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Chicago History Museum Runs Out of Wieners During First Hot Dog Fest

By Darryl Holliday | August 12, 2013 8:00am
 The dogs ran out, but visitors stayed for sun on the plaza and a history of the beloved mystery meat Sunday afternoon.
Chicago History Museum Presents the First Annual Hot Dog Fest
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LINCOLN PARK — The Chicago History Museum anticipated a large crowd for its first Chicago Hot Dog Festival — but it was even bigger than they expected.

And they ran out of hot dogs.

The wieners ran out about halfway through the Sunday afternoon festival, but visitors stayed to enjoy a free stroll through the museum and live music on the plaza.

"You know how it is," said Ginny Fitzgerald, director of visitor services at the history museum. "You hope for 300, you'd be happy with 500, but you plan for 700."

Event caterers planned for an even higher number of visitors, Fitzgerald said, but her count at the end of the day exceeded 1,400 visitors, about 60 of whom had been waiting for entry into the event since a half-hour before it opened.

Chicago has never been shy about its attachment to the mystery meat, and "the leading authority on the culture of hot dogs," Bruce Kraig, author of "Man Bites Dog," educated attendees about hot dog history.

While festival-goers tasted various hot dogs and side dishes on the plaza patio (while they lasted), Kraig discussed the food's most memorable moments, including in 1892, when the word "hot dog" first appeared in news accounts and college humor magazines.

"It's a joke word," Kraig said of the hot dog's transition from German sausage to American staple.

The joke, of course, is that you never know if you're eating an actual dog, and you don't care to find out — they're just that good — according to Kraig, who accompanied his talk with historical photos and advertisements from a time when "hot dog" was a literal phrase.

The so-called "dirty water dog" is practically canon in Chicago and emerged from the two styles of sausages we've come to refer to as hot dogs, frankfurter and wiener. It's also the style that Kraig prefers, he said — a natural casing, 1-pound, hot-water-bathed hot dog with all the Chicago-style toppings.

"A good hot dog is a piece of culinary art," Kraig said. "Ketchup would ruin it."

Overall, Fitzgerald dubbed the first-ever event a success and is looking forward to improving it next year.

"These are lessons learned for next summer," she said of the hot dog shortage. "The lessons learned list is actually a great list."