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Garden Walk at Cantigny

Cantigny Park, Winfield

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There's a unique museum, an historical house and a park with beautiful gardens about 27 miles from Chicago that's well worth the price of a parking space ($7.00). It's called Cantigny and it consists of the fascinating 1st Division Museum, the interesting and informative Medill-McCormick Mansion and the well maintained Cantigny Park with its beautiful gardens. Alan (the tight wad) rode his bike to save his half of the parking fee, while Neil (the spend thrift) drove the Getaway car and blew 7 bucks to park.  Which proves (if nothing else) that you can bike to Cantigny or drive.

cantigny3Once called Red Oak Farm and owned by Joseph Medill (1823-1899), Cantigny got a name change in 1919 when the legendary publisher of the Chicago Tribune (and grandson of Medill), Col. Robert R. McCormick returned from France at the end of  World War I. He called it Cantigny to honor those who fought and died at Cantigny (France) while serving with the 1st Division (also called The Big Red One) of the U.S. Army.

cantigny1The Museum's main attraction is a series of  vivid and detailed walk through vignettes depicting  the major 20th Century military engagements of the 1st Division. The D-Day Landing vignette with its "you are there" feeling was one of the two vignettes both Getaway Guys could relate to: both having been to the Normandy beaches in recent years. The second, the World War I vignette of trench warfare created in great detail and filled with authentic artifacts  was slightly problematic for Alan. Neil enjoys military history and got it, but Alan, who's ambivalent (at best) about military affairs was a little lost despite a recent viewing of All Quiet On The Western Front during which he couldn't remember which guys wore which helmets.

The Medill-McCormick Mansion (built 1896, expanded 1935) can be toured free of charge (much to Al's delight). A former domicile of wealth and influence, this Museum House has interesting furniture, furnishings and stories. For Neil it was just another rich person's house, but Al thought it was more interesting than the Museum and he particularly liked Joseph Medill's artifacts related to Lincoln's election and Presidency.

cantigny2Both Getway Guys agreed on the Cantigny Park gardens. An outgrowth of Col. McCormick's interests in agriculture and horticulture, the Park in general and the gardens in particular are great. Offering wide open space to wander and a visual feast of seasonal colors, both are a must see.

Alan, agreeing to leave his bike (temporarily) behind, the Guys "drove" into Wheaton where they discovered Suzette's Creperie at 211 West Front Street (630-462-0898) and had a very nice late lunch with excellent service.

Getting to Cantigny by car isn't hard. I-290 (from Chicago) to I-88 to Winfield Road north. The entrance is just before Roosevelt Road, not prominently marked and be careful the traffic is brisk. By bike it takes some leg work! Pedaling (west) hit the Illinois Prairie Path to Roosevelt Road and then south at Winfield Road. Biking east get off the trail at Winfield and head north.

As a close-at-hand and informative day trip, the Museum, the Mansion and the Park are hard to pass up. Unfortunately the Visitor's Center and the Gift Shop could use some creative thinking. Both Getaway Guys were less than enthusiastic. Go anyway! March 2007

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