June, there is no finer city in
America, no city more beautiful,
more alive, more accessible, than
Chicago—the site of this year’s
annual conference. That probably
sounds like irrational hype. Well,
it may be hype, but it’s not
irrational. June is when Lake Michigan
is at its most blue, the Wrigley
Field vines are at their most green,
the city’s public gardens
at their most colorful and its temperatures
at their most comfortable. Could
throw in that it’s when its
famous steaks are most easily chewable
and its glorious hot dogs most silently
digestible, but that would be silly.
More than a century ago, when Chicago’s
power elite were lobbying to host
a World’s Fair celebrating
the 400th anniversary of Christopher
Columbus’ discovery of a new
world, they sounded a lot like that—to
the dismay of a certain New York
journalist. “Don’t pay
attention,” Charles Dana wrote
in the New York Sun, “to the
nonsensical claims of that windy
city.” Windy, as in blowhard.
Windbag. Well, Chicago got the World’s
Columbian Exposition, which was
held in 1883, and New York had to
settle for Ruth and DiMaggio, but
the nickname stuck.
That same year in Chicago, the
American Society for Engineering
Education was formed. The exposition
was a natural place for engineering
faculty members to gather, and 70
individuals from across the country
met to discuss the problems facing
engineering education and to hear
papers and talk about their implications.
And now, 113 years later, some 3,000
will be making the pilgrimage for
pretty much the same reasons.
Today’s Chicago, though less
windy than Boston, San Francisco
or even Amarillo, embraces the name
and its history with a swagger that
would delight (or, at the very least,
amuse) the chroniclers who have
spread the tale in all its textures.
No longer is it the hog butcher,
toolmaker and stacker of wheat that
Carl Sandburg described in the early
1900s. But even as the city’s
collective collar has turned whiter,
the immigrants who came here to
work its stockyards and foundries
and rail yards have shaped this
place and left their mark.
the late columnist Mike Royko wrote
in “Boss,” his great
1971 study of then-Mayor Richard
J. Daley, “were part of larger
ethnic states. To the north of the
Loop was Germany. To the northwest
was Poland. To the west were Italy
and Israel. To the southwest were
Bohemia and Lithuania. And to the
south was Ireland.” So it
remains, with some ethnic adjustments,
today. Right now, there are whole
neighborhoods in Chicago where Polish
is still both the prevailing language
and the dominant sausage—and
visitors are urged to hop on “the
el” (for elevated railway)
and experience both.
The architects and visionaries,
too—among them, Frank Lloyd
Wright and Daniel Burnham (“Make
no little plans. They have no magic
to stir men’s blood.”)—left
their legacy, and much of it is
right out the door of the Hyatt
Regency Hotel and an easy stroll
(or an easier architecture river
cruise) away; Wright’s early
studio and home is just beyond the
city limits. It was Burnham, the
architect-planner, who pushed for
a lakefront defined by parks and
gardens and public works instead
of warehouses, and the lakefront
today is Chicago’s pride.
It was his firm that designed the
Field Museum—which today is
host to a T. rex named Sue and,
in time for June, a sparkling exhibit
of treasures from the tombs of Egypt,
including King Tut’s, which
will be offered as a special tour
for ASEE members.
The King Tut exhibit will bring
more than 130 treasures from the
tomb of the celebrated pharaoh Tutankhamen,
other Valley of the Kings tombs
and additional ancient sites to
the Field Museum. Visitors will
be drawn back in time with inventive
design and innovative technology
as they explore the world of King
will come face to face with his
contemporaries, see and hear about
the fascinating times in which the
young king lived and learn how his
short reign changed history. This
exhibition will take museum visitors
beyond the shimmering gold, making
them part of Tutankhamen’s
This exhibit has not been in the
United States in 20 years, and Chicago
is only one of three cities where
this exhibit will be displayed.
Waiting lists and long lines typically
accompany this display, but they
won’t for ASEE members who
sign up for this tour. So take advantage
of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
and register early.
da Vinci, too
It was also architect Daniel Burnham’s
firm that designed the Palace of
Fine Arts for the 1893 World’s
Fair—which today is the Museum
of Science and Industry, Chicago’s
favorite museum and the venue for
a groundbreaking exhibition on Leonardo
da Vinci, also an ASEE tour (sidebar,
below). It was that ’93 fair
that introduced the Ferris wheel
to the world—and today, a
reproduction thrills thousands every
year at Navy Pier, one of Chicago’s
most popular attractions and a terrific
place to view the city’s fabulous
he was a code, he was the
most brilliant man ever to
set foot on the face of the
Earth. With timing that seems
almost too good to be true,
the Museum of Science and
da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius”—he
was the quintessential engineer—will
be on exhibit during the convention.
among other things, will be
working models of many of
his inventions, models of
a few inventions that didn’t
work then and won’t
work now and drawings and
interactive elements that
add humanity to a character
few of us truly know.
people think of him as the
guy who painted the ‘Mona
Lisa’ or ‘The
Last Supper,’ or they
think of the book,”
says John Beckman, the museum’s
manager of temporary exhibits.
at him as an inventor, as
a genius, as a man who was
ahead of his time.”
