2001: An Air Fantasy | Year In Review | Chicago Reader

2001: An Air Fantasy 

The 797 swung wide around McCormick Place and coasted in over Lake Michigan. The old Meigs Field shot by underneath, then the Shedd Aquarium, Lake Shore Drive, Buckingham Fountain, the Petrillo Music Shell, the Art Institute. The plane came gliding down onto the virgin runway on the second floor of 78 E. Washington, Chicago's New International Cultural Center and Airport, and rolled to a halt just inches away from the back wall of Preston Bradley Hall. The crowd in attendance, which included many local politicians and business and community leaders, applauded vigorously.

The passengers of the plane, a United Airlines flight from Seattle, reported a sense of exhilaration about the landing, the first ever made on this strip. "I thought we were going to crash into the building," said one. "But here I am, I'm alive." Air traffic control officials later emphasized that there was no close call.

"I think it's a superb move by the city," exclaimed Barbara Booker, chairman of the Cultural Center-Airport board, as she passed through customs following the passengers to baggage claim. "You know this is where the circulation desk used to be. After they moved the books over to the new library, the old Cultural Center building got kind of quiet. We thought that since the Sister Cities office was right here in the building, and all three airlines already have offices nearby, why not stop all the bickering and put the airport here?

Chicago Mayor Ed Debevic cited the environmental benefits of the new airport. "No one notices the extra noise downtown," he said. "And the only wetlands around here are the floors of the men's room. I'm proud to say that Chicago is the first city in the world to have carpeted runways. Other airports may have carpeted terminals or waiting areas, but no one has carpeted runways. This is just a great thing for Chicago. It's going to bring glory back to the city, and jobs."

Critics point out that Ned Debevic, the mayor's brother, who runs a carpet shampooing business on the southeast side, was contracted by the city to maintain the second floor runways. "The third airport is just the latest in a series of patronage projects the mayor has been doling out to relatives and allies in the Tenth Ward," lakefront alderman Ann Sather told reporters this morning. "My brother shampoos rugs too. What about the rest of us?"

The new airport has also aroused interest among scholars who speculate that the building was designed as an airport when it was first built. "The inscriptions in Preston Bradley Hall are written in ancient languages," Professor Stella Darrow, cosmo-astrologist at Northwestern University, noted in a recent article. "Although the building itself was erected at the turn of the century, we have found linguistic and metallurgical evidence linking the design of the building to plans found at a burial site in ancient Mesopotamia. I believe this is conclusive proof of the existence of UFOs."

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