JRS

My name is John R. Schmidt.  I’m a fifth-generation Chicagoan.  I grew up without any siblings, but I did have two grandparents in the house.  They were always telling me stories about the city of the past.  Later, when I started going to parties, it became natural for me to seek out the oldest person in the room, to hear his (or her) tales.

Funny thing–lately, I’ve noticed that when I go to parties, I’m often the oldest person in the room.  And so, rather than wait for some eager young grasshopper to come looking for me in search of wisdom, I’ve decided to launch this blog.

Besides having lived through a sizeable chunk of history, I am also a professional historian.  I earned a Ph.D. in History at the University of Chicago.  I’ve written three books, parts of five others, and about 500 articles.

So what’s going to go up here?  Let it be a surprise.  It could be the story of a major event that affected the course of history.  Or it may be an obscure vignette from the past that illustrates how things have changed–or how they have remained the same.  In any event, I hope that I can start your day with a smile.

I love talking about my city (and that includes the suburbs, too–let’s leave artificial boundaries to the politicians).  And as a teacher for thirty-some years, I love answering questions.  So email me at docjake300@hotmail.com  Or better still, just leave a comment right here on the blog.

–JRS

54 Responses to “About Me and My Blog”


  1. 1 Jimmy P June 26, 2013 at 11:53 am

    John–I looked forward to your blogs on the WBEZ site and hope to continue though your own site here. I’m an avid Chicago history buff. Born & raised on the southwest side of Chicago, I’m a product of the CPS system and, if I may say so, didn’t come out too bad. Graduated H.S., spent 2 years in the U.S. Navy, 1 year at the U of I and 34 years at Illinois Bell/Ameritech/SBC/AT&T. Among many of those that I looked up to was a teacher like you–Quinn Brisben was an inspiration to me in those early teenage years and helped guide my thinking on issues that were very much in the forefront then.

  2. 3 Maureen "The Garden Nerd" Taylor June 26, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    You’re younger than I had pictured you to be. I too have enjoyed your Chicago history posts on the WBEZ blog site. I look forward to reading your posts on this site now.

    • 4 J.R. Schmidt June 26, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      Maureen–
      Thanks for reading. I’m 65 years old. The picture was taken two years ago, so I assume I look two years older now.
      –JRS

  3. 5 Levois (@levois) June 26, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    Looking forward to reading you a lot here even if you aren’t able to post as often as I would be used to.

  4. 7 Mary-Lynn July 1, 2013 at 11:32 am

    John, Thanks for the blog. We recently had to move to the Bay Area in California for work and I miss Chicago. This keeps me in touch.

  5. 9 chrism July 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    I look forward to reading your blog. I read it everyday at lunch. I’ve been following you on ChicagoNow and Wbez. I will follow you on here as well.

  6. 11 Martha July 5, 2013 at 8:50 am

    Hello, love the history blog entries, pictuers, films. FYI, Mt Carmel cemetary is in Hillside, not Hinsdale. I used to go for walks on my lunch hour sometimes in that cemetary, and I’ve seen Al Capone’s grave, which is somewhat secluded. Thanks.

  7. 13 Garry July 11, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Writing about Clarence Wagner, who I never heard reminded me of Charlie Weber of the old 45th Ward. He gave out free Riverview tickets every year [it was in his ward] & then died at home, in bed with his wife, from CO poisoning.
    Was it an accident, did he left his car running in an attached garage or was he whacked by the Outfit?

    • 14 J.R. Schmidt July 11, 2013 at 11:42 am

      I also got free Riverview tickets from Charlie. He died on August 16, 1960. I’ll have a post up about him sometime next month.

      • 15 Garry July 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm

        Thanks, I’ll be watching for it.

      • 16 Frank Doughton April 2, 2017 at 11:15 am

        I remember Riverview; coming from a small town in Missouri to Chicago in 1956, my first time there was overwhelming…many visits later, however, I was a “old-timer”, but never tired of the experience. Went to the site after it was closed; wondered how all that entertainment was on such (to me, at least) such a small piece of land.

        I attended John Marshall High when we brought home the first State Championship in basketball to Chicago….what a thrill!

        Enjoy your blog post immensely. Chicagoan from 1956 – 1985 when I was forced to move because of the climate. Miss it, miss it!

        Thanks for the memories. Keep up the good work.

  8. 17 Donald Thompson August 2, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Hello John,
    I’ve been an admirer of your stories for some time now and have been enjoying your blog since the recent start. I’m a seventh generation Chicagoan and have had a deep love for the history of this city ever since my father told me about my great-great grandfather, Chicago Fire Marshal James Horan. Learning about my family tree and the history of the city was incredible. I continue to seek out stories and photos, like the ones you post, to feed my interest. So keep up the good work and I’ll certainly be reading!
    Donald

  9. 19 Rich Malitz February 5, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Hi John,

    LOVE the blog, the stories and the pictures a plenty. The before and after shots are fascinating. My favorite Chicago history moments are photos of the old snowstorms and the building of the expressways/tollways. But all of it is great. I even love the blog about the streetlights (harp light to mercury vapor to sodium vapor to today).

    Thank you!

  10. 21 scheneka March 24, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Hi John,

    I love reading the history of Chicago. I was born and raised in Chicago. My mom talks about the BOB ride at riverview when she was a kid. When I went to Lane Tech as a teenager it brought back all those memories for her. Ever since then I was intrigued with Chicago history.

    I appreciate your blog and all you have to offer. Thanks and keep up the work.

  11. 24 JAMES R MICUS May 26, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    John, we e-mailed a few years back and I am hooked on you blogs. The problem is I remember most of them after 1950. When I was raised in Chgo
    I took and active interest in it’s history and peoples. Now that I live in Hawaii
    I would trade in an instant to relive the fond memories of summer on the lakefront, winter at O’Hare trying to open a car door after 4 inches from an
    ice storm or crossing State Street stepping into 10″ of icy slush over the tops of you golashes.
    Chicagoans really know how to live. They had to in order to survive.
    Now the question, In the 70’s, on Monday nights, North side about Fullerton
    and Lincoln there was an informal, brass, 16+ member jazz group that got together. I went there for 2+ years until I moved. Because Mondays was dark at many clubs, the regular guys could just get together for the fun of it. When they started up it was like a rocket going off. Windows vibrated and
    drinks actually walked across the tables. Any idea if they still meet and where. We have a little time, I will be back next winter for a month for the thrill seeing your breath and cleaning the ice for the windshield. Thanks,
    JIM

  12. 25 Ralph October 9, 2014 at 3:36 am

    Have you ever heard of a photography studio here in Chicago called “Garbo”? I saw some pictures with the their name on them in the corner of the photo and I can’t fin any info on them.

    Thanks,
    Ralph

  13. 28 Ralph January 14, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    We are coming up on the 30 year anniversary of the coldest day here in Chicago, Jan. 20, 1985 27 below zero! Burrrrr! We had some wicked cold weather back in January of 1982,83,84, and 1985! Christmas Eve, 1983 it was 23 below zero. I can’t forget that day ever. I was jump starting cars all day into the night. My truck ran while my car wouldn’t start.

  14. 30 Ralph January 20, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    I found this on CBS Chicago news, some of the coldest days in Chicago history.

    Date Temperature
    Jan. 20, 1985 27 below zero
    Jan 10, 1982 26 below zero
    Jan. 16, 1982 25 below zero
    Dec. 24, 1983 25 below zero
    Dec. 24, 1872 23 below zero
    Jan. 17, 1982 23 below zero
    Jan. 19, 1985 23 below zero
    Jan. 21, 1984 22 below zero
    Dec 22, 1872 21 below zero
    Feb. 9, 1899 21 below zero
    Dec. 23, 1983 21 below zero
    Jan. 18, 1994 21 below zero
    Jan. 9, 1875 20 below zero
    Jan. 25, 1897 20 below zero
    Jan. 20, 1984 20 below zero

    Today is a walk in the park compared to 30 years ago! It was 50 plus degrees colder than it is today!

  15. 31 James F. O'Neil March 4, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks for reading my story about the Rosary and my trip for Sister Mary Philip. I hope you get a chance to look at some of my past year’s postings, about working at the O’Hare Inn, growing up in the Byrne Building, living on the South Side, Saint Justin Martyr (now St Benedict the African), my paper route for the Herald American. Thanks again. I do look forward to your postings.

