“…building chicken coops, or possibly, bungalows…


This is pretty cool: when George Ade, the wildly popular Chicago-based humorist of the late 19th Century, left that city to return to his native Indiana, he built Hazelden Farm along the banks of the Iroquois River, near the village of Brook. The farm included a top-notch golf course. Today, the course still exists, as Hazelden Country Club, as does his house, which is maintained by Newton County as an event facility. Also, adjacent to the property is the George Ade Memorial Health Care Center. And I never realized, until just now, that Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue University (his alma mater) is co-named in his honor – certainly a very rare distinction for an American writer.

No less of an authority than William Dean Howells was once convinced of Ade's great potential as a fiction writer. From Donald L. Miller's City of the Century:

For a time, Howells believed George Ade might be the one to produce the "great American novel," but Ade squandered his promise by going after the money. In 1900 he left the Record, where he made sixty dollars a week, and began writing fables in slang for a syndicate "wizard," earning over a thousand dollars a week as his "share of the conspiracy." He became further sidetracked when he began writing successful dramatic comedies for the Broadway stage. "The show shops had me hooked," he wrote, "and the syndicate wouldn't let go of me, and between the two I was constantly incited and urged to do the most dreadful things to the English language."

Poignantly, in his later years he reflected on the literary success of his fellow Hoosier, Theodore Dreiser, while downplaying his own material success:

"While some of us have been building chicken coops, or possibly, bungalows, Mr. Dreiser has been creating skyscrapers."

Adjusted for inflation, his $1,000 per week in 1900 is equivalent to $1.4 million per year today. For that kind of cash, I would bet that even Dreiser would have been tempted to forsake serious fiction.

February 5, 2018 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...this cruelty too will end...”

I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return again.

Anne Frank wrote these optimistic words less than three weeks before she and her family were discovered and taken away by the Nazis, after more than two years in hiding. I finally read The Diary of a Young Girl after my seventeen-year-old daughter Maddie repeatedly took me to task for never having read it. I’m very glad she did. Simply unforgettable.

January 30, 2018 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


“I despise your order, your laws, your force-propped authority. Hang me for it!” - Louis Lingg

”The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.” - August Spies

”Will I be allowed to speak, O men of America? ... Let me speak ...” - Albert Parsons

Lingg, Spies, Parsons and two other defendants were convicted, without evidence, of the infamous Haymarket bombing in 1887. Lingg killed himself before he could be executed, and the other four were hung, on November 11, 1887. 

January 28, 2018 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Honesty is the best policy. I know. I’ve tried it both ways.” - Richard W. Sears, founder of Sears, Roebuck and Company (quoted in City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, by Donald L. Miller)

January 14, 2018 in Books, Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

”...carrying their fate over their shoulder like a sling bag...”

Jean-Paul Sartre, on France during the Nazi occupation:

Everybody was going about their day like sleepwalkers, carrying their fate over their shoulder like a sling bag, toothbrush and soap in one’s pocket, just in case of an arrest. We all lived in transit, between two round-­ups, two hostage-­takings, and two misunderstandings.

Good to see that the French publisher Gallimard is reconsidering its earlier decision to publish Celine’s pre-WWII anti-Semitic rants. There’s already too much racism in our “modern” world. Despite the publisher’s claims of the tracts’ literary merit, I’ve read elsewhere that the writing, beyond being morally abhorrent, isn’t even particularly good. 

January 12, 2018 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the soberest and the most clear-headed..."

Frederick Law Olmsted, writing about the aftermath of the Chicago Fire, in the November 9, 1871 edition of The Nation:

For a time men were unreasonably cheerful and hopeful; now, this stage appears to have passed. In its place there is sternness; but so narrow is the division between this and another mood, that in the midst of a sentence a change of quality in the voice occurs, and you see that eyes have moistened. I had partly expected to find a feverish, reckless spirit, and among the less disciplined classes an unusual current toward turbulence, lawlessness and artificial jollity, such as held in San Francisco for a long time after there - such as often seizes seamen after a wreck. On the contrary, Chicago is the soberest and the most clear-headed city I ever saw. I have observed but two men the worse for liquor; I have not once been asked for an alms, nor have I heard a hand-organ. The clearing of the wreck goes ahead in a driving but steady, well-ordered way.

