Cantigny Park brings military experiences to life

With nearly a dozen tanks in its Tank Park and a first-rate military history museum, playing Army takes on a whole new dimension at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Although it is a bit of a drive from the city, the $5 per car admission price sold us on spending a day there.

Arranged in chronological order, the vehicles in the Tank Park are massive machines that provide ample opportunity to climb and pretend. Groups of kids had no trouble finding their footing and shimmying onto the cannon-like guns. The most modern tank from Operation Desert Storm even has some moving pieces on top. History and military buffs will enjoy reading about each tank, but for the kids it’s mostly about the climbing. Be aware that the metal tanks can get hot in the sun and climbing down can be treacherous, so wear good shoes.

I feared a visit to the First Division Museum (which is free once you’re in Cantigny) would be boring for kids, but I was wrong. This is a living, breathing experience of war history. Kids literally climb into fox holes, use a periscope to watch above-ground battles and walk the streets of the bombed out village of Cantigny, France. They can lie down in a World War II-era bunk and receive orders from their superiors. You will also visit the jungles of Vietnam and sands of Iraq. Lifelike mannequins and voice-overs throughout the tour lend authenticity to the sets and historic artifacts.

In addition to military history, Cantigny offers tours of the historic McCormick Museum mansion and boasts gorgeous year-round gardens, picnic areas and even a playground. A restaurant and coffee shop in the Visitors Center offer plenty of food, drink and snack options if you don’t want to bring your own.

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