December 6, 2017

Chicago History: The Brooklyn Bridge and Chicago’s elevated Loop

The Brooklyn Bridge and Chicago’s elevated Loop don’t seem to have much in common aside from being large transportation structures. From its completion in 1883, the 1,600-foot suspension bridge spanning the East River has been a dominant element on the New York scene. In his 1965 book Brooklyn Bridge: Face and Symbol, Alan Trachtenberg notes that the bridge’s designer John Roebling predicted that it would be ranked as a national monument and as “a great work of art.” Roebling’s claims [writes Trachtenberg] were far from modest, but history has borne them out. There is no more famous bridge in all the world. And in 1964, almost a hundred years later, the American government proclaimed the structure an official national monument. By contrast, the 1.8-mile elevated Loop, which turned 120 in October, rises just two stories above four Chicago streets. Although it encloses 39 downtown blocks, it is lost amid the skyscrapers that loom above it. Rare is the aerial photograph that captures more than a sliver of the rectangle of tracks. Indeed, it can only be viewed in full from directly above it (such as from a space satellite) — and even then, unless the sunlight is exactly right, the […]
December 4, 2017

Book Review: “The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago,” edited by Abdul Alkalimat, Romi Crawford, and Rebecca Zorach

Fifty years ago, William Walker, a veteran muralist, proposed to a group of other black artists and photographers that they collaborate to produce a mural on the side of a two-story tavern in the impoverished South Side neighborhood of Grand Crossing. After three weeks of labor at the building on the southeast corner of 43rd Street and Langley Avenue, the 20-foot-by-60-foot work of art, featuring dozens of African-American heroes, was completed on August 24, 1967. It was called the Wall of Respect, and it was dedicated several times over the next weeks. Sometime later, Walker came to the wall and saw a young man sitting on the sidewalk with his back resting on the art work. “How are you doing, brother?” Walker asked. “I’m getting my strength,” the man said.   Long overdue book about long overlooked milestone This story is told twice in The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago, edited by Abdul Alkalimat, Romi Crawford, and Rebecca Zorach, and it provides an insight into what the outdoor mural, created with direct community input, meant to African-Americans in the neighborhood, in Chicago and across the nation. The work of art, the first of its […]
November 6, 2017

Chicago History: Third World Press — “Strong and Black for 50 Years”

The poem was one of many recited by teenagers during the gala in October honoring the 50th anniversary of Chicago’s literary jewel, the Third World Press. In its rhythms and sharp humor, the poem, written by Haki Madhubuti, captured the spirit of the evening and of the South Side publishing house that he founded. It was written in the mid-1960s around the time when Third World Press, today the nation’s largest black publishing house, was just getting started, and when Madhubuti was still known as Don L. Lee. Titled “Gwendolyn Brooks,” it honored his mentor, and it reveled in the then-new focus of African-Americans on blackness, including more than a dozen lines like these: “…black doubleblack purpleblack blue-black beenblack was black daybeforeyesterday blackerthan ultrablack super black blackblack yellowblack….. so black we can’t even see you black on black in black by black technically black mantanblack winter black coolblack 360degreesblack….”   Chicago’s cultural treasure Most Chicagoans know of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago, but, unfortunately, few realize that Third World Press is one of the city’s cultural treasures. And all Chicagoans, no matter their color, ethnicity, economic status, sexual orientation or political preference, benefit from […]
November 3, 2017

Chicago History: A Dive into the “Inky Waters” of the Chicago River

Each year, through myriad government efforts, the Chicago River gets cleaner although no one would call it “clean.” Nonetheless, as polluted as its water remains, the river used to be much, much, much worse as a story from more than a century ago illustrates. It was 4 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, Labor Day, September 6, 1897, when the lumber steamer S.K. Martin, heading southwest in the South Branch of the Chicago River, signaled for the raising of the Halsted Street Bridge, just north of Archer Avenue. This bridge, designed by J.A.L. Waddell, was known as “the red bridge,” the gateway to the hardscrabble neighborhood of Bridgeport. As the tender operated the machinery, the bridge platform — a 130-foot-long, cedar-block-paved section of Halsted Street — began to rise slowly between two metal towers, like an open-air elevator. Standing on that pavement and taking the ride up were 22-year-old George William Clarke and a young woman identified by the Tribune as “his sweetheart Miss Kinzie.” Also on the platform were two policemen from the nearby Deering Street Station. Just as the platform was reaching its full height of 160 feet above the turbid river, Clarke, a professional diver, began whipping off […]
October 26, 2017

