Secrets of the Chicago Scavenger Hunts: Vanishing Navy Pier

The Landmark Has Lost Some of Its Quirky Charms

We’re waxing nostalgic for the good ol’ days of…2004. Specifically, we miss the old Navy Pier. The Chicago landmark, famed for its Ferris wheel towering over Lake Michigan, is undergoing renovations, and perhaps it’ll be better than ever. But we mourn the quirky, fun, informative eccentricities of yesteryear that we featured on our Navy Pier Pressure Scavenger Hunt.

Recently we took a stroll down Memory Lane by clicking through our old hunt research photos. They date back to an era when newfangled digital cameras revolutionized our hunt research. (You should see our notebooks from the days we had to write everything down, dating back to 1999. The meaning of those hieroglyphic scribbles is lost to time.) Our photos captured Navy Pier in its former, less commercialized glory, a time when local and cultural history mattered a bit more than the latest chili-dusted cupcake concoction.

Mind you, these photos aren’t going to win us any calls from National Geographic. We take photos on the fly, so please grade the following images on a curve. And know that the camera shake you detect might have been because we were trying not to jump for joy.


Wherefore Art Thou?

Forget Romeo: What happened to Juliet? She used to stand near an entrance to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on the pier (see the photo above). She was a gift from the people of Verona, Italy. We hope she hasn’t gone home.


Signs o’ the Old Times

Our scavenger hunts challenge teams to follow clues and answer fun, funny questions about the sights and objects they find. Along the way, you’ll uncover hidden history. So of course we loved the many history signs on the pier—now all gone. Poof. Seen here, one of our favorites.

It pointed out how, after World War II, the University of Chicago turned the pier into a new campus to accommodate servicemen on the “G.I. Bill.” (We hear G.I. Joe took “Rocks for Jocks” here as a gut course.)

Another sign revealed that during World War II, the pier and Lake Michigan were drafted to help train pilots. Accompanying the photo of a plane being fished out of the lake was the sobering information that accidents sent more than 250 planes into the drink.


It’s Not That Easy Being Greens

A miniature-golf course used to unfurl in the shadows of the Centennial Wheel. We liked how each hole had a sign marking it with a Chicago landmark. Can you name the one  featured on the photo?


Heart of Glass

The long hallway running parallel to the south side of the peer was once lined with beautiful stained glass windows. They displayed a surprising variety of subjects and styles, from Gothic Biblical figures to quaint Old King Cole to a modern tribute to Michael Jordan. Among our favorites:

This scene stars St. Patrick, wielding his famous symbol as a weapon. “Look out, he’s got a shamrock!” And hey, animal skull: Why the long face? What are you doing here? Did Roy Rogers or Georgia O’Keefe drop by?

This kaleidoscopic museum celebrated humble subject matter as well. Here’s a sort of jigsaw puzzle made of old soda bottle shards. How many brands can you recognize?


Flight of Fancy 

Sure, this sign was basically an ad for American Airlines, but it was fun seeing that, say, Dublin was almost 4,000 miles thataway, across the lake and beyond. Alas, this sign, like every memory featured here, has flown thataway into the past.


What do you miss in YOUR city?

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Bret Watson is the founder and CEO of Watson Adventures. He previously spent many years as a writer and editor at such publications as Entertainment Weekly