Cantigny Takes Visitors through United States' Military History

Article excerpt

Byline: Barbara Ferguson

If you are looking for something to do this summer that can be enjoyed by all members of the family, let me clue you in on a relatively little-known treasure that is less than an hour away.

The name of the place is Cantigny and it is the estate of Colonel Robert McCormick located on Winfield Road just off Roosevelt Road in Wheaton. The modest parking fee of $7 per car opens up a wide variety of pleasures to enjoy.

You can make a day out of it by packing a lunch and dining under the wonderful old trees in the picnic area. Then you have to choose where your next steps will take you. There is a great visitors center that will provide all the information you need to know. In fact, some of the answers are just under your nose as there is a giant three dimensional layout of the area set in the floor under thick glass giving you a bird's eye view of the grounds. A gift shop, public phones, restrooms and wheelchairs are also located there.

One of the highlights of the Cantigny grounds is the 15 acres of gardens. You can sit in a gazebo overlooking a lovely lake or walk the marked nature trails. There is even an Idea Garden that demonstrates unique gardening projects for adults and children. If you want, you can visit Colonel McCormick's 35-room mansion, filled with European antiques, paintings, rare books and Asian art. A tour guide will escort you through the formal rooms, the kitchen and the servants' area and tell you interesting details about the family.

Lovely as this all is, my favorite part of Cantigny is the First Division Museum. It is flanked by a parade of tanks of all sizes that the children and some adults love to climb on. Besides being the former editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Colonel McCormick served in World War I as a member of the "Big Red One," the U.S. Army's premier infantry division since the Revolutionary War. As you walk through a series of galleries, all handicapped accessible, you can vicariously participate in the history of our country.

The first gallery starts simply enough with four glass cases showing soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and the Mexican Punitive Expedition, but then you are drawn into an opportunity to experience some of our more recent wars for yourself. …