Jun 8, 2022 - News

Remembering the Belmont Rocks

Chicagoans at the Belmont Rocks. Photo courtesy of Owen Keehnen

Local leaders cut the ribbon to open the AIDS Garden Chicago at Belmont and the lake last week.

Why it matters: The garden pays tribute to Chicagoans who lost their lives to AIDS, while honoring the history and significance of the Belmont Rocks.

Catch up quick: The Rocks served as a gathering place for the LGBTQ+ community for decades, including during the AIDS crisis, but were removed in 2003 due to erosion.

  • Now, the garden is all that remains from that crucial time in history.

What they're saying: "The Belmont Rocks were a place of empowerment," says Chicago historian Owen Keehnen. "It remained the daylight place to be throughout the years of gay liberation — this was a place to bring the celebration."

  • "This was a place of light and fun and picnics and flirting and hanging with friends at a time when there was this horrible darkness and fear shrouding so much of life."
  • "These queer pioneers built relationships and created a community strong enough to pull together and survive an epidemic, because no help was coming from the outside."
guys on beach
Chicagoans at the Belmont Rocks. Photo courtesy of Owen Keehnen

Go deeper: Keehnen runs a Facebook page that collects memories from that time at the lake.

  • Also check out a WGN Radio interview Justin did with Owen in 2019 on this history.
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