Archive Page 2

Then and Now, 120th-Union

1900–120th Street @ Union Avenue, view east

2017–the same location

As the name suggests, the West Pullman community developed west of railroad-car tycoon George Pullman’s company town.  This particular business district grew because of its proximity to the Illinois Central commuter station at Halsted and 121st Streets.

Though Metra trains still stop at Halsted-121st, the businesses here are long gone, and vacant lots are common.  However, some new residential construction is now in evidence.



The Yellow Kid Rides Again (1-25-1931)

Chicago’s most illustrious con man went through the indignity of a police lineup today.  The Yellow Kid didn’t like it.

Joseph Weil was born in Chicago in 1875.  At an early age he decided that honest work was beneath him.  He started his road to fame by peddling worthless patent medicines.

Yellow Kid Weil, 1931

He eventually worked his way up to the big time.  Weil was involved in land swindles, stock frauds, race-fixing, and other assorted ventures.  Along the way he acquired the nickname Yellow Kid, after a popular cartoon character.

Now, in 1931, he was in Chicago police custody.  Weil was charged with bilking a Michigan man out of $15,000 in a mining deal.  The cops were using the opportunity to parade the Kid through their daily lineup, to see if other victims might recognize him.

“And here, ladies and gentlemen, we have no less a distinguished personage than the Yellow Kid,” the officer in charge announced.

The Kid bowed.  Nobody in the audience had any charges to make.

Then the Kid went on the offensive.  “Sure, I am a con man—the best,” he said.  “But I’ve always taken from those who can afford the education.”  He claimed that he only cheated the dishonest rich.  He wasn’t one of those “smug hypocrites who rob the poor, then sit in church pews.”

Besides, the Chicago police were treating him shamefully.  Yesterday they had shipped him all the way to Rockford for a lineup there.  “They exhibited me to a farmer who lost two cases of eggs,” the Kid complained.  “The value was $8.50.  I have never been so humiliated.”

His discourse over, they took the Kid back to his cell.  His brother Ike arrived with a change of clothes.  Ike was a former court bailiff.

The Kid beat this particular rap.  He continued his career, with occasional interruptions for prison time, until old age caught up with him.  He died in a Chicago nursing home in 1976.  Paul Newman’s character in The Sting is based on Yellow Kid Weil.

Weil might have retired, but he never completely mellowed.  A Chicago reporter attended the Kid’s 99th birthday party in the nursing home.  There was cake, and singing, and much senior good fellowship.

When the party was over, and he thought nobody was watching, the Kid swiped the extra box of candles.


Then and Now, Huron-Michigan

1976–Huron Street @ Michigan Avenue, view west


2017–the same location

Four decades ago, the neighborhood just west of the Mag Mile was still mostly low-rise.  The wall along the left side of the older picture belongs to a Woolworth’s five-and-ten store, and across Huron is a city-owned parking garage.  St. James Episcopal Cathedral towers over the scene.

Today St. James looks like a toy among the surrounding skyscrapers.  The Omni Chicago Hotel building has replaced the Woolworth’s.  And with the municipal garage gone, cheap parking is no longer available.


Then and Now, Washington-Pulaski

1951–Washington Boulevard @ Pulaski Road, view east

2017–the same location

Before the Congress (Eisenhower) Expressway opened, Washington Boulevard was one of the main auto routes into downtown Chicago, carrying the designation “City U.S. 20.”  Traffic was especially heavy here at Pulaski, in the middle of a major shopping area.  On the left side of the older photo is a branch of Robert Hall Clothes.  Just down the street on the right side, you can pick out a sign for a Goldblatt’s parking lot.

Today most of the West Side’s through traffic uses the expressway.  Robert Hall and Goldblatt’s are only memories.  But the Burlington’s Zephyr and Empire Builder trains continue to run, though now part of Amtrak.


The Municipal Razor (1-15-1925)

Crime was on the minds of Chicagoans today.  And people were talking about the solution offered by a visiting French priest.

Chicago was earning a reputation as the wildest big city in the world.  Since 1920 robberies had gone up 35 percent, while the number of rapes, bombings, and arson cases was rising at an alarming rate.  In the past two years alone, murders had doubled.

Many blamed the crime problem on the Prohibition Act.  Alcoholic beverages had been banned in America, and bootlegging gangs were now in control of the liquor trade.  Violence was part of their business.  Everyday citizens were also losing respect for the law.

Still, Prohibition wasn’t going to be junked any time soon.  So what could be done about Chicago’s crime?  Abbe Ernest Dimnet had an answer.

Dimnet was the canon of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  He was a respected French author whose books were becoming popular in English translation.  The abbe was stopping in Chicago on a lecture tour.

Mayor Lewis Shank of Indianapolis was also in town to give a speech to a business breakfast.  Shank had said the way to fix Chicago crime was to hire smarter policemen.  Dimnet thought that was only part of the cure.

“In France,” he said, “we would be horrified at such a crime wave that has deluged dry Chicago.”  Besides good police, the city needed good judges who were not afraid to enforce the law.  And there was one more thing.

Chicago needed a guillotine.


Dimnet admitted that executions were not exactly civilized.  “However,” he went on, “there is something in the utter finality of the descending blade of a guillotine that inspires a healthy respect for the law.”  This was a far better way to deal with criminals than putting them in prison.  Because of bleeding-heart reformers, many prisons had become as posh as a bachelor’s hotel.

