Archive for the 'GENERAL' Category

A Candy Urban Legend

When I worked at the downtown Marshall Field’s during the 1970s, I always stocked up on Frango Mints.  Employees received a 20 percent discount on store merchandise.  That was the only way this poor grad student could afford that pricey candy.

It was then that I learned the Frango back-story.  The candy was originally a product of the Frederick and Nelson department store in Seattle, and was first known as Franco Mints—for FRederick And Nelson COmpany.  During the 1920s, when Field’s bought those Seattle stores, they acquired Franco Mints as well.  And the name stayed that way until 1939, when Spain’s General Francisco Franco became a controversial figure.  Field’s then changed the name to Frango Mints.

For forty years I’ve been passing on this choice bit of Chicago trivia to unsuspecting students and friends.  More recently Macy’s began selling the candy in what was supposed to be a copy of the original 1929 Marshall Field’s box.  Trouble was, that box clearly identified the candy as “Frango Mints.”  Was Macy’s engaging in historical revisionism?

I did some research, and found out that the Franco-to-Frango story was wrong.  Frederick and Nelson had trademarked its candy as “Frango Mints” as early as 1918.  That name was an anagram for FRederick And Nelson GOodness.  Generations of Field’s employees had been passing down a bogus tale.  So unless someone comes up with an old box or advertisement for “Franco” Mints, another urban legend has been debunked.



A Slave in Chicago

Twelve Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture a few years ago. The film was a based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery during the 1840s.  Four decades before Northup’s ordeal, something similar happened in Chicago.

In 1804 John Kinzie moved into the old DuSable cabin on the north bank of the Chicago River and began trading with the local Native tribes. Thomas Forsyth Jr, his half-brother, was in business with him.  That spring the partners took on an indentured servant named Jeffrey Nash.

John Kinzie

The indenture papers describe Nash as a “Negro man.” According to that contract, he was to serve Kinzie and Forsyth for a period of seven years.  For their part, the two traders were to provide him with “meat, drink, apparel, washing, and lodging fitting for a servant.”

In return for these benefits, Nash bound himself to faithfully obey the commands of his “masters.” He would do no damage to them or their goods, and would keep their secrets. He would be on call, day and night, for whenever his service was needed.

Nash agreed to a personal code of conduct as well. During the seven years of his indenture, he would not play cards or dice.  He would not frequent taverns without permission from Kinzie or Forsyth.  He also pledged neither to “commit fornication nor contract matrimony.”

On May 22, 1804 Nash put his mark to the indenture. Since Illinois was not yet a state, the papers were sent to the territorial capital at Detroit.

Kinzie and Forsyth operated a second trading post in Peoria. That was Forsyth’s principal residence.  Sometime after the 1804 indenture was instituted, Forsyth took Nash there.  And sometime later Nash ran away.  He eventually made his way to New Orleans, married, and started a family.

The traders were not about to let Nash go.  In 1813 they began proceedings in Louisiana to get him back.  The case was labeled Kensy (sic) and Forsyth, plaintiffs v. Jeffrey Nash, defendant.

Now the plaintiffs claimed that Nash was not a free-born servant under indenture, but actually their slave. Residents of Peoria had recognized Nash as Forsyth’s slave.  Nash himself was said to have admitted being a slave, and had run away when Forsyth broke a promise to free him.  The traders also produced a bill of sale transferring the slave Nash to them, dated September 5, 1803.

Solomon Northup (since there’s no picture of Jeffrey Nash)

Looking at the case so many years later, some historians have concluded that the 1803 bill of sale must have been a forgery.  If Nash were already their slave, why would Kinzie and Forsyth go to the trouble of having him put his mark on an indenture document?

Other historians don’t buy this argument. They reason that the indenture document was a type of “insurance policy” for Kinzie and Forsyth.

In 1804, with new territories being organized, the partners weren’t sure whether they’d be allowed to keep Nash as a slave. If he were an indentured servant, then they could hold onto him for seven years.  Later, when Nash escaped to Louisiana, they dug up the 1803 slave bill of sale.  Since Louisiana was a slave state, the partners were confident they’d be able to reclaim Nash.

In 1816 the case was decided by the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Judge Francis Xavier Martin rendered the decision.  He accepted the September 5, 1803 bill of sale as legitimate.  Kinzie and Forsyth had indeed purchased Jeffrey Nash as a slave.

