles, wreaths, and all manner of offerings for the blessing of the Virgin Mary.

The crowds went on for days if not weeks with many of the believers praying and kneeling with full faith that they were indeed peering at a veritable miracle. Driving past, you could see the impressive display of floral arrangements and wonder if something special really did materialize out of nowhere. Of course there were skeptics, but that did not turn away the crowds who stayed relentlessly guarding the stain.

Skeptics on the other hand, remained unconvinced that this stain was of supernatural origin and ridiculed those who stood watching the mysterious stain. With all the hubbub about the stain, city employees decided to take matters into their own hands and in a stealth operation reminiscent of the bulldozing of Miegs Field, painted over the stain of the Virgin Mary with dark brown paint. As I struggle to recall the details, there were a pair of brothers who worked on cars nearby who heard that the stain had been defiled and quickly went to work expertly removing the last of the brown paint. With the last of the paint removed and public outrage, the city decided to leave the stain alone.

Fast forward five years and you’ll find that a seesaw battle has been raging on between the believers and non-believers as the stain has seen days of vandalism and restoration. Making my first visit to the shrine, I found candles still lit in the middle of an idle Tuesday afternoon. Flowers laying near the shrine were fresh and there was a garbage can and broom left next to the shrine for its anonymous custodian. There’s certainly a mystic aura with all of the scribblings left behind and pictures along with the candles and flowers. It’s quite remarkable and while I can’t profess to say if the Virgin Mary is there or not, the stain is well worth a closer examination.

Looking up close, you’ll see that paint still marks the perimeter of the stain. Around the stain is a wooden frame bearing the picture of the stain in its former unblemished state while a ledge of candles lies directly underneath. The homeless take shelter on the opposite end of the overpass, but as I approached the sleeping bags and bags of garbage I didn’t see any people sleeping. It’s not up to me to say whether or not the Virgin Mary can be found here or if the stain is the result of rain or some miraculous act. All I can say is that it was a neat trek to take a close look at one of Chicago’s most obscure landmarks.

More on the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam


One of the things I enjoy about The Chicago Bucket List is getting reader feedback and expanding my knowledge on Chicago. One reader has been kind enough to share his insights and give us a broader view of the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam and what it stands for:

“In 2004, approximately a dozen burners gathered one evening to celebrate a friend’s birthday who lived in the area, by having a pig roast and doing a little fire spinning. The local police arrived soon after…and once they realized we were good people who meant no harm, we were actually ENCOURAGED by the beat officers to return; at that time nobody went to the lakefront after dark, as that area was rather gang-infested. The police felt that such a fire jam would bring more people into the area, and discourage the gang activity. So, the decision was made to come back every full moon the weather would allow, and the Full Moon Fire Jams were off and running.  Ever since, the size of the jams have grown exponentially every year. What started out as a small group of twelve people has now grown into the jam you witnessed last week, with well over 700 people in attendance! 🙂

As the size of the jams has grown, so too have the organizational and safety efforts been stepped up – the caution tape and solar lights are a relatively new development. The overall “ethics” behind the Full Moon Fire Jams come directly from The Burning Man Festival in Nevada; namely:

radical self-expression
radical self-reliance
respect/protect the community
ask first
leave no trace.”

This reader has shed light on one of the most uniques events that you’ll get to see on the lakefront on full moons during the year. The Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam does not support the public consumption of alcohol and respectfully asks that any spectators leave all alcohol away from the Fire Jam. Being a lifelong Chicagoan, sometimes a mentality is developed that having a great time necessarily includes overexuberance, but I would have to agree here that drinking and breaking the law is not what the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam stands for. If you plan on attending the Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam in June, please do not bring alcohol or any other contraband. After all, how would you feel if you were the one responsible for putting an end to this amazing display of skill and artistry?

Highlights from the 8th Annual Art Futura Awards for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago


I recently got the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary and attended an art show. While Chicago has a burgeoning art district in Pilsen and the MCA is home of the famed First Fridays, I hadn’t been to an art show in ages and didn’t use my free pass to Artropolis earlier this month. When Johnny Todd, community manager of Yelp gave me free entry to the 8th Annual Art Futura Awards for the Rehabilitation Institute, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Not knowing anyone going to the show, I took it upon myself to really take time and take in as much of the art as possible. Pieces were on sale from $500 on up and I wouldn’t be ashamed to put most of this art inside my house. It was a bit intimidating running around the art gallery with all of these philanthropists in their black ties and cocktail dresses, so I made it a point to surgically bob in and out of the room taking pictures everywhere I went. Waiters served up great hor d’oeuvres and beer and wine flowed freely, but the magnetic nature of the art took my attention.