Chicago

I had a post planned for today–my first profile of another person in a long, long time. (This book stuff is taking up much of my brain space lately and it’s hard to make room for anything else. For instance, the other day, I made plans to pick up my sister, head to the Y, and work out. I did make it to the Y, I was just alone and my sister was left looking out the window for me.)

But, the interview had to be rescheduled so I’m saving it for the near future. It’s a fantastic story about WWII; fans of Unbroken are gonna love it.

So for today, a different Monday morning meeting: if you haven’t yet met Carl Sandburg’s Chicago, I’d like to introduce you. It was first published 100 years ago this month:

Carl Sandburg circa 1956  (Photo by George Tames/Getty Images)

Carl Sandburg circa 1956
(Photo by George Tames/Getty Images)

Chicago

Hog Butcher for the World,
   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
   Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
   Stormy, husky, brawling,
   City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
   Bareheaded,
   Shoveling,
   Wrecking,
   Planning,
   Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
                   Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

 

Source: Poetry (March 1914).

 

Alice

At the age of 39, my great-grandfather, Arthur, went to the hospital to have his tonsils taken out. I imagine they’d been troubling him often and he just couldn’t stand it anymore. He was a coal freight agent for the Chicago Eastern Illinois Railroad.

His wife, Alice, 37, and their two children, ten-year-old June and fourteen-year-old Arthur, Jr., dropped him off the night before the surgery, which was to be performed the next morning. Even back then, it was not considered too significant a surgery and so they dropped off their husband and father, said goodbye and see you tomorrow.

Alice on her wedding dayJune 10, 1914

Alice on her wedding day
June 10, 1914

The following morning, Arthur died on the operating table, his heart too large, literally, to endure surgery. It was 1930, and Alice was left alone with two children at the start of the Great Depression.

The bank took the house in Chicago, forcing Alice and the children to move to an apartment in Rogers Park, the first of several apartments. It’s left to me to imagine what it was like to lose a husband and then give up her home and the belongings that wouldn’t fit in the new apartment; to leave her friends and neighbors, maybe a tree she used to like to sit under, or the way the front door creaked a welcome home. To imagine how she told the kids that now that their father was dead, they had to go to a new school with new people. She would never own a home again.

Then Alice took the only job she could find: curling dead people’s hair in a funeral parlor. Every day she got up and went to the funeral parlor to sit in silence and curl hair so her children would have a place to live and food to eat. After a few years, she found another job in the ticket office at Riverview amusement park on the city’s Northwest Side. She got her children through the Depression, and during the war she worked for the government.

She didn’t remarry until the 1950s, until her children were raised and raising their own, until June toddled my own mother on her lap.

This is one of my family’s stories.

Meet: Sandlot, Sissies, and Rabbits

The storytellers are back. This is the second installment in a series of remembrances of life in Franklin Park, Illinois in the late 1940s and early 1950s. You can read the first post HERE.

I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning. I used to walk up Britta, carrying my baseball bat and glove.  By the time I got to the high school [Leyden] at the end of our street, I usually had enough kids to start a small baseball game.  Everything was sandlot in those days.  I did the same thing during the fall and we ended having a football game.  During the winter we could get into the high school gym and play basketball. Sundays were the exception.  They locked everything up but we just climbed over the fence and did our thing.  Many times we were kicked out and one time we were driven to the police station to get a lecture from the sergeant in charge.  We didn’t get in trouble,

The house on Britta Ave, Franklin Park, 1979

just a little scared.  However, that never stopped us.  We were back in the gym the next Sunday.   –Dad

Dave and I lived the farthest from school. We would head out in the morning and first we would get Bill Rush, then the McCarrons, then the Hill twins.  Often Rusty Erickson and Terry Denges would be with us also.  It was not uncommon for there to be 10 or more of us by the time we reached school.  We would often stop at the bakery on Franklin Avenue for donuts or sweet-rolls; we must have used our lunch money to pay for them.

