Where Prentice stood

The former site of the Prentice Women's Hospital building by Bertrand Goldberg, demolished in 2014.
The upper floors of the new Arkes Pavilion give a clear view of where the old Prentice Women’s Hospital building stood.  Completed in 1975, the building was part of Northwestern Hospital, which demolished it in 2013-14, despite long and intense opposition.  The building’s architect was Bertrand Goldberg.

Prentice, which housed not only Northwestern’s maternity hospital but its psychiatric ward, was unforgettable on account of its peculiar rounded tower, a cylindrical cluster in the shape of a clover-leaf or quatrefoil, which seemed to float or balloon over a squat dark building that formed its base.  The tower, made mainly of poured concrete, had disproportionately small oval windows whose placement accentuated the tower’s strange shape.

The building was an example of the brutalist style (of which Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago is an instance, too).  It was assertively drab; impractical, too.  Ironic, then, that it should live on in one’s mind: provocative and futuristic, one-of-a-kind.

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‘Summertime 1944’

Frederick Boulton's watercolor "Summertime 1944) shows the back yard of a home on Chicago's north shore.

We saw this beautiful watercolor in an antique store and were immediately drawn to its vibrant color and technique.  Bob liked it because it was a ‘happy’ picture.  Its subject, the lush backyard of a suburban home in summer, was familiar.  The back yard turns out to have been on Chicago’s North Shore—perhaps in Lake Forest or Highland Park, where the water-colorist, Frederick William Boulton, lived for several decades.

Boulton (1904-1969) was born in Mishawaka, Indiana, the son of a Lutheran minister.  He came to Chicago to study at the Art Institute and the American Academy of Art, completing his studies in Paris at the esteemed Académie Julian.  Returning to Chicago, he embarked in 1923 on a career as a commercial artist with J Walter Thompson, the ad agency.

Boulton was successful, becoming an art director and vice president at JWT, while continuing to paint in his spare time.  He founded the Art Directors’ Club of Chicago and was honored as art director of the year by the National Society of Art Directors in 1955.  According to the Highland Park Public Library, which owns one of his paintings, he lived in the Braeside area of Highland Park from 1938 until the late 1950s.

summertime-inscription

‘Summertime 1944′ has a signed inscription—’As George remembers it.  And fondly dedicated to him’— that adds interest and charm to what we see.  The house and garden, if lifeless, are perfect.  The grass is manicured, the landscape and patio glowing with order and beauty.  Whether painted in the summer of 1944 or later, this elegant depiction of a place ‘George’ knew well may well have been intended to make him smile or laugh.

Does ‘Summertime 1944’ faithfully represent a place and a moment, or is it an idealized souvenir of a past that never was, or was no longer, as tranquil and perfect as memory deemed?  Whatever the case, its paean to the joys of home still sings.

Small Red House

Small red house, © 2014 Susan BarsyThe South Shore Line, an electric train that runs from South Bend Indiana into Chicago, runs through some of the most beautiful places along Lake Michigan as well as some of the poorest and dirtiest.  The simple beauty of the dunes, marshes, and woodlands that line the Lake alternates with a landscape that industry and humble labor of many sorts have shaped.

The train runs along the beautiful old Calumet Trail, a prairie path that has existed since Indian times, following the curve of the Lake across boundaries separating town from country, blurring the distinctions of ownership and governing.  All of northern Indiana and Chicago’s southern hinterland are seamlessly joined.  On both sides of the train flow thousands of properties—neat and messy, beautiful and ugly, thriving and moldering—suggesting every condition of American society.

It’s a hard train ride because so many neighborhoods are decrepit and decaying.  So many places—and people—are just scraping by.  Our America is not a spotless picture-perfect place.  Off the political grid are thousands of people subsisting in garbage-strewn trailer parks, or living in ramshackle housing with windows missing.  They are exiles from the land of opportunity.  Embarrassing aberrations with no place in the progressive narrative of the world’s greatest nation, they are geniuses of survival, disciples of the art of making something out of nothing.  With luck, every day is the same, where social isolation limns the horizon.

Is this the nation our forebears intended us to become?

