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Curious City

Chicago Public Media

Ask questions, vote and discover answers about Chicago, the region and its people. From WBEZ.

Ask questions, vote and discover answers about Chicago, the region and its people. From WBEZ.


Chicago, IL


Ask questions, vote and discover answers about Chicago, the region and its people. From WBEZ.




848 East Grand Ave Navy Pier Chicago, Illinois 60611 888-789-7752


A Gardener Pushes For Legislation To Help Extend The Growing Season

Last year we met Elmhurst gardener Nicole Virgil, who was fighting for the right to put up a hoop house in her garden. A hoop house is an inexpensive way to help extend the growing season. It protects the crops from the wind and snow and can keep the soil from freezing. Virgil took her fight all the way to the state legislature. Curious City’s Monica Eng tells us what happened next.


“Living In Gotham City.” How Some Musicians Survived A Shuttered Industry

As Illinois reopens, Chicago area artists Lori Lippitz of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, Lynne Jordan of Lynne Jordan and the Shivers, Juan Dies of Sones de Mexico and D2x reflect on what the last 15 months have been like, how the pandemic has shaped their music, and what they’re looking forward to as full capacity crowds come back.


What’s The History Of Chicago-Style Giardiniera?

Curious City’s Monica Eng investigates the origins of Chicago’s favorite spicy condiment: giardiniera. This humble jar of veggies packed in oil has roots in Sicily, and Monica tracks down at least two different Chicago families who believe they should be credited for the original recipe. Plus, what’s the right way to say it anyway?


Why Chicago Suburb Names Lie About Their Elevation

In the notoriously flat Chicago region, what gives with names like Chicago Heights, Mount Prospect and Park Ridge?


Safe At Work: The Life Of Alice Hamilton

Scientist Alice Hamilton’s investigations into toxins in Chicago’s factories led to some of the first workplace safety laws in the country. She was known for her “shoe leather” epidemiology, wearing out the soles of her shoes from all the trips she made to Chicago homes, factories and even saloons to figure out what was making people sick. Reporter Edie Rubinowitz has her story.


WBEZ’s Beginnings With The Board Of Education

WBEZ, where Curious City gets produced, actually began as a radio station that broadcast educational programs for kids. In this week’s episode Monica Eng explores WBEZ’s roots in education and looks at how we went from math and fairy tales over the radio to a news and information station. Goodbye “Lady Make Believe,” hello “All Things Considered.”


Can Anyone Propose Legislation To City Council?

Little-known fact: in Chicago, you don’t need to be an elected official to propose legislation to City Council. But does this process really work? Has anyone ever done it? WBEZ city politics reporter Claudia Morell investigates. Along the way she speaks to a former governor and a cab driver who have tested it out for themselves.


Who Tolls The Bells In Chicago?

If you hear church bells ring in the Chicago-area, it’s likely they’re automated. Some bell systems are pneumatic or electronic. Others pipe digital hymns through amplifiers. But do real people ever ring real bells? That’s the question we’re exploring in this week’s episode. And the answer is yes! We head to five different spots, each with its own sound, unique history and distinct community.


Art, Protest And The Trial Of The Chicago 8

In 1969, Chicago was home to one of history’s most high-profile trials. Known as the Trial of the Chicago 8 — and sometimes the Trial of the Chicago 7 — the trial pitted anti-war protesters against the federal government. Eight men were accused of conspiring to incite a riot during protests that took place in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention of 1968. Outside the courtroom, protesters and onlookers gathered. Some chanted to free the men. Some came with signs and posters of...


Chicago's Hillbilly Heaven

Why tens of thousands of Southern migrants made the Uptown neighborhood home, only to leave a short time later. And WBEZ's Natalie Moore tells us about her investigation into the history of racially restrictive deeds and covenants, and how YOU can help.


How Bagels Got To Chicago And Where To Eat Them

Curious City reporter Monica Eng and editor Alexandra Salomon try to help one listener who claims NY has better bagels find some good ones in Chicago. Plus, we trace the local history of the donut-shaped bread: From its arrival in the U.S. with Jewish immigrants to mass production to a renaissance of local artisanal bakers who have gone back to the traditional way of making them.


Three Historic Chicago Hoaxes And Pranks

Chicago historian Paul Durica shares famous ruses, hoaxes and stunts pulled by (and on) local media.


The Environmental Impacts Of The Chicago River Reversal

We dug into the Curious City archives and pulled out one of our favorites, a story about the Chicago River. Chicago’s bold maneuver to reverse the Chicago River diverted sewage away from Lake Michigan, allowing Chicago’s continued growth. But it was hardly a perfect solution. The effects of the groundbreaking engineering feat are still being felt today -- even as far as the Gulf of Mexico. Reporter Carson Vaughan has that story.


COVID-19, One Year Later

We’ve reached the one-year anniversary of Chicago’s stay-at-home order. From schools going virtual to plastic shields lining the grocery store check-out lane, just about every aspect of life has been affected by the pandemic. To mark all the change this year has brought, we hear some essays from folks who’ve written about their experiences. Plus we look to the future and visit some vaccination sites to answer a listener’s question about what the vaccine means to people. From “cautious” to...


A History Of Chicago Music Venues With Musician Andrew Bird

This week on the Curious City podcast we revisit a live show reporter Monica Eng hosted in early 2020 with Do312Chicago and singer-songwriter Andrew Bird. The violin playing, whistling musician asked us to tell him more about the history of some Chicago venues where he’s performed. We learn a fraternal lodge used to make their home in the Metro building in Wrigleyville. The Lyric Opera House historian ruins some of Monica’s favorite architectural gossip while busting some of the building’s...


Who Was Billy Sunday?

This week on the Curious City podcast we dig back into the archives to share one of our favorite stories about the song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “Chicago (That Toddling Town).” The song pays homage to the partying and excess of the roaring 20’s during Prohibition. It also contains a lyric about a man who tried to save the soul of Chicago. Who was he and how did he end up in the song? Plus, we hear from several small businesses about what they’ve been doing to keep their businesses...


Why The Sweet Steak Is The “Most Chicago” Sandwich

Though little known on the North Side of Chicago, the sweet steak has been attracting long lines of fans to South Side eateries for 50 years now. The sandwich starts with a steamed bun, piled high with grilled onions, chopped ribeye steak, American cheese, sweet pepper relish, sliced tomatoes and hot peppers — all doused in a signature reddish sweet sauce. Curious City’s Monica Eng digs into the origins of the sandwich and what’s in store for the future. Hint: it has to do with walnuts.


To Chicago, With Love: What Do Transplants Love About The City?

One Curious Citizen wanted to know what people who moved to Chicago love about the city. From fireflies to the way people walk, we hear what transplants say makes Chicago so special. Plus Curious City’s Monica Eng helps answer a question from another Chicagoan who's frustrated that the city’s playgrounds are still closed while so many other restrictions are easing up.


What’s Up With All Those Billboard Ads For Lawyers?

Curious City took a road trip and counted almost a hundred billboard ads for lawyers along I-90/94 on the border between Illinois and Indiana. Audio producer Steven Jackson investigates why there’s so many of these billboards in this area, especially for personal injury attorneys. He shares insights from lawyers, marketers, and historians. (Features a cameo appearance from President Lyndon B. Johnson.)


From Plastic Bags To Hot Potatoes: Hacks For Staying Warm This Winter

Chicago winters can be long and brutal. Curious City’s Monica Eng spoke with postal workers and other Chicagoans who spend a lot of time outdoors about how they dress for warmth during the winter. Also, we hear from a listener who asks what happens to the colorful landscaping along Michigan Avenue during the winter months.