Tribute to My Dad: His Creative and Cultural Influence on My Life

It’s hard to believe nearly six months have passed since my dad lost his valiant battle against COVID-19. This was my first Father’s day without him and I miss him dearly! But his creative, generous, and witty soul lives in my heart and mind until the end of time.      Art and culture infused my dad’s life with richness and he passed this love and appreciation down to all three of his daughters. My dad was a talented photographer and avid art collector and my mom is a fine artist. I inherited both of these talents and they nurtured them in me when I was growing up. I went to the Young Artists Studio at the School of the Art Institute the summer after 8th grade and my parents were thrilled when I was accepted to RISD, a dream I had since I was very young. During my youth through early adulthood, two of their artist friends mentored me – Bebe Krimmer and Caryl Seidenberg.  Art Museums and Galleries    My dad was a lifetime member of the Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and I started going when I was quite young. I remember attending the 1967 opening of the MCA at 237 E. Ontario and seeing some crazy installations. They also had these weird vending machines with little artist stickers and I got one with photos of naked boobs which I misplaced shortly thereafter.   My dad was also a longtime member of several NYC museums including MOMA, the Met, the Jewish Museum, and The Morgan Library. He was a passionate art collector with an affinity for German expressionism and photography. The first print he ever bought was a portrait by Rembrandt, oddly from Phyllis Kind, who later was known for exhibiting and…

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Tribute to My Dad: The Way We Were in the Windy City

  My Brooklyn-born dad Samuel Weiss was a New Yorker at heart, but he loved Lincolnwood and the Windy City. My dad marched to his own drummer and was a complex, incredibly interesting man with tastes that ran the gamut from high-brow to humble, intellectually superior to silly. When I was little, my dad owned a red 356 Porsche convertible, followed by a white 356. At age 97, he was mentoring an analyst in training, still treating a handful of longtime patients, and was a guest teacher for a class at the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute – truly an amazing man! My dad had his nose rebuilt after a particularly bad episode of basal cell cancer in 1981, survived colon cancer in 1988, and more recently lost his eyesight due to age-related macular degeneration. Nevertheless, he was a vital lover of life until the very end when COVID-19 cruelly struck him down, despite taking extra precautions. His indomitable spirit is a lesson I need to heed as I deal with my own health issues. He survived 95% of his friends and his longevity superseded every other member of his family by decades. My dad was unbelievably generous to friends and family and supported countless charitable causes. But he wasn’t a saint – he had a hair-trigger temper that made me fear him when I was a child and was outspoken to the point of being caustic, at times. Thankfully, he mellowed a great deal with age, just like the wine he loved! I’m the family historian and am dedicated to telling his stories through words and photographs. As my 33-year-old daughter and his namesake Samantha said, “It’s unbelievably amazing how many important events my grandma and grandpa lived through and it’s important to tell their story.” During the pandemic when my…

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You Could Find It At The Village – Lincoln Village

Built by Chicago banker E. G. Shinner in 1951, Lincoln Village preceded Old Orchard by five years and was considered groundbreaking at the time. The motto of the $2 million dollar shopping center was, “You’ll find it at the Village.” Indeed, when I was growing up, Lincoln Village was our go-to shopping center when we wanted a more intimate experience than Old Orchard. I recently unearthed some 1950s Chicago Tribune ads featuring many Village businesses that existed before I was born and some I remember from my youth, which prompted writing this blog.  Despite a good deal of sleuth work, I have never been able to find any photos of my favorite store, Harmony Hall, and no online mentions, except for a few comments on my blog. It’s almost as if the store never existed. I remember the sidewalk sales during my years working at Bronson Coles Studios. While I rarely found anything, I recall thinking Barnett’s clothing was better suited to middle-aged or older women. The original Lincoln Village shopping center was quaint and intimate – today’s remodeled, re-imagined modern version resembles an ugly strip mall.   Bronson Coles Studios My close friend Joan worked next door at the Fannie May and saw a sign posted on Bronson Coles that they were looking for somebody to do photo retouching. I started working at the photo studio the beginning of my senior year in high school and came back during summers during college. Joan and I would meet in the communal bathroom in the basement, which was kind of creepy. This was long before cell phones, so we would have to preplan when we’d meet. I lucked out when the full-time darkroom technician Dennis left to start his own studio in Park Ridge. Since I graduated early from high school…

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Once Upon a Time on Washington Street – One Fantastic Block

