In the late 1980s, the Sweetie and I watched the television series, Beauty and the Beast—a fantasy/romance/crime drama about the relationship between noble Vincent, the man/beast who looked like a lion, and beautiful Catherine, the smart, successful Manhattan lawyer. Vincent lived in “the World Below”, with like-minded misfits who had been shunned by society, and Catherine moved freely between the World Below and the World Above. The secret, subterranean community, hidden in caves and tunnels miles below Fifth Avenue, was furnished with books, artwork, and faded elegance taken from the World Above. The imagery of the World Below was as romantic and appealing to me as were the story’s plot and characters.
So, when a breakfast-room acquaintance told me about Chicago’s “Pedway”, a complex, forty block underground passageway linking more than 50 buildings in the Loop to the CTA’s Red and Blue lines, I planned my trip that day. Construction to provide weatherproof passage between the buildings began in the 1950s and has continued haphazardly ever since. Each section is independently owned and maintained by the building above and has different lights, different wall and floor composition, different decoration or lack thereof, and even different air temperatures.
The route is illogical, with hidden entrances leading to dead end exits and dark, mysterious hallways. Signage is sketchy and obscure, so there are urban legends of lost souls still wandering the Pedway looking for a way out. There’s an entire world under those fifty buildings: the beautiful, ornate, old Marshall Field’s (now a Macy’s), an LA Fitness swimming pool, restaurants, bars, barber shops, and a Walgreens. Old-school Chicagoans pride themselves on being able to use the Pedway and are usually willing to help, while some long-time residents don’t even know that the Pedway’s exists.
My subterranean tour was brief but spectacular—I was there to see the 22 American Victorian, non-religious stained glass window installation displayed next to the Wabash Street Macy’s entrance. The windows are backlit, adding a strange glow to the dimly lit corridor.
Spiderweb, attributed to Louis Tiffany
Twins supporting a knight’s plumed helmet, 1890s
A Chicagoan led the way to the World Above, and I took the Red Line back to the hotel. Vincent and Catherine would love Chicago’s Pedway.