Poignancy of Place

While spring is now in full swing in Chicago, the first real break in the winter weather came several weeks ago. It was a stunningly beautiful day with seventy-degree weather and an almost impossibly blue sky, which was particularly refreshing after the hellish winter we had up here. As I was still pretty new and hadn't been able to explore much since I moved here during one of the longest streaks of sub-freezing temperatures (I don't have an exact number, but it was in the neighborhood of 20 days). That break in the weather provided me with one of my first opportunities to get out and really explore my corner of the city.

Wandering around and exploring new places is, easily, one of my absolute favorite things to do. I live not far from Graceland Cemetary, which is to Chicago what Greenwood is to Brooklyn, or Pére Lachaise to Paris. Part of my microadventure involved hunting through this veritable city of masoleums and obelisks for the graves of architectural heroes like Louis Sullivan, Mies Van Der Rohe, and Daniel Burnham. While all three graves are beautifully marked, I had a sort of "moment," I guess you'd say, when I was standing at Burnham's grave.

In a city like Chicago, a place built on sheer hubris and ambition, it is hard not to feel like making the trip to Burnham's little island on the northern end of Graceland lagoon is like making some sort of pilgrimage. As I stood there, taking in the importance of the man who lay under my very feet, the wind picked up, and an L train (the red line runs along the eastern edge of the cemetary) rumbled past. I realized, in that moment, how very distinctly "Chicagoan" that place was. It was part geography, part atmosphere, part timing. I was in the Windy City, at the grave of one of its greatest builders, listening to a train rumble down the city's fabled elevated transit tracks. It was a small moment, but it really made me appreciate the uniqueness of the city I had chosen as my new home.

In the weeks since this experience, I keep thinking back to that moment. The likelihood of Burnham's grave being changed in any way is small, and the wind will always blow in Chicago (and everywhere else, of course.) But it struck me today that the L is, in a way, unique to my experience of the place. More on this later...

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