I have a confession to make. I read plaques.
I like to think it’s because I’m a historian. That’s better than saying I have an obsessive personality.
I do know that, when my kids were growing up, it drove them crazy that Dad was always stopping to read what someone had posted in bronze on the side of a bridge or public building or roadside rest stop. Now that my son and daughter are grown, I only drive my wife crazy.
My subject today is two downtown bridge plaques. The first is on the Columbus Drive Bridge. The key bit of information here is that when the bridge opened in 1982, Jane Byrne was mayor of Chicago.
I remember Jane Byrne’s mayoralty vividly, and I would guess that other Chicagoans my age do, too. Yet an otherwise-knowledgeable local 28-year-old recently asked me, “Who was Jane Byrne?”
Chicago’s first female mayor? Conqueror of the old Daley Machine? To many in the younger generation, she is just a name on a bridge plaque — which few people bother to notice.
Now for the second plaque. This one is on the Clark Street Bridge. No, not the big one. The little one under it.
In 1931, Big Bill Thompson was running for re-election as mayor.
Humboldt Park is a large, 207-acre park on the West Side. Humboldt Park is also Chicago Community Area #23 on the West Side.
Humboldt Park (the park) is not located in Humboldt Park.
The official community boundaries were drawn up by University of Chicago scholars in the 1920s. They decided that the park was part of the West Town neighborhood. Why they did this is too complicated to explain here. Or maybe it was just another UofC joke.
In any event, the subject today is the Humboldt Park Community Area. To keep things from getting too confusing, I’m going to refer to it as HP.
The Great Fire of 1871 caused Chicago to adopt new building laws.
On August 27, 1922 Francis S. Peabody suffered a heart attack and died. Though nobody realized it at the time, he had just taken the first step to becoming a Chicago legend.
Peabody was a 63-year-old coal dealer, a multi-millionaire, and a figure in national Democratic politics. On that Sunday in August, he’d invited some friends to his Hinsdale estate for a fox hunt. When the hunt was over and Peabody hadn’t returned, a search party was sent out. They found his body near a small lake, with his horse standing nearby.
Mrs. Peabody decided to have her husband buried at a secret location near where he had fallen. A few years later she sold the property to a group of Franciscan friars. Then the fun began.
A tiny chapel had been built near the lake. Wild rumors started to circulate about the mystery of Peabody’s Tomb. Mr. Peabody was supposed to be interred in a crystal casket inside the chapel, his body floating in preservative oil like a Du Page County Lenin.
It’s a Friday night in 1946. That usually means going to a movie. But this time, you want to do something new, something different, something modern. You decide to go to the drive-in theater.
Outdoor movies! When it gets dark, you can sit in your own car and watch a movie on a giant screen. There’s a speaker phone on a post next to your parking spot. And you only pay a buck to get in, no matter how many people you load into the car.
Where do you go? There’s only one drive-in around town, over by Morton Grove there, on Waukegan Road. But there are plans for more of them. Yeah, let’s go! Abbott and Costello are great!
The first drive-in theater opened in New Jersey in 1933. Yet they didn’t become popular until after World War II, when people started buying cars. In 1946 there were perhaps 50 drive-ins in the entire country. Ten years later, there were more than 4,000.
It was the Baby Boom, and everybody was starting a family. Parents could take the kids with them to the show, and not worry about how much noise the little darlings made. Later, when the kids got to be teens and be
What are your plans for the Fourth of July? This is how Chicago marked the holiday, at two different points in our history.
1862 — One-hundred fifty years ago, America was in the midst of Civil War, and Chicagoans anxiously scanned newspapers for reports of the great battles in Virginia.
Chicago’s holiday celebration began at sunrise, when cannons at Fort Douglas boomed out a salute to the nation born four-score-and-six years before. Bells rang throughout the city, and revelers fired guns into the air.
Soon trains were arriving at the downtown depots, bringing in country people who’d come to the city for the Fourth. Meanwhile, a smaller number of city people were on their way out of town for a day in the country.
A parade marked the holiday morning. Firemen, police, members of patriotic clubs and a contingent of guards from the military prison were the main marchers. As the parade passed, many spectators stepped into the street to follow.
At noon the parade arrived at Washington Square, where thousands had already gathered.
Though he didn’t find his life’s mission until he was 50 years old, George Wellington Streeter has achieved a kind of immortality: One of Chicago’s swankiest neighborhoods carries his name, all because he originated a local version of the Occupy Movement.
Streeter was born in Michigan in 1837, one of 13 children. He had little formal education, and scuffled through different jobs — logger, miner, ice-cutter, carnival showman, mariner. In the summer of 1886 he got into a scheme to run guns to Honduras.
While trying out his little steamship in a Lake Michigan storm, Streeter ran up on a sandbar off Superior Street. He couldn’t move, so he decided to stay there.
Everything east of Michigan Avenue was then a swamp. Streeter convinced local builders to dump their debris near his ship.