Happy Birthday, Chicago! And Other City Origin Stories

Today is the Chicago-i-est day of the year. March 4 is both Chicago’s birthday (making us a youthful-looking 176 years old) and also Casimir Pulaski Day, which I know is not only celebrated in Chicago, but really, it’s a Polish-American love fest, which pretty much describes this city.

Thinking about Chicago’s birthday, the beginning of its rise from trappers’ cabins in a swamp to world-class cosmopolitan jungle, makes me think about the origin stories of other cities. Of course, some have mythological origins, like Rome, founded by raised-by-wolves twins Romulus and Remus (well, just Romulus, I guess, since he killed Remus in a fight and thus got to name the place after himself alone). You can see a statue of the brothers in happier times with their ersatz mom when you visit Rome.

But even better than fictional legends are real-life acts that become legendary. My favorite is Brasília. The constitution of Brazil said the capital had to be moved to the geographical center of the country, but there wasn’t a major city there. So the government ordered it built. Just like that, they created something from nothing. The whole city went from empty grassland to capital city in four years, between 1956 and 1960. The photos from this undertaking look like something out of science fiction: sleek, modern buildings appearing in the middle of nowhere like they’ve just landed from space.

There have got to be other fascinating origin stories out there, maybe for places I haven’t even heard of yet. How was your city founded?

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