A Valentine’s Day Idyl

Idyl by Lorenzo Taft, © 2014 Susan Barsy

Idyl, by Lorenzo Taft, in the fern room of the conservatory

Thinking back on all the wonderful adventures my husband and I have shared this year, my mind turns to one particular autumn day, when we ventured to the Garfield Park Conservatory for the first time.  We were both overwhelmed by the beauty of this enormous old hothouse, filled with ancient and awe-inspiring plants, which, though battered by time and a recent devastating hailstorm, seemed to distill all the wonder of the natural world, and the essence of our beloved city itself.

The tree, © 2014 Susan Barsy

An Eden of sorts

We wandered the place in the company of many other pilgrims, our necks craning this way and that, faces upraised, our reverence as thick as the air itself.  After we had ambled for several hours, we wandered outside, where the splendor of an autumn afternoon greeted us, and, with a scattered assembly, we gloried in the radiance of being alive.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  Especially Bob.

Click on the images to enlarge.

The Era of the Dynamite Girl

Aftermath of bombing at the Chicago Federal Courthouse, 1918 (Courtesy of the National Archives via Flickr Commons)

The years after the end of WWI were turbulent ones in the United States.  A slump came with peace, as wartime demand for American agricultural and industrial output weakened, diminishing American opportunities.  The Russian Revolution of 1917, and the radical political ferment that contributed to it, had a profound effect on political activism in the States, as workers and intellectuals explored whether communist or socialist doctrines could be used to revolutionize a capitalist system that was generating unacceptably high levels of inequality and suffering.  The anarchist sentiment that had triggered the outbreak of WWI had never vanished, and it combined with other domestic conditions, including historically high rates of immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, to make the years before 1920 ones of conflict and unease.

The threat of domestic violence, and the fear of such threats, was felt in many parts of the country.  These were the years of the Palmer Raids and the Red Scare, as well as a deadly race riot in Chicago and the dubious prosecution and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in New England.

In Chicago, the year 1918 got underway with the arrest of a nineteen-year-old Italian-born radical named Gabriella Antolini, who was found carrying a satchel full of dynamite (36 pounds) along with a loaded pistol through Union Station.  The press immediately dubbed her ‘the Dynamite Girl.’  A professed follower of anarchist Luigi Galeani, Antolini served eighteen months in prison.  She was a sympathizer of the IWW, the radical labor union headed by Big Bill Haywood and headquartered in the city.  That summer, Chicago tried to stay steady amid a series of bombings and attempted bombings, typically connected with labor disputes, and some seemingly involving IWW members, known as Wobblies.

On September 4, 1918, a bomb exploded in the north lobby of Chicago’s Federal Building, killing four people.  According to later accounts, a man in a tan raincoat had been seen pacing around the building around 3:00pm with a cigar box with a string dangling from one side of it under his arm.  He was seen to drop the cigar box and kick it under a radiator near the Adams Street entrance before hurrying away.  According to Sean Deveney, writing on his website The Original Curse, the explosion was so powerful that it ripped open the Federal Building and threw from their seats employees at work inside the neighboring Marquette and Edison Buildings.  The buildings’ windows were shattered, shards of glass raining onto the streets.  Although many suspected a connection to the recently concluded trial and conviction of some 100 IWW officials, the perpetrator of the crime was never found.

Image: The wreckage of Chicago’s Federal Building, 1918, from this source.

Big Bill Haywood

Union leaders Adolf Lessig and Big Bill Haywood (Courtesy Library of Congress via Flickr Commons)

There’s something raw about the history of the 1910s, a period of depression and unrest, when Americans were engaged in an anxious quest for alternatives.  It was a period of activism, when anti-capitalist sentiment and true human suffering allowed organized labor, still in its infancy, to make significant strides.  At the center of these trends were redoubtable labor leaders like Big Bill Haywood (right), shown here in 1913 with his fellow activist Adolph Lessig.

William Dudley Haywood (1869-1928) was one tough customer, a sometime socialist who helped found the radical labor organization known as the International Workers of the World (IWW), or ‘Wobblies.’  Founded in 1905, the IWW was radical in seeking to organize workers of all types and nationalities, even unskilled workers, in contrast to the other, more exclusive, ‘trade’ unions of the day.

Haywood was born in Utah and by age 15 was working in western copper mines.  By 1900, he had an invalid wife and two children and had gotten involved in the labor movement, skyrocketing to the top of the Western Federation of Miners, a militant union that in 1903 pitted itself against the Colorado mining industry and the state’s government in a bitter strike lasting nearly three years.

Aligned for a time with the fledgling Socialist Party, Haywood ultimately fell out with that group over strategy.  By 1910, his chief interest lay in directly mobilizing masses of people in IWW-led strikes and protests, believing this the surest path to structural change.Big Bill Haywood & followers in Paterson, NJ (Courtesy Library of Congress via Flickr Commons)

Haywood was involved, for instance, in the famous 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, also known as the Bread and Roses strike, whose centennial is now being commemorated.  Lawrence’s textile workers included large numbers of women and teens, and many persons of foreign birth.  Their protests aroused national sympathy, particularly when children of striking parents were sent to New York City for safekeeping.  The strike ended after three months, with workers gaining many concessions to their demands.

The 1912 textile strike in Lawrence (Courtesy of the Library of Congress via Flickr Commons)

Haywood’s star began to set during WWI, when the IWW’s on-going militancy and vision of international solidarity jarred with wartime industrial demands and an accompanying tide of national feeling.  In 1917, Haywood and 100 other IWW officials were arrested on charges of wartime sedition, found guilty, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.  Freed on bail while appealing conviction, Haywood fled to the Soviet Union, where he entered on an ignominious final chapter and died of alcoholism and diabetes a decade later.

His ashes are interred partly in a wall of the Kremlin, while others were sent back to Chicago to be buried in Waldheim Cemetery near the remains of the Haymarket martyrs.

Images: (top to bottom) Adolph Lessig and Big Bill Haywood, from this source;
Haywood and followers in Paterson, NJ (1913), from this source;
and a scene from
the Lawrence textile strike (1912), from this source.

RELATED ARTICLES:
May Day Meditations, Our Polity.
The Strike That Shook America 100 Years Ago, History.com.

Florence and Margaret Make a Play for Freedom

American tennis player Florence Sutton, circa 1910 (Courtesy Library of Congress via the Commons on Flickr)

The athleticism of the women competing in the London Olympics—and their outfits—underscore how dramatically women’s dress and freedom have changed in the century since women like the American tennis great Florence Sutton began trail-blazing.

Sutton’s pioneering sportsmanship—and the achievements of other women in sports like golf and swimming—were striking indications of the liberties that Progressive Era women were intent on claiming.  Circa 1900, it was rare for a respectable woman to do anything but walk, ride, or ski, partly because women were expected to be so heavily clad and partly because they were never supposed to go out unaccompanied.

While poking around for more on Florence and early American sportswomen, I made a surprising discovery.  The first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal was Chicagoan Margaret Ives Abbott (1878-1955).  She won the Olympic competition in women’s golf in Paris in 1900.  Two years later, she became the wife of noted Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne.  Margaret was born in India, where her father had been a merchant, but was raised in Chicago, where her mother (also named Margaret Ives Abbott) wrote for the Trib and had a literary salon.

Apparently the Paris Olympics were run in an off-hand fashion, for during her lifetime Margaret was never fully aware of what she had won.  Only after her death did historians realize that her victory in what seemed to be just another golf tournament was actually part of the Olympic competition.  And she received a bowl, not a medal.

Image: Florence Sutton circa 1910, courtesy of the Library of Congress, from this source.

June 25, 2015:
Margaret Abbott’s granddaughter, Miranda Dunne Parry,
has kindly shared this recollection of Margaret, written by her father Philip Dunne
and published in
the August 1984 issue of Golf Digest.  Enjoy!

Related:
Library of Congress photograph
of the US international female tennis players in 1895.

Ferris: His Wonderland

The First Ferris Wheel, Chicago, 1893; photograph by Starks W. Lewis (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum via the Commons on Flickr)

Around this time of year in 1893, millions of people were flocking to Chicago to see the great world’s fair the city was hosting.  Formally known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, the fair belatedly commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World.

In a bid for national and international celebrity, Chicagoans (whose young city had burned to the ground 22 years earlier) went all out in constructing the fair’s great White City: acres and acres of magnificent pavilions, illuminated at night by millions of dazzling electrical lights, and all organized around a network of waterways.

