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Happy Anniversary, O'Hare International!

New online O’Hare Airport exhibit touches on things strange and serious

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s Transportation Library has created a small online exhibit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the official dedication of the O’Hare International Airport by President John F. Kennedy. 

Pulling together resources from within and outside Northwestern, O’Hare@50 provides 24/7 access to rare and one-of-a-kind historical and research documents for scholars, travel-friendly information for air passengers and quirky O’Hare-related facts and oddities for those simply curious about the iconic Chicago airport and its history.

Self-confessed “transportation geek” and exhibit curator Roberto Sarmiento points to the wealth of material in the small exhibit. The site, for example, pays homage to unsung O’Hare hero Ralph H. Burke, who wrote the original 1948 master plan for O’Hare. “Burke deserves much of the credit for forging an innovative plan that, eventually and for the most part, became a reality,” says Sarmiento, head of the Transportation Library.

The exhibit provides access to 12 color airport postcards produced in 1962 that today appear almost quaint. Like some of the vintage photos of O’Hare that are in the exhibit, the postcards evoke an era when air travel was considered novel and exciting, and parents and their children made “just-for-fun” trips to the airport to observe takeoffs and landings.

It also includes the so-called 2006 “UFO video” that features a conversation between a pilot flying at 38,000 feet and the control tower. The pilot indicates that he is seeing “something at his 10’oclock” that is changing colors until it eventually disappears; the air controller sees nothing of the sort.

In addition to the 1948 master plan for the design of the “new” airport and other documents, the site includes the newsreel and text of President Kennedy’s 1962 dedication speech. There are links to cameo performances O’Hare has made in movies and in comic books over the years, and a Chicago Tribune trivia quiz tests one’s knowledge of what once was the world’s busiest airport.

The exhibit is divided into three categories: research materials, information for the traveler (including live information on airport conditions, flight tracking, highway traffic and weather information) and oddities.

O’Hare@50 highlights the Transportation Library’s extensive O’Hare collection. “It’s a mix of interesting and eclectic material that may better acquaint transportation enthusiasts and the general public with the history and lore of one of the world’s most well-known airports,” Sarmiento says.

With more than 500,000 items and used by researchers around the globe, Northwestern’s Transportation Library is one of the largest transportation information centers in the world.

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