  16. 32 Bob Huberty March 16, 2015 at 9:25 am

    What are some good books about the building and real estate industries in Chicago? There are many books on famous Chicago buildings and architects, but what about the sorts of issues you find in the real estate pages of today’s newspaper, e.g. expansion of neighborhoods, zoning laws and building innovations, the cost of lots, material and labor, financing and mortgages? How did economic booms and busts affect construction & ownership, etc?

    The Chicago History Museum has a great research website http://chicagohistory.org/research/resources/architecture . In the “American Contractors Magazine” I found a list of all the houses my great grandfather built from 1898 to 1912. It would be great to know why the firm Huberty & Loheinrich build so many houses around Ainslie St. in the early 1900s? What did they cost? And were there larger economic factors the caused it to declare bankruptcy in 1916?

    Thanks. Bob Huberty, robert.huberty@gmail.com

    • 33 Ken Barker March 31, 2015 at 2:12 am

      Bob Huberty A book that I enjoyed reading was They Built Chicago by Miles L Berger. Of course I would not be surprised if it is already part of your collection. In our history books the architects receive the accolades so this book delves into the key roles that the developers played in shaping our skyline and several neighborhoods. For instance the developers knew how to structure “vault companies” as a mechanism (loophole) for maneuvering around the limitations placed on REIT.The book describes the expansion of a few neighborhoods along with prices of lots, etc.

      The Archdiocese of Chicago, A journey of faith is a wonderful book that details the construction and history of parishes in our city. Their are photographs that accompany a brief history of every parish.

  17. 34 Geri September 1, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    John-

    Love the blog. I am a long-time Northsider Grew up in Belmont-Cragin, moved to Jefferson, and settled in Edison Park. The pics of the intersections that I have driven through for so long are my favorite. So glad I came upon this blog. Reading about our interesting city definitely makes my day. Appreciate it!

  18. 36 Donna Primas November 4, 2015 at 10:08 am

    I enjoy your posts and recently saw this Then & Now article about Norway which I thought you might enjoy.

    Norway Then and Now: Tilbakeblikk
    ALAN TAYLOR for The Atlantic
    “Tilbakeblikk” is the name of a joint project between the Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute and Norsk Folkemuseum. Tilbakeblikk means “retrospect” or “looking back” in Norwegian, describing the project’s use of photographs taken of the same places separated by long periods of time to illustrate landscape changes in Norway. The images below (starting with photo number two) are interactive—click on each image to see the difference the decades can make.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/11/norway-then-and-now-tilbakeblikk/413710/#

    Donna Primas

  19. 37 Rich London December 11, 2015 at 1:58 am

    John,
    Thank you for your valuable insight and efforts. I really appreciate you!

    Best, Rich London

  20. 38 William Shapotkin January 11, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Very, very interesting material — thank you for the illustrations and history. I would like to point out one error, however. In your coverage of 103rd/Eggleson — while the Fernwood C&WI station is no longer there, Amtrak passenger trains do pass thru this intersection twice each day (northbound AM/southbound PM). Indeed, I have traveled thru this grade crossing myself. Passenger trains have (almost) continuously operated thru this grade crossing for over one hundred-plus years. The only exceptions were circa May 1, 1971-approx 1973 and again circa Sept 1979-1990.

    Again, thank you for your most interesting blog.

    Wm Shapotkin

  21. 40 LeRoy Blommaert March 22, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    Dr. Schmidt,

    In a reply to a post on the Edgewater Beach Hotel, you mentioned that you were there for a college dance and also that you had a friend who lived there when it was a dorm. I am with the Edgewater Historical Society and we would love to hear from him or her about his or her experiences living in this “special dorm.” We are planning on developing an exhibit on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the hotel opening. Visit our website to learn more about the hotel: http://www.EdgewaterHistory.org.

    Sincerely,

    LeRoy Blommaert

    • 41 J.R. Schmidt March 22, 2016 at 8:55 pm

      My friend was a Nursing student, whose maiden name was Barbara Gembica. However, I lost track of her many years ago. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you contact Loyola University. Perhaps they can put you in touch with former residents.
      –JRS

  22. 42 Ralph August 4, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    For your info:

    8/5 – On this day:
    Friday is International Traffic Light Day!
    * 1914 – The first electric traffic signal lights were installed in Cleveland, Ohio.

    Didn’t you do an article on traffic lights?

