Chicago Oddities

Berwyn Art Mall
If you don’t think of art when you think of ‘the mall,’ you should visit the Cermak Plaza; its sure to change your mind.

This shopping center commissioned artists to spruce up the place, and what they created has been ruffling the tailfeathers of locals ever since.

The largest piece of art resulting from the plaza’s ‘sprucing up’ is called “The Spindle.” Artist Dustin Shuler skewered eight cars (that’s right, automobiles) on a giant nail in the middle of the mall’s parking lot.

Along the sidewalk are twenty other visual- and sound-related sculptures in various stages of disrepair, including “Pinto Pelt,” the skinned gold shell of the notoriously flammable Ford.

While the pieces may not be as stunning as when they were originally installed (time stops for no man, nor piece of art), there is certainly enough to keep any viewer entertained.

Not everyone likes “The Spindle,” though complaints have dwindled since it appeared in the hit movie “Wayne’s World.”

Finally, if Berwyn police have a say in things, The Spindle will never come down. They use the mall to haze new recruits; dispatchers send rookies out to the plaza to investigate an “eight-car pileup.” Crazy cops!

The Cermak Plaza is located at 7043 Cermak Road (at Cermak and Harlem Roads), Berwyn, IL 60402. Their number is (708) 344-9242. Head out there and have fun!

International Museum of Surgical Sciences and Hall of Immortals
Everyone’s a collector, even surgeons, especially Dr. Max Thorek. The instruments and artifacts he collected served as the seed for the galleries of the International Museum of Surgical Sciences and Hall of Immortals.

Over the years, other surgeons also sent their most prized finds to this place, expanding it to a 7,000-piece exhibit, including:

– a copy of Napoleon’s death mask
– a bronze speculum found in Pompeii
– Florence Nightingale’s nurse’s cap
– a Chippendale wheelchair
– a working iron lung from the 1920s
– trepanned (drilled) Peruvian skulls
– ancient stone circumcision knives
– amputation kits and artificial limbs
– Aztec charms
– one of the world’s first stethoscopes
– a full-sized apothecary shop
– the Adrian X-ray Shoe Fitter
and much, much more!

The most surprising part of this collection is not the instruments, but the art. You can find a rendering of the first ovarirectomy, with doctors removing a basketball-sized tumor; Dr. Dorry Pasha operating on a case of elephantiasis of the scrotum; a geisha having her arm removed by Dr. Pompe V. Meerdervoort; and Xavier Cugat’s painting of an operating room where a surgeon reads Playboy and a dog waits for scraps.

The also have dozens of busts of famous surgeons, many carved by other doctors, demonstrating that you can be handy with both a scalpel AND a chisel!

This interesting, odd, dare I say bizarre museum is located at 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive, in Chicago, 60610-1607 (that’s just north of the Mag Mile, a block north of North Avenue on inner Lake Shore Drive).

Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm
Admission: Adults $5, Seniors $3, Kids $3

Mad Gasser of Mattoon
Beware of the Mad Gasser of Mattoon! He may STILL be on the loose!

On the evening of September 1, 1944, a northwest Chicago couple was overcome by a sweet odor that made their lips swell, their bodies go numb, and their vision blur. A local “snoop” reported seeing a man in a tight-fitting black suit, skull cap, and gas mask lurking around the couple’s home. The Mad Gasser of Mattoon was born.

Soon afterward, rumors of a mysterious attacker swept through Chicago, fanned in part by the Mattoon Daily Journal-Gazette.

Each night more and more people were overcome by whiffs of gas that sent “electric shocks” through their bodies. The resulting paralysis prevented the victims from running for help or immediately calling the police.

Investigators found mysterious damp rags and empty lipstick tubes in the areas of the “attacks,” and sent them to chemists for analysis, buy nothing out of the ordinary was ever discovered.

Doctors attributed the illnesses to “war nerves” and lack of sleep.

This wasn’t a viable enough explanation for Mattoon residents. They formed shotgun-wielding posses to patrol the streets, but the “escaped lunatic” was never caught.

