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Union Station’s new exhibit showcases Chicago film and travel

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The usual walk through Chicago’s Union Station is one surrounded by glimpses of a fast paced traffic of suited men, or an exhausting party of families waiting for their train, or perhaps just a silent empty station.

And now, also the sight of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars.

Displaying in Union Station’s Great Hall, visitors and commuters can now take in the new and free “Windy City in Motion: Movies + Travel in Chicago” exhibit — an exploration of Chicago’s history and urban character through classic motion pictures. 

Created by faculty from DePaul University and Lake Forest College, the small 10-panel “Windy City in Motion” exhibit examines the depiction of the city’s transportation system in film through years of vintage photos of movie stars, along with clips and commentary on various movies.

From the steps of Union Station in “The Untouchables” famous baby carriage scene, to the police chase between trains at LaSalle Station in “North by Northwest,” or even the overall well known hectic delays of O’Hare Airport portrayed in “Home Alone,” Chicago’s transportation systems have not only played a significant setting in various iconic films, but even more so have essentially become a character in the films themselves.

Commuters at Union Station look upon "Windy City in Motion: Movies + Travel in Chicago" exhibit, a collaboration between DePaul University and Lake Forest College. (Photo Courtesy of Rachael Smith)

Commuters at Union Station look upon “Windy City in Motion: Movies + Travel in Chicago” exhibit, a collaboration between DePaul University and Lake Forest College. (Photo Courtesy of Rachael Smith)

“The exhibit itself looks at films that deal with Chicago travel, but beyond that it’s about how much this city’s transportation system has character in these films,” said Rachael Smith, the exhibit’s curator and program manager at the Chaddick Institute.  “We’ve been working on this exhibit since March; my background is in design and I can say I’ve never worked on something like this before, it’s definitely been a learning experience.”

Featured full of famous Chicago films such as “Batman Begins” or “The Blues Brothers,” the exhibit exemplifies not only the city’s finest and most recognized movies of the past five decades, but also movies in which the city goes unseen.

“There are films that you recognize from just a quick scene of Chicago’s ‘L’ or even Union Station but throughout this exhibit there were films I had no idea were ever even filmed in Chicago,” said Smith.  “I’ve watched Sandra Bullock’s ‘While You Were Sleeping’ for years and it’s interesting to learn it was filmed in Chicago.”

When you find out you take the same train line or “L” line that’s been shown in these scenes from these films, it’s pretty cool to learn about.”

For DePaul’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development director Joseph Schwieterman, Chicago’s transportation has always played a large role in his life.

“I’ve been intrigued by transportation since I was a young boy, I mean just visiting Chicago I became hooked by it,” Schwieterman said.  “There’s something about this city’s transportation that makes travel look romantic in a sense, and these films portray that.”

With the Chicago transportation background knowledge and expertise of Schwieterman, along with various film experts from across the country, exhibit curator Smith was able to design the “short and sweet” exhibit that displays in the corner of the Great Hall. 

“We were really lucky, Rachel (Smith) has a great talent for graphic design, and this was such a small exhibit to begin with,” Schwieterman said, describing the exhibit’s six-month design and installation process as smooth. “We were really happy with how everything turned out, it’s a lot of information – along with pictures and videos – that needed to be condensed for the space.  You have to take in the thought and attention span of the viewers and commuters at the station.”

And though the exhibit itself is indeed designed perfectly for its high-speed audience, the size might also be its biggest weakness to some.  From photographer Mike Rotunno’s vintage photos of movies stars like Katherine Hepburn or Gregory Peck at Chicago’s transportation spots (Schwieterman’a favorite section of the exhibit), or the captivating “Devil in the White City” video segment that looks into Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition, the immense amount of information within the exhibit not only leaves viewers intrigued but also wanting more.

But while its size is rather disappointing, it seems though there isn’t a better place for “Windy City in Motion” to be stationed than at Union.  There is no doubt that there are distinct differences and experiences in riding the “L” or the Amtrak, and arriving at Midway versus O’Hare, but nonetheless there is character within in every train, every station, and every airport in this city and that is what this exhibit exemplifies.

“We want viewers to reflect upon their appreciation for the city, that it’s not just about the tourism spots in Chicago,” Schwieterman said.  “People don’t have a chance to talk about the transportation that they take every day, and the beauty of it that’s been shown in movies. 

The transportation in this city, it’s gritty, it’s a sense of adventure.”

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Union Station’s new exhibit showcases Chicago film and travel