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  Introduction to Chicago

Chicago has the cosmopolitan flavor of any world-class city, mixed with a friendly Midwestern demeanor. The Windy City has much to offer visitors, including phenomenal museums, high-class shopping, legendary sports figures, and a beautiful location on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Several historical events shaped the city in distinct ways. The Great Fire of 1871 destroyed the city and required a massive reconstruction that led to Chicago's cutting-edge architectural face. The migration of blacks from the South in the early 20th century brought a strong African-American presence to the city and spawned cultural achievements, such as the unmistakable sound of Chicago-style blues. The ethnic neighborhoods outside of downtown, settled by a flood of immigrants from all over the world at the turn of the century, give the city a rich diversity.

Those newcomers arrived in Chicago to work in steel mills and meatpacking warehouses. The city quickly became the hub of America's freight and passenger trains, a key supplier for the East and Midwest. Poet Carl Sandburg was inspired to describe the city as "Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders."

Today, Chicago maintains its status as a brawler, a metropolis of great heft. The city that was ruled by machine politics for 50 years became a transportation center of a different sort--O'Hare International is the largest airport in the world. Stockyards and factories have been replaced by the Sears Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world, and other soaring downtown skyscrapers that helped create high-paying jobs in finance, law and other areas.

Chicago has developed into a city that is anything but typical. The Loop, the lakefront business district named after the elevated train that circles it, is a larger-than-life exhibit of modern architecture. Still-thriving ethnic neighborhoods--the Windy City has one of the highest percentages of immigrants of any American city--feature the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and other modern architects. If shopping is more to your liking, grab your pocketbook and let loose on the famed Michigan Avenue. Or leave sightseeing to the tourists and escape the crowds of shoppers. Venture into the glorious Grant Park, dig your toes into the sand along the shore, or set sail on Lake Michigan's vast waters.

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