Archive for the 'GENERAL' Category

Yesterday and Tomorrow

YESTERDAY (January 6th) I was a guest on Justin Kaufmann’s “Extension 720” show on WGN-radio.  We talked about some fugitive stories featured in Hidden Chicago Landmarks.

Historian John R. Schmidt explores hidden Chicago landmarks: The Unknown Fugitives

TOMORROW (January 8th) I will be sharing some stories from the book at the Clearing Branch Library (6423 West 63rd Place, Chicago), 6:00 to 7:30 pm.

Death Valley Scotty’s Wild Ride

Walter E. Scott (1872-1954) was famous for being famous. Known to the world as Death Valley Scotty, he was a relentless self-promoter.  For forty years he conned the gullible with tales of hidden desert gold mines.  And Chicago played a singular role in establishing his legend.

In 1905 Scott was reckoned to be a wealthy but eccentric miner. On July 8 he walked into the Los Angeles office of John Byrne, the Santa Fe Railroad’s assistant traffic manager.  “I’ve been thinking some of taking a train over your road to Chicago,” Scott told Byrne. ”I want you to put me in there in forty-six hours.”

Death Valley Scotty

No train had ever made the 2265-mile LA-to-Chicago run in less than fifty-one hours. Byrne did some calculating, and said that the railroad could meet Scott’s schedule. The price for the chartered train would be $5500—about $160,000 in today’s money.  With that, Scott pulled out a wad of $100-bills and paid the fare.  Byrne said the train would be ready the next day.

That’s the way the story is usually told. Scott never did say why he wanted to get to Chicago so fast.  What is known is that the Santa Fe was then in cut-throat competition with two other roads, and losing.  Setting a new speed record would be great publicity.  Most likely, Byrne and Scott had been cooking up the plan for some time.

At 1:03 p.m. on July 9, a crowd of a thousand people watched the three-car Scott Special steam out of Santa Fe’s La Grande Station. An enhanced crew of fifteen men was on board.  The passengers were Scott, his wife Ella, a Santa Fe publicity man, a newspaper reporter, and a stray yellow dog.

The L.A. dispatcher telegraphed ahead to clear the track for the special. Arrangements were made to have relief engines and engineers ready at intervals of approximately 120 miles.  An entire change-over to a fresh machine and a fresh man took only about three minutes

The trip went smoothly. The one mishap occurred in Kansas, when a cylinder blew on the engine. After a slight delay for this unexpected change-over, the special was moving again.  By the time it crossed the Mississippi into Illinois, it was an hour ahead of schedule.  Over one three-mile stretch, the special sustained a reported speed of 106 mph, faster than any steam-driven train had ever traveled.

All throughout the trip, the on-board reporter telegraphed dispatches on the special’s progress. Newspapers throughout the country ran the story.  Heavy gambling was booked on whether or not Scott’s train would beat the forty-six-hour mark.

Chicago eagerly awaited the special’s arrival. Rumor said that Scott never tipped less than $10, and was known to pass out $100-bills if the mood struck him.  Cornelius Shea, president of the teamsters’ local, was especially interested in meeting the “millionaire miner.” “He does not know what to do with his money,” Shea told a reporter.  “I know what to do with a bunch of it if he will give it to me.”

The Tribune’s front page cartoon—July 11, 1905

The Scott Special chugged into Dearborn Street Station at 11:57 a.m. CST on July 11, 1905, 44 hours and 54 minutes after its departure from Los Angeles. A cheer went up from the thousands of people present as Scott stepped off the train. One woman rushed forward and kissed him.  “Ladies and gentleman,” Scott shouted to the crowd.  “I’m glad to see you . . .” But the rest of his words were drowned out by more cheers.  Then Scott, his wife, and the yellow dog were off to the Great Northern Hotel.

During the next two days, reports trickled out that the “free-spending” Scott was hanging on to his supposed fortune. Salesmen, inventors, investment brokers, and everyday pan-handlers were turned away from his suite empty-handed.  The largest amount he parted with was a 30-cent tip to the room service waiter.

Then, on July 13, Scott was off to New York on “new business.” He was accompanied by the yellow dog.  Mrs. Scott joined them several days later.

Today we know that Walter Scott’s gold-mine boasts were nothing more than desert hot air. But that 1905 record train run was one time he was as good as his word.


“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.