About Margaret Hicks

I'm Margaret. I'm an author, a tour guide, a traveler and a whole bunch of fun.

I Went to Graceland

Graceland Cemetery is where it’s all at.

It used to be that Lincoln Park was a cemetery, early planners believed it was far enough from the city that all those cholera vapors would stay far away. Of course, pretty quickly, the city encroached on the cemetery. The bodies were dug up and moved (yeah, sure they were) and many moved to the brand new Graceland Cemetery that sat 4 more miles away and was almost, somewhat, on a hill.

Graceland is a who’s who of Chicago history and it is really glorious. For me, it feels like this is the closest I’m ever going to get to these heroes of mine. Some highlights:

This lady, I just thought she was pretty and she’s right by the entrance so you get in the mood:


How about these cemetery row-houses? It’s like: Real World – Graceland.


This is Getty’s Tomb, some consider this the apex, the epitome, the best of Louis Sullivan’s work. The reason why is because of all of the joy and life within the design and ornament. How alive it is and joyous it is:


And just in case you were worried about him, Louis Sullivan is buried here. When he first came to Graceland in 1924, his grave was barely marked. Now, he has a lovely tombstone:


Buried not really near Sullivan, is the man who tried and failed to protect his buildings, Richard Nickel. I have a lot to say about Richard Nickel and finding his grave was the whole reason I went to Graceland in the first place:


The guy who gets the best spot is Daniel Burnham. He’s got a whole little walkway out into the pond all to himself. His tombstone is simple, but what surrounds it is not.

This is the bridge to the Burnham grave, you can see Burnham’s rock right at the end of the bridge there:


Here is it us up close:


This view of the pond from his grave highlights the very toned-down (not) eternal home of Potter and Bertha Palmer, that’s the columned structure you see to the left:


Now, I walked all around Graceland, a few hours and I missed all of these:

John Root, William LeBaron Jenney, Mies van der Rohe, Fazlur Kahn, George Pullman, Marshall Field

And so many more!

It’s a great way to spend a morning, wandering the history of this city in a whole new way. Here is more info on Graceland.

The Freedom Center – Chicago Tribune Printing Press – Extra Extra!!

When I used to do river tours I would never talk about the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center. I was way too excited to tell my Montgomery Ward stories, his huge buildings on that part of the river are lovely and amazing and he is one of my historical boyfriends, so I would just jump right in. The poor Freedom Center got no love from me, the only thing I knew about it was that it was the printing plant for the Trib and that it was called the Freedom Center from a company vote, the name referencing “freedom of the press.”

Recently I got the chance to tour the Freedom Center and I’m always up for learning something, so I took that chance, but I had no big dreams about it. How interesting could this be? I mean, a printing press?

Silly rabbit, you think I would know better by now. THE TOUR WAS AWESOME!!

There were maybe 15 people there, they offer this tour at the most once a month, so it’s a treat. We started the tour by hearing from a few different people; a guy who works the line , we got to hear from one of the editors and ask all kinds of questions.  Then our tour guide Bert, who works pulling all the inserts together (wait till I show you the “insert room”) started us off. Classic Chicago guy, interested and interesting.

We started off in the Willy Wonka room (that’s my perceptive name for it), it’s where the paper goes ’round and ’round to eventually be mounted on the presses, it was so cool in here and peaceful. We saw few humans, we were there in the morning and the Freedom Center doesn’t really get rolling till the afternoon:


Then around to the room that actually holds all the freaking paper. Each roll weighs 1,700 pounds, rolls out to 7.5 miles of paper and lasts about 20 minutes on a press. I can’t stress to you the size of everything, how BIG everything is. The Freedom Center itself is 115,000 square feet.


There were all kinds of crazy machines around with big yellow buttons that looked like they were from Lost in Space:


Then we got to see the printing presses – they are HUGE (UGE!) and fast and amazing and HUGE:



And there’s not just one press, obvs, there’s a gajillion:



Then, the “insert room,” it was AMAZING. The insert rooms have just so much paper you can’t believe it. It’s all organized by color and week and from who and this was the only place where we actually saw people running around although you can’t tell that from the photograph.


What I thought would be a relatively ho-hum tour turned out to be really exciting. We all kept exclaiming how cool it all was. And our tour guide, Bert, and everyone else we talked to were so interesting and SO PROUD. I mean, we as Chicagoans are proud, but the Freedom Center folks? So, so proud.

I am so glad I went on this tour and would highly recommend to anyone, it will excite you, it will astound you and it will make you proud that they’re so proud.




Relics of the Past: A Sullivanesque Richard Nickel Tour

I tell a lot of stories.

A lot.

My job is literally to learn all the stories I can, sift through them, mull them over, find their beats and then tell you the story.

I am a storyteller.

And by far, by one million miles, the most heart-wrenching Chicago story – especially to those of us who love buildings – is the story of Richard Nickel.

Richard Nickel was a student photographer in the 50s, he was given the assignment to photograph Louis Sullivan buildings. Richard Nickel fell in love with these buildings, his architectural photographs are a first of a kind, he saw these buildings as art and his photographs show this:


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When buildings started to come down in the 60s and 70s, Nickel went into these half-demolished buildings and, totally illegally, started salvaging Louis Sullivan ornament, big pieces and little pieces and he stowed these pieces in his parents backyard.

The four faces over the Second City entrance? That’s a piece Nickel saved from a now-demolished Louis Sullivan building called The Garrick.

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Nickel was one of our first preservationists, he was passionate and angry, saying the only enemies of architecture are “water and stupid men.” When the Chicago Stock Exchange came down, another Louis Sullivan building, it broke Nickel in so many ways. He was getting out, he wrote in a letter, he couldn’t do this anymore.

In April, 1972, Nickel was to meet his friend Tim Samuelson (who is now our City Historian, best job EVAH) at the entrance to the half-demolished Stock Exchange. Richard never showed up.

He had snuck in before and the building collapsed – Richard Nickel died in the rubble of the Stock Exchange – the very building he was trying to save.

It is a truly romantic, realistic and poignant story.

To celebrate Nickel and Sullivan, we are doing a one-time only tour. The “we” I mention there is me and also my dear friend and fabulous tour guide, Wendy Bright of WendyCity.  We will do a two-hour tour on April 17th at 1PM. We’ll be touring, relay style, Louis Sullivan buildings that stand and then looking at Nickel’s photographs. THEN, if you like, you can add the admission price of the Art Institute to your ticket and we’ll go look at the Stock Exchange Trading Room Floor which has lovingly been rebuilt by the museum. It is GLORIOUS in there.

For more info and to buy tickets, click here:



Tour Guide Field Trip to the Art Institute of Chicago

I had an afternoon the other day, all to myself. I had hours to waste from one tour to another and remembered brilliantly that it was the last “free” day at the Art Institute!

Lady Tour Guide Date!

I took the Pedway most of the way there, it was a freeeeeezing day – came up like a mole from underground and walked in to the beautiful Beaux Arts building.

I’m happy to say I’m really getting the hang of the Art Institute now, I can find my way around pretty well (after 45 years of living in Chicago!).

My first stop was the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room floor. The Chicago Stock Exchange Building was designed by Louis Sullivan in 1893. It was big, it was beautiful and it was doomed. When it came time to demolish the building, Richard Nickel – an architectural photographer and lover of all things Sullivan – was hired to salvage the interior trading room floor. This was not new for him, he had been illegally salvaging Sullivan ornament for years. The story of Richard Nickel is one of Chicago’s most poignant stories, he loved Louis Sullivan buildings and spent much of his adult life fighting the destruction of them.

In 1971, Richard Nickel entered the half-demolished Stock Exchange building, and part of the building collapsed and Richard Nickel died in the rubble of that building.

It’s quite a story.

In the basement of the Art Institute, by the Chagall Windows, is the recreated floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. It’s usually really peaceful in there too, when I went, I was all alone with Louis Sullivan and Richard Nickel and it was extraordinary.

Take a really solid look at the ceiling and the columns and the colors and…..mmmmmm. I want to move into this room and stay there forever and ever.


EVEN THE DOORKNOB (do the letters say CSEB?)


I grew up in a family of visual artists, but never acquired that particular talent. My appreciation for art is at a beginner’s stage still. There are not many paintings that I can stand and stare at and be enthralled, but there is one, and it is at the Art Institute in all it’s glory. May I present my personal favorite painting, the Picture of Dorian Gray by Ivan Albright:


In the novel Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray is afraid and ashamed to age and grow ugly, so he wishes a portrait of him will grow old and ugly instead of Dorian Gray himself. His wish is granted, and Albright takes it upon himself to imagine what that portrait would look like.

Is that something or what? Scary. Love it.

Also scary, always:


But I found this time, what I enjoyed the most were the “courtyards” in the building (I love that I’m in the art museum checking out the architecture first and foremost)…sigh:


This is the Architecture Hall here. My heart skips beats in here:


And as I left to go to my next tour, I walked by Millennium Park and snapped this photo:


I stopped the couple, emailed them this photo (it’s TOO CUTE) and the fella wrote me back 15 minutes later and said he proposed to her right after I sent the photo.

HOW AWESOME IS THAT!!?!?!?!?!!?  Lady Date awesome.


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