Now for the big “However . . . ”

However, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 banned slavery from the territory that would eventually become Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The only exceptions were for persons convicted of a crime, or fugitive slaves escaping from a slave-holding state.  Nash did not fall under either of these categories.  Therefore, the court found in his favor.  He would remain a free man.

“Thus did the Supreme Court of the slave state of Louisiana uphold the free character of the soil of Illinois and rescue a man from bondage,” historian Milo Milton Quaife later wrote.  As for Kinzie and Forsyth, they had to pay the court costs.


Our Daley Bread

Today would have been Mayor Richard J. Daley’s 116th 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.


Lost on the Dan Ryan

Signs on expressways are supposed to help you find streets.  Driving north on the Dan Ryan, you encounter a series of overhead signs directing you to the express lanes.  The signs also warn that if you enter the express lanes, the next exit is 22nd Street.

Chicago doesn’t have a 22nd Street.

Dan Ryan @ 59th Street

There was a 22nd Street in the city until 1933.  Then Mayor Anton Cermak was killed, and the name was changed to Cermak Road.  In some of the western suburbs, it’s still called 22nd Street.  But those towns are at least ten miles away from the Ryan.

True, most of the streets crossing the Ryan have numbers instead of names, so why not have the signs be consistent?  But Roosevelt Road doesn’t have signs announcing “12th Street.”  Pershing Road is not called “39th Street.”  Maybe there’s some anti-Bohemian prejudice at work here.

Dan Ryan @ 47th Street

But keep heading north on the Ryan to Exit 53A.  There the sign reads “Canalport Avenue-Cermak Road.”

They finally list Cermak Road, and they’ve still made a mistake!  It would make more sense for this sign to announce “18th Street.”  That’s the major cross-street a block from the ramp.  When you get to this exit, you’ve already overshot Cermak, and have to backtrack three blocks.

Dan Ryan Exit 53A

So what’s the reason for all these misleading signs?  It’s probably very simple:  somebody made a mistake when the Ryan opened in 1962, and the city has never fixed it.

Those expressway signs are pretty big, but they can be changed.  Until 1968, the next-to-last exit on the Stevenson was labeled “South Park Way.”  When the street was renamed for Dr. King, the old exit signs were quickly replaced.

The Ryan was rebuilt some years ago, and all the overhead signs were temporarily removed.  That would have been the time to correct the mistake.  I still can’t figure out why it wasn’t done then.

Nobody knows how many drivers have gotten lost following these bogus signs.  After 56 years, isn’t it time to make things right?



You might know about Ragtime.  That was a 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow.  Set in and around New York City during the first decade of the twentieth century, it was notable for having several real-life historical people interact with the fictional protagonists.  Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, Emma Goldman, and J.P. Morgan are among those celebrities who help drive the novel’s plot.

Bagtime was a novel published in 1977.  The setting is the Chicago of that day.  Bagtime also interweaves actual contemporary celebrities with its fictional characters.  The author is listed as Mike Holiday.

Before it was a novel, Bagtime was a serial.  It began running as a daily feature in the Chicago Sun-Times on August 9, 1976.  The real authors were two of the paper’s reporters, Bob Greene and Paul Galloway.

“We meant it to be a pleasant diversion, something to get us and the newspaper through the dog days of summer,” Greene/Galloway later wrote.  But Bagtime soon developed a cult following.

The story is told in the first person.  Mike Holiday introduces himself as a 26-year old with an A.B. in Sociology from Urbana, who now finds himself working as a grocery-bagger at the Treasure Island supermarket on Wells Street.  People tell him he looks like Chevy Chase.

Mike hears rumors that his ex-wife Chay has unwittingly become part of a bisexual thrill ring with various members of the White Sox and Bears.  He still has feelings for Chay, so he decides to delve more deeply into the matter.  Along the way he meets different women who are attracted to him.  He also meets Hugh Hefner, Walter Jacobson, Norm Van Lier, Jane Pauley, Arthur Rubloff, and the Beatles, among others.  The story moves through familiar locales of the time, with a rousing finale at still-new Water Tower Place.

Years later, co-author Greene dismissed Bagtime as “a stupid newspaper serial.”  It’s not great literature.  From a 2018 perspective, some of the stereotypes are cringe-worthy.  And unless you lived through the era, you’ll probably miss many of the in-jokes.  But when I stumbled across my old paperback copy, I had fun rereading it.  Bagtime is a marvelous piece of nostalgia.

It also seems to be a rare book.  None of the local libraries have it, and the one I found online has an asking price of $100.  So now my copy of Bagtime will be joining the 1950s baseball cards in the safe deposit box.


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?