What was life like on the estate of an early to mid-20th century millionaire media mogul? Think three story brick house of Greek and Roman architectural influences with 43 rooms, furnished with rich antiques from around the world. Dinner parties for the wealthy and the famous are frequent. Outdoors, guests might stroll through the gardens whose paths wind through carefully manicured hedges and the shade of numerous trees, past beds of brightly colored flowers, sparkling ponds and refreshing fountains. Foxhunts and polo matches are often held here, and 1,000 acres of farmland surround it all.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and you can tour this stately mansion, which remains much the same, right down to the priceless furnishings. Afterward, you can stroll through the same gardens that once welcomed famous movie stars and influential politicians. The horses are gone, and most of the farmland has sprung into suburbia. But through a foundation established by Robert R. McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune for 44 years and founder of WGN Radio and WGN Television, today 500 acres of his estate remain as Cantigny Park, open to the public.
Robert R. McCormick Museum
Built as a summer home by Robert R. McCormick’s grandfather and founder of the Chicago Tribune, Joseph Medill, the estate was originally called Red Oaks Farm. A full-time residence for McCormick and his first wife, Amy, they renamed the mansion Cantigny Farm. In 1930 they remodeled the mansion, at which time a wing was added to each side of the home.
Begin your tour with an orientation film in the art deco style lower-level Gold Theater, where you’ll learn the history of Medill-McCormick family and estate. You’ll then tour the extensive area of the house that is open to the public, including posh bedrooms, a technologically advanced kitchen for the age, and the massive library named Freedom Hall, with 22-foot-high ceilings, teak floors and Brazilian butternut wood walls.
Extensive gardens fill the acres of Cantigny with everything from a rose garden to a natural prairie, as well as two ponds. Annuals throughout the gardens, grown in Cantigny’s own greenhouses, are changed each spring, summer and fall. The grave site of Robert R. McCormick and his first wife, Amy, are in the gardens to the southeast of the house.
Admission to Cantigny Park, Wheaton, Illinois, is free, but there is a small fee for parking. Plan on about an hour for the mansion tour. Get your tickets as soon as you arrive, as tours fill up quickly, particularly in the afternoon. While you’re there, visit the First Division Museum, at the south end of the park.
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