JOLIET – It’s the locals who know the least.
That’s Hillary Marzec’s response to the notion Chicago tours are only for tourists.
Marzec, the owner of Inside Chicago Walking Tours, said nine times out of 10, the people who live in and near the city are the ones most unfamiliar with its details.
This was true for Marzec, too, until she became a tour guide in 2008 with Shoreline Sightseeing in Chicago – the job Marzec accepted for the summer and then remained in various capacities until 2013.
“I was definitely one of those locals who would come to Chicago for certain things – the Art Institute or a festival in the park,” said Marzec, a 1997 graduate of Joliet Catholic Academy. “Maybe a particular store I was going to. And you dread the crowds and the traffic. Not until I had the job on the river did I get used to being in city and seeing how manageable and walkable it is.”
Although boat tours of Chicago are popular, Marzec founded Inside Chicago Walking Tours in 2014 so people could have a slower-paced, more intimate look at Chicago’s architecture, often in perspective with the city’s history.
“There are so many beautiful details, even on the most simple buildings,” Marzec said.
Marzec used the Willis Tower’s straight lines and right angles as an example of a building people might consider uninspiring. She enjoys showing her patrons how, at street level, the building lines up perfectly with its surroundings.
“You can’t see that if you’re whizzing by on bus or seeing it at a distance from a boat,” Marzec said.
Sometimes people don’t pay attention to a building’s architecture in their eagerness to get to its inside attractions. She leads them to understand that a building’s design is often a form of marketing for the product or entertainment it contains.
“Buildings are supposed to make an impression on you as an audience,” Marzec said. “They’re not just functional art; they’re meant to be beautiful.”
And, of course, one can’t showcase Chicago architecture without discussing Chicago history, such as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the The World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
It’s fascinating to look at the Willis Tower and realize the skyscrapers of the late 19th century were far shorter, Marzec said. Or to stand near Buckingham Fountain, built on Chicago’s first city. Or to learn how the Great Chicago Fire altered what is now Grant Park.
“What do you do with 18,000 building [worth of] debris that’s lost in a few days?” Marzec said. “You chug it out by steamship and dump it.”
Marzec said she offers a variety of themed tours, as well as private tours. General admission is $25 for two hours, ages 11 and up, and $20 for seniors and kids ages 6 to 10. Kids younger than 6 are free. Repeat business is common.
“I have people take a tour on Friday and like it so much they sign up for another one on Sunday,” Marzec said. “I even have people sign up for later in the day if I have openings.”
Meet the tour guide
In addition to being an avid swing dancer, someone who enjoys cooking for friends and the “mother” of two cats, Beppe and Gimlet, Hillary Marzec has:
• A background in comparative literature and languages, and years of experience teaching levels K-12 and university-level writing and language courses.
• Nine years of experience in professional editing and translation through her freelance business, The Finer Point.
• Eight years of experience as a tour guide in Chicago (both on architecture boat tours and food-tasting tours).
• More than a decade of improv comedy training and performance experience, having performed with a team at the famous iO (formerly “ImprovOlympic”).
Visit www.insidechicagowalkingtours.com for more information about Marzec and Inside Chicago Walking Tours.