In 1974 I was a graduate student in History at the University of Chicago. Poking around the Regenstein Library one day, I came across bound volumes of a 1920s magazine titled The Chicagoan.
I was intrigued. The first issue of The Chicagoan was dated June 14, 1926. In format and attitude it was an obvious rip-off on The New Yorker, which had arrived on the scene about a year earlier. Decades before the term was coined—incidentally, by a New Yorker writer—Chicago was already exhibiting its Second City Syndrome.
I found contemporary articles about contemporary Chicagoans. I delved into the movie listings for forgotten cinema palaces. I discovered a dismissive review of a soon-to-be theater classic, “The Front Page”—the reviewer referred to it as “Chicago’s latest ordeal by drama.” I immersed myself in the editorials. I especially liked the artwork, both on the cover and throughout the magazine itself.
I eventually read every issue of The Chicagoan from cover to cover. I even found it helpful in writing my doctoral dissertation. Then I forgot about it.
Some years later, Professor Neil Harris also discovered the old magazine volumes, and he knew what to do with them. The result is a wonderful coffee-table book titled “The Chicagoan”—A Lost Magazine of the Jazz Age. Among the treasures in it is a complete reprint of the issue of July 2, 1927. The book faithfully captures the flavor of a magazine that faithfully captured the flavor of an era. I heartily recommend it.
The Chicagoan died in 1935, a victim of the Depression. In the decades since, other local-themed magazine have come and gone. Though not as flashy as The Chicagoan—and therefore, not suitable for translation into coffee-table books—each of them also gives a feel for its particular time. I’ll be looking at a few of them here.