Quite the contrast to Chicago's reputation, both then and now, as a den of ruthless, lawless incorrigibles. I'm puzzled, though, over the implication that the playing of a hand-organ is as immoral as drunkenness or begging. It must be some dated reference I'm just not catching.

January 7, 2018 in Books, Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

1000 W. Monroe Street








I'm glad I photographed these two charming rowhouses (now very rare in the West Loop) while I had the chance, because they were recently demolished, for yet another new development. As if the West Loop doesn't already have enough generic luxury apartment buildings. 

August 16, 2017 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Ruettiger's Tire Service


Ruettiger's Tire Service - Vulcanizing - Road Service Dial 4153. Cass and Herkimer Streets, Joliet. (Yes, that Ruettiger family.) I've known about this ad for a while now, but just recently the newer canvas ads that covered most of it were removed. 

June 8, 2017 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Shields Farr Printing & Engraving


Shields Farr Printing & Engraving, Rosa Parks Boulevard, Nashville, Tennessee. I couldn't find any historical info on this company online, but from my Google results I was pleased to see that my good friend Frank Jump already found this ad, seven years ago

June 7, 2017 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)


“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument of the Incorporated National Will. When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.” - Dorothy Thompson

May 23, 2017 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying." - Studs Terkel

Yesterday was the 105th anniversary of Studs' birth. I've long been a great admirer of his, and wish he was still with us - I can only imagine what his take would be on the current political situation. Maybe we should honor him by commemorating May 16 as Studsday - we could each take aside one person (someone we don't know well, or even a complete stranger) and simply ask them to talk about their life. 

May 17, 2017 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


"With laws shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste." - from an Icelandic saga, quoted by Nancy Marie Brown in Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

May 4, 2017 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


"There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail. One is just as good as the other. The people here can no more help being here than the people outside can avoid being outside." - Clarence Darrow

April 17, 2017 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...inflated language and other windy humbuggeries..."

Mark Twain, on the chivalric novels of Sir Walter Scott:

The South has not yet recovered from the debilitating influence of his books. Admiration of his fantastic heroes and their grotesque “chivalry” doings and romantic juvenilities still survives here, in an atmosphere in which is already perceptible the wholesome and practical nineteenth-century smell of cotton-factories and locomotives; and traces of its inflated language and other windy humbuggeries survive along with it.

Of Twain's works, I am sorely under-read. I should do something about that. This passage reminds me a lot of Mencken, of whom I'm a big fan. 

April 15, 2017 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (2)

Michael Brand Brewery, the epilogue


Six years ago, I posted about the impending demise of the old Michael Brand Brewery complex on Elston Avenue in Chicago, which was about to be demolished for a new HH Gregg store. Which indeed happened, shortly after. And now comes the news that HH Gregg is bankrupt and is closing all of its stores. So, at the cost of an impressive relic of Chicago history (and buildings that could have easily undergone renovation and creative reuse) we got about five years of a crappy Indiana electronics chain. How stunningly short-sighted. 

April 8, 2017 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


"One afternoon I was planting in the orchard under an apple-tree iris reticulata, those lovely violet flowers...Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: 'Hitler is making a speech.' I shouted back, 'I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.' Last March, twenty-one years after Hitler committed suicide in the bunker, a few of those violet flowers still flowered under the apple-tree in the orchard." - Leonard Woolf

March 19, 2017 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"You can't force a boat through it."

Chicago tour guides often marvel at the epic engineering feat of the late 19th Century that reversed the course of the Chicago River, diverting its noxious flow away from Lake Michigan (the city's source of drinking water). But what those guides never tell you is where all of that sewage went. In short, it was flushed down the I&M Canal and the Des Plaines River, to Joliet

The water is nastier here than it is in Chicago. They have as much sewage there, but the putrefaction is well under way when it gets down here. Down on Lake Joliet it is thick; you can’t force a boat through it.

