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The dirt on Chicago

'Hidden City' to shine a light on city's seedy underbelly

December 05, 2011|By Georgia Garvey, RedEye

This is no Segway tour of Chicago.

It doesn't include Navy Pier, the Bean or Millennium Park. And you won't make a stop at American Girl Place.

But if you follow novelist and Chicago resident Marcus Sakey, host of the new Travel Channel show "Hidden City," you might learn more about the City of Big Shoulders. Sakey sinks his teeth into legendary stories, ones that have become the basis for songs, movies and TV shows. Actors including Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp have played characters based on the key players in the crimes he highlights.

The series, which hopscotches across the country, kicks off Tuesday with Chicago as the star. "Hidden City" aims to transcend the typical travel show and discover the seedy underbelly of America's greatest cities.

"If you want to go to a place and understand it," Sakey said, "you gotta get out of the clean and sanitized places."

That's exactly what Sakey was willing to do for RedEye, digging into some of the more notorious underworld locations, the spots we drive past every day going to work. Sakey, a crime writer who's penned books including "The Blade Itself" and "The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes," lives in Chicago, making the city the perfect spot to investigate for the first "Hidden City" episode. What he found was that sometimes the answers aren't clean and simple. For example, in researching the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Sakey found a police officer and an indicted protester who, after more than 40 years, still haven't found any common ground about the controversial events.

Sakey did, however, take some pepper spray to the face in an attempt to understand the thoughts, emotions and reactions of those in the riots. Protesters at the 1968 riots were sprayed with mace by cops, and Sakey thought its use might have affected both the police and demonstrators.

"I want to understand how [pepper spray] works, how it feels," he said, admitting "that was not the most fun half an hour of my life" but discovered he understood the police officer's "mentality, which is, you know, it sucks, but it's nonlethal."

Sakey also took a test to find out if he was a psychopath to better dig into the mystery of serial killer H.H. Holmes and fired a Tommy gun to explore the world of infamous bank robber John Dillinger.

After all that investigation, Sakey said he gained some insight, perhaps, into the way the city works, and found an appreciation for the complexity in the Windy City's most famous crimes.

"Chicago's a city of contradictions. Chicago is a place where both things exist: You've got North Side and South Side; you've got opportunity and crushing poverty," he said.

Ultimately, though, the digging just made him love Chicago all the more, he said.

"It has underscored my love of this place," Sakey said, while adding, "I wouldn't turn down a Malibu house." | @gcgarvey

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