  The east-west presidential streets we know today already existed on an 1833 map of the Chicago Loop – Washington, Madison, Monroe, Adams, and Jackson. During the 20th century, a number of intriguing businesses existed on Washington Street. The most famous non-defunct landmark may be the Marshall Field clock at the corner of State and Washington (installed in 1897) and the one on the corner of Randolph and State (installed in 1902). While many people, including yours truly, mourn the demise of Marshall Field, at least we still have the beautiful, massive iconic clocks. This blog is specifically about Washington Street from Dearborn to State Street and the businesses lost to history that once graced this block. It all started with the above photo and blossomed … as the saying goes, one thing leads to another. Unfortunately, some of the photos I included don’t have dates – the majority of the street shots are from the 1940s to 1950s. We’ll start this tour at the northeast corner of Washington and Dearborn Streets and the sign atop the landmark McCarthy Building and travel east, then cross the street and head back to Dearborn.  George D. Kells Democrat George D. Kells served as an alderman of the 28th Ward from 1931 to 1951 and also made an unsuccessful run for County Treasurer in the November 7, 1950 election. This is the same election in which Richard J. Daley became the Cook County Clerk, a position he held until he became mayor in 1955. Kells was born in 1893, died in 1959, and is buried in Hillside at Mount Carmel Cemetery. According to the book Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond the Mafia, the 28th Ward was the headquarters of Pat Nash, who was Kells’ mentor. The book states that the underworld forced Kells…

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Take Me Back to the Five and Dime

In April of this year, I posted this 45-year-old photo I took of the Woolworth at 674-676 N. Michigan Avenue on Forgotten Chicago’s Facebook page. It generated more than 2.8 thousand likes, 384 comments, and 157 shares. When I shot this photo, I was a high school junior and my mom and I sat down at the counter for lunch afterwards. I always loved this location more than the giant flagship store on State Street. It was a block away from my dad’s Michigan Avenue office and I found the atmosphere more intimate than the vast downtown store.  I believe this photo struck a chord for so many people due to the nostalgia factor – looking back on a more “innocent time” helps people momentarily forget about reality – and this horrific pandemic. Many people were appalled by the smoking woman and wrote pithy comments. The overwhelming response was also indicative of how many people loved Woolworth back in the day. I reread the comments and incorporated some of them in this blog, including the bold robbery that occurred in October 1952. Since scant photos of this location are available, I’ve included other wonderful photos and ads culled from my research.   My Candy-Coated Woolworth Memories I went to the Gold Coast by myself as a child on the Pace bus, but my mom rarely gave me any money beyond what I needed for bus fare. I managed to find spare change on the ground or sometimes brought meager savings earned from returning Diet Rite bottles to the corner store. Buying little trinkets at Woolworth provided solace during some difficult years of my childhood, which thank goodness were mostly behind me by the time I took the 1975 photo. I loved the counters and displays filled with delightful trinkets, and…

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Vintage Photo Led to Discovery of One of Chicago’s Very Own – the Man in the Iron Lung

After I graduated from high school and prior to leaving for art school, my mom and I would go on little excursions to different neighborhoods in Chicago. I recall taking photos of several quaint shoe repair and barber shops on Lincoln Avenue, but recently unearthed this photo and decided to do some research. I had no idea a random photo I shot in 1976 would lead to this blog! Fred B. Snite Sr. Fred B. Snite Sr. founded Local Loan in 1908 with $5,000 in personal savings and an $11,000 loan. Snite also owned his namesake Chicago furniture store at 4822 N. Lincoln Avenue, which was going out of business when I shot the photo in 1976. In 1976, Fred Sr. sold his loan firm to Mellon – he was 92 and died the following year. A few months after the sale of Local Loan, he presented then-University of Notre Dame President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, with a $2 million check from the Fred B. Snite Foundation. This generous gift provided funding for a new art museum on campus, the Snite Museum of Art, named in memory of his son, Fred B. Snite Jr., who died in 1954 after living 18 years and seven months of his life in an iron lung after contracting polio.   The Smiling Boiler Kid Known as the man in the iron lung and the “smiling boiler kid,” Fred Jr was a cheerful man, despite the need to live in an iron lung. The image of “The Boiler Kid” and accompanying articles were frequently published in newspapers (including The New York Times), magazines, and newsreels. Fred Jr. published a newsletter entitled Back Talk, and his optimism encouraged countless other polio victims. Fred greatly benefited from coming from a well-heeled family and his father’s ability…

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The Greatest Magician of the Early 20th Century Wasn’t Houdini

A few months ago I was looking for vintage magic images to use in my collages. I stumbled upon wonderful posters for a magician named Howard Thurston. Well, you know how one things lead to another – I soon found myself engrossed in a superb book about said magician and the early history of magic in America. The Last Greatest Magician in the World by Jim Steinmeyer sheds light on the greatest magician of the early 20th century who essentially faded into oblivion. Unless you’re a magician, magic aficionado, or collector, you likely haven’t heard about this guy. Everybody has heard of Harry Houdini, but as Steinmeyer points out, while he was a great escape artist, Houdini wasn’t all that impressive when it came to card tricks and illusions. Thurston was five years older and four inches taller than his peer and oft adversary Houdini. Early Beginnings Born on July 20, 1869 in Columbus, Ohio, Thurston had four siblings – May (Myrtle) the eldest was born in 1865, followed by Charles, Howard, Harry (who figures prominently in this story), and William. Their father’s carriage business collapsed in 1873 and he subsequently tinkered with making a wide array of inventions, none of which were successful. Unable to support his family, his father had a mild nervous breakdown and started spending a lot of time at the corner saloon. By all accounts, he was a wretched and abusive father and husband who regularly beat his children and wife. Other than Harry, the only mention of the other siblings in the book is when Charles was murdered in February 1920 while working as a railroad detective in Columbus. The murderer escaped after pumping eight bullet holes into Charles’ back. When he was just 12, Thurston started earned money selling newspapers on trains between…

