Stay-At-Home Dad: Battle summer boredom at Cantigny’s Tank Park
Sometimes heavy artillery is needed to battle summer boredom. Well, there’s a whole field of tanks and cannons to do just that at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.
A group of neighborhood parents arranged a trip to the estate of the late Col. Robert R. McCormick last week. Renamed Cantigny Park, the 500-acre property is just off Interstate 88 at the Winfield Road exit.
A caravan of minivans descended on the grounds during the opening days of summer vacation. Neighborhood boys between the ages of 6 and 12 crowded into several high-mileage vans. Their back-seat conversations relied heavily on bad jokes about butts and farting.
Upon our arrival, the gate attendant asked for $5. I happily paid in cash. In an era when going to the movies, a baseball game or the zoo can cost a family upward of $100, being charged five bucks per car is borderline baffling. I must admit the price contributed to my appreciation of Cantigny Park.
Most of the parents on the outing were moms with sons. Some of the boys invited a buddy or two. Very few sisters tagged along. This was definitely a boys trip.
I soon realized the reason for this gender disparity. As we stepped out of the car, every boy suited up with whatever camouflage fatigues they could muster and went storming into the meadow.
Awaiting their arrival was the “Tank Park” — a collection of roughly a dozen retired tanks and large cannons.
Children are welcome to explore these hulking rovers and giant guns in whatever way they like. Most climb on them, brandishing Nerf guns and other toy pistols. It didn’t take long before the boys began coordinating battles between groups and calling out imaginary enemies approaching.
This looked like a blast, jarring memories of my own childhood. My brothers and I often played “Hide-and-Go Guns.” The concept was the same as hide-and-seek, only everyone was armed with toy weapons. We played this game for hours, often in a cornfield at dusk.
The coordinators of Cantigny Park deserve credit for my flashback. These tanks could be kept behind velvet ropes. After all, children fall, and litigation is always a threat. But rather than succumb to such concerns, organizers have created an amazing jungle gym.
The battle was interrupted around noon for lunch. The homemade rations further kept costs down. It was also a picturesque day, and the grounds are well-manicured. Cantigny is the perfect place for a summer picnic.
After lunch, our group visited the museum adjacent to the tanks. The First Division Museum features artifacts and exhibits celebrating the 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army — also known as the Big Red One.
I knew little about this celebrated group prior to arriving at Cantigny. I left feeling like I’d learned something. My 6- and 5-year-old sons seemed to enjoy the museum, too. Bubba and Peter kept asking to “go back into the foxhole!”
By 2:30 p.m., everyone was tired. Our caravan departed, having seen only a fraction of the sprawling park. I’m looking forward to returning to explore the gardens and tour the McCormick mansion.
Maybe I’ll even wear some camouflage and bring along a popgun.
It’s been a long time since I’ve played Hide-and-Go Guns ... too long.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad. He can be reached at