Archive for the 'GENERAL' Category

“Hidden Chicago Landmarks”—My Next Book

My fifth book, Hidden Chicago Landmarks, is being published on July 8th.  To quote myself from the Introduction, it is “a descriptive guide to the places that aren’t included on the usual tour.”

The opening sections of the book take you to 42 neglected historic sites in the city and suburbs, and tell you the stories behind each of them.  That’s followed by a look at 10 lost landmarks that should have been preserved, but weren’t.  Finally, we visit Chicagoland’s version of “fly-over country”—notable neighborhoods that most people simply drive by on their way to someplace else.

Hidden Chicago Landmarks has over 50 illustrations, and comes in a convenient digest-size for easy carrying in jaunts around town.  Like this blog, I’ve tried to make the book a fun read.  It’s available at Amazon for pre-order at a discount price.  So stock up now!



Our Daley Bread

Today would have been Mayor Richard J. Daley’s 117th birthday.  In his honor, I’m posting an artifact from his last campaign, in 1975.  Here we have a recipe from the mayor’s wife, Eleanor “Sis” Daley.

The recipe is in a pocket-size 32-page booklet titled Shopping Tips—Compliments of Mayor Richard J. Daley.  It’s actually a pretty useful tool for your trip to the grocer.  There are tables of weights and measures, a guide to the amount of vegetables to buy based on the size of your family, as well as homey reminders to always shop from a list, check expiration dates, look for seasonal sales, and so on.

I must admit that our family never did try Mrs. Daley’s white bread recipe.  If anyone does do that baking and you like the result, please tell me—or better still, tell Rich Daley.


Talcott—Yes, Sayre—No!

Driving out the Kennedy toward O’Hare, you will see exit 81B, identified as Sayre Avenue. The sign here is an example of bureaucratic nit-picking.  It should read “Talcott Avenue.”

How do I get to Talcott Avenue???

Talcott is a diagonal arterial street. Sixty years ago, when the expressway was being built, Talcott was part of Illinois Route 62.  The exit was put here to serve Talcott traffic.  But because the bridge over the expressway is aligned with Sayre Avenue, somebody decided to label the exit with that name.

A view from the bridge—just beyond that house, Sayre runs into Talcott.

Today Talcott is no longer Route 62. Still, it is a major through street, while Sayre is merely one of many local side streets.  I suspect that the vast majority of drivers who use Exit 81B are more interested in Talcott than they are in Sayre.  So why not spend the money and change the sign?


What’s Your Neighborhood?

Question–You find yourself at Halsted and 43rd. What neighborhood are you in?

(A) New City

(B) Canaryville

(C) St. Gabe’s

(D) all of the above

The correct answer is (D).

What’s a neighborhood?  I’m reminded of the Supreme Court justice who was asked for a definition of pornography.  “I can’t give you a definition,” he said.  “But I know it when I see it.”

A century ago, Chicagoans talked about the Levee, or the Sands, or Bubbly Creek, or Whiskey Point. These were neighborhoods. People had a general idea where these places were—if you were walking down 22nd Street near State, you were in the Levee. But where did the Levee begin, and where did it end?

Some Chicagoans looked at the world through a political prism, and might declare they lived in the 17th Ward. Cops and crooks talked about police districts, like Maxwell Street or Shakespeare. In certain parts of the city, people gave their locality as the Catholic parish. Even Protestants and Jews were known to say “I live in St. Philip Neri.”

Scholars at the University of Chicago decided to bring order to this chaos. During the 1920s they fanned out across the city, talked to the locals, examined Chicago the way an anthropologist might study an exotic civilization.

The researchers looked at the settlement, history, and growth of various areas. They examined trade patterns. They looked at local institutions. They asked residents how the area was identified. They took note of local barriers, like branches of the Chicago River or railroad lines.

The scholars identified 75 Community Areas. These were later tweaked a bit, and now there are a total of 77.

Except for those two adjustments, the boundaries of Community Areas have remained static for over 80 years. But things change. Sometimes the old boundaries don’t reflect current realities.

Take Community Area #39-Kenwood. Officially, Kenwood stretches from 43rd Street to Hyde Park Boulevard (51st Street). But today the section south of 47th Street is closer in self-identification with Hyde Park. Though Barack Obama’s residence is technically in Kenwood, he’s often called a Hyde Parker.

Or consider #24-West Town. Different parts of #24 have evolved differently. Some residents may still say they live in West Town. Most claim allegiance to Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, Noble Square, or Bucktown.

Why aren’t the Community Area boundaries brought up to date? Remember, the concept was developed by scholars. And scholars love to do comparative studies. Keeping the boundaries the same makes it easier to chart how the city has changed over the course of decades.

So, back to the original question.

If you are at Halsted and 43rd, you are officially in Community Area #61-New City. Since you are in the eastern part of #61, you are in Canaryville, and not in Back of the Yards. And if you look southeast, you may see the spire of St. Gabriel Catholic Church.

Simple, isn’t it?


Belmont-Central Celebration

I recently rediscovered three mystery Chicago photos I snapped during my grade school days about sixty years ago.  The location is no mystery.  The pictures were taken on Belmont Avenue, just west of Central Avenue, in the middle of the shopping district.

1959–Belmont Avenue @ Parkside Avenue, view east

The mystery is—what was going on?  There’s a parade coming down Belmont, so it’s obviously some sort of celebration.  Perhaps it’s the Fourth of July.

1960–Belmont-Central parade

Whatever it was, it must have impressed me in 1960.  Notice that I used color film that year.  That was a luxury I couldn’t afford to indulge, except on special occasions.

1960–Reviewing stand

The last photo shows the reviewing stand near Central Avenue.  Did the stand remind me of Soviet leaders watching the tanks rumble through Red Square on May Day?  And who are the dignitaries in the photo?  Mayor Daley Senior and his crew, maybe?

If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.


The Christmas Truce

This isn’t Chicago History, but it’s something to remember during the Christmas season.  Here’s the link to the story I told on WBEZ four years ago.  It’s the first five minutes of the show.


A Potato Chip Urban Legend

A few weeks ago I demolished a Chicago urban legend—namely, that Frango Mints were once named Franco Mints.  No, they weren’t.  So no, they never changed names to avoid identifying with General Francisco Franco.  Those candies were always called “Frango.”

There is also a legend that Jay’s Potato Chips were once called Japp’s Potato Chips, but changed their name when the United States and Japan went to war.  Believe it or not, that story is true.

Leonard and Eugenia Japp began selling food from the back of a truck in 1927.  Within a few years the business had taken off, and they opened a factory on the South Side. Their big seller was Mrs. Japp’s Potato Chips.

December 7, 1941—seventy-seven years ago today.  Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and we were suddenly in World War II.  And also suddenly, anything sounding even vaguely Japanese was unpopular.  So Mr. and Mrs. Japp changed around a few letters and came up with Jay’s.

Jay’s Potato Chips remained Chicago’s favorite potato chip for decades.  Today the brand is owned by a conglomerate.  The South Side plant closed in 2007.

Now that this story is finished, I’m heading to Rockford to get some Mrs. Fisher’s Potato Chips.  They’re almost as good as Yo-Ho’s were.