Paranormal experts claimed it was ‘Spring Heel Jack’, a phantom gasser who had terrorized London a century earlier. How he had lived so long, and why he resurfaced in Mattoon, adds to the mystery.

Two weeks after the initial “gassing,” attentions went back to World War II and the mystery ended. The final “victim” was the town’s fortuneteller. She apparently cornered the Mad Gasser in her house and claimed that he looked like an Ape Man.

Today psychologists claim the Mad Gasser of Mattoon was a classic case of mass hysteria, on par with the Salem Witch Trials and War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

No evidence was ever produced that anyone ever attacked the people of Mattoon. But if you’re ever alone in your home and your lips begin to swell, your body gets numb, and your vision blurs, keep an eye out for the Mad Gasser of Mattoon! He could be lurking just outside your window…

Santa’s Village
Have you ever wondered where Kris Kringle spends his vacation time? In East Dundee, of course!

When he’s not jet-setting around the globe on December 24th, he can be found at Santa’s Village! Santa’s Village is an odd amusement park, divided into three “worlds:” Old McDonald’s Farm, Coney Island, and Santa’s World. If they were anywhere else, these “worlds” would be called a petting zoo, an amusement park, and a kiddie land.

Some rides have been given winter-ish names, like “The Snowball” and “The Himalaya,” or they’ve dressed them up with candy canes, elves, snowmen, and…toadstools.

It seems to be a little-known fact that the North Pole is covered in brightly-colored mushrooms. But, hey, whatever works!

And don’t get caught thinking that this is just for LITTLE boys and girls. Even the grown-ups will have fun here, whether they’ve been naughty or nice. Santa’s Village has a looping roller coaster, a shooting gallery, and even a bar!

Santa’s Village is located at Routes 25 and 72, in East Dundee. Its open from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm June through August (8:00 pm on weekends); May & September its open only on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $15.95, and group rates are available.

So if you find yourself aching for a little off-season Christmas cheer, head out to Santa’s Village and check out this great Chicago Oddity! On Donner, on Blitzen!

Tower of Pisa
A half-size replica of Italy’s “leaning” Tower of Pisa was built in 1933 in Niles, a Chicago suburb. It was erected to supply water to the three swimming pools of industrialist Robert Ilg.

Today the 96-foot-tall structure serves as an attention-getter for the YMCA, but is no longer filled with water. A park was built around its base, complete with a Leaning Telefono Booth of Niles.

Weeping Icons
Weeping statues and icons are nothing new in Chicago. Our apparitions aren’t as exotic as Jesus on a tortilla or Mother Theresa in a cinnamon roll, but what they lack in quality they make up for in frequency. Here are just a few:

A painting of the Virgin Mary in St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church began weeping from her eyes and between her fingers on December 6, 1986, “crying for Albania” as the official story went. Not only did the painting cry, but the image of the Virgin seemed to be red-eyed and puffy as well. This went on for seven months, during which time her fingers dripped water and a cross appeared on her forehead. Due to ample parking at the adjacent Brickyard Mall, attendence was heavy. The icon stopped weeping in July 1987, then had a brief return engagement in July 1988. At that time, the tears she produced were used to anoint 19 other icons in Pennsylvania and they all began weeping too. St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church is located at 2701 N. Narragansett Ave., Chicago, IL 60639; (773) 889-4282. Venerations are Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday 10 am – 4 pm.

Details are few and far between, but some parishioners at St. Adrian’s Church on the South Side still rememeber when the 1,700-year-old remains of St. Maximina (a first-class relic) began oozing watery blood back in May of 1970. St. Adrian’s Church is located at 7000 S. Fairfield, Chicago, IL 60629. Masses are Sunday at 8:00, 10:00, and 11:30 a.m.

Several icons at Apanacio and St. John on the North Side began weeping in the early 1900s. The thought of decorating with a channel to Heaven was too much for one sticky-fingered individual; somebody stole the icons. The were later returned, their tears no longer flowing. The church has since been disbanded.