On cold, snowy mornings we would often stop at Judge Hart’s crossing shack to warm up.  Judge Hart—not really a judge, but I think a retired justice of the peace; everyone called him “Judge,”—had a little shack with a potbelly stove at the railroad crossing.  And every time a train was coming, he came out of the shack to notify people when it was safe to cross the tracks.  Kind of like a crossing guard.  On cold mornings, he let us all pile into the shack to warm up because the tracks were about midway from our house to school. We never ever took a bus or rode our bikes (that was considered sissy), and many a winter morning it was cold, cold, and many a winter morning it was snowing.

What I find truly amazing is that most kids today would choose to be driven to school each day whereas we felt it far more interesting, and maybe more grown up, to be able to walk.  –Keith

Keith is right.  You were considered a real sissy if you took the bus to school.  I used to walk up Nearborn street because I thought it was closer for some reason. That is where I met the Hill twins and Dave Mudgett.  They told me I couldn’t walk up their street unless I joined their gang. I immediately joined their gang. –Dad

Franklin Park was very blue collar.  Most of the kids I hung around with did not have parents with a college education.  They worked construction or in the factories.  At one point there was a TV special about Franklin Park and that it was the largest small industrial town in the nation.  This was the reason our property taxes were so low and there was such an excellent school system in F.P.  To this day I believe I received the very best elementary school education possible. –Keith

My dad in the early 50s, about 7th grade

Most of the kids I knew had some type of part time job for their spending money.  In the summer we mowed lawns and in the winter we shoveled sidewalks.  I remember that in the beginning I charged 50 cents.  A year later I raised my price to $1.

My first paper route was in the fourth grade.  I pulled my wagon to deliver The Franklin Park Journal after school.  Sometimes Keith came along to help.  On Saturdays I went to the homes and collected the week’s fee.  In the 7th grade I delivered the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times every weekday morning before school, riding my bike and flipping the papers onto the porches.

I bought my first baseball glove using my paper route money, at a place called Trossen’s Sporting Goods. Mr. Trossen had a daughter who was a few years older than me. I used to go in there pretending to look at different sports equipment.  I just wanted to look at her.  –Dad

Even though our area was not considered rural I felt a real sense of open space.  On the other side of the tracks behind our house, aside from one sawmill, it was open prairie all the way to River Road.  Tom Webber, Dave Mudgett and I used to hunt rabbits all the time in those fields.  O’Hare airport was nothing but prairie back then, with the exception of the O’Hare golf course.  Dave and I used to get on our bikes with our golf bags over our shoulder and ride out for an 18-hole round of golf in the summer.  That must have been around 1954, 55, 56.

Then when the jet planes came into commercial use they pretty much closed Midway Airport because it was surrounded by residential neighborhoods and the jets needed longer runways so O’Hare became the airport of Chicago.  That changed everything.  Motels popped up everywhere along Manheim Road.  The kitchens that prepared the airline meals popped up everywhere to serve the various airlines.  Everything that supported air travel popped up in and around Franklin Park.  The prairies began to disappear.  At the time it didn’t bother me because I was getting into the upper grades and more interested in Barbara Larson than bagging a rabbit.  –Keith

O’Hare Field, 1950s

Meet: Life in Franklin Park, 1948-1955

Both my father, Dave, and his younger brother, Keith, are storytellers. 

They live across the country from each other, Keith in Oregon and Dave in Illinois. If I could have, I would have gotten them in a room together, given them a beer, and pushed, “Record.” As it is, I asked them to write to me about their childhoods in the late 1940s and 1950s in Franklin Park, Illinois. Below are their emails. (Storytellers tend to drone on, so this will come in two parts. Maybe six.)