Chicago History: The elevated Loop, a landmark in everything but name

The 1.8-mile-long elevated railroad Loop, which turns 120 on October 3, is not an official Chicago landmark — but it should be. Over the past 40 years, Chicago has publicly affirmed that some 200 buildings, sites, objects and districts as important to the city for historical, artistic and other reasons. Somehow, though, city leaders have overlooked the elevated Loop which, I would argue, is more important than most, if not all, of those designated landmarks. Enclosing 39 downtown blocks, the elevated Loop is lost amid the skyscrapers that loom above it. Yet, no other structure in Chicago’s history has had as important an impact on the city. Throughout much of its history, it was viewed by many as simply ugly. Indeed, even before the elevated Loop was finished and often in the decades that followed, there were calls for it to be razed. The last push to tear it down came in 1978. During those years, none of Chicago’s public officials, business leaders and promoters talked about elevated Loop as anything more than a way to get people into and out of downtown. And it’s certainly been an essential transportation system for the city.   Anchored Chicago’s downtown Yet, for […]
October 13, 2017

Chicago History: Building the elevated Loop with trickery, brilliance and sheer will

Chicago’s elevated Loop, completed 120 years ago on Oct. 3, 1897, was the product of the audacious resolve of financial manipulator extraordinaire Charles Yerkes. To get the Union Loop, as it came to be called, built, Yerkes deceived, deluded and out-smarted his opposition. He played his foes off against each other. He gambled and blustered, and employed elaborately complicated money schemes that no one’s ever been able to figure out completely. Yerkes willed the Union Loop into existence, reaping huge profits and, even more important, bestowing onto Chicago a steel structure that has been a civic anchor for more than a century.   “Sure of an L Loop” The idea of a downtown terminal for the use of the city’s four elevated lines was endlessly discussed during the early 1890s, but it wasn’t until Yerkes made his move on Nov. 22, 1894, that it began to inch toward reality. That was when, backed by a crowd of ready investors, he incorporated the Union Elevated Railroad Company with the goal of erecting a union loop downtown. Triumphantly, the Tribune announced on its front page: “The Gordian knot has been cut. The question of an elevated railroad terminal is settled. There is […]
September 1, 2017

Chicago History: The short life and tragic death of Johnny Lindquist

For the last month of his short and tragic life in the summer of 1972, he was known to Chicago simply as Johnny.  Forty-five years ago today, he died. He was the West Side six-year-old who’d been beaten and kicked and slammed into a coma by his father, and his plight touched the hearts of those in the Chicago region and around the nation, and prompted a vigil of love, praying for his recovery. His story filled Chicago’s four daily newspapers and the radio and television newscasts. And it changed the law. For nearly half a century, Illinois children and those in the rest of the United States have been better protected against abuse and neglect because of what that young boy went through.   His name was Johnny Lindquist. He was born in Chicago to William and Irene Lindquist on August 28, 1965. His mother contracted tuberculosis, and, for the first years of his life, Johnny shuttled back and forth between his parents and a series of foster homes. In 1969, a Catholic Charities caseworker reported to a Juvenile Court judge that, by the end of one recent visit, Johnny was “covered with bruises and scars inflicted by both parents.” […]
August 30, 2017

Chicago history: The Wall of Respect

A half century ago, on Aug. 27, 1967, local residents, poets, painters, photographers and gang members gathered to dedicate the “Wall of Respect”, a mural painted on the side of a dilapidated tavern on the southeast corner of 43rd Street and Langley Avenue in Chicago’s impoverished Grand Boulevard neighborhood. It was a revolutionary act of art and politics that has reverberated throughout the nation ever since. It sparked the community-based outdoor mural movement that has provided thousands of neighborhoods of virtually every ethnicity and economic level with a language and format for asserting their pride and distinctiveness. At its start, the “Wall of Respect” was an unprecedented assertion of black identity and an important yet often over-looked moment in U.S. cultural history. “Hit a nerve” “The Wall hit a nerve at the center of the Black consciousness,” writes Abdul Alkalimat in a soon-to-be-published book “The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago” (Northwestern University Press). An African-American writer and historian, formerly known as Gerald McWorter, Alkalimat watched as the mural was created by friends and colleagues, and adds, “News of it spread from coast to coast.” Indeed, over the next eight years, more than 1,500 murals […]
July 14, 2017

