This week’s Throwback Thursday takes a look at a small emergency hospital in January 1943 that was housed inside Chicago’s Union Station.

A nurse attends to a patient in Union Station’s on-site hospital in Chicago in January 1943. The facility was located on the mezzanine floor at the northeast corner of the headhouse, a building separate from tracks and platforms. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division)


The medical facility made its debut in 1925 when the Beaux-Arts, or neoclassical architectural-style, depot opened and was located in the headhouse, a building separate from train tracks and platforms. It handled various emergencies that arose among the travelers, according to Fred Ash, author of Milepost Zero: Chicago and its Union Station (University of Indiana Press, 2016). Sick passengers, including those headed to Chicago hospitals or the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., also could wait there between trains, he says. Tuberculosis patients rested at the hospital en route to a sanatorium in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky or another dry-climate state where they found respite from their symptoms.


A patient checks in at Union Station’s emergency hospital in February 1943. The station was at its busiest during World War II, with as many as 300 arrivals and departures and 100,000 passengers daily, according to the depot’s online fact sheet. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division)


A July 4, 1925, issue of Railway Age magazine stated that the hospital was well-equipped to meet most medical needs and included a waiting area, an operation room, a nurses’ section, separate wards for men and women, and washrooms.


Chicago’s Union Station concourse, shown during World War II, was demolished after air rights were sold for two office buildings in 1969. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division)


When the hospital closed is unknown. Union Station remains a busy place today with Metra and Amtrak trains arriving and departing daily. Union Station, designed by architect Daniel Burnham, is now the only downtown depot for train passengers traveling to the coasts. While diesel locomotives have replaced their steam counterparts and mail now travels by planes and trucks rather than boxcars, Union Station continues to be breathtaking enough to have been named one of America’s “Great Places” by the American Planning Association in 2012, a designation Ash believes the station has earned.

Union Station’s exit for an underground tunnel used by taxis and trucks. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division)



“Union Station's 1925 opening coincided with the absolute apex of American rail travel. Rail traffic started a long decline that is only beginning to reverse,” he says. “Three of the four railroads that used it went into bankruptcy. It literally sits astride its replacement entry to the city, Route 66. Given that it occupies attractive real estate, it is amazing that half of it, the headhouse, survives in nearly its original form.”