Was Beaver Cleaver’s hometown a Chicago suburb?

When I was growing up, Leave It To Beaver was one of my favorite TV shows. Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver was about my age—eight years old when the series premiered in 1957—and I identified with him. So did a few million other boomer boys.

The show went off the air after six seasons. Beaver had grown from a cuddly little child into an awkward junior-high dork. Yet the memory of the series remained fresh and green. During the 1980s, most of the cast was reunited in a twenty-years-later series titled Still The Beaver.

The mighty Cleaver family

The mighty Cleaver family

Still, a couple of burning questions remained unanswered.

Ward Cleaver was Beaver’s father. He worked in an office, but his business was never spelled out. Some TV reference books have stated that Ward sold insurance. They’re confusing him with Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best. For all we know, Ward’s company could have been manufacturing buggy whips or napalm.

The other question was about Beaver’s hometown. The script called it Mayfield—but then, 1950s sitcoms often substituted a generic name for a real place. One episode said that Beaver lived about twenty miles from the ocean. Other than that, the true identity of Mayfield remained a mystery.

Beaver and Larry

Beaver and Larry

Then, a couple of years ago, I received “Leave It To Beaver—The Complete Series on 36 Discs” as a gift. There, on Disc Two of Season Three, the location of Mayfield is revealed.

The Episode is “Beaver’s Fortune,” first aired on December 5, 1959—three days before my birthday, as it happened. Beaver and his buddy Larry Mondello are walking along in Mayfield’s business district. At 04:51 of the episode, there’s an establishing shot. It lasts only about five seconds, but the location is unmistakable.

Mayfield is Skokie.

Mayfield on "Leave It To Beaver"

Mayfield on “Leave It To Beaver”

We are looking north on Lincoln Avenue from Oakton. Up the block, where Niles Center Road splits off from Lincoln, there’s St. Peter’s Church. And if you freeze frame like I did, on the right is the First National Bank of Skokie.

What about Beaver living twenty miles from the ocean? That’s a bit of literary license the script writers took. They probably meant he lives twenty miles from the Shedd Aquarium.

Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


The Chicago Seven Trial (9-24-1969)

Another of those historic Chicago trials opened today.  This one highlighted the culture divide in America during the late 1960s.

In August 1968 the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago.  The event attracted thousands of protesters, most of them angry about the Vietnam War.  Rioting broke out in the city streets.  The Chicago police put down the disorder.  Depending on your politics, either the protesters or the cops were to blame for the trouble.

The "Chicago Seven" defendants

The “Chicago Seven” defendants

Seven months later, eight activists were indicted on charges stemming from the riots.  Put simply, they were supposed to have engaged in a conspiracy to incite violence and impede lawful authority.  Since they had crossed state lines on their way to Chicago, these were federal offenses.

The trial began with Judge Julius Hoffman presiding.  The lead prosecutor was U.S. Attorney Thomas Foran.  The defense team was led by William Kunstler.

Wait a minute–if there were eight defendants, why is this called the Chicago Seven Trial?

One of the defendants, Bobby Seale, wanted the trial delayed so he could get a different lawyer.  When Judge Hoffman refused, Seale became vocal–really vocal.  The judge then had Seale gagged and shackled to his chair in court.  Seale’s case was later separated from the others, so now they had seven.

Judge Hoffman

Judge Hoffman

The Seale interlude set the tone of the trial.  Julius Hoffman was a by-the-book, no-nonsense judge who ran a tight ship.  The defendants saw the trial as an opportunity to publicize their beliefs.  And they knew just how to push the judge’s buttons.

One of the defendants was Abbie Hoffman.  He was no relation to Julius Hoffman, but he delighted in calling the judge “Julie.”  On one occasion, Abbie entered the courtroom wearing his own judicial robes.  Julie made Abbie take them off.

The trial went on, degenerating into farce.  Meanwhile, a new generation of protesters gathered outside daily, protesting the trial of the original protesters.

It ended on February 18, 1970.  The defendants were found guilty on some counts, not guilty on others.  At the same time, Judge Hoffman sentenced all seven defendants and two of their lawyers to jail terms for contempt of court.

All the charges and sentences were later overturned in higher courts.  The government finally dropped the matter.  But in the years since, the Chicago Seven Trial has become a favorite subject for playwrights and filmmakers.




The Sirens of September (9-22-1959)

After forty years of frustration, the White Sox clinched the American League pennant.  What followed became almost as big a story.

The Sox had won their last league championship in 1919–and then eight of their players had dumped the World Series.  Now it was 1959.  Bill Veeck had bought the team.  The Yankees were slumping.  This might be the year the Sox finally did it.

1959 Chicago White Sox

1959 Chicago White Sox

All season long, the Sox had been battling the Cleveland Indians for the league lead.  On September 22 the two teams were scheduled to play a night game in Cleveland.  Win this one, and the Sox had the pennant locked up.

WGN telecast both Cubs and Sox games in 1959.  TV was still relatively new.  Road games were not carried.  For that matter, neither were night games.

But this was a special occasion.  So WGN sent announcer Jack Brickhouse and his crew to Cleveland to beam the game back to Chicago.  All over the city–but particularly south of Madison Street–baseball fans tuned in.

It was an exciting game.  The Sox took a 4-2 lead.  Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Cleveland filled the bases with one out.  Dangerous Vic Power came to bat.  He banged the first pitch toward second.

Fire Commissioner Quinn

Fire Commissioner Quinn

Shortstop Luis Aparicio raced in and grabbed the grounder.  He kicked second base for the force, then fired to first to get Power.  9:41 p.m. CDT–Sox win!

Within moments, air raid sirens were sounding all over the city.

I was in 7th grade.  I’d been watching the game with my buddies.  The moment Power was thrown out, we raced outside to yell and cheer and generally celebrate.  When the sirens went off, we never doubted that they were for the Sox.

But there were people who hadn’t been watching WGN.  Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was in the U.S. at the time.  The Cold War was at its coldest.  Maybe somebody had shot Khrushchev, and World War III was under way!  Where are those fall-out shelters, anyway?

The next day, Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn took responsibility for sounding the sirens.  Mayor Richard J. Daley was a major Sox fan, and there was talk that the order had come from him.  A few stuffed shirts demanded an investigation.  In the end, the matter was dropped.

What happened after that, in the World Series?  Let’s talk about the 2005 Sox instead . . .


Chicago’s Shortest Street

If you know your Chicago trivia, you know that Western Avenue is the city’s longest street. From Howard to 119th, it runs in a straight line for 23.5 miles. But what is Chicago’s shortest street?

The answer used to be Ziegfeld Court. Named for showman Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. — a Chicago native — this mini-street was actually an alley, 76.4 feet long and 10 feet wide. Ziegfeld Court was located next to the Ziegfeld Theater, on the north side of Van Buren, just east of Wabash.

McDermott Street

McDermott Street

In 1970 the city sold Ziegfeld Court to Continental Assurance for $151,300. At $198 per square foot, it was reported to be the highest price ever received by the city for a public thoroughfare. The CNA Center now occupies the site.

Some people didn’t seem to get the news. For many years afterward, various sources still claimed that Ziegfeld Court was Chicago’s shortest street. In 2008, the Forgotten Chicago website tried to clear up the confusion with an article titled “Tiny Streets.”  The length of the different streets was determined by their address points—what a layperson might call house numbers.

Using that criterion, Chicago’s shortest street was McDermott Street, a tiny stub off Archer Avenue in the Bridgeport neighborhood. The street is officially listed at 1400 west, from 2928 to 2936 south. That’s eight address points. Hoey Street, a few blocks away, was ranked the city’s second-shortest, with ten address points.

Hoey Street

Hoey Street

Since the city’s address point system can be inconsistent, I decided to take my own readings. In 2012 I paced off from the curb lines of the nearest intersecting streets. From my unscientific measurements, it seemed to me that Hoey was shorter than McDermott. I posted my results on my blog.

That opened up a discussion.  The 1988 book Streetwise Chicago listed the city’s shortest street as Longmeadow Avenue, at 31.6 feet long. However, Longmeadow is a Lincolnwood street, located north of Devon Avenue. That 31.6-foot stub on the Chicago side of Devon is actually part of Lenox Avenue.

Bay Court

Bay Court

The final answer came courtesy of Dennis McClendon.  He noted that GIS data is available from the city, and McDermott Street measures 151.12 feet long. Chicago’s shortest street is now Bay Court (2710 west at 3300 north), at 127.52 feet. Nearby Pier Court is second-shortest at 128.88 feet. Both of these little lanes are located on former industrial land that was redeveloped.

Perhaps we’ll be seeing more of these boutique streets in the future.  And Chicago developers may even want to go for the record. According to the Guinness book, the shortest street in the world is Ebenezer Place in Wick, County Caithness, in Scotland–6.9 feet long.


Where Have You Gone, General Logan?

“General John Logan/ sits on a horse/ on top of a hill/ in Grant Park in Chicago.”

The nursery rhyme gives you the bare facts. But who was General John Logan? And more important to our story, what’s that hill doing there?

The general on the horse on the hill

The general on the horse on the hill

John Alexander Logan was a Civil War general and a two-term U.S. Senator from Illinois. He was the driving force behind establishing Memorial Day as a national holiday. Logan ran for vice president on the unsuccessful Republican ticket in 1884, and was considered one of the front-runners for the next presidential election. Then, in December 1886, he suddenly died.

