Linda Hubbs always loved trains as a kid, so it’s no surprise that her favorite exhibit at the Chicago History Museum is the city’s first elevated train. A whole car of the el, built to bring travelers from Skokie down to the 1893 World’s Fair, stands in the middle of the second floor. Passengers can step inside the train, although a talking statue of Ida B. Wells outside the car urges them to boycott the fair (there were no exhibits at the Columbian Exposition promoting the achievements of African-Americans).
For Hubbs, a security guard at the museum, her fascination with the exhibit doesn’t just stem from her interest in trains. The story of how an el car got to the second floor of the Chicago History Museum intrigued her before she even started working there.
“It’s the first el car, so it came from Skokie,” she explains. “And it took quite a bit because they had to get permits and a whole bunch of paperwork done before they could even move it.” Its size and height also made it impossible to travel on certain roads, so “they had to go north from Skokie, come south past the museum, and had to come back and somehow make a route to get it here.”
She continues, “They had to have support for it, had to build the actual platform around the El car. It was a lot to even just put it in the building. . . . They also had to wrap it in cellophane and everything, because they didn’t want to the trees to hurt it. They didn’t want the elements-because it was in January-to hurt it.”
Finally, they had to build tracks to put the El on, knock out part of the south wall of the building and bring the car in by crane. “It was a very long process, a lot of preparation,” says Hubbs.
Although Hubbs loves the train, she thinks that the crowd favorite of the museum’s exhibits is probably Sensing Chicago. It’s an activity room for kids, with features like an antique bicycle with a giant front wheel, a “smell map” of Chicago, and a kid-sized stuffed hot dog with all the proper condiments.
“You see adults and children playing in the hot dog,” notes Linda. It was probably easier to bring into the building than the El train, but they both represent a vital part of Chicago history.