To make it even more special, the organizing committee hired a young engineer named George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., to dream up something similar to the amazing tower that George Eiffel had designed for the world’s fair in Paris in 1889.  Similar to that tower, but better.  Yet at first the organizers of Chicago’s fair were doubtful about the idea that Ferris came up with.

Ferris, 34 years old (and destined to die of typhoid fever just three years later), had already gained an impressive reputation as an engineer and bridge-builder, a reputation that sprang from his understanding of steel.  The design that he proposed to the fair’s organizers was for a gargantuan wheel, that, if built, would tower above everything and lift passengers effortlessly, treating them to aerial views from astonishing heights.

Starks W. Lewis, an amateur photographer who managed to get his camera (it would have been pretty bulky) set up on the wheel, captured the wonder of it all.  From his vantage, the intricate workmanship of the wheel itself, as well as size and design of the passenger cars, each of which was designed to hold 60 people, is clearly revealed.

Despite organizers’ fears, Ferris’s daring contraption worked perfectly.  Rising to a height of 264 feet and measuring 825 feet around, the Wheel weighed more than 2.6 million pounds.  It was powered by two 1,000-horsepower steam engines and operated reliably, unimpaired by lightning and gale-force winds.  According to Judith Adams-Volpe, writing about Ferris in the American National Biography, the wheel became the Fair’s leading attraction, the first instance of “technology being harnessed purely as a pleasure machine.”

View of the Fair from the Ferris Wheel, 1893 photograph by Starks Lewis (Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum via Flickr Commons)

What steel gave society was the capacity to rise above the earth and gain an entirely new perspective on itself.  The people who visited the Fair from all over the US could see their world as they had never seen it, from a perspective previously offered only by mountains or the occasional steeple.  In the wondrous aerial vision Ferris gave the world came a hint of the built marvels that were still to come.

Images: Photographs of and from the first Ferris Wheel
by Starks W. Lewis, 1893, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, from this source.

Lorimer

William Lorimer circa 1911 (Courtesy Library of Congress via The Commons on Flickr)

William Lorimer (1861-1934), was a rare bird indeed: a Chicago political boss who was Republican.  By the time he paused to have this photograph taken, he’d risen to a seat in US Senate, but under circumstances that steeled reformers’ determination to amend the Constitution, so that nothing of the kind would ever happen again.

Lorimer had the bored, jaded look of a man who’d been around the corner and back again.  Known as the “the Blond Boss,” Lorimer, who’d been born in Manchester, England, had risen to wealth from poverty, the son of a Scotch-Presbyterian minister who died early, leaving his family to negotiate the late nineteenth-century Chicago immortalized in works like Sister Carrie.  From the age of ten, Lorimer worked various jobs, including in the stockyards; he received negligible education.

In his early 20s, he became a street-car driver, married a woman who was Irish Catholic, and converted to her religion.  Known as a clean liver who did not drink, smoke, or attend the theater, he fathered 8 or 9 daughters, many of whom later worked for the city.

Lorimer’s determination to enter politics on the Republican side is said to have dated from 1884, when a Chicago polling place could not provide him with a Republican ballot to cast for James G. Blaine.  Lorimer became the political favorite of ethnic voters on the city’s west side, including many Russian Jews, Bohemians, and Irish who had previously voted Democratic.  Lorimer was not a reformer; he believed in competition.

He thrived by delivering on promises to supporters and friends, and by wedging himself between the Democrats and the reform wing of his own party.  Exploiting these divisions, he managed in 1908 to defeat a rival Republican for the US Senate, at a time when all Senators were chosen by state legislatures.  A year later, one Illinois state assemblyman claimed to have been paid $1,000 for his vote.  Several others joined him, claiming to have received payments from a jackpot fund set up to influence decisions in the Illinois assembly.

The allegations were investigated over the next several years by state and federal legislative committees, which could not find evidence of Lorimer’s personal wrong-doing.  But the winds of change had been blowing strongly, and eventually grew strong enough to blow Lorimer away.  Ignoring the detailed conclusions of the committees, the Senate voted to expel Lorimer in 1911.  Two years later, the nation ratified the 17th Amendment, which empowered voters to elect US senators directly.

Though Lorimer dropped dead in a Chicago train station decades ago, something of his spirit still haunts Chicago.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, from this source.

YOU MAY ENJOY:
Boss Lorimer and the Illinois Bribery Scandal,” New York Times, 1909.