Archive for the 'GENERAL' Category

The Mystery of Woodward Drive

Anyone interested in Chicago history should get a copy of Streetwise Chicago. This 1988 book by Don Haymer and Tom McNamee lists the origins of thousands of the city’s street names. They gathered their information mainly from files at City Hall or the Chicago Historical Society.

There are a few gaps. Woodward Drive, a little roadway in Garfield Park, is dismissed with “source unknown.” Obviously the Park District didn’t keep very good records.

Woodward Drive

Chicago’s Woodward Drive

I have no way of proving it, but that roadway was probably named for Augustus Brevoort Woodward.

Woodward was quite a character. For one thing, when he was born in 1774, his given name was actually Elias. He later changed it to Augustus, after the first Roman emperor. That fact alone tells you something about the man’s opinion of himself.

He came from a prominent New York City merchant family. After graduating from Columbia Woodward got a job in the Treasury Department, and eventually became a lawyer. Along the way he became friends with Thomas Jefferson.

Woodward, Augustus

Augustus Brevoort Woodward

By 1805 Jefferson had become president and appointed Woodward one of the federal judges for the Michigan Territory.  Woodward took up his post in Detroit just after the little settlement had burned down. He immediately went to work rebuilding it.
Woodward put together a grand city plan based on Washington, D.C. Most of it was never realized, though he did name the main street Woodward Avenue, and that stuck. The Judge claimed that the name was merely descriptive of the street’s general direction toward the north woods—“wood-ward.”
He was greatly interested in science and education, and in his spare time developed  a prospectus for a school he called the Catholepistemiad. Again, only some of Woodward’s ideas were adopted. His school later became the University of Michigan.
Woodward scheduled court sessions according to his whims. In summer they were held outdoors under a pear tree. “He was known as a two-bottles-a-day man,” one historian wrote. “It was not unusual for him to fall off the kitchen chair he used as a bench and go to sleep on the ground.”
The Judge did draw up most of the territorial laws of Michigan, known as the Woodward Code. Still, he had to be the top dog in whatever he did. He quarreled constantly with his fellow judges and the governor. They finally succeeded in getting rid of him.
In 1824 Woodward was shipped off to Florida as the territorial judge for the new territory. He died there three years later. A bachelor with no family to mourn him, his grave has been lost.
As far as anyone knows, Augustus Brevoort Woodward never visited Chicago. But isn’t he the sort of person who deserves a street in our city?

Why the Outbound Kennedy Backs Up Past Montrose

If you’ve ever driven the Kennedy Expressway to O’Hare—or to the far Northwest Side—you know about this bottleneck.  You sail through the Edens junction, and suddenly everything comes to a screeching halt. Traffic crawls along for the next few miles, until you pass Harlem Avenue.  Then the highway opens up again.

Why does this happen?  It all goes back to the original design.

No backup? Well, it was a Sunday morning!

In the 1950s, when Chicago’s expressways were being built, they were geared toward moving traffic to and from the center of the city.  Crosstown travel was rarely factored into the planning.  Therefore, there was no ramp from the inbound Edens to the outbound Kennedy.  Likewise, there was no ramp from the inbound Kennedy to the outbound Edens.

The Kennedy-Edens junction was complicated enough, with three railroad lines and busy Cicero Avenue right there.  Building two additional ramps would involve additional land clearance and be wildly expensive.  Therefore, the planners didn’t bother with them.

During the 1960s, a Crosstown Expressway was proposed as an extension of the Edens south along Cicero. This meant that a full Kennedy-Edens interchange would be built.  But the Crosstown was never constructed, and the Kennedy-Edens junction remained as it was.

So today, if you’re on the inbound Kennedy (I-90) and want to access the outbound Edens (I-94), you drive through the junction and take the first exit at Keeler.  Then you turn left on Keeler, drive under the Kennedy, and take another left up the next ramp.  Now you’re on the outbound Kennedy, and can get to the Edens.

You can follow the same procedure going from the inbound Edens to the outbound Kennedy—drive through the junction, then use the Keeler exit/entrance maneuver.  But for this one, most drivers follow a different route.

Inbound Kennedy to outbound Edens, via Keeler Avenue

Want to get from the inbound Edens to the outbound Kennedy? Exit at Cicero-Foster, then drive west on surface streets.  After a mile or so you can get on the outbound Kennedy at Foster, or at Nagle-Bryn Mawr.

