What Chicago Midway lacks in size it makes up for in age and history. The Second City’s smaller airport hit the scene first, on this day in 1927, when O’Hare was still a grove named Orchard Place, as in ORD. That year, 800 arrivals and departures carried mostly airmail and express cargo through what was then Chicago Municipal Field. The airport was renamed in 1949 in honor of the World War II Battle of Midway and in 2002, the name was updated, adding international, to reflect the airport’s cross-border offerings, notes our colleague Megan Kuhn. Today the airport boasts 300 daily flights and is the Windy City’s low-fares alternative to O’Hare, with Southwest, ATA Airlines and AirTran all making Midway their toehold in the City in the Lake.
Midway is rich in history, and was long the city’s main commercial airport. Moviegoers who saw Alfred Hitchock’s 1959 classic ‘North by Northwest’ may remember Cary Grant, escorted by spymaster Leo G. Carroll, walking out onto the Midway tarmac to catch a Northwest Airlines flight. Some of its history embraces aviation’s sadder side. Back in December 1972, Midway was the site of a United Airlines crash that killed a member of congress and Dorothy Hunt, the wife of later-indicted Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. Found in the Boeing 737’s wreckage was a purse belonging to Mrs. Hunt containing over $10,500 in cash.
Speculation arose that she was carrying Watergate ‘slush fund’ money, but this has never been determined. That crash killed two residents in nearby house, demonstrating that Midway, surrounded by a residential area, would never be able to accommodate big jets. Even newer planes have had problems there, as was demonstrated 35 years later to the day, in December 2005 when a Southwest Airlines 737-700 overran the end of a Midway runway, slammed through barriers and hit a car in which a five-year old child was a passenger – a little boy who was killed by the impact.
The airport lent its name to a discount carrier, Midway Airlines, that later moved to North Carolina and collapsed just before the 2001 attacks. But Midway has some good history, including a complete $720-million rebuilding and renewal that has made it an attractive airport – and one that’s a lot easier to navigate than its big sibling to the north west. And, with an easy link by rapid rail to Chicago’s downtown Loop, Midway is a real contender.