Logan was given the rare honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. He was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, back in Logan’s home state, a grand plan was taking shape.

General John Logan

General John Logan

Former President Ulysses S. Grant–THE great Civil War general–had died in 1885. Grant had been a citizen of Illinois, but New York City was building a mausoleum to house his remains. Now Chicago would show those Eastern body-snatchers. Chicago would build a mausoleum for General Logan.

Three days after Logan’s death, the Chicago city council voted to donate land in Lakefront (Grant) Park for his tomb. The South Park Commissioners and the Illinois state legislature soon got on the bandwagon. A total of $64,000 was appropriated for the project–serious money in 1886.

Logan’s widow preferred to have him stay in the District. However, she agreed to give way to the Chicago plan. A site opposite 9th Street was selected. When she visited the city the following summer, newspaper reports said Mrs. Logan was arranging the transfer of her husband’s remains.

The general’s body was moved on the second anniversary of his death, December 26, 1888. But he didn’t go to Chicago. Instead, he was simply transported across Washington and interred in the National Soldiers Home Cemetery.

The Chicago tomb wasn’t yet ready. Grave-robbing was a concern in those times–thieves had nearly made off with Lincoln’s body–and Mrs. Logan felt security was better at Soldiers Home than at Rock Creek.

In 1897 the Logan monument was dedicated in Chicago. America’s greatest sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designed the heroic equestrian statue. It was set on a large mound that could easily be converted to a tomb.

Mrs. Logan attended the ceremony and was visibly touched. But by now she’d changed her mind about bringing her husband with her. The general stayed in Washington. And Chicago had to make do honoring him with Logan Square, Logan Boulevard, Logan School, and the Logan Square Community Area.


Then and Now, Harrison-Hermitage

1944--Harrison Street @ Hermitage, view east

1944–Harrison Street @ Hermitage, view east

2014--the same location

2014–the same location

In 1944 this part of the West Side was a neighborhood of tenements, warehouses, and small factories. The area was designated as “blighted.” Cook County Hospital, located just to the west, was a stabilizing influence. However, it was an open question whether any of the other medical facilities would remain in place.

Seventy years later, the Illinois Medical District has expanded eastward to Ashland Avenue. Rush University Hospital has even built on air-rights over Harrison Street and the Pink Line ‘L’. Much of the neighborhood is now gentrified.




The Wreck of the Lady Elgin (9-8-1860)

Much of the time Lake Michigan looks like a big, peaceful pond.  We forget how dangerous it can be.  That was the lesson nature taught 154 years ago today.

The Lady Elgin was a wooden-hull, sidewheel steamship–the kind you’ve seen in all the old movies about riverboat gamblers.  The ship operated on Lake Michigan between Chicago and Milwaukee.  Late on the evening of September 6, 1860, the Lady Elgin left Milwaukee for the last time.

The 'Lady Elgin' in port

The ‘Lady Elgin’ in port

The ship had been chartered by the Irish Union Guard, a Milwaukee paramilitary club.  The group was going to Chicago either to buy weapons, or to hear a speech by presidential candidate Stephen Douglas–accounts vary.  About 350 people were making the trip.

The voyage south passed without incident.  The Irish Union Guard had their day in Chicago, then boarded ship to return home.  The Lady Elgin left port in heavy weather late on September 7.

About 2 the next morning, as the passengers slept, the ship was off Winnetka.  The storm had become a full-blown gale.  Suddenly the schooner Augusta appeared among the waves.  Before either ship could maneuver, the Augusta smashed into the Lady Elgin‘s side.

Captain Jack

Captain Jack

At first the damage to both ships seemed minor, and the Augusta proceeded on its way.  Then Captain Jack Wilson of the Lady Elgin discovered a large hole on the port side of his vessel.

Wilson tried to plug the hole with mattresses from the beds.  When the ship continued to sink, he ordered the 200 head of cattle in the hold driven overboard, to lighten the load.  Nothing worked.  Within twenty minutes of being rammed, the Lady Elgin broke apart and sank.

A few fortunate people managed to get into lifeboats.  A drummer from a brass band floated to safety on his bass drum.  Most of the others clung desperately to wreckage as the gale raged on.

On shore, word of the disaster spread.  Dozens of Good Samaritans roused themselves from bed, and came out in the storm to the lake.  There were many heroic rescues.  But the fierce weather hampered most efforts.

By morning it was over.  Thirty people survived.  No one knows how many had been lost, though estimates range as high as 400.  The wreck of the Lady Elgin remains Lake Michigan’s most deadly maritime disaster.




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