Alluring Attractions

June 2021 View more

We’ve dug up the quirkiest finds the burbs have to offer, from Route 66 joints to jewels of modern architecture. Pop on your spelunking helmet, it’s time to explore! By Grace Perry

Photograph by Olivia Kohler

Rummage Around
“I’ve always had an interest in the unusual,” says Scott Christoffel, owner of the suburbs’ funkiest collectibles shop, Scott’s Vintage and Antiques. He opened the shop in 2010, after two decades of antique dealing. Christoffel’s shop is a treasure trove of strange art, midcentury toys, vintage guitars, and unique Americana. “None of the other antique shops want to buy this stuff,” he says of his acquisition process. “It’s such a niche market.” Scott’s Vintage is open only on Sundays—and, yes, it might be worth skipping church. North Aurora

6/20/05 charles osgood – The windmill in Batavia just south of Geneva on Rt. 25. For an atplay game with readership participation sooot clues to our very own Amazing Race. ..OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV.. Chicago Tribune Photo by Charles Osgood 00245096D ATPLAY Amazing

Singular Sensations
Fabyan Windmill Built by German craftsman Louis Blackhaus in the 1850s, the five-story structure was bought by George and Nelle Fabyan, who relocated it to Riverbank, their fabulous, 300-acre Fox River Valley estate. The vane is touted as the most authentic Dutch-style windmill in the country. Take that, Holland, Michigan! Batavia

The Viking Built in Sandefjord, Norway, in 1892, this facsimile of the ancient Viking ship Gokstard starred at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The 78-foot-long craft has since been rehabilitated and historically preserved. The Viking is open to visitors one day per month, with docent-led tours every half-hour at Good Templar Park. Geneva

Galloping Ghost Arcade This gamer’s paradise is right here in suburban Chicago. Boasting more than 550 games, Galloping Ghost is the nation’s largest video arcade. Just pay the $20 entry fee and hit as many “start” buttons as you please. No wonder more than 180 world records have been set here. Brookfield

Chicks on 66
After 75 years, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is still serving up its “world-famous” fried chicken, albeit under new management. Co-owner Bill Lombardi and his siblings grew up coming to the iconic Route 66 lunch stop. So when the opportunity to acquire it in 2019 arose, “It was just meant to be.” The joint has changed a bit since then: The former sommelier expanded the well-priced wine list and added some “healthier” options. But the fried chicken is as delicious as ever. “One thing that can never change is the recipes,” Lombardi promises. Phew! Willowbrook

Haunted History
Nope, it’s not just a Blues Brothers filming location. Old Joliet Prison, designed by Chicago Water Tower architect W.W. Boyington, actually jailed inmates from 1858 to 2002. Throughout the 20th century, this limestone prison housed infamous criminals including John Wayne Gacy, Leopold and Loeb, and Baby Face Nelson (though he actually escaped in 1932). Today, the site offers guided walk-throughs, including the Haunted History Tour, which details the real-life stories of the penitentiary’s most notorious residents. Joliet

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery With headstones dating to the 1830s, this graveyard is a favorite among ghost hunters and has hosted all kinds of alleged paranormal phenomena, including floating, glowing orbs; a hovering, vanishing farmhouse; and a “white lady” walking the grounds. Midlothian
Al Capone’s grave The Roman Catholic Mount Carmel Cemetery is the resting place for many infamous mobsters. The large Capone monument is the family marker; find Big Al’s name on a flush-to-the-ground stone nearby. Hillside

Myriad Museums
Garfield Farm Museum Attend a tour, seminar, or even a barn dance at this Registered Historic Place with original structures from the 1840s. Campton Hills

Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum This small but mighty natural history center at Benedictine University displays more than 3,500 specimens, including a whale skeleton and African lions. Lisle

Marion E. Wade Center Explore a vast collection of papers and first editions at Wheaton College by modern Christian thinkers, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Wheaton

Schingoethe Center This Smithsonian affiliate museum (shown above) houses over 6,000 Native American artworks and artifacts at Aurora University. Aurora

Illinois Aviation Museum Check out a Vietnam-era fighter jet and a WWII Jeep on a guided tour of Hangar One. Bolingbrook

Hindu Haven
Dreaming of a trip to India? No problem—just pop over to Bartlett, a mere 15-minute drive. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a Hindu place of worship built according to the Shilpa-shastras design principles. The temple is composed of Turkish limestone and Italian marble, all hand-carved in India. Next to the mandir is the wooden Haveli—used as a cultural center—modeled off Rajut-period architecture (15th to 19th centuries). The 27-acre complex is a sight to behold, and a guided visit costs a fraction of a trans-Pacific flight. Bartlett

Fit for a King
Pratt’s Castle Harold S. Pratt commissioned this Gothic fortress replica—including a legit moat, looming tower, and escape tunnels—to house his medieval artifact collection in 1937. Elgin

Dunham Castle Modeled off the great French chateaus, this flamboyant abode once belonged to the Dunham family, who made their fortune breeding pure-bred French Percheron horses. Wayne

Glass House
Design buffs flock to the Fox River to appreciate Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modernist gem, the Farnsworth House. The minimalist retreat—designed for Dr. Edith Farnsworth in 1951—has all-glass exterior walls, challenging the boundaries between human, shelter, and nature. It’s temporarily furnished to reflect Farnsworth’s unique style. Plano

Some Naperville residents want a tunnel under the current BNSF railroad tracks originally built so cows could roam between pastures to be converted and reopened for pedestrian use. The tunnel has been boarded up since about the 1970s, and is fenced off.

Bovine Burrow
Just north of downtown Naperville is an underground pedestrian channel that cuts under the BNSF railroad tracks. It was originally built for cows—so they could roam between pastures—sometime before 1870. Later, it became a convenient cut-through for cyclists and pedestrians until the 1970s when, legend has it, Naperville’s mayor Chet Rybiki had it boarded to prevent any
“hanky-panky.” It’s unclear whether Rybiki’s goal was achieved. Naperville

Weird Science
Nike Park This seemingly typical public playground was actually a U.S. government missile launch site during the Cold War. Today, only the control tower remains—don’t worry, no A-bombs lurk under the baseball diamond. Addison

Barbara A. Kieft Accelerator ArtSpace Blending art and science, this small art
gallery at Elmhurst University shares space with a 750,000-volt proton accelerator used for atomic weapons research during the Cold War. Elgin

Vintage Cinema
Come for a selfie with the marquee, stay for a throwback experience. The Glen Art Theatre and its iconic, light-up signage have been mainstays of downtown Glen Ellyn for a century now. Snarks might say, You can tell—but we find the no-frills nostalgia quite charming. Once a single thousand-seat theater, the Glen Art is now divided into four smaller screens, showing the popular and award-worthy films du jour. The prices beat any megaplex in the area—five bucks for a matinee, seven after 5 p.m. Fraying seating aside, it’s not too shabby. Glen Ellyn
Photograph by Olivia Kohler