CHICAGO — In a bizarre incident, someone wrote a message about Israel — in cheese, apparently — on a flagpole outside the Wrigley Building near a suspicious object, causing police to shut down North Michigan Avenue for hours Tuesday.
Below the cheese message, someone taped a 6-inch piece of metal rebar wrapped in cloth to the flagpole flying the flag of Suriname, leaving cops with a head-scratching concoction of oddities, a police source said.
Squadrols blocked off traffic on the Magnificent Mile, stopping cars for blocks. A police robot was brought in to help sniff out the problem.
When authorities found out that the object was harmless, Michigan was reopened to traffic. And the wisecracks began.
"Feta safe than sorry," one person posted on Twitter.
An official on the scene said the message, which included the words "Israel" and "land," was smeared in a greasy food product that likely was cheese. An investigator got a closer look to try to confirm.
"We think it's cheese," the official said.
The official said whoever was responsible was probably just a "kook," and that if charges are ever filed, they would be for "reckless conduct, if anything."
The strange shutdown came just a day after the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Chicago River was closed by a report of a suspicious item, according to police.
Authorities said they don't believe the two incidents are related.
Tuesday's incident began when police received a call reporting a suspicious object in the 400 block of North Michigan Avenue about 9:20 a.m., according to Officer Jose Estrada, a Chicago Police Department spokesman.
The Police Department's Bomb and Arson unit was dispatched to investigate along with police and fire crews, and both the upper and lower levels of North Michigan Avenue were blocked to traffic from Wacker Drive to Illinois Street for about three hours, police said.
"It's concerning of course, because of what happened in Boston," said Liz Brown, 53, a tourist visiting Chicago from Gainesville, Fla. "I'm glad they're taking these precautions. I don't want anybody to get hurt."
Brown and a friend said they had planned to shop on the Magnificent Mile on their last day in the city, but decided to skip the trip as police cars blocked the Michigan Avenue bridge, also known as the DuSable Bridge.
The cloth and rebar eventually were rendered safe after they were prodded with the robot.
A police source at the scene said that suspicious package calls in Chicago have more than tripled since bombs went off during the Boston Marathon, killing three people.
It wasn't clear who scrawled the bizarre message, but police said it's possible it was an attempt to test emergency crews' response time.
Howells and Hood restaurant in Pioneer Court typically opens to a packed crowd at 11 a.m., but general manager Victor Tieri said business was nonexistent as crowds gathered near the police line on the east side of Michigan Avenue.
"This morning's activities kind of threw us off," Tieri said. During the staff's daily pre-shift meeting around 10:30 a.m., Tieri said the crew made an emergency plan "kind of like a fire drill at a school. We picked a meeting spot and planned to evacuate if the police told us there was a problem."
But Tieri said that call never came, and most of the restaurant's seats were filled by the time the last police tape was removed just after noon.
On Monday, the Michigan Avenue Bridge was closed for a few hours after someone spotted a bottle with the words "liquid fire" beneath the bridge about 11:20 a.m., authorities said. After investigating, authorities determined the object wasn't a threat, and the bridge was reopened.