…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…
Yesterday we drove about 300 miles on secondary roads though Indiana and Illinois. The endless cornfields have new plants about two feet tall. We didn’t find any roadside vegetable stands.
We are camped in Starved Rock State Park, 100 miles West of Chicago. Mrs. Phred wanted to see Chicago so we drove to Joliet and took the Metra train in to the Lafayette street station. The 30-mile ride took about 90 minutes.
The first thing we recognize is the Chicago Public library. I want to see the Museum of Contemporary Photography so we walk past the “El” down to Michigan Avenue. John Belushi did the “cheeseburger” skit in one of the small restaurants near the El. We look for it but don’t find it. The El is pure Chicago, massive steel girders that suspend thundering trains above the street level.
Many of the warehouses, print shops and factories have been converted to high-end residential. We are surprised to agree that this may be the most beautiful city in the world (sorry Paris!). The architecture is stunning. My favorite is a 1980s Art Deco style skyscraper on the river. The style has been called “Echo Deco”.
The tall buildings and extensive public parks have been suspended in the air over massive invisible networks of roads, subways, loading docks and rail lines. The railroads sold only the air rights to developers.
The Chicago River winds though the city. There are 30 closely placed “moveable bridges”. Chicago pioneered a teeter-totter type iron bridge that can be quickly retracted for boat traffic.
Around 1900 the sewage dumped into the river was being sucked into the city’s fresh water supply. This was causing big problems with cholera and other diseases so they dynamited a sub-continental divide upstream and sent the sewage on down to Saint Louis instead of out into Lake Michigan. The dumping of sewage and industrial toxins stopped about 30 years ago and now there are 73 species of toxic fish living in the river. To get out of the river, boats now use a lock, one that raises them to the level of Lake Michigan.
There are some interesting ethnic enclaves near the center of the city: Italian, Ukrainian and Polish. A cell phone tower stands on the former site of Mrs. O’Leary’s barn. A drunken Irishman started a fire there that jumped the river and burned down most of Chicago in 1871. The timely fire permitted the redevelopment of the city and the close concentration of tall steel-frame buildings.
Geography explains Chicago. It is centrally located on one of the Great Lakes, a rail hub with a shipping canal dug to the Mississippi River. As a result it quickly became a center for meat packing, transportation, printing and merchandise distribution.
…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.
Here are some Chicago pictures.