Chicagoans find new ways to mark unofficial kickoff to summer amid COVID-19 closures

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's Memorial Day weekend looked much different than years past amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The solemn holiday that normally draws large groups together to enjoy the outdoors looked anything but normal in the city.

But across Chicago, the American flag and all it stands for today was still proudly displayed throughout communities.

"It's important to just give pause, and a moment to remember their service and what they've done for our country," said Rhondi Inman.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Inman, the daughter of an Army veteran, said this holiday honoring our war heroes holds deeper meaning, especially with new frontliners in what has become a war against COVID-19.

"With what's going on in our country right now or around the world, it makes everyone remember togetherness and we're all in this together," she said.

Chicago families that gathered in neighborhood parks did so socially distanced from one another. Instead of large outdoor cookouts or dining along the riverwalk, the city's beaches and lakefront remain empty.

Unlike what we saw in Porter County, Indiana, where beaches were packed. In some areas, officials say social distancing rules were ignored.

"Oh my, definitely thousands of people. Our big concern was that they were just not socially distancing at all," said Jean-Pierre Anderson, supervisor park ranger of the Indiana Dunes National Park.

RELATED: Indiana Dunes beaches draw big crowds for Memorial Day weekend

"It was backed up 4 to 5 miles, so we ended up just leaving and going to Michigan City for a bite to eat," said beachgoer Chris Tsampis.

Sitting down for a "bite to eat" wasn't an option for Chicagoans this holiday. However, restaurants attempted to bring an elevated normal to residents by offering special Memorial Day meal kits, with all the festive holiday eats.

"We're doing barbecue kits, which comes with two slabs of ribs, some corn, some fresh onions and some cornbread," said Patrick O'Donoghue, general manager of Prime & Provisions.

O'Donoghue hopes they help customers "feel like they are a part of our community and we're a part of theirs."

Maintaining tradition during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't been easy, especially for North Side street artist Russell Muits.

"Normally, I would have totally had plans for Memorial Day. It probably would have started with painting something in the street red, white and blue," Muits said.

Instead of decorating city streets with our nation's colors, this year he opted to start the holiday creating Chicago-themed patriotic art from his front yard.

"It actually made me appreciate the people and appreciate the military and our freedoms," Muits said.
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