Thank goodness for modern sewage treatment technology. 

February 11, 2017 in Chicago Observations, History, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Grand and humble



I love this undated photograph of the Stratford Hotel, on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, but only partly for the hotel's 19th Century grandeur. What really strikes me is the tiny white storefront at the far left, which is dwarfed by the surrounding structures. I can't tell what the building was, but I'd guess it was a cigar shop or newsstand, even though the hotel would surely have had both of those amenities within its own building.

The photo is taken from Chicago at the Turn of the Century in Photographs: 122 Historic Views from the Collections of the Chicago Historical Society, edited by Larry Viskochil.

February 5, 2017 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Graham Bros. Soap Co.


Graham Bros. Soap Co., makers of toilet soaps, shampoo, talcum powder and laundry soaps. 1423 W. Lake Street, Chicago. The name is mostly gone, but I was able to find it by searching on the street address. Below is a fine example of one of the company's talcum tins. 


January 18, 2017 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

“We were very lucky to have lived down there to bring up the family."

Spitalfields Life shares some charming remembrances of Joan Naylor, the last resident of the Bellevue Cottages in Stepney, London, from the era when the cottages housed the workers of the adjacent Charrington Brewery. Naylor's husband was a clerk at the brewery, and her stories of the boisterous social life there are warm and inviting.

When all the children were safely tucked up asleep (“We had children, we couldn’t go out“), the residents of Bellevue Place enjoyed lively fancy dress parties, in and out of the gardens, and each other’s houses too. “The word would go around from Stan and we would go round the charity shops to see what we could find, but no-one would tell anyone what their outfit was going to be. It was lovely. Everybody had fun and nobody carried on with each other’s wives.” Joan assured me.

I'm obsessive about this sort of thing, so I couldn't help hunting down the locale on Google Maps. You can see the roofs of the cottages in the image below, between two bands of greenery, just behind the commercial buildings at the corner of Mile End Road and Cleveland Way. (The cottages are on an unmarked street, so Google Street View didn't go there to provide a ground-level view.)


The brewery (which was located to the east of the cottages) must have been a huge complex. The building that housed the company offices still stands, at the northwest corner of Mile End and Cephas Avenue, but the rest of the brewery has been demolished, with a shopping center and its parking lot now taking up most of the space. Lost London, sigh. 

December 7, 2016 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Madison and Halsted, 1959


This 1959 photo looks east, toward the corner of Madison and Halsted. The buildings in the left foreground are where my office building now stands. (I guarantee you that the goings-on at the Elite Hotel and Little Max's Clothing - the only two signs I can read in full - were a lot more interesting than what happens there now.) The only building in the photo that's still standing is the long one on the right, between the theater and the corner - the old Mid City National Bank, now vacant. 

December 6, 2016 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Debs for President

Always nice to see a modern reference to Eugene Debs. Roll Call's Walter Shapiro:

During the same answer, Trump rediscovered his authoritarian side by dramatically announcing that his Democratic opponent “shouldn’t be allowed to run. It’s crooked.” That’s right — because of charges about her homebrew email server that the FBI director said did not warrant prosecution — Trump would have banned Hillary Clinton from the ballot.

It is worth recalling that in 1920, Eugene Debs, as the Socialist candidate for president, received nearly 1 million votes while serving as Prisoner 9653 in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Debs’ conviction for opposing American entry into World War I was unjust. But back in 1920, no one suggested that he should be banned from the ballot in a democracy.

October 21, 2016 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boy's gotta have it.


A gorgeous pen, made of wood reclaimed from an 1874 Chicago building, Brand's Hall. Perfect. And then I saw the price. Boy's not gonna have it.

October 18, 2016 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...leaving not a trace behind."