The museum building itself,
on Chicago’s South Side,
is a vestige of an event that
celebrated genius and invention.
Built originally as the Palace
of Fine Arts for the World’s
Columbian Exposition of 1893,
its deteriorating plaster
shell was restored in stone
from 1929-33, just in time
for another Chicago world’s
fair, the 1933-34 Century
of Progress Exposition.
generations, the Museum of
Science and Industry has been
one of Chicago’s most
popular attractions, a museum
essentially dedicated to how
things work. That makes the
da Vinci show a natural. “Our
mission here in the museum,”
Beckman says, “is to
inspire the inventive genius
in everyone who visits, and
there really is no better
inspiration for inventive
genius than Leonardo da Vinci.
He had a huge interest in
flight. He was looking at
the idea of human-powered
flight and underwater breathing
apparatuses in a time where
they didn’t have good
clocks. When you look at a
lot of his other inventions—he
has excavation cranes and
suspension bridges that were
way ahead of their time—they
are not dissimilar to what
we use today.”
born near Florence, died in
1519 in France. He was 67.
He left a legacy. “There
are modern-day people that
are working in his spirit
and are interdisciplinary
in their study,” Beckman
robotic engineers who, like
Leonardo, dissect human wrists
to see how the joints work
and can make very agile robotic
arms for use in space. There
are people doing amazing things
with airplanes and changing
the way we think about flight
right now, both in material
composition and aerodynamics.
The museum’s “Leonardo
da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius”
exhibit will be on view through
Labor Day and then gone forever.
And that’s a skyline—in
the home of the world’s first
features North America’s tallest
building, Sears Tower (with its
Skydeck) and the elegant John Hancock
Center (with its Observatory). The
latter anchors the Magnificent Mile,
which is on Michigan Avenue, the
retail street that’s this
nation’s finest outside New
York. And some would argue the “New
York” part. By the way: The
Chicago River flows backward. Engineers
did that in 1900 to stop the flow
of waste into Lake Michigan, the
city’s source of drinking
water. Instead, thanks to locks
and a canal, it now flows, eventually,
into the Mississippi where—well,
it’s someone else’s
problem. And, in the 1920s, they
worked out how to convert busy Wacker
Drive—the Hyatt Regency is
on Wacker Drive—into a double-decked
thoroughfare. They also figured
out how to raise all the city’s
streets—and many of the buildings
on them—in the 1850s to eliminate
a problem of near-constant, disease-incubating
mud. In at least one case, thousands
of men (5,000, according to once
source) simultaneously turned jackscrews
to lift an entire hotel. Sewers
were installed, and dirt was rushed
in to cover the pipes and fill the
And no engineer will want to miss
one of Chicago’s more amazing
shows—a chorus line of Chicago
River bridges rising in succession,
snarling traffic in one of the planet’s
most dynamic cities, to make way
for … somebody’s sailboat.
Then, in succession, settling back
If the famous architecture inspires
and the engineering intrigues, it
will be the city’s diversions,
many of them free to all, that will
win your hearts. Architecture meets
the lively arts at Millennium Park,
an easy walk south along Michigan
Avenue. Check the events schedule;
the free evening concerts will make
you tingle. Enjoy the gardens. A
little farther south is the Art
Institute of Chicago, with a world-class
collection featuring Grant Wood’s
“American Gothic” and
Seurat’s iconic dot-portrait
of a Sunday afternoon in France.
Dotting the Loop—the central
business district roughly defined
by the “el” tracks—is
public art, mainly statues, by Picasso,
Oldenburg, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro
and others. Chicago is a sensational
town for live theater, large and
small, classic and experimental.
And improvisational: A visit to
Second City, home of the comedy
troupe whose alumni range from Ed
Asner and Peter Boyle to John Belushi
and Bill Murray, is almost obligatory.
And in June, it’s a baseball
town. The Cubs close out an interleague
series with the Detroit Tigers (combatants
the last time the Cubs were in a
World Series, waaaaay back in 1945)
on June 18. The game is sold out,
but there’s a thriving “secondary
market” (at your own risk)
around Wrigley Field; tours of the
historic (1914) ballpark are sometimes
available on off-days, so check
with the hotel concierge (who may
also be able to arrange tickets
for the game through a licensed
broker). The World Champion White
Sox return to U.S. Cellular Field
June 20 for a series with the St.
Louis Cardinals; that, too, could
be a tough ticket, but, again, check
with the concierge. After dark,
jazz and blues (and the “el”
of course) are the sounds of the
city. There are places to hear them
all over town; some are within walking
Now, because you’ll
ask: gangsters. Gangsters? In Chicago?
Is there fog in San Francisco? Sorry.
