One of the three ‘crown jewels’ of Chicago’s lakefront (including the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium,) Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive,opened on May 30, 1930.
As Wikipedia sources note, ‘The Shedd’ as most Chicagoans call it, was the gift of retail leader John G. Shedd, a protégé of Marshall Field (benefactor of the Field Museum), to the city of Chicago.
Walter Chute, who would become the aquarium’s director, according to the Shedd’s website, toured the major U.S. and European aquariums , then worked with the architects to create a state-of-the-art aquarium inside and out.
Designed by the same architectural firm that designed the Field Museum and Wrigley Building, according to the Shedd’s website, the architects created a neoclassical temple of white marble and terra cotta that celebrates aquatic life, from the marine fossils in its limestone floor to Neptune’s trident capping its glass dome.
Although Shedd only lived long enough to see the architect’s first drawings for the aquarium, his widow, Mary, cut the ribbon at the official opening ceremony, inviting all, as they do today, to “Look Nature in the Eye. “
How to haul sea life in 20th century Chicago
As one of the first inland aquariums in the world, the Shedd had to rely on a custom-made railroad car, the Nautilus, for the transport of fish and seawater, according to Wikipedia sources. Twenty railroad tank cars made eight round trips between Key West and Chicago to transport 1 million gallons of seawater for the Shedd’s saltwater exhibits.
Eye to Eye with 30,000+ specimens of sea life
Today, the Shedd is recognized as one of the premier aquariums in the world, combining “the best of early 20th-century “age of aquariums” characteristics—a diverse, global animal collection with 21st-century advances in animal care, environments and interpretation.
The first exhibit was called the ‘Tropical Pool.’ featuring exhibits on oceans, rivers, islands and lakes, and Chicago’s own waters. You can still see such lake life as the American bullfrog, a giant Pacific octopus, American alligator, lake sturgeon, starfish, lined seahorses, and an alligator snapping turtle.
In 1971, the 360-degree, circular Caribbean Reef opened. One of the first habitats to display schooling fish, it’s also home to the rescued green sea turtle, Nickel, along with Atlantic tarpons, cownose rays, redband parrotfish, Bonnethead sharks, and a Green moray eel.
The Abbott Oceanarium, opened in 1991, actually built into surrounding Lake Michigan and features an amazing habitat where marine mammals, including Pacific white-sided dolphins, beluga whales, sea otters and California sea lions mingle, swim, and are cared for by the oceanic team. The lower level of the Oceanarium allows underwater viewing of the beluga whales and the dolphins.
Something for the kids: Polar Play Zone
In Polar Play Zone, the kids can slip into a penguin suit and try being a bird in the Icy South play area. Explore Arctic waters in a kid-sized submarine. They’ll learn about ‘polar opposites’ — big and small, fast and slow, shallow and deep, even north and south — while they play.
During the pandemic, two adorable penguins went viral. As the website recounts, Rockhopper penguins Edward and Annie soared to superstar status in the spring of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Shedd Aquarium was closed to outside guests. Edward and Annie could freely explore the exhibits and visit other aquatic animals across the building. Thanks to social media, Edward and Annie became superstars in their own right.
Explore and Enjoy!
Shedd has hundreds of special events, encounters and experiences. For information, click here.
Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago