The Palmer House

My sons and I have taken many road trips and stayed in plenty of inexpensive motels. But when my older son and I made our recent Chicago trip, I wanted it to be a real experience. Instead of driving, we took the train. And instead of sleeping on the cheap, we stayed in one of Chicago’s finest and most storied hotels – the Palmer House.

The current Palmer House – there have been three since 1871, all on the corner of State and Monroe Streets – was completed in 1925. With 1,639 rooms, it was for many years the largest hotel in the United States; it remains the longest continually operating hotel in North America. A $170-million restoration was completed a couple years ago, restoring the hotel to its full grandeur. When we stepped into the lobby, we knew that grandeur was not too grand a word for it. Just check it out.

Palmer House lobby

And then look up – the lobby’s ceiling is even more remarkable.

Palmer House lobby

I mean, holy cow, just check out all the work that went into it!

Palmer House lobby

When I was 13, I wouldn’t have appreciated this; I might even have disliked it for being too much. So I wasn’t surprised when my son informed me that he would have been just as happy staying in one of our usual budget motels.

Palmer House lobby

I’m hoping the place left an impression that planted seeds that will grow into appreciation for such things when he’s older.

Palmer House hallway carpet

I would like to have spent hours just taking in the lobby and all its details, but we were pretty pooped from our fun day touring the Museum of Science and Industry, walking Michigan Avenue, and seeing the city from the Hancock Observatory. So I made several photos of the lobby and then we made our way to our room to rest. But along the way there was even more to see. The hallways were lined with photographs of the many entertainers who played the hotel’s Empire Room while it was still a hot Chicago night spot. I recognized all of the names, but all but a very few were lost on my son. I especially enjoyed the hallway carpets, done in a peacock feather motif.

Our room was small but comfortable and well appointed, no contest the nicest I’ve ever enjoyed. We stretched out on our beds and watched a movie together before turning in. It was a great way to end a busy, fun day.

Our last hotel stay was in Wheeling, West Virginia, which has some sights to see of its own.


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