In Chicago, in February, when the months of bone-chilling winter weather begin to take a toll on body and mind, one needs to feel loved. Fortunately, there is Valentine's Day the day for chocolate and flowers. Each year Garfield Park Conservatory prepared for Cupid's Day by celebrating the origins of chocolate, 'The Food of the Gods', with a two-day chocolate extravaganza.
There are fruiting cacao trees in Chicago that can be seen at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, but the most productive trees are at the Garfield Park Conservatory. These mature trees produce a large crop of football-shaped pods, each filled with 20 to 30 seeds apiece which can make a 16 oz. Chocolate bar. Wandering through flowering trees, tropical trees, ferns, and waterfalls, looking for Cupid, one comes upon the cacao trees with their pods in bloom. Winter fades and one can believe that spring is near.
Samples of 250,000 pieces of free chocolate from more than a dozen major chocolate candy makers were available. One's senses were impacted by color, shape, smells and tastes. There was much to enjoy with exhibits and workshops, sampling raw cocoa bean food, organic chocolate and chocolate-flavored teas. Under a banana leaf hut at the Chocolate Spa one was able to indulge in a tropical wonderland including: CocoaMint Foot Treatment for $15, a Chocolate Milk Facial for $18, or a back and neck massage for $1 per minute by licensed estheticians and massage therapists. Other activities included: make your own chocolate leaf-print valentines card, plant a chocolate mint seedling for $1, storytelling, and learning which ancient cultures used chocolate for money and more.
Garfield Park Conservatory opened in 1908 and was considered revolutionary. Renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen in conjunction with Hitchings & Company, a New York engineering firm were its designers. The structure was one of the largest conservatories in the world and different from its nineteenth century predecessors. The centerpiece of the Garfield Park Conservatory is the aquatic house or fern room. Great effort went into creating the 'prairie waterfall' sound which visitors experience today. Several restoration and additions have taken place over the time. Garfield Park is currently in the midst of a renaissance lead by a multi-million dollar restoration in 1994. The Garfield Park Alliance, a private organization, begun in 1995, has raised millions of dollars for educational programming and community relations.
The Chocolate Festival took place at the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., Saturday, Feb.11, through Sunday, Feb 12, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. With a suggested donation of $1 for entry. More information:www.garfieldconservatory.org or by calling: 312-746-5100. In addition, The Chicago Park District hosts countless activities celebrating Valentine's Day, Black History Month and more. Details at www.chicagoparkdistrict.com.
The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance also hosted, The Chocolate Tree Cabaret II, a gala fundraising event on Friday, Feb. 10th at the Garfield Park Conservatory. Tamron Hall and David Novarro, the WFLD-TV morning news team were honorary co-chairs. Included in the evenings events are: chocolate martinis, hors d'oevres, a dinner buffet, music by American English 'The Complete Beatles Experience' and much more. Tickets were $125 per person and money raised went toward educational programs and a new permanent exhibit at Garfield Park Conservatory called, 'Sugar from the Sun', which will reveal the story of photosynthesis. For more information by call: 773-638-1766 ext. 13 or visiting their website.
Brook Collins of the Chicago Park District contributed the pictures of Garfield Park Conservatory's interior and exterior.