In the winter of 1987 I was spending much time at the Chicago Historical Society, revising my doctoral dissertation for publication. I began to hear rumors floating around the building. Timothy Jacobson, the director, was going to start an expanded, monthly version of the Society’s magazine. The title of the new publication would be–wait for it!– Chicago History Today.
Nothing came of those plans. However, that September, Chicago Times was launched, with Jacobson as editor. This was a bi-monthly magazine of more general interest.
It was the golden age of print journalism. Chicago magazine was riding high. Surely there was room for another city magazine.
The first issue opened with an introduction to readers. “Chicago Times rests on the notion that life today did not drop out of the blue, but has a background and a future,” Jacobson wrote. “Neither a booster nor a muckraker, Chicago Times gives writers the freedom to do good work, to speak their minds, to say their piece.”
In that first issue, Mike Royko paid a return visit to his old Logan Square neighborhood, while Joseph Epstein presented a scholarly perspective on Chicago. Other articles looked at the city’s construction boom and the new local blues scene. A pictorial section highlighted children’s Halloween costumes in Bucktown.
The inaugural issue also contained two features profiling two prominent Chicagoans, Mayor Harold Washington and City Hall beat reporter Harry Golden Jr. In retrospect, that might be seen as a bad omen. Both men would soon die.
But let’s not get spooky. Chicago Times was publishing every other month. It quickly found its rhythm.
The magazine’s “Show of Shows” section took a wry look at the local news since the last issue. “Razzmatazz” previewed cultural events, while “Voices” presented personal essays on an eclectic variety of subjects. There was always at least one history article, on anything from Dr. King’s year in Lawndale to the reversing of the Chicago River.
Heavyweight authors like Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley contributed articles. Frank Sinatra and George McGovern wrote advice letters to new mayor Richard M. Daley. The magazine tackled such current topics as post-industrial Chicago, the sorry state of the city’s sports teams, innovative architects, and the rise of suburban street gangs. One of the issues introduced “the new boss of Illinois politics”—House speaker Mike Madigan.
I finally finished converting my dissertation into The Mayor Who Cleaned Up Chicago in November 1989. I queried Chicago Times about writing an article on Mayor Dever, and they were interested. But the magazine folded after the March 1990 issue.
I still miss it.