Spitalfields Life, on London's first underground railway:
"...the ancient ways upon which our forefathers stood, made bargains, drank, feasted, and trained their children, are to be deserted, closed, built upon, transformed or utterly destroyed…plastered over with the bills of some authorised auctioneer to be sold as ‘old rubbish’…carted off in a hundred wagons leaving not a trace behind.”
I can't help thinking of old photographs I've seen of the Chicago neighborhoods that were leveled - a two-block-wide span, from downtown to the city limits - in the fifties and sixties to make way for the expressways. Transformed or utterly destroyed, indeed.

September 4, 2016 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)


"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else." - Booker T. Washington

May 29, 2016 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Turk's Head, City Bicycle School, Singer

image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201bb08c73029970d-pi

There's so much to love in this 1883 photograph from Aldgate, London: the quaint, gritty buildings (now long gone), the moody fog, the blur of passing traffic, the barrels being delivered by a team of horses. And looking even closer, the signage for Turk's Head Imperial Wine & Spirit Warehouse and the City Bicycle School at Chequer Yard...

image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201b8d1acd201970c-pi

...and this fantastic ad for Singer's Sewing Machines...

image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201bb08c7315f970d-pi

That's just perfect, how the name is curved into a big S.

March 11, 2016 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Labor Day


"City of the big shoulders" was how the white-haired poet put it. Maybe meaning that the shoulders had to get that wide because they had so many bone-deep grudges to settle. The big dark grudge cast by the four standing in white muslin robes, hands cuffed behind, at the gallows’ head. For the hope of the eight-hour day.

The grudge between Grover Cleveland and John Peter Altgeld. The long deep grudges still borne for McCormick the Reaper, for Pullman and Pullman’s Gary. Grudges like heavy hangovers from men and women whose fathers were not yet born when the bomb was thrown, the court was rigged, and the deed was done.


(Photo: Haymarket Memorial, Desplaines Street, Chicago. Sculpture by Mary Brogger, photo by me.)

September 7, 2015 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Red Cross Pharmacy, Antimigraine

Anti-migraine (small)

This fading ad (in Savannah, Georgia, at the corner of Broughton and Habersham Streets) appears to actually be two ads, of two different but related businesses that once occupied the building: the lower ad ("Antimigraine Cures Headaches") must have been from the The Antimigraine Company, which was here from 1891 to 1892, while the upper ad ("Red Cross Pharmacy", with a faint yellow background), from 1904-05. The building has undergone an extensive restoration by the Savannah College of Art and Design; until recently, the ad was hidden by a coat of white paint, and was only painstakingly recovered:

When work began the entire building was painted white. There was no evidence of a commercial sign though students thought it might be "neat" if there was a Coke sign under the paint. To remove the white paint a chemical and power washer (hot water) were used. One day as Jim was inspecting the project he saw the letter "A" begin to unveil itself in the paint removal process. He immediately stopped the workmen. He did not want to strip away any of the historical evidence of the commercial sign. To uncover the sign, which must have been painted with lead-based paint, the paint stripper was diluted and the power on the washer was turned down. What eventually was revealed are the words "Anti-migrane Cures Headaches" of the original 1890 business of the Anti-migrane Pharmacy. The round disks shown simulate pills. Also revealed was "Red Cross Pharmacy" which was what the name of the pharmacy was at some point during its history. And, if you look closely to the south end of the sign you might see lady looking toward you in profile.

That lady isn't visible in this photo, and while I did take another that captures that section, the image is badly deteriorated and the lady can now be seen only with a great deal of imagination. How wonderful that the preservationist took such care to save this ad. If that is at all suggestive of the work that has been done on the interior of the building, it must be a lovely restoration indeed.

June 1, 2015 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

"So this is the end. Is this what peace looks like?"

In the Guardian, contemporary accounts of the final days of World War II, seventy years ago this week.

May 8, 2015 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)



In Marseilles, Illinois, there is a canal lock without a canal. The Illinois and Michigan Canal fell into disuse in the early 20th Century, having been supplanted by railroads and bigger canals, and while most of its original 96 miles still exists as stream and marsh, some sections have been filled in, as shown here in Marseilles. (And more notably on the southwest side of Chicago, where the Stevenson Expressway follows the old canal bed.) I frequently ride alongside the canal on my Saturday morning bike treks, and quite of the few old locks still exist in the Joliet area. I haven't seen the dry Marseilles lock myself, but will hunt for it next time I'm around there.