To be an effective deterrent, Dimnet said that the executions must be public.  He thought the best location for the “municipal razor” would be in Grant Park.

Abbe Ernest Dimnet returned to Paris unharmed by his visit to Chicago.  A few years later he wrote a best-selling self-help book in English called The Art of Thinking.

Prohibition ended in 1933.  Chicago never did erect a guillotine in Grant Park.  Instead, the city used the site for Buckingham Fountain.


A New Plan for Saving (1-10-1910)

We’re always being told to save more money.  But this time, did a Chicago bank go too far?

The First National Bank of Englewood was located at 63rd and Stewart.  In 1910 the neighborhood was upper-middle-class, and booming.  The bank was doing fine.  But like any smart business people, officials at First Englewood knew they could do better.


The bank began publishing a small monthly magazine called Savings.  It was distributed free in the community, and had the usual tips on how to save money.  All pretty bland and innocent.  Then, in the December 1909 issue, readers were treated to the following advice from the fine folks at First Englewood:

“One woman’s method of saving money—or perhaps we should say one of a woman’s methods of saving money—is to go through her husband’s pockets every night while he gently slumbers.  All the loose change she finds she deposits in our bank at interest.”

Now a month had passed.  During that time, the bank had added 500 new depositors.  The head cashier said there was only one way to explain this—the wives of Englewood had been inspired by the article, and were filching coin from their sleeping mates.

Strange as it might seem, some men thought First Englewood’s savings campaign was unethical.  The editor of Savings didn’t agree.  The bank was merely helping the community become more thrifty.  “For the last ten years we have made a close study of the people of Englewood,” he said.  “At last we have the combination.”

Wife cartoon.jpg

As for the wives, many said they’d taken advantage of Christmas celebrations to acquire some of hubby’s cash.  This had caused some excitement for one lady on Normal Avenue.

“The first time I tried separating my husband from his money, he came to me all out of breath and said that thieves had entered the house,” the woman recalled.  “I said nothing until he rushed for the telephone to inform the police.  Then I asked him to wait a minute and maybe I might explain.”

With that, the woman fetched her copy of Savings and pointed to the appropriate paragraph.  Her husband laughed.  All was well again on Normal Avenue.

The First National Bank of Englewood continued building its business in the years ahead, thriving along with the community.  During the 1930s the bank became involved in a long dispute with the federal government.  It closed in 1941.


Carl Sandburg in Chicago

Hog Butcher for the World,

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,

City of the Big Shoulders . . .

There was a time when every child in a Chicago school learned those words.  They are the opening lines of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago.”  This house, at 4646 North Hermitage Avenue,  is where he wrote them.

Sandburg was born in Galesburg in 1878, the son of Swedish immigrants.  As a young man, he drifted through a series of jobs—milkman, bricklayer, fireman, soldier, hobo, political organizer for the Social Democratic Party. Then he got married.

Time for stability.  Sandburg moved to Chicago and became a reporter.  He landed a job with the Daily News.  He’d been writing poetry for years, with little success.  That began to change.

His collection Chicago Poems appeared in 1916.  Another anthology followed, then a series of children’s books.  Sandburg was gaining a reputation.  His publisher suggested he write a Lincoln biography for young people.

Sandburg did the research, and more research.  In 1926 he emerged with Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years.  The children’s book had morphed into an adult book in two volumes.

The Lincoln book was a best-seller and ended Sandburg’s financial worries.  It also made him a literary lion.  For the rest of his long life, he was as famous for being Carl Sandburg as for anything he wrote.

Sandburg-Monroe (1962)

Sandburg with Marilyn Monroe (1962)

He moved to Michigan in 1930, and eventually settled in the hill country of North Carolina.  The Lincoln biography grew to a total of six volumes, with the publication of Abraham Lincoln: The War Years.  He won three Pulitzer prizes, two for poetry and one for the Lincoln books.  In 1959 he even won a Grammy for his narration of Copeland’s “Lincoln Portrait.”
The house on Hermitage was built in 1880 by attorney Samuel B. Gookins.  Sandburg rented the second floor apartment from 1911 through 1914.  He later lived in Maywood and Elmhurst.  The Carl Sandburg Home is an official Chicago Landmark.  It is privately owned.

Though he lived elsewhere after 1930, Sandburg remained one of Chicago’s favorite sons.  In 1960 the city embarked on an urban renewal project in the Clark-Division area.  The idea was to stabilize the west end of the Gold Coast with a series of high-rise apartments.  They called the new buildings Sandburg Village.

Sandburg himself kept Chicago in his heart.  He often returned to the city that made him famous.  He appeared regularly on Irv Kupcinet’s TV round-table.  When Orland Park named a high school in his honor, Sandburg came to the dedication and had a grand time, telling stories and singing ballads.

He had been a workingman.  He always cultivated the image of the people’s poet, with rumpled clothing and unkempt hair.  A few years after the dedication, he decided to revisit “his” high school.  By then a different principal was in charge.  The new man thought Sandburg was a panhandler and threw him out.

Carl Sandburg died in 1967.  Some years earlier he had summed up his philosophy this way: “What I need mainly is three things in life, possibly four—to be out of jail, to eat regular, to get what I write printed, and then a little love at home and a little outside.”