Dave and Keith as boys in Minnesota

I have a lot of juicy stories.  Your dad, on the other hand, has none.  He was a very boring kid.  Always had his head in books, memorizing statistics.  To this day he can tell you Ralph Kiner’s batting average in 1954, and you’ve never even heard of Ralph Kiner.  Or how many minutes into which round Max Schmelling knocked out Jack Dempsey in 1938.  And he was doing all this while I was pulling Deldra Sue Bitner by her ponytail behind the old oak tree and having my way with her.  Of course I was only six at the time and I’m not sure exactly what my way was but I knew I was having it.  –Keith

As usual Keith is wrong.  Max Schmelling didn’t knock out Jack Dempsey because he never fought Jack Dempsey.  In Schmelling’s first fight with Joe Louis he knocked Louis out in about the 10th round.  Louis went on to become the heavy weight champ and had a rematch with Max Schmelling.  Louis knocked out Schmelling in the first found. The fight lasted about 2 minutes and it was one of the most brutal fights I have ever seen. Louis broke Schmelling jaw, cracked two of his ribs and knocked out a couple of his teeth. –Dad

The day we left our house in Pontoria [Minnesota], from which Ponto Lake is named, we had all our belongings piled high and roped onto an open-top trailer. I remember [oldest brother] Bob coming out of the house with his bow and stuffing it alongside the trailer between a couple pieces of furniture.

I believe we arrived at 3523 Britta Ave. in August, 1948.  I would have just turned 4 the month before. Our dad backed the trailer up to the front porch and everyone started unloading.  Dave and I asked if we could take a walk around the neighborhood and we were told not to go too far.  We walked up to the high school [Leyden], about a block away, which at the time had a very large park next to it with trees and grass and baseball fields, and tennis courts. It was a foggy day and I got all turned around.  I can remember Dave knowing which street was Britta and we eventually found our way back.  –Keith

Franklin Park in the 1950s was a noisy, industrial town. When we first moved there, I was amazed at how many people and cars there were. Most of the industry was made up of small machine shops such as tool & die makers, gas stations, small steel manufacturers, etc.

Our home was part of a subdivision built after World War II. The adults on our street were all nice people.  Most of the men in were tough and they had tough kids. They were primarily blue collar men who fought in World War II.  There were some white collar workers but not many. They all knew me, Keith and Bob.  If they saw us doing anything wrong, our parents heard about it.

Just about everyone drove a Ford or a Chevy.  For a short time in the early 50’s, our dad owned a Hudson.  They don’t make them anymore and with good reason. It might be the ugliest auto ever made.

I still remember my first day in Franklin Park.  Our family jumped out of the car and rushed inside.  I saw a boy across the street and went up to him and put out my hand and said, “Hi, I am Dave.” He hit me in the nose. I learned early that I had better learn how to fight or I was going to have many bloody noses.  –Dad

There were trains everywhere–the Milwaukee Road train yards to the west, the Proviso yards to the south, the Soo Line yards to the north.  The only direction free of train yards is to the east yet you had to cross the Soo Line tracks to get east.  And, there were no overpasses or underpasses. It seemed as though we were always getting caught by a train.

Dave’s story of getting a bloody nose the first day reminds me of one of my early encounters of a similar nature.  I was maybe 4 or 5, and our mother would often send me up to the IGA local neighborhood grocery with a list of items she needed along with the money to pay for them.  As I was walking up Britta, I encountered Huey Whitside, Les and Howard Wagner, and the Bondlow kid.  Well, they stood on the sidewalk and said I couldn’t pass. Howard was the most vocal and he shoved me down. I got up and ran back home.

Mom asked why I had returned so soon and without the items from the store.  After I told her, she suggested I walk on Addison Street and then I wouldn’t need to go by that group anymore.  That’s what I did for a long time.  I never did grow to like Huey, but the Wagners and the Bondlow kid were o.k.  –Keith

We either walked or rode our bikes everywhere.  There was also a bus stop at the end of our street, which took us to a shopping area called Harlem and Grand.  I used to go there to buy records.

I will admit that sometimes we rode our bikes to places that our mother would not have allowed, usually to a place called Blue Pool in Des Plaines.  We had to ride down River Road, which was a very busy street.  I used to go with a boy named Mike Taylor, who was one year older than me and a bit on the wild side.  Sometimes we’d get on the bus to Chicago. Then we’d take the L Train to the south side, mainly Indiana Ave, to see where the “Negroes” lived.  Those neighborhoods were not dangerous but it was a long way from home for an 11-year-old.  –Dad