April 12, 2017

Chicago history: Turn-of-the-century Chicago in Willa Cather’s “Lucy Gayheart”

Much of the first half of Willa Cather’s novel Lucy Gayheart is set in the first few months of 1902 in downtown Chicago. Written in 1935, the book is an existential novel in which the main characters strive purposefully through life only to discover that the meaning they thought was present and the control they thought they exercised was illusory. In the context of this, Chicago is a metaphor for human activity and energy and enterprise.   “A very individual map of Chicago” Early in the novel, Lucy is returning to the city from a visit to her small Nebraska home of Haverford: Lucy carried in her mind a very individual map of Chicago: a blur of smoke and wind and noise, with flashes of blue water, and certain clear outlines rising from the confusion; a high building on Michigan Avenue when Sebastian had his studio — the stretch of park where he sometimes walked in the afternoon — the Cathedral door out of which she had seen him come one morning — the concert hall where she first heard him sing. This city of feeling rose out of the city of fact like a definite composition, — beautiful because […]
January 18, 2017

Chicago History: The Chicago judge who caused an international incident

On July 7, 1931, in a courtroom in the South Chicago neighborhood, a 38-year-old municipal court judge sparked an international incident when he peremptorily ordered the acting Mexican consul to spend six months in jail for talking back to him. “I don’t see why people bow and scrape to these consuls and ambassadors,” Judge Thomas A. Green said to a Tribune reporter. “They’ve got to be put in their place.” “Get him to shut up” According to Green, the incident began when the consul, Adolfo Dominguez, in the courtroom on another matter, listened to the judge describe Mexican vagrants before him as “idlers” and sentence them to a year in jail. In response, Dominguez approached the bench. “He objected to this sentence, and I told him to run along and mind his own business,” Green later explained. “I couldn’t get him to shut up so I threatened to send him to jail. He said I couldn’t do that because he was a representative of the Mexican government and then he dared me to jail him. So, I did.”       “Throw you in the can!” Attorney T. Russell Baker who had come to the courtroom with Dominguez gave a […]
December 20, 2016

Chicago History: The great adventure of Chicago May. “Queen of the Underworld”

During the first three decades of the 20th century, the Chicago newspapers, including the Tribune, couldn’t get enough of an Irish woman who became an international celebrity criminal on four continents. She was nicknamed Chicago May. Her real name, which the papers never came across, was May Duignan. It didn’t matter. Her reputation was a lot more interesting than mundane facts. She was a woman who, the Tribune reported breathlessly, was the “Queen of the Underworld” and “the world’s cleverest woman crook” and “a pioneer in women’s rights in a world of crooks.”   The family’s entire savings In her 2005 book “The Story of Chicago May,” biographer Nuala O’Faolain chronicled that May turned tricks and stole wallets in Cairo and Manhattan, was the hostess at a diplomatic ball in Rio de Janeiro, was rumored to have helped a boyfriend escape from Devil’s Island, and served nearly 15 years in French and English prisons. She married a member of the Dalton Gang, Dal Churchill who, according to May, was lynched for trying to rob a train near Phoenix. She testified against novelist Stephen Crane, and she crossed paths with Countess Constance Markievicz, the Irish rebel. May’s was a career that […]
November 23, 2016

Chicago history: When the Tribune’s home was covered in “deep chocolate” soot

With great fanfare, the Chicago Tribune celebrated its new headquarters on the southeast corner of Dearborn and Madison Streets on July 23, 1902. It was the seventh location for the 55-year-old newspaper, and the third erected on that spot. The newspaper was proud as punch of its new home and wasn’t shy about tooting its own horn. (After all, this was a journalistic institution that, beginning in 1911, would refer to itself for decades as “The World’s Greatest Newspaper.”) In a 32-page special “historical supplement” on that July day, Tribune writers rhapsodized about the new building as “one of the handsomest and best-equipped newspaper offices in the world.” Headlines, over photographs and stories, proclaimed the new building’s virtues: • “Heating System Is Perfect” • “Tribune Walls Waterproof” • “Setting Boilers a Giant Task” • “No Life Lost in Building” • “Editorial Rooms Are Large” • “Beauty of Business Offices” • “Washed Air in New Building”   Soon to fall victim But perhaps the newspaper’s greatest boast was in another headline: “Building One of City’s Sights: New Home of ‘The Tribune’ Already One of Chicago’s Prominent Show Places.” Alas, as handsome as the building was and as certain as the newspaper […]