In This Day of COVID – Remembering Family Road Trips

  I think nearly everyone who has ever been a road trip with their family has tales to tell – whether you had the time of your life or would prefer to banish those memories forever from your brain. For many months, I planned one of my dream road trips. In May, I was going to fly to NYC, pick up my daughter in Manhattan, travel by subway to Jersey City, rent a car, and travel down the Jersey Shore. I already had complied a list of must-see boardwalks, arcades to play Skee-Ball, and far more. About a week before I was going to book the hotel and buy my airplane ticket, the pandemic hit in full force. Not being able to travel due to COVID-19 inspired writing about a few memorable moments from family road trips and my return to Chicago after graduating from RISD. Sadly, most of the photos from childhood trips were ruined in various floods in my parents’ basement.      Road Trips – 1966 to 1980 1966: When I was 8 and my sisters Debbie and Janet were 12 and 3, respectively, we drove to Gatlinburg, Tenn. in my mom’s gigantic Chevy station wagon. Before we arrived at the motel, we stopped in Knoxville, where I enjoyed the kitschy tourist shops. My Aunt Phyllis, Uncle Jay, and their three boys Michael, David, and Bryan drove up from North Miami Beach, Fla., so it was a family reunion of sorts. We splashed and played in the motel pool immediately after arriving, which unfortunately resulted in bacterial infections for a few of us. My cousin and Debbie quickly recovered, however, I was lucky to get a raging infection that resulted in vomiting, a fever, and the most excruciating ear pain. I was sick in bed the entire…

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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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Downtown Providence – A Nostalgic Stroll Down Westminster Street

When I was an art student at the Rhode Island School of Design, I loved exploring downtown Providence and taking photographs. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of my RISD graduation on May 24, 1980, I’ll be posting a series of blogs looking back – featuring historic photos and postcards. The first blog is about Westminster Street and some of the wonderful landmark buildings that still exist. Also included are now-defunct businesses I encountered during my RISD years, as well as long-forgotten ones from the late-18th to early 20th centuries. I fondly remember walking on Westminster all the way past downtown to Olneyville to buy jewels at Wolf E. Myrow. During my RISD years, the portion of Westminster in downtown Providence was a pedestrian mall and closed off to vehicles. I loved the somewhat seedy quality of downtown Providence and would likely bemoan its gentrification if I returned. Department Stores Woolworth: Located at 185 Westminster in a five-story building from 1920, I would buy things at this five and dime now and then, but it didn’t have the charm of my favorite Chicago Woolworth store.     Thom McAn: I remember this retail chain on Westminster since it was near Woolworth, but I never went inside nor purchased shoes from this brand. Their retail stores closed in the late 1980s after being bought by K-Mart and subsequently Sears, who still sells this brand – that doesn’t bode well, although I think Walmart also sells them. Lerner Shops: Located in the former Wilkinson Building (mentioned separately later) at 210–216 Westminster, I never shopped here, nor at the location on State Street in Chicago. Founded in 1918 by Samuel A. Lerner and Harold M. Lane in NYC, New York & Company purchased the company in 2004 and they’re still in business.   …

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The Demise of Gem Spa is Another Sign of a Vanishing NYC

Like so many others businesses that have closed in the last decades, Gem Spa in NYC’s East Village couldn’t sustain its business and closed in early May 2020. Although they had financial problems over the years, and most recently in 2019 after losing their lottery and tobacco license, the current owners said the COVID-19 pandemic was the last straw. If you read my blog, you may know that NYC is like a second home to me. The closing of Gem Spa feels like one other place of my youth has slipped away. Although I’m also upset that Jeri’s Grill closed in Chicago, NYC will always be associated with a magical time in my early adulthood when I was spreading my wings creatively, intellectually, and emotionally. This was before sky-high rents forced so many businesses to close and prior to gentrification stripped the Big Apple of much of its gritty character. Unfortunately, Gem Spa isn’t the only thing that has changed on this once incredibly hip intersection of the East Village. When I visited in 2018, I thought St. Mark’s pretty much resembled many other somewhat gentrified NYC streets, albeit with a few vestiges of its storied past.   Located on the corner of St. Marks Place and Second Avenue, the beloved and iconic newsstand dates back to the 1920’s. It operated under a different name until 1957 when the name changed to the Gems Spa – at some point the S was dropped in Gem. It was a favorite hangout of Beat poets, hippies, punk rockers, local residents, and tourists. They sold local newspapers and magazines, including a wide array of international and underground papers and magazines, except for pornography. The little corner business was also famous for its egg creams (a NY drink made from milk, chocolate or vanilla…

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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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What History Revealed – Visual Insights From the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 to 1920

It feels a little like the Twilight Zone right now, but unfortunately, this isn’t a fictional nightmare. As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) takes a huge health, economic, and psychological toll, many media outlets and bloggers are making insightful comparisons to the influenza epidemic of 1918. Prior to finding countless current articles comparing the worst flu epidemic in history with the coronavirus, I decided to mine historic photos to see what they revealed. I discovered that efforts to stop the 1918 epidemic were quite remarkable, all things considered. While 100+ years of insights, knowledge, progress, and sophistication in every facet of life in the developed world have transformed life so significantly, some things never change. Despite incredible advancements in science and medicine, many of the precautions are the same today as they were back then. The one semi-political comment I’ll make is that President Woodrow Wilson was a highly skilled leader – no comment about you know who, because once I start, I won’t stop and raising my blood pressure isn’t helpful. Medical quackery and cures were all the rage 100 years ago, which in a sense can be compared to scams today. Jim Baker you’re a flimflam man and jerk! And sadly, in times of crisis, the number of scam artists seems to proliferate.   In any case, rather than attempting to compete with all the other blogs, I’m presenting a few interesting facts and photos that are a testament to the resourcefulness of our ancestors. A Few Facts and Stats The 1918 influenza epidemic didn’t originate in Spain. It was dubbed the Spanish flu because Spain was neutral during WWI and as such, didn’t have to censor its news for morale. Thus, Spanish news outlets had no issues publicizing the flu outbreak in all its gory details. One theory suggests…

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