Chicago Metro Illinois Indiana Michigan Wisconsin Specials
Fern Room at Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory and Nearby Forest Home Cemetery

getaway-chicago logoWho knew? Dioon spinulosum, Adiantum peruvianum, and Lodoicea maldivica, all less than 6 miles from the Loop! They're alive and well at one of the truly great unsung glories of Chicago, The Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 North Central Park Avenue. The Conservatory is a vibrant, west side gem and it's free. A resident of the Chicago area for the past 24 years, Neil somehow knew nothing about the Conservatory. Alan, of course, knew all about it. He would!

This place has Chicago's history written all over it. From idealism, politics and corruption to genius, neglect and resurrection, the Park and the Conservatory have it in spades. But, more importantly, it's there, it's open, it's jumping and the Getaway Guys had their socks knocked off on each of their visits.

garfield1Possibly influenced by Olmstead and Vaux's 1858 design for New York City's Central Park, the Illinois State Legislature in 1869 authorized a series of park systems for the perimeter of Chicago. Of the six authorized (Lincoln, Jackson, Washington, Humboldt, Douglas and Central) only one experienced a name change. In honor of President James A. Garfield who was assassinated in 1881, Central was changed to Garfield. Garfield and its companions (Humboldt and Douglas) were laid out by William LeBaron Jenny (1832-1907) who had witnessed the massive reconfiguration of the Parisian park system under Baron Hausmann in the 1850's and 60's. Mr. Jenny also collaborated with Fredrick Law Olmstead on the latter's design for Riverside, IL (1869), a very early planned community in a park-like setting. Plagued by periodic shortages of money, indifference and corruption, Garfield Park and its companions sputtered along in fits and starts almost into the 20th century.

garfield2The Garfield Park Conservatory appears to have had a slightly less turbulent gestation. Designed by the innovative landscape architect Jens Jensen, and built by Hitchings & Co. of New York, the Conservatory opened in 1907 and with about 4.5 acres under glass, it was one of the largest conservatories in the world. The building of such large glass enclosures was made possible by materials and techniques developed in the construction of London's Crystal Palace in 1851.

About the Conservatory the Getaway Guys were pretty much in agreement.  Both Guys dig nature and although a place like the Conservatory isn't "nature" per se, it was a very reasonable and very welcome facsimile in the middle of a Chicago winter when the Guys first visited. Alan's favorite was the the Palm House with its towering Palms and dense undergrowth. Neil's favorite was the Fern Room with its rock ledges, its seemingly infinite variety of ferns and the incorporation of water, both tranquil and rushing. The Guys had to smile about the "water feature," given today's obligatory suburban accoutrement a la gracious living. (That is a pond, and both Guys have one.)

garfield3Not unlike Ferdinand the Bull, the Guys could have spent the day "smelling the flowers," but they had another mission.  After a nice lunch in Oak Park they continued west to Forest Home Cemetery, entered at 863 Des Plaines Avenue, Forest Park, where they gazed upon the Haymarket Martyrs Memorial by Albert Weinert (1863-1947) and the grave of feminist-anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940). Both are poignant reminders of a not-so-long-ago class struggle against oppression; a continuing struggle some might argue. "Tranquility [the Conservatory] and anarchy; what a weird combination," said Alan. Neil agreed. Maybe Alan was being a little dramatic, but Neil thought he was right on.  Getting to Forest Home from the Conservatory and/or downtown Oak Park isn't hard and the Martyrs Memorial and the Goldman grave are easily found. Directions to both are very well marked within the Cemetery. The simplicity of the Goldman monument is perhaps befitting this woman's origins and beliefs. garfield4The Martyrs Monument is much grander and maybe quaint in appearance to the present generation, but it marks the grave of some pretty tough guys who tried to stand up for what they believed. (Incidentally, Dioon spinulosum is a rare cycad found only in parts of eastern Mexico, Adiantum peruvianum is a silver dollar fern native to Peru, and Lodoicea maldivica is a Coco de Mer palm found only on two islands in The Seychelles.) August 2007

Haymarket Martyrs Memorial
by Albert Weinert, 1893

Return to Top




getaway-chicago sponsors
The following individuals and companies are generous supporters of

millenlogoJohn Millen Hardware


ertlogo2Evanston RoundTable

brownkaplanlissBrown Kaplan + Liss

bciworldwideBCI Worldwide

jameslogojames cogbill