(Photo by The American Canal Society.)

May 3, 2015 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Guitars! Hamsters!

Guitar hamster

While searching for history on a faded ad that I photographed this week, I came across this 1951 issue of Popular Mechanics. I find these classifieds - play guitar! raise hamsters! - simply fascinating. And reassuring in how they make you realize that human dissatisfaction is by no means just a 21st Century condition. We've always been looking for something, or something else, to do with our lives.

March 29, 2015 in Ephemera, History | Permalink | Comments (2)

Cass Street


Great photo of Cass Street in Joliet from the mid 1950s, looking west across the Chicago Street intersection. All of these buildings are still standing (remarkable, given the city's fondness for parking garages and surface lots), though not as thriving as they once were. The jewelry store on the corner had a beautiful gut rehab a few years ago (here are some photos from early in the renovation), but the first restaurant there closed last year and a second restaurant is now giving it a try. Panning left, the white-front building (a Goldblatt's department store back then) has been vacant for at least ten years. Next is the former Ottawa Street Methodist Church (a very odd church building - it looks more like a bank) which is now the Joliet Area Historical Museum. The last building (with the angled corner) is the former Al Baskin clothing store (forerunner of Mark Shale) which this century had three restaurants come and go in a span of just two or three years and has been vacant for quite some time.

I thought about posting a current photo of this same block, but the sight would be too depressing. Other than a steady stream of cars passing through without stopping, there are few signs of life - no cars parked while their drivers patronize local businesses, and almost no pedestrians. This should be the most bustling corner downtown, but the area continues to struggle.

March 22, 2015 in History, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Heinz strained beets! Swan's soap! Public telephones!


I love this detail from Gordon Parks' 1943 photograph of a Harlem street scene.

February 22, 2015 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

McKinley Park


I love this 1906 image of the McKinley Park swimming pool in Chicago, and particularly the fact that something as mundane as a public pool could have had such grandeur (and white-uniformed attendants). The park still has a pool, but the neo-classical structures are long gone.

(Actually, the building on the left still stands, though in sadly degraded form. The other structures and pool are gone.)

July 11, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Clark and Madison


Lively image of the bustling (northeast) corner of Clark and Madison, in 1948. Ah, to be able to take in a show at the Clark Theater, followed by some liquid refreshment at the Bamboo Inn or Kozer's Tap, and then an afternoon nap in an air-conditioned room at the Planters. None of which, sadly, is possible at that same corner today.

June 27, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haskell, Barker, Sullivan


Detail of Louis Sullivan's gorgeous cast-iron facades on the Haskell and Barker Buildings, at 18-22 S. Wabash. The facades were rediscovered during a 2009 renovation, under twenty coats of paint. Alas, the exposure meter on my iPhone wasn't quite up to task; capturing the black detail resulted in the white detail being partly washed out.

June 19, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Dexter Folder Company


Fading ad for Dexter Folder Company, on Harrison Street in the South Loop. At first I assumed that Dexter once made folders of the manila file variety, but I subsequently learned that its folders were actually automatic folding machines that were used to assemble newspapers, books and magazines. Which makes perfect sense: this building is immediately adjacent to Printer's Row, the city's old publishing district.

June 10, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vienna Sausage


A true Chicago icon: the Vienna Sausage Company (now "Vienna Beef") at its grand opening in 1894. The building was at Halsted Street and 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road) near the legendary Maxwell Street open market, but no longer exists after the entire neighborhood was redeveloped as University Village during the early 2000s. Although the sign claims the company's products as "celebrated" and thus indicates the company was already in existence at this time, this may have been its first permanent location. The company first rose to fame during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

June 6, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Schmitz & Gretencort


I strongly prefer to find fading ads on my own, finding much more pleasure in unexpected discovery than taking the shortcut of an Internet search. But yesterday, for some reason, I happened to google "ghost sign" (the more common term for fading ads) and "Joliet" and came across a Flickr photo of an ad in Rockdale, a tiny factory town that is almost completely surrounded by Joliet. I was surprised, as I had hunted in Rockdale in the past but hadn't found anything; apparently I must have always driven west down Moen Avenue, and thus missed seeing this west-facing ad.

