Freezing the Chicago River for a month-long frost fair

In Excerpts, Thoughts on April 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Pruned, a blog I’ve recently stumbled upon, began a series last June called “(Im)possible Chicago.” Each is essentially an alternate version of the Windy City, the collection “a series of hallucinatory joyrides through one hundred and twenty five asynchronous Chicagos,” as blog author Alexander Trevi puts it.

Most move a little too quickly to truly compel. They feel like the creative writing exercises of a college sophomore—too neatly odd, too contained by one new idea. All plot and no character development.

But I liked one: (Im)possible Chicago #3: Forever Open, Free & Clear v2.0. Trevi writes:

“Over a century since retail magnate A. Montgomery Ward sounded the battle cry to defend the city’s mandate to keep its lakefront a public common that is “forever open, clear and free of any buildings, or other obstructions whatever,” a similar call to arms was made for the Chicago River, to make it forever free of industries, private developments and sewage.

… Not every building was cleared away, but at least now one can stroll the entire length of the river. In fact, starting at any point, you can walk or bike or jog uninterrupted on both banks. … Along the way, you might encounter kayaking parties setting off from mini-harbors, anglers, community theaters staging avant-garde interpretations of The Odyssey, and triathletes in training. … Every four years, the entire river is artificially frozen for a monthlong frost fair.”

It was the last image I enjoyed most. Growing up in rural Kansas, near a creek that did often freeze over, I can imagine the joy and awe Chicagoans would have if their river were completely frozen over, able to be crossed, played on, skated down—from a family’s home in Ravenswood all the way to State Street.

It wouldn’t be inconceivable. We dye it green once a year. We can freeze it every four.


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