    Thanks JRS,
    Ralph

    • 43 J.R. Schmidt August 5, 2016 at 8:33 am

      Ralph–

      August 5 is also the anniversary of the completion of the Atlantic cable, linking North America and Europe, in 1858. That’s my World History Minute on WBEZ’s “Worldview” program today.

      For the previous post, type “traffic signals” in the SEARCH box and click.

      –JRS

  23. 44 Richard Taylor September 6, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    John, I’m sure you know the names of some of Hyde Park HS graduates that when on to fame and extremely good fortune. Amelia Earhart, Mel Torme, Steve Allen, and many others. My good luck was to have sat in front of Herbie Hancock in our Biology class (1953 I think). Herbie would often scoot my sax case up the isle with his foot as a good prank and laugh.

  24. 45 Eric F. James September 10, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Wonderful blog, but please add a subscription plugin and sign me up.

    • 46 J.R. Schmidt September 12, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      Eric–
      Thanks for reading! To subscribe to the blog, just click on the orange button next to the word “Latest.” That will take you to the page where you can subscribe. Sorry it isn’t simpler.
      –JRS

  25. 47 Jill Liebhaber January 23, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    What a wonderful blog, John!

    I’m a photography studio owner in Lincoln Square who is becoming more and more fascinated by local Chicago history. I wasn’t born in the city, but my dad was, and though his family moved to the northwest suburbs (still a lot of farmland at that time), he had cousins that grew up in Lincoln Square that I only recently found out about. Back in 2000 I happened to migrate into the Lincoln Square neighborhood after finishing college at Northwestern. I’m beginning to take on the identity of a second generation Chicagoan and to embrace my roots more, especially as my little biz begins its second decade in this lovely community.

    Having just discovered your blog on a google search for LS history, I look forward to delving into the many great stories you have here. Of course, I especially love the then and now photographs!

    Warm wishes,
    Jill Liebhaber

    • 48 J.R. Schmidt January 23, 2017 at 3:27 pm

      Jill-
      Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Make sure you click in “CHICAGO’S CHANGING SCENE” to see the “Then and Now” posts you may have missed. There are over a hundred of them up by now.
      –JRS

  26. 49 Linda Gartz February 21, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Hi John. I just discovered your blog and love how you interweave great photos along with fascinating history. I’m a life-long Chicagoan from West Garfield Park, where my dad was also raised. His parents were immigrants from Transylvania who settled in WGP in 1912 (Josef Gartz got his first decent paying job at the lunch counter of Joe Nelson’s Saloon at Crawford (Pulaski) and Madison.

    I have the good fortune (or curse 😉 to have found a vast collection of family letters, diaries, photos, documents, etc.) in my parents’ home after my mom died. It’s allowed me to piece together a history of Chicago and our family throughout most of the 20th century. I started sharing my discoveries on my blog, Family Archaeologist, on the 100th anniversary of the oldest missive I found, Can Love Last 100 Years?

    I started another blog, Letters of a World War II Airman, on the 70th anniversary of the day my Uncle Frank was drafted into service. I posted most of his letters about 70 years after the date they were written. As a historian, you may find the blogs of interest. I’ll be posting regularly again next month.

    I find the history of our city endlessly fascinating and look forward to reading about more of your discoveries and insights. Thanks for a great blog!

    (I hope the links are clickable. Sometimes the code works and sometimes it doesn’t!”

  27. 50 Joyce Stacy Proce April 25, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Linda, What a treasure trove you have! Thank you for sharing, I will look into your blog soon. Joyce Stacy Proce

    • 51 Joyce Stacy Proce April 25, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      I forgot to check the box for e-mail notice!

    • 52 Linda Gartz April 25, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      Hi Joyce! I’d welcome your dropping by my site and checking out the letters, diaries and photos. They’ve certainly enriched my life. I share them because I think they have something to say to everyone. Thanks so much for commenting!

  28. 53 Bill Koller May 9, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    Hi John,
    Saw your photo of the Holiday Ballroom on Craigslist. The Holiday Ballroom along with Varda’s Drive-Inn in Jefferson Park were iconic places in our teens. Have been trying to find photos of both for years … now you have provided the Holiday picture. Is there any chance that you may have a photo or know of a source for a photo of Varda’s Drive-Inn. It was a McDonald’s type restaurant located at Milwaukee and Sunnyside. I’ve tried the Jefferson Park Historical Society with no luck. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


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