Last night, after picking Maddie up from her guitar lesson, we swung down to Rockdale and found the ad, and that's my photograph above. Though the ad is in poor condition and hard to read, my knowledge of local history helped me immediately recognize the name "Schmitz & Gretencort", an old department store in downtown Joliet. (Here's an earlier blog post I did about the store.) There's additional wording above the name, the only clear part of which reads "The Boys." Oddly enough, the white van in the photo also appears in the exact same location in the Flickr photo. Possibly belongs to the owner, though, sadly, more likely a regular.

May 16, 2014 in History, Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

E.J. Brach



The photo at the top is an early home of E.J. Brach & Sons, on the northeast corner of LaSalle and Illinois, circa 1909. After seeing this online and, on a whim, doing a Google Street View of the address, I was delighted to see that the building is still standing. I took the lower photo today during my afternoon walk. Most of Chicago's once-thriving candy industry is now gone, so sadly this building now only houses nothing more unique than yet another Jimmy John's outpost, plus whatever happens to be upstairs.

May 15, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

19 S. Peoria Street, then and now


19 south peoria

Sure, that parking lot is convenient and the employee picnic table looks inviting, but, still, I'm sure things were a lot more lively at Waller's Public Bath.

April 23, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: A.C. McClurg & Co.


I was quite pleased to suddenly discover this fading ad during my afternoon walk last Friday. I was strolling west on Adams, approaching Wabash, and happened to glance up, above the El tracks, where I saw the ad high up on a building at 218 S. Wabash. Because of where the ad is situated (facing a narrow gap over a small four-story building, next to which was a tall parking garage) the exact spot where I happened to be at that moment is essentially the only point where the ad can be seen from the street. I rode the elevator to the top level of the garage, walked past the cars and to the edge, where I was able to take this shot.

The ad is for A.C. McClurg & Company (you can see all but the "A.C." and the "Mc"), once one of the most prominent publishers in Chicago; McClurg most notably published Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan books as well as The Dial, one of the most prominent literary journals of its day. McClurg also operated a major book store which eventually morphed into the legendary Kroch's & Brentano's. In an interesting twist, this photo actually includes a second ad: in the upper left corner you can see an ad for Lyon & Healy, which I have previously documented.

Parking garages are a great place to photograph from, or just to take in unique views. Most of what we see downtown is either from street level or from high up in tall buildings. But garages provide an interesting middle ground: five to ten stories high, with the uncovered top level providing an open, panoramic view. Especially on the streets along the El tracks (Wabash, Van Buren, Wells, Lake) where redevelopment has come slower than the more marquee streets of the Loop, garages provide a rare glimpse of scruffier and (to me) more charming older buildings. And since they're open to the public, garages are easily accessible without having to navigate through security.

March 24, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

Henrici's at the Merchandise Mart


Now, that was a bar: the lounge of the Henrici's in the Merchandise Mart, which opened in 1948. (Not to be confused, however, with the Henrici's flagship location on Randolph Street.) The Merchandise Mart location was designed by James Eppenstein (the subject of this long feature at Forgotten Chicago, where I got the photo; scroll way down in the article for much more on this Henrici's), and that fantastic mural was by Frank Ruvolo. It almost makes me feel like I could slide onto a stool at that glorious curving bar and order an Old Fashioned. Sadly, all tangible vestiges of Henrici's are now long gone.