Now you have all this traffic getting on the outbound Kennedy at Foster, and at Nagle-Bryn Mawr. Meanwhile, there’s a significant curve in the expressway that slows things down in the stretch between these two entrances.  Result—a three-mile jam back to the Edens junction.

So, how to solve this mess?

1—Eliminate the Sayre exit. This exit was actually meant to serve Talcott Avenue, which was Illinois Route 62 when the expressway was constructed.  The exit is little used today, and is only a few hundred feet from the Harlem exit.

2—Build segregated acceleration/deceleration lanes along the outbound Kennedy between Nagle and Harlem.  Segregated lanes were recently added to the westbound Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) west of the interchange with I-290-IL 53.  Now traffic moves more smoothly there.   The same idea would work on the Kennedy.  There’s lots of space for these new lanes west of Nagle, though the greenery would have to be sacrificed.

OK, this will cost a ton of money.  But what’s a better use of our gasoline-tax revenue?


The Balbo Column

In 1933 Chicago staged a World’s Fair in Burnham Park. July 15 marked one of the Fair’s highlights. Shortly after 6 p.m., the Balbo Air Squadron arrived in the waters of Lake Michigan.

Aviation was still exciting and dangerous in 1933—only six years had passed since Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight. Now General Italo Balbo, head of the Italian Air Force, had brought his fleet of twenty-four seaplanes on a goodwill trip from Rome to Chicago. Because of bad weather and an accident along the way, the journey had taken two weeks.

But now they were here, safely moored off Navy Pier. A few minutes after the landing, Balbo himself strolled onto the deck of his seaplane, coolly surveying the cheering thousands who had gathered on shore—he looked as if he were “going to afternoon tea,” one reporter wrote. He lit a cigarette and smiled.

General Italo Balbo

For the next three days, the city went Balbo-crazy. The General and his fliers were feted with a rally in Soldier Field, speeches, parades, banquets, and official proclamations. Seventh Street was renamed Balbo Drive. The hoopla was later spoofed by the Marx Brothers in their movie A Night at the Opera. Then, at the end of the three days, the intrepid crew flew back to Rome.

That’s the way it looked in 1933. But as Paul Harvey used to say, now for the rest of the story.

The Italian government that sponsored the Balbo Air Squadron was the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini. Balbo himself was a true believer, often referred to as the Duce’s “right-hand man.” The brutality of the Fascist regime was already well-known. Yet many apologists accepted such “difficulties” as the price of progress. One bit of wisdom declared: “Mussolini may be bad, but he makes the trains run on time.”

Mussolini also knew something about public relations. On the first anniversary of the flight, he sent Chicago an ancient temple column as a gift—though he sent it by ship, and not by plane. Balbo himself spoke from Rome via radio-phone at the dedication ceremony. “Let this column stand as a symbol of increasing friendship between the people of Italy and the people of the United States,” the General said. The Balbo Column, as it became known, was erected in the park east of Soldier Field.

General Italo Balbo was killed in 1940, his plane hit by friendly fire. There was suspicion that Mussolini ordered an assassination to remove a popular rival.

Following fascist Italy’s defeat in World War II, the new government’s ambassador to the United States suggested that marks of respect to the Mussolini regime be removed. Shortly afterward, a Chicago alderman proposed renaming Balbo Drive, though nothing was said about the Balbo Column. In any case, both the street name and the column remained.

The Balbo Column

Time appeared to heal the wounds of war. In 1973 the Museum of Science and Industry celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the Balbo Air Squadron with a special exhibit. Each year there were fewer and fewer irate letters demanding that the street name be changed or the monument be removed. Most Chicagoans figured that the street was named Balboa, after the Spanish explorer who sighted the Pacific Ocean.

There was no mistaking what the Balbo Column was about. Carved into its base was a florid inscription in Italian declaring that “Fascist Italy Under the Auspices of Benito Mussolini” was presenting this monument to the City of Chicago in honor of the Balbo Squadron. Instead of 1933, the date of the historic flight is given as “The Eleventh Year of the Fascist Era.”

In 2017 the protests over Confederate statues and other dated artifacts have caused Chicagoans to revisit the Balbo question. Once again, there are calls to change the name of Balbo Drive. This time it may happen.

What to do with the Balbo Column is not so easily resolved—after all, its pedigree predates the “Fascist Era” by two millennia. The area where it stands is now known as Gold Star Families Memorial Park, in honor of police officers who have been killed in the line of duty. Why not put a new plaque on the column and re-dedicate it to them?

But please use an aluminum plaque. A copper one might be stolen.


Chicago’s Mispronounced Street Names

I recently ran across a post about street names that Chicagoans typically mispronounce.  Actually, I’ve run across several posts on this subject.  Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the same nine street names are cited in just about all of them.

It’s impossible to determine who first drew up the list.  I recall reading stuff like this when I was in my teens, back in the 1960s.  Many of the same names were cited then.

I do have a few quibbles about those nine street names—are we really pronouncing some of them incorrectly?  I also have a couple more that were overlooked.

(1) Devon.  Like those posts note—and like most Chicagoans I know—I pronounce it dee-VAHN.

(2) Leavitt.  Forget the part that looks like “leave.”  It’s LEV-itt.

(3) Paulina.  Not pronounced like the girl’s name.  The street is pull-EYE-nuh.

(4) Armitage.  Locally pronounced ARM-a-tudj, slurring the last syllable.

(5) Honore.  Supposedly, most Chicagoans eschew the French pronunciation, and say HON-or-ee.

Here are a couple that are supposedly mispronounced, but might not be—

(6) Clybourn.  It’s CLY-born locally.  What else could it be?

(7) Wabansia.  We say wuh-BAN-see-uh.  How’s that a local mistake?

Now, two special cases—

(8) Throop.  Yes, my dad always said TROOP.  But I grew up pronouncing the “h” in the name, and I rarely hear it as TROOP any more. (Then again, people tell me that Saint Thecla Church is Saint TECK-la)

(9) Goethe.  The posts say Chicagoans mispronounce it as GO-ith.  I learned how to mispronounce it as GO-thee.  So which wrong way is the right wrong way?

Finally, I have two additions to the list—

(10) Des Plaines.  Like Honore, we forget the French and say des-PLAINS.

(11) Laramie.  I grew up near this street, and we all said LAR-mee.

Anybody else have more additions to the list?


Chicago’s 1925 Eclipse

Monday’s solar eclipse should be quite a show. Though the major blackout will be taking place further downstate, over Chicago the moon will cover 86 percent of the sun.  This will be the closest the city has come to a total total eclipse since January 24, 1925.

In 1925 Chicagoans knew the eclipse was coming. Scientists had announced that 94 percent of the sun would be blacked out locally. Sunrise on January 24th would be at 7:10 a.m.  Four minutes later, the eclipse would begin.

Oak Street Beach, 1925—“They should’ve scheduled our eclipse for August!”

Prof. H.B. Lemon had said that industrial smoke over the city might obscure the viewing. Still, people gathered by the thousands, in parks, on beaches, on the upper floors of tall buildings, on city streets, watching the sky.  It was a Saturday, and a day off for many.  And the weather had been tolerable for January.

However, as the countdown began, clouds began drifting overhead. By 7:10 sunrise, all that could be seen over the lake was a faint glow in the east.  Meanwhile, the steel mills in South Chicago and over in Gary were providing their usual airborne smoke and flame.  When the eclipse did start at 7:14, a few people in boats on the lake caught a glimpse of the darkening sun, before the clouds shut off their view.

Back on land, the people waited. Just after 8:00 there was a break in the clouds.  Hey, look—there’s the moon—go, go, go, block that sun!  But after about three minutes, a new group of clouds rolled through, and that was that.  By 9:30 it was over.

As the Chicago Evening Journal reported, “Chicago’s view of the nearly total eclipse was practically a complete failure.”  And as a local news story, the eclipse itself was eclipsed by the shooting of ganglord Johnny Torrio.  That event proved to be of greater historical significance as well, since Torrio decided to retire and left his empire to his lieutenant—a fellow named Al Capone.

Bryan views the eclipse

The East Coast had better weather than Chicago, and a better view of the heavens on Eclipse Day 1925. And if you think that only our modern-day leaders inject politics into every event, you’re wrong.

In Washington, three-time Democrat presidential nominee—and three-time loser—William Jennings Bryan was photographed observing the eclipse through a hand-held viewer.  A reporter asked him to comment on the grand celestial phenomenon.  “The eclipse is just like the Democratic Party,” Bryan said.  “The sun will shine again for us.”


WBEZ will have special segments on the eclipse during Jerome McDonnell’s “Worldview” program on Monday.  I’ll be doing a bit on some historic solar eclipses.  Tune in 91.5 FM between noon and 2 pm.  Or if you’re not in Chicago, check out the podcast later in the day at

“The Chicagoan” magazine—1973 version

City magazines have been around for a long time.  Their modern era dates from 1968, when New York magazine was launched as an edgier alternative to The New Yorker.

