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News / City Life

6 things Chicagoans don't know but are too afraid to ask

Why are there so many bridges that are permanently raised?

Photograph: Connie Ma/Flickr

There are several bridges across the city that are locked in a raised position. For the most part, these bridges served rail lines that are no longer in service. They remain drawn so that they don't get in the way of passing boats. It would be impractical to scrap them, and some are even designated landmarks. A good example is the Kinzie Street railroad bridge, which has been unused since 2000 when the Sun-Times moved their printing plant out of downtown. It became an official Chicago Landmark in 2007. It still looks pretty awesome.

Why is our hot dog relish neon green?

Photograph: Vienna Beef

Chicagoans are famously snobbish when it comes to their hot dogs. The ingredients: An all-beef sausage, a poppy-seed bun, yellow mustard, white onions, sport peppers, tomatoes, a kosher dill pickle spear, celery salt and bright green sweet pickle relish. Why the toxic-looking color of the relish? It's unclear where the strange color for the condiment got its start, but it's been used by Superdawg since its inception in 1948. One theory states that a relish producer got a little overzealous with the dye when trying to compensate for uneven colors. Another claims that it came from the hot dog stand Fluky's adding blue dye to their relish during the early 1970s, which created the florescent hue. Either way, the iconic relish is a necessity for any hot dog that's claimed to be Chicago-style.

What's the deal with Goose Island (the place, not the beer)?

For starters, the original Goose Island brewery is not on Goose Island. Also, Goose Island is not a natural island. Chicago's first mayor, William B. Ogden, formed the Chicago Land Company and purchased land on the east side of the river between North and Chicago avenues to dig up clay for brick-making. In just a few years, a channel was excavated and dredged, which formed a shortcut on the North Branch of the river. Decades later, some alderman attempted to name the area "Ogden's Island," but it eventually kept the name that Irish squatters gave it in the 1840s. 

Which expressway name corresponds to which numbers? 

Knowing the names and numbers of the expressways in Chicago is almost as important as knowing your social security number. Here's a brief breakdown:

Kennedy Expressway: Running between the West Loop and O'Hare Airport, the Kennedy is comprised of I-90, I-94 and I-190. The Chicago City Council voted to name the expressway after President John F. Kennedy one week after his assassination in 1963.

Dan Ryan Expressway: The Dan Ryan is comprised of I-90 and I-94 on the South Side. The I-90 portion runs from the Circle Interchange down to 66th Street where it turns into the Chicago Skyway. The I-94 portion also runs from the Circle Interchange, but continues south all the way down past 95th Street where it turns into the Bishop Ford Expressway. It was named after former President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Dan Ryan, Jr.

Eisenhower Expressway: The Eisenhower is the most eastern segment of I-290, and runs between I-294 in the suburbs and Grant Park. It was named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who spearheaded the formation of the nationwide Interstate Highway System.

Stevenson Expressway: The Stevenson is I-55, which starts at Lake Shore Drive just south of McCormick Place. It runs southwest past Midway Airport and out of the city. It was renamed after former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson after his death in 1965.

How do you pronounce Goethe?

The North Side street is pronounced "Ger-tuh," not "Go-the" or "Go-e-thee." It's named after the classic German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

What do the stars on our flag represent?

The four six-pointed red stars on the Chicago flag symbolize four major events in the city's history: Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Century of Progress Exhibition in 1933. Also, the two blue stripes represent the river and lake.



Tom O

The Goethe discussion reminds me very much of the Houston St., NY pronunciation. Native-New Yorkers pronounce it (How-stun) St., where it would be expected to be spoken as Houston (as in Texas) by


Lynn P

As an English major home for the holidays years ago, I remember taking the 151 and asking the driver to let me off at Ger-teh. He side-eyed me and replied, "Not stopping for no Ger-teh, but I'll let you off at GO-thee." 

So, lesson learned: In an Comparative Literature classroom, it's Ger-teh. But in Chicago, please: It's Go-thee all the way.

Bill F

The first star of the flag (which was added last) is commemorative of the battle at Fort Dearborn which happened during the War of 1812

Mark F

Gotta agree with Erik U. Local pronunciations trump the "real" pronunciation. So it's Go-thee, just like it's Ver-SAILS, Illinois not Ver-SIGH. And don't dare pronounce the Willamette River the way it sounds when you're in Portland. It's Will-AMIT, dammit!

Teresa C

"Six-pointed stars are used because five-pointed stars represent sovereign states, and because the star as designed was not found on any other known flags as of 1917." - Wallace Rice on Chicago Stars

Erik U

The initial referent of a street name is not determinative of the standard pronunciation of the street name. Otherwise, Devon Ave. would have the accent on the first syllable. 


Really, "Ger-tuh"! Hum. I always said, "Goefth" which many indicated was correct. Nice to be corrected. Also nice to see flag explained again! Thanks, had forgotten part of it. In Kingsport, TN I tried to tell SONIC Drive-In what a 'real' Chicago hot dog consisted of! Their version is comes with coleslaw, relish, onions, mustard, ketchup and that's it! LOL! Very dismayed, I was!

William D

The top blue strip actually represents the North Branch of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan while the bottom represents the South Branch and Sanitary and Ship Canal.

The three white stripes represent the North, West and South Sides.

The points on the stars each represent something as well.


Thanks! Appreciated!