February 20, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

The imaginary libraries of Old London



This is wonderful: British artist Adam Dant has created a series of illustrations that fancifully imagine old London as being full of arcane libraries. The illustration above is his "The Subterranean Bovine Archive," followed by a current photograph of the same street. (Note that the building on the left is identical in both the illustration and photo. The implication is that the newer buildings on the right in the photo were built on the site of the Archive.) More pairings are on display at Spitalfields Life, from Dant's new book, Bibliopolis: Imaginary Libraries in the City of London. The spirit of these illustrations, and especially the quirky names of the libraries, remind me of Ben Katchor's not-quite-New York City; "Library on a Pole" could easily have come, in more modernized form, straight from Katchor's pen.

February 19, 2014 in Art, Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Blymyer Building, Cincinnati


This 1912 photo of downtown Cincinnati is very cool in general (such bustling energy!), but even cooler is this inset photo of the top of the Blymyer Buidling and this glorious ad:


Unfortunately, it's not a fading ad now, since the building no longer exists - still, this is the most extensive "building directory" ad I've ever seen. That building apparently was quite the mecca of the writing trade - two typewriter dealers, a printer and a stationer.

January 31, 2014 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lake Chicago


Wow, this is so cool: this map depicts the Chicago area at the end of the last ice age, around 14,000 years ago. (I knew about Lake Chicago - the predecessor of Lake Michigan - and was aware of its general environs, but had never seen an actual map.) The shaded portions are the land areas that existed back then, while the dotted lines show the modern-day Chicago River and shoreline of Lake Michigan. What is now the city of Blue Island was indeed an island back then, and even today with the waters having receded, it's an unusually elevated area in an otherwise flat landscape. Same thing for Mount Forest Island, which is between Lemont and Willow Springs; I ride right past there every day on my train.

What's really interesting to me about Mount Forest Island is the two outlets that are shown: the Sag Outlet, the low-lying ground where the Cal-Sag Channel was dug during the early 1900s; and the Desplaines Outlet, which is the current course of the Des Plaines River. As Lake Chicago receded, the Des Plaines formed into a river, bending to the north near McCook Station and roughly following the course of the old shoreline shown in the map.

January 24, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fading Ad: Boston Store redux


My good friend Frank Jump was kind enough to repost this photo that I put up last week on Facebook, where I've been running an album called "Photo a Day", of photographs that I've taken each day this year. One afternoon last week, I was walking down Washington Street and looking for a subject, and happened to look across the street at the Block 37 office building, and was very pleased to see the old Boston Store fading ad reflected in the glass. (I had previously photographed the ad - posted here - and inevitably look for it every time I'm walking nearby.) In his post Frank provides more background on the Boston Store, including a great old newspaper ad. I really like the photo, particularly its juxtaposition of modern and aged.

January 22, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Character of a Coffee-House"


Spitalfields Life presents a lovely map, by Adam Dant, of 17th Century London coffeehouses, including interesting factoids on each, like the one shown above for Batson's.

"And it wasn’t just coffee they sold but alcohol too," he added, fleshing out the historical background as he sipped his glass, "so you could get drunk in one corner and sober up with coffee in another."

Sounds like my kind of place.

January 21, 2014 in Food and Drink, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Michelangelo's grocery list


This is pretty wonderful: Michelangelo's handwritten, illustrated grocery list. Illustrated, because his servants were illiterate, and couldn't read the words. I often joke about favorite writers, saying I'd gladly read anything of theirs, even their grocery lists. But Michelangelo's list is surely one of the few that qualifies as a priceless relic.

(Via Austin Kleon.)

January 10, 2014 in Art, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


"These are the times that try men's souls."
- Thomas Paine

As Goodreads notes, Paine's (literally) revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense was published on this date in 1776. The manifesto ultimately provide some of the most influential moral and philosophical underpinnings for the American Revolution. No less an authority than John Adams once said, "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain." Sadly, his later years were marked by obscurity, and only six mourners attended his funeral. He was one of the greatest of our country's founders, but history has largely ignored him, at least compared to the deified Washington, Jefferson and Adams.

I've certainly been no help to Paine's legacy, having never read any of his writings. I hope to finally read Common Sense this year, probably sometime around Independence Day.

January 10, 2014 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (2)