The machine-gun battles over South
Side beer distribution rights ended
decades ago. If you do want to see
the site of the St. Valentine’s
Day Massacre garage—it’s
a little park alongside senior citizens
housing now—or the alley where
the FBI dropped Dillinger, tours
But here’s what truly sets
Chicago apart from the rest. First,
there are the neighborhoods. We
talked about them earlier. Polish,
Mexican, Greek, Italian, Jewish,
Chinese, Ukrainian, African-American,
Vietnamese and more, all with good
eats. If you’re not ready
to hop the “el” and
seek them out on your own, there
are tours that can get you to some
of them. That’s one. The other:
All truly great cities, the ones
that have their own unique feel
and personality, are at their sweetest
in the morning, just before dawn,
when the light is soft and tentative
and the streets are mostly deserted
and the air is still. Chicago’s
lakefront is always special. But
it’s at its most Chicago extra-special
before the city is fully awake.
Head up Michigan Avenue to Oak Street
and the beach. Then just walk along
Lake Michigan. If you’re a
jogger and brought your stuff, jog
it leisurely. Or just stop for a
while and enjoy the sun rising over
the lake and peace in the heart
of a city. It will be cool and quiet,
except for a few other joggers and
walkers and dreamers. The water
is usually calm on June mornings.
You will hear the sounds of birds.
You’ll know when to turn back.
Civilization has a way of reminding
us. Duty will call. But this is
the Chicago that will stay with
you long after you’ve forgotten
da Vinci and the architects and
the river that flows backward …
On the way back—hold on to
your hat. Wind tends to pick up
Chicago native Alan Solomon
is a travel writer with the Chicago
is one of America’s
very best restaurant towns.
This is a selective list;
since I’m doing the
selecting, I’ve avoided
franchises. If you want Ruth’s
Chris or Buca di Beppo, you’re
on your own. Arranged by proximity
to the Hyatt Regency (and,
within categories, alphabetically).
73 E. Lake St. (312)
346-8457. Mexican standards
in a convivial atmosphere.
Inexpensive to moderate.
Goat Tavern. 430
N. Lower Michigan Ave. (312)
222-1525. Belushi borrowed
its “Chee-borger, Chee-borger”
mantra, but ask for the double
chee-borger instead. Cheap.
W. Kinzie St. (312) 828-0966.
Here, Harry lives on. An Italian
steakhouse with food better
than it has to be. Moderate
Strada. 155 N. Michigan
Ave. (312) 565-2200. Upscale
Italian at mid-upscale prices,
right around the corner from
the hotel. Expensive.
the Steakhouse. 65
E. Wacker Pl. (312) 201-1410.
Newest (and closest) local
outpost of the prime chain.
Uno and Pizzeria Due.
29 E. Ohio St. (312) 321-1000
(That’s for Uno; Due
is a block up, at (312) 943-2400).
What’s come to be known
as “Chicago pizza”—locals
debate who does it best now—was
born in these two sister restaurants;
Due is less claustrophobic.
Crab House. 21 E.
Hubbard St. (312) 527-2722.
A contender for best downtown
seafood, with an exceptional
raw bar. Expensive.
farther, but still easy
17 W. Adams St. (312) 427-3170.
One of the few German restaurants
left here (once, there were
many), this is a Chicago landmark.
Great? No. Doesn’t matter.
Chop House. 60 W.
Ontario St. (312) 787-7100.
Some consider this the city’s
best steakhouse. Maybe they’re
right. Maybe. Expensive.
636 N. St. Clair St. (312)
664-2777. Authentic Northern
Italian just off Michigan
Avenue. Moderate to expensive.
E. Chestnut St. (312) 587-8989.
A mix of sports bar and steakhouse
(though da pork chop is the
signature). Moderate to expensive.
100 W. Ontario St. (312) 587-8910.
Good bet for Chicago’s
real local specialties: hot
dogs (just order one with
everything) and the Italian
beef sandwich (sweet peppers,
980 N. Michigan Ave. (312)
elite Italian, with a price
tag to match (the less-dear
Spiaggia Café is down
the hall). Very expensive.
676 N. St. Clair St. (312)
202-0001. A wonderful restaurant.
Outrageously expensive and
worth every traveler’s
check. Very, very expensive.
one way, taxi the other
1028 N. Rush St. (312) 266-8999.
These days, the quintessential
Chicago power steak joint.
Expect a wait, even with reservations.
Frog Bar and Fish House.
1024 N. Rush St. (312) 640-0999.
Gibson’s (same ownership;
it’s next door) with
fins. A seafooder worthy of
New England. Expensive.
the Steakhouse. 1050
N. State St. (312) 266-4820.
Where the empire began. Very
Milano. 951 N. State
St. (312) 787-3710. In a neighborhood
full of impress-your-client
places, a pocket-size, easy-on-the-pocket
veteran Italian. Moderate.
445 N. Clark St. (312) 661-1434.
Authentic regional Mexican
specialties you never heard
of turned into exciting Rick
Bayless specialties Mexicans
have never heard of. Expensive.
the $10 (or so) cab ride
816 W. Armitage Ave. (773)
248-6228. Too esoteric for
some; for those who understand
carefully chosen ingredients
(gently caught fish, etc.),
this is heaven. Very, very
For the most current program
please visit www.asee.org/annual2006