DOWNTOWN — A Downtown tour guide's "disaster tour" shows guests the sites of the Eastland Disaster, the Battle of Fort Dearborn and now ... Trump Tower.
The 98-story tower and its colossal, controversial sign at 401 N. Wabash Ave. are a new addition to Margaret Hicks' summer tour, which showcases some of the city's most infamous disasters "of human folly."
While the big, lit-up sign hanging near the Chicago River isn't as grave as other incidents remembered on the tour, it has done enough to disrupt a skyline regarded among the world's best, Hicks said.
"The buildings talk to each other, and the sign is interrupting the conversation," she said.
Hicks, who has also taken tourists through the Pedway and Downtown tundra, is running the disaster tour twice a week through Halloween. Her aim is to share levity as well as the stories of historic events that took hundreds of lives.
David Matthews explains why the Trump Tower is now on the tour:
"Ten-year-old boys may not be interested [in my other tours] but disaster stuff we're all good," Hicks said. "It's something everyone is interested in."
Other stops on the tour include the site of the former Iroquois Theater on Randolph Street, which burned in 1903 and killed more than 600 people; Wabash Avenue and Lake Street, where an L train derailed in 1977 and killed 11 people; and the aforementioned Eastland Disaster, the centennial of which is Friday.
Hicks also includes a stop on the Great Chicago Fire with a sympathetic view of Mrs. O'Leary, whose cow was scapegoated into causing the deadly 1871 blaze before being cleared of wrongdoing more than 100 years later.
"She was like Bartman times 1,000," Hicks said.
Hicks tells innocuous jokes and only "the tip of the iceberg" when describing the disasters to keep the tour upbeat. She doesn't share pictures, and at least one horrific event is off-limits: the 1995 heat wave that killed more than 700 people. Her tour also ends on a funny note: the site of the infamous Dave Matthews Band bridge dump.
Becky Allen-English of Glen Ellyn was among those who took the tour Friday. She enjoyed it and learned more about Billy Wells, the namesake of Wells Street, who was killed in the Battle of Fort Dearborn.
"I thought death and disaster would be great for our kids," Allen-English joked.
Her teenage son, Chris, also said disasters made the local history more interesting.
"If you put it that way, yes," he said.
A Trump spokeswoman did not have an immediate comment.
Hicks' $20 disaster tour runs at 3 p.m. Fridays and 1 p.m. Sundays. Visit her website for more information.
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