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Jack Delano – Working on the Railroad All the Live Long Day

I’ve long admired the photography of Jack Delano, one of many talented photographers hired by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and Works Progress Administration to document America, but knew little about him. When I discovered his masterful railroad photographs of Chicago, this provided inspiration to dig deeper. Born Jacob Ovcharov in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine) in 1914, he immigrated with his parents and younger brother to the U.S. in 1923, settling in NYC. In addition to his photography, he was a prolific music composer and wrote children’s books with his wife Irene. When he was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1928-1932, Delano won a Cresson Traveling Scholarship. During his four-month fellowship in Europe, Delano bought a tourist camera, sparking his interest in photography. It’s also at school, during a beer-soaked party, that his classmates convinced him to change his name. A female friend suggested her own – Delano, while Jack had been adopted earlier in honor of the boxer Jack Dempsey. In 1941, he was sent on assignment to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by the FSA. This had such a profound influence on him, he moved there in 1946 after serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a photographer in the Pacific and South America. Soon after moving to Puerto Rico, Delano became the official photographer of the government, chronicling the island’s transformation from agriculture to industry.  The book Photographic Memories was published by the Smithsonian shortly before his death in 1997. In it, Delano was quoted, “Light, color, texture and so on are, to me, important only as they contribute to the honest portrayal of what is in front of the camera, not as ends in themselves.” During his long career, Delano photographed coal miners, sharecroppers, railroad men, and Puerto…

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The RISD-Chicago Vintage Party Favor Connection

  My friend Barbara recently sent me a stack of old student newspapers from our days at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Perusing these was an enjoyable trip down memory lane and I certainly plan on mining these for future RISD and Providence-related blogs. I uncovered a completely unrelated, unexpected, and delightful surprise in the October 28, 1977 Halloween issue. Lo and behold, one of the contributors included visually-intriguing catalog pages from Van Housen’s Favor Co., Inc. My assumption is that they found this in the RISD clipping room (now called the Picture Collection), a wonderful historical archive of all sorts of paper ephemera. Naturally, the cool-looking graphics beckoned to the sleuth in me and I had to do further investigating. Dennison Was Primary Competitor Van Housen’s was a Chicago-based company located at 81 W. Lake Street. Their primary competitor was Dennison Manufacturing Company which was founded in 1844 by Colonel Andrew Dennison. They opened their first store in Chicago in 1864, with subsequent store openings in the 1870s in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Although Dennison already had a longstanding reputation for manufacturing high-quality paper goods, it was crepe paper decorations that set them apart. If you recognize the Dennison name, it’s likely because the company merged with Avery International Corp. in October 1990.   I couldn’t find definitive dates when Van Housen’s was in business, but I did uncover ads from 1922, 1923, 1924, and the 1930s. I also uncovered an interesting article on crepe paper decorations that appeared in the Autumn 1924 issue of Fort Dearborn Magazine, with excerpts below: During the holiday season when entertaining is the order of the hour, many a social affair is given festive background by the use of appropriate crepe paper decorations, favors and novelties. While the demand for…

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A Chicago Kind of Christmas – Childhood Favorites

  Although my family isn’t Christian, I was fortunate as a child to get presents for eight days of Hanukkah, visit Santa Claus at Marshall Field and Saks Fifth Avenue, eat lunch once at the Walnut Room with my mom, and enjoy the wonderful Christmas window displays on State Street. I grew up in Lincolnwood just east of the Edens Expressway – a few blocks from the famous Lincolnwood Towers with its magnificent Christmas displays. This holiday season, I’m sharing a few of my favorite memories and some wonderful nostalgic photos that embody the holiday spirit, Chicago style.   Picking Out Gifts From Sears Wish Books   As I mentioned in this old blog, my little sister Janet and I would spend hours picking out gifts from Sears Wish Books. Our parents always let us select one impressive toy for the first night of Hanukkah and a few small “stocking stuffer” gifts for the other seven nights. The one present that will always stand out is my first Thingmaker by Mattel – classic Creepy Crawlers.     Downtown Christmas Lights and Window Displays   My dad worked on North Michigan Avenue his entire career and as such, we spent a lot of time there. I would often go to his office and drive home with him in his white Porsche. I loved the classy white Christmas lights that illuminated the chic boulevard before it became an over-commercialized street.  Of course, no Chicago Christmas blog would be complete without mentioning the great window displays on State Street, especially at Marshall Field and Carson Pirie Scott & Co. I remember one Christmas season my mom took me to an eye doctor appointment in the Pittsfield Building and the doctor dilated my eyes. I didn’t have any vision problems when I was young,…

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