Archive for the 'GENERAL' Category

Patio Theater

When I was growing up every Chicago neighborhood had its own local movie house.  Ours was the Patio Theater, at 6008 West Irving Park Road.

The Patio opened on January 29, 1927—92 years ago today.  My parents had grown up in the same Portage Park neighborhood where they raised me, so it had been their local movie house, too.  For some reason, they always called it the “PAY-shee-oh.”

The Patio was not a giant movie palace.  It had about 1500 seats and no second-floor balcony.  During the 1950s it was a third-run house.  Films first opened at one of the downtown theaters.  After that they moved out into the second-run houses—in our neck of the woods, either the Portage or the Gateway.  Eventually, many months after its Loop opening, the movie finally appeared at the Patio, usually part of a double bill.

My buddies and I went to the Patio nearly every week during the late 1950s and into the 1960s.  Until we discovered that girls had their charms, we took in mostly adventure films.  The earliest movie that I remember having seen at the Patio was Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, from 1957 when I was nine years old.

The photo above  is from 1975 (note the “Old Chicago Beer” sign on the Foremost Liquors Store).  Movie theaters were closing down all over by then, and rumor was that the Patio would soon be gone.  Happily, that’s not the case.  The Patio has still managed to hang on, with live entertainment instead of movies.  Here’s hoping it lasts another 92 years.



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.


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?