Memorial for Metra Conductor Wilbert Van Hooten

During the week, I walk through Millennium Station in Chicago on my way to and from work. It’s a large station, and sees nearly 18,000 commuters every single day.

Like those other 18,000 people… I’m usually thinking about work, and the tasks that I need to complete at the start of the day. Or I’m distracted by thoughts of relaxation, of what I will be doing when I finally arrive home at the end of the day.

While inside the station, I’m usually busy looking at my phone: checking messages, cueing up music to listen to, or simply lost in thought. Like a lot of people, I never noticed this small plaque on the wall:

Yesterday, I paused to read the sign. And took a photo. Because I wanted to share this story with all those other busy Chicagoans who, like me, may not have noticed it in their hurried walks through the station.

It’s actually a small memorial for Wilbert Van Hooten, a conductor on the Metra Electric line, who was killed during a robbery in 1999.

Looking at his likeness and reading that he “always had a smile,” Van Hooten looks like a quintessential grandfather: wide glasses, tie, a classic newsboy cap. His head is tilted to one side, as though he were just about to greet you with a “Hello.”

At 64, he was close to retiring after 30 years of service. Looking around a bit for articles online, I found out more about his life outside his job at Metra:

But to the jazz fans who knew Hooten by his record-spinning alias, “Van Hooten,” the conductor was a savvy and redoubtable competitor on the South Side’s competitive deejaying circuit. To those friends, Hooten’s memory will forever ring in the music of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon, some of the mainstays in his massive jazz repertoire, which he showcased during Sunday night deejaying sessions at the Jo Jo Eldorado Lounge on 79th Street.

I was relieved to find that the perpetrators had been found and tried for their crimes. But learning that news didn’t remove the sadness of his story.

If you happen to walk through Millennium Station, keep an eye out for his memorial. It’s near the platform doors, situated close to the “Lost and Found” window.

If you take a brief pause during your commute, if you look up from your phone… you’ll find Van Hooten’s plaque there on the wall, looking out over the 18,000 people walking to work and walking back home again, day after day.

And he’s still always smiling.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. He was my stepfather. Rest in peace Wilbert.

    Sharon L Dunn Reply

    • Big hats off to Metra for the wonderful memorial in honour of my father. I have yet to see it in person and intend on doing so. Huge thanks to Pop for the loving memories he left to Metra and to us.
      Love you always Pop!
      Brett Dunn.

      Brett Dunn Reply

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