Green Line South L Tour
Chicago History Museum, ongoing.
It takes a long time to get to know a city and, apparently, almost as long to get started touring one. The Green Line South L Tour, hosted monthly by the Chicago History Museum, supposedly departs from the Clark and Lake CTA stop at 1pm to highlight key moments in Chicago’s history via a two-hour ride. But by the time our group of history dilettantes caught the train—the guide slowly doled out one-day train passes, chatted up a storm, the train was late—it was a quarter till two, and my boyfriend had begun to plan his escape.
He wasn’t the only one. After he left, two cotton satchel–toting retirees soon followed suit. They abandoned our group at the first of five stops we made on a trip to the end of the Green Line South and back—a long time to listen to the guide over the roar of the train. But those who couldn’t hack the time issue or the wind whipping their faces while we waited for Sunday trains missed the whole point. It wasn’t exactly smooth but neither is Chicago, nor its history. The tour highlights some pretty dark moments. While heading south we got off at Bronzeville to see the remains of the Louis Sullivan–designed Pilgrim Baptist Church, often called the birthplace of gospel music, which burned to the ground in 2006. We then hopped back on and traveled farther south to get a visual of the mansions-turned-slums near the final stop at Cottage Grove.
The most enlightening part of the tour was the last stop. On our way back north, the guide delved into Chicago’s checkered past, a time when the city’s reputation resembled that of old Vegas. Rather than prohibit gambling, drinking and prostitution, one former alderman attempted to merely corral all of the naughtiness into one area, called the Levy—we now refer to it as the Roosevelt stop.
Looking down at the city from the dirty Green Line train’s elevated tracks as we neared the Loop, I realized if you’re going to check out the gritty, you’re going to ride gritty, too. This is not your grandma’s bus tour of Chicago—and apparently, not my impatient boyfriend’s, either. —Ashley Harris
Catch the train at Clark and Lake on the second Sunday of every month at 1pm. The tour costs $16 or $11 for members. Visit www.chicagohs.org for tickets.