Something similar happened in our city.  By 1973 Chicago Guide had become established as the local city monthly.  Jon and Abra Anderson, a columnist couple at the Daily News, felt there was room for another magazine.  That October they launched a new monthly with an old name—The Chicagoan.

October 1973--The first issue

October 1973–The first issue

The first issue laid out a perspective.  The staff of The Chicagoan liked Chicago, but didn’t like “baloney.”  The magazine would be open to any stories that were truthful, interesting, and well-written.    Phony boosterism was out.  Still, as Jon Anderson noted, “we are not going to be nattering nabobs of negativity, either.”

Anderson also asked readers to be patient while the magazine found its way.  He noted that the new Channel 2 news team of Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson had been launched with a huge wave of publicity, but were only now finding their style.

The Chicagoan quickly achieved its own style.  Each issue began with an introduction from Jon Anderson, followed by a group of short, topical pieces gathered under the title “The Frontlines.”  Then came a listing of the month’s special events and entertainment.  Regular columns included Abra Anderson’s pieces about food and drink, as well as others devoted to music, movies, media, art and architecture, theater and dance, and books.

December 1973--What Fun To Be a Bear!

December 1973–What Fun To Be a Bear!

The feature stories were heavy on politics—after all, this was the era of Daley the First.  Will Ralph Metcalfe run for Mayor?  Will Dan Walker or Charles Percy run for President?  Will Jim Thompson run for anything?  And who will be the Machine Boss of the Future?

Like the political articles, the features capture the special flavor of their times.  Oak Park is trying to stabilize as a multiracial village.  The Near West Side is struggling to survive.  Fast food joints have overrun Elmhurst Road.  Circle Campus is killing its students with coldness.  A new movie called The Sting is filming in town.  The Bears are having a lousy season.

Then there were the light-hearted odds and ends.  A Chicagoan board game. Various trivia quizzes.  A survival guide to O’Hare.  A dictionary of “Talkin’ Chicawgo.”

After nine wacky and wonderful issues, the Andersons sold the magazine.  The new owners kept The Chicagoan going through October 1974, then closed up shop.


“Chicago”—a lost magazine of the Eisenhower Age

The current Chicago magazine grew out of the small monthly program guide for classical music radio station WFMT. When the publication expanded and began concentrating on stories, the title was changed to Chicago Guide. In 1975 it became simply Chicago.

June 1954--with Mayor Carter Harrison Sr.

June 1954–with Mayor Carter Harrison Sr.

Nearly forgotten today was an earlier Chicago magazine. That one first appeared in March 1954.

Introducing their new publication, the editors claimed that Chicago was really two cities. While the city was notorious for crooks, gangsters, and grafters, there was another, less-celebrated city which has been “the principle seedbed” for some of the most revolutionary aspects of American life. Chicago the magazine would attempt to cover both.

Each monthly issue opened with a listing of upcoming local events, followed by short snippets of city life gathered under the heading “West of the Water Tower.” Pictorial essays visited points of contemporary interest like Riverview, Sieben’s Bierstube, and Maxwell Street, as well as the annual Chicago Cat Show and the Old Town Holiday Fair. There was also poetry and fiction, either every good or very bad.

Chicago-the-city was tearing down and rebuilding in the mid-‘50s. The magazine did a story on the demolition of South Side slums. Another time there was a “Sidewalk Superintendent’s Guide” on where to best view the construction of the Prudential Building and similar architectural wonders.

Contemporary issues, like the recent racial conflict in Trumbull Park, were analyzed. Studs Terkel contributed regular articles about the newest medium, television. Reform-minded Alderman Robert Merriam wrote a piece titled “Why Reformers Fail”—and a year later lost the mayoral election to Richard J. Daley.

"Chicago" contributor Studs Terkel

“Chicago” contributor Studs Terkel

Feature articles profiled Admiral Dan Gallery, Sewell Avery, Fritz Reiner, Tom Duggan, and other local celebrities. Advice was proffered on “How To Beat a Traffic Ticket.” The opposite ends of the music world were covered, with visits to the National Barn Dance and to the new Lyric Opera. Another story tried to determine who was the richest Chicagoan (It was either Henry Crown or John Cuneo).

Chicago seemed to be aiming at upscale readers. The real estate ads were heavily geared to North Shore and Gold Coast properties. Art galleries, furriers, financial brokers, and high-end auto dealers regularly bought space.  So did the city’s “better” radio stations.

It was a fun magazine. Sadly, it didn’t last. Three years after rolling out its first issue, this version of Chicago magazine ceased publication.