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Soldier Field

A Stadium and Its City

Sports fans nationwide know Soldier Field as the home of the Chicago Bears. For decades its signature columns provided an iconic backdrop for gridiron matches. But few realize that the stadium has been much more than that. Soldier Field: A Stadium and Its City explores how this amphitheater evolved from a public war memorial into a majestic arena that helped define Chicago.

Chicago Tribune staff writer Liam Ford led the reporting on the stadium’s controversial 2003 renovation—and simultaneously found himself unearthing a dramatic history. As he tells it, the tale of Soldier Field truly is the story of Chicago, filled with political intrigue and civic pride. Designed by Holabird and Roche, Soldier Field arose through a serendipitous combination of local tax dollars, City Beautiful boosterism, and the machinations of Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson. The result was a stadium that stood at the center of Chicago’s political, cultural, and sporting life for nearly sixty years before the arrival of Walter Payton and William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

Ford describes it all in the voice of a seasoned reporter: the high school football games, track and field contests, rodeos, and even NASCAR races. Photographs, including many from the Chicago Park District’s own collections, capture these remarkable scenes: the swelling crowds at ethnic festivals, Catholic masses, and political rallies. Few remember that Soldier Field hosted Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr., Judy Garland and Johnny Cash—as well as Grateful Dead’s final show.

Soldier Field captures the dramatic history of Chicago’s stadium on the lake and will captivate sports fans and historians alike.


“Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park may attract more attention, but neither has hosted as many historic events as Soldier Field. Ford’s Soldier Field reveals how Chicago’s iconic amphitheatre is more than a football field; it serves as a unique portal into Chicago’s social, political, and cultural history.”

Timothy J. Gilfoyle, professor of history at Loyola University Chicago and the author of Millennium Park

Soldier Field is a true page-turner. Liam T.A. Ford covers all the bases in this in-depth narrative on the history of one of America’s landmark sports stadiums.”

Harvey Frommer, author of Remembering Yankee Stadium

“Liam Ford, Chicago journalist, has unearthed an ancient Chicago formula in the story of Soldier Field: the lords of the political machine seizing upon grand public works projects to perpetuate their control of the city, and co-opting the reformers in the process. Thoroughly researched and well-written, Soldier Field: A Stadium and Its City will be fascinating reading for anyone interested in the real history of the Chicago machine.”

John Kass, columnist, Chicago Tribune

“Ford (who writes for the Chicago Tribune) has written an excellent biography of Chicago’s Soldier Field, depicting it as a product of patriotism, urban boosterism, the City Beautiful movement (of the turn of the 20th century), and machine politics. . . . Excellently written, beautifully illustrated, and nicely documented, this book places Soldier Field in the context of the national appetite for construction of municipal stadiums in the 1920s. . . . Recommended.”


Table of Contents

List of Figures


Introduction         Chicago Challenges the World

Part 1                    Getting It Built

Chapter 1             Born Republican, Adopted by Democrats

Chapter 2             Soldier Field and the Democratic Ascendancy

Part 2                    A Stadium for All Chicago

Chapter 3             A Game for Our Youth: Amateur Football at Soldier Field  

Chapter 4             Chicago’s Olympic Legacy

Chapter 5             A Stage for Acceptable Dissent 

Chapter 6             The City’s Altar  

Chapter 7             Military Marches, Music, and an Arsonist Cow  

Chapter 8             Americans All: Culture in an Epic Space

Chapter 9             A Family Place        

Chapter 10           New Religious and Political Movements in a Classic Space   

Part 3                    The Fall and Rise of Soldier Field

Chapter 11           Celebrations in an Era of Decline

Chapter 12           Amateur Sports Founder at a Fading Stadium 

Chapter 13           Professional Sports in a Changing Era 

Chapter 14           The Bears, the Stadium’s Savior 

Chapter 15           A New Century, a New Stadium      



Illinois State Historical Society: Illinois State Historical Society Award

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