Book preview: Pat Reardon reading his work-in-progress about the Loop on July 21 in Forest Park

Happy 120th birthday to Chicago’s Elevated Loop — the city’s savior! Savior? Yeah, really. The Elevated Loop is a big reason why, during the great social and demographic changes of the last hundred years, Chicago didn’t go the way of Cleveland and Detroit. The unrecognized importance of the Elevated Loop, which turns 120 in October, is the subject of Patrick T. Reardon’s work-in-progress: THE LOOP How the “golden circle” of elevated tracks gave shape and power to Chicago’s downtown, united Chicagoans and saved the city. Reardon will be reading from his manuscript during an appearance on Friday, July 21, from 7 pm to 9 pm at Centuries and Sleuths bookstore at 7419 Madison St, Forest Park, IL 60130. For info, call (708) 771-7243. The reading will be part of a series of programs that the store will produce that weekend during the annual Forest Park Music Festival, July 21-23, on Madison Street between Des Plaines Avenue and Circle Avenue. Here’s how it’s described: “The three-day fest boasts an amazing line-up, two beer gardens, food, fun, and yes…lots of music!”
July 11, 2017

The Loop: How the “golden circle” of elevated tracks gave shape and power to Chicago’s downtown, united Chicagoans and saved the city.

Happy 120th birthday to Chicago’s Elevated Loop — the city’s savior! Savior? Yeah, really. The Elevated Loop is a big reason why, during the great social and demographic changes of the last hundred years, Chicago didn’t go the way of Cleveland and Detroit. The unrecognized importance of the Elevated Loop, which turns 120 in October, is the subject of Patrick T. Reardon’s work-in-progress: THE LOOP How the “golden circle” of elevated tracks gave shape and power to Chicago’s downtown, united Chicagoans and saved the city.   Reardon will be reading from his manuscript during an appearance on Friday, July 21, from 7 pm to 9 pm at Centuries and Sleuths bookstore at 7419 Madison St, Forest Park, IL 60130. For info, call (708) 771-7243. The reading will be part of a series of programs that the store will produce that weekend during the annual Forest Park Music Festival, July 21-23, on Madison Street between Des Plaines Avenue and Circle Avenue. Here’s how it’s described: “The three-day fest boasts an amazing line-up, two beer gardens, food, fun, and yes…lots of music!”
May 26, 2017

Chicago history: The guerilla mural that was The Wall of Respect

The community-based outdoor mural movement, now international in scope, began half a century ago when a collective of African-American artists created “The Wall of Respect” on the side of a two-story tavern building on Chicago’s South Side. That artwork, created in August, 1967, featured the images of more than 50 black heroes and was a revolutionary act that echoed the Black Power rebellion in the streets. “It was a guerilla mural,” said artist Jeff Donaldson in an interview a few months before his death in 2004. “It was a clarion call, a statement of existence of a people. It became a rallying point for a lot of radical things.”   An exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center The Wall is the subject of an exhibit that opened February 25 at the Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington St. and will continue through July 30. I visited the exhibit recently, and, as you can see, there’s a half-size version of The Wall of Respect covering an entire wall of one room. This image looks real enough that you can easily take a photograph that makes it seem like you’re standing in front of the real thing. Alas, the real Wall is […]
May 22, 2017

Chicago History: Johnny Lindquist update

In response to my op-ed piece in Sunday’s Tribune, I received a number of questions about Johnny Lindquist’s parents. Here’s what I have found out: His biological father Jimmy Lindquist, 57, died in Peoria on March 16, 1999. It appears that he and Johnny’s mother were divorced. His foster father Robert Karvanek, 72, died in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, on February 8, 2003. He and Johnny’s foster mother Florence Karvanek were divorced. His biological mother Irene Lindquist, 60, died in Peoria on January 20, 2007. Robert Karvanek Jr., the other foster son of the Karvaneks, died in Panama City, Florida, on January 27, 2010. Patrick T. Reardon 5.22.17
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 […]