You’ll have heard how the city once ended in fire, and around these parts, it threatens to end in ice every few years or so. But once, not too long ago, Chicago flirted with ending in water, an entirely preventable man-made inundation that few saw but everybody felt – a two-billion-dollar sucker-punch tsunami that weighed in among the dozenmost costly floods in American history. The groundwork for the Great Flood of 1992 was laid a century before, when the Illinois (later Chicago)Tunnel Company built a series of semi-official, semi-clandestine tunnels under almost every street downtown. The tunnels were only supposed to house telephone cables, but in a nice Pynchonian twist, the operators covertly decided to install a narrow-gauge railway for delivering freight, as well. The dirt hauled out of the tunnels filled in the lakefront and formed all the land now under Grant Park, the Field Museum, Soldier Field and McCormick Place. You’d think that amount of landfill ought to have tipped off more than a few officials that something besides phone cables was going in underground.
more from Richard Powers at Granta here.