A new book outlines some of Chicago’s most intriguing secret places for both tourists and long-time residents. Author Jessica Mlinaric’s Secret Chicago: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, explores the quirks, secrets, and mystery of the Windy City.
These are places that readers can actually visit, some tied to the city’s rich history, and some created by locals active today. The book will help you discover where you can picnic on a nuclear pylon, snorkel a shipwreck, or run away to the circus in a church.
Recently, I got the opportunity to ask the author a few questions about this intriguing subject.
SPLASH: How did you get the idea to do this book?
Jessica: When I moved to Chicago eleven years ago, I dove into researching things and places that stood out to me. I was instantly hooked. The more I learned, the more questions I had. I started blogging about curious things around Chicago and eventually I could fill a book!
SPLASH: Which one of your discoveries was the most surprising to you and why?
Jessica: The most surprising part of the book writing process was learning how easy it is for Chicagoans and visitors to stay in the same bubble and never visit other neighborhoods. In such a big city it can be hard to know where to start exploring somewhere new. My hope is that Secret Chicago will inspire readers to seek out new places and stories around them.
SPLASH: What would you recommend to lifelong Chicagoland natives? Tourists? Are they different and why?
Jessica: I wrote the book for lifelong Chicagoans and tourists alike. It’s a guide to an offbeat side of the city, so no matter how familiar you are with Chicago there are some surprising stories inside. When a native Chicagoan tells me that they learned something new from the book, I know I have done my job.
SPLASH: Do you think you’ve uncovered all the weird places Chicago has to offer? Are you looking for more? Will there be another book beyond this one? Or one on a related subject?
Jessica: Not even close! The more I learn about Chicago, the more questions I have. It’s an endlessly interesting city with tons of weird stories. I am always looking for more and I share them on my blog urbnexplorer.com. Visitors can also submit me their favorite secret spots on the website. I just started a new book that serves as a scavenger hunt to exploring Chicago’s neighborhoods!
SPLASH: Was there one discovery that really stands out as your favorite? One you return to again and again?
Jessica: people know that the world’s first nuclear reaction took place in Chicago, but the reactors didn’t go very far. After the research lab was decommissioned in the 1950s, they were buried in the Cook County Forest Preserve! If you hike around the Red Gate Woods area you may stumble on two nuclear burial sites. It’s crazy that this huge piece of world history is just buried in the woods.
A virtual book event with author Jessica Mlinaric is scheduled for March 25 from 7 to 8 p.m. through the Arlington Heights Memorial Library https://www.ahml.info/. Admission is open to the public.
Other upcoming events include:
July 27, 2021 – Virtual Reading at Bellwood Public Library; 6:30 p.m.
September 30, 2021 – Virtual Reading at Bartlett Public Library; 7 p.m.
For those interested in the subject, the author has offered her top 10 Must-See secret spots in Chicagoland.
1.Oakland Museum of Contemporary Art – One man created a free, outdoor sculpture park and transformed his community.
2. Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation – As a music fan, it’s incredible to visit the former Chess Records and learn the stories of the artists. People pilgrimage here from all over the world!
3. Kim’s Corner Food – A convenience store becomes a whimsical art gallery at the hands of owner Thomas Kong.
4. Grave of Andreas von Zirngibl – How did a soldier from the Battle of Waterloo end up buried in a South Side scrapyard? This story is bizarre and fascinating.
5. Vanderpoel Museum of Art – Visit a priceless art collection for free… in a Chicago Park District fieldhouse!
6. Dulcelandia – This family-run business offers the largest variety of Mexican candies in the Midwest (over 600 varieties).
7. Chicago Cow Path – A service door conceals a passage that dates back to the time when the Loop was farmland.
8. Read Dunning Memorial Park – This park looks normal, but it’s sitting on 38,000 graves from a former tuberculosis hospital and asylum that were forgotten.
9. Aloft Circus Arts – A normal-looking church conceals a circus school. Enroll in trapeze lessons or pick up a new skill from home with a virtual class in handstands or clown cardio.
10. Wild Blossom Meadery – The first meadery in Illinois uses honey harvested from sites around the region and Lake Michigan water. Wild Blossom offers over 20 meads in a variety of flavors.
For those looking to shop local, Secret Chicago: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure is available at Volumes Bookcafe in Wicker Park, the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square, and 57th Street Books in Hyde Park, among others.
You can buy the book from your local bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or directly from the author, Jessica Mlinaric, at secretchicagobook.com.
Book Details: Secret Chicago: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, by Jessica Mlinaric, ISBN: 9781681060705, softcover 9 x 6, 208 pages, $20.95
About the Author
Jessica Mlinaric is a writer, photographer, and marketer based in Chicago. Her work covering culture and travel has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, GQ, The Architect’s Newspaper, Chicagoist, and more. Jessica founded urbnexplorer.com in 2010 to share stories about cities and their cultures. When she’s not writing, you can find her at a loud concert, unusual museum, or neighborhood tavern.
All photographs courtesy of Jessica Mlinaric.