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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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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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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10 Monstrously Fun Christmas Toys from Yesteryear

Monster Soakies

Long before the Internet, CGI, smartphones, and other tech colored our world, we enjoyed simple pleasures – like looking through the Sears Wish Book to pick out our dream Christmas or Hanukah toys. Among the coolest toys were monsters – classics inspired by film and television. No computer-generated imagery, 200+ million movie budgets, or product tie-ins needed – just old-fashioned creativity with a healthy dose of camp. With all girls in our house, monster toys were not on our list, but as an artist, I’ve always found them visually delightful. Here are 10 awesome monster toys from yesteryear. This is for all you late Baby Boomers who grew up watching Creature Features (if you lived in Chicago it aired on WGN and WFLD), The Munsters, Addams Family, or any other classics. Many of these toys command high prices at auction, scooped up by people like you and me trying to recreate carefree days of youth (or at least we remember them that way).     The Great Garloo – 1960 One of the greatest toymakers of all time, Louis Marx and Company was in business from 1919 to 1980. The Great Garloo, released in 1960, was a battery-operated robot that looked a little like the Incredible Hulk and Jolly Great Giant’s son. It was $17.98 according to the 1961 commercial – quite a chunk of change for that time. The remote control toy moved forward and backwards, bent over, and could pick up objects, with a little steering wheel to control direction. A near mint one in the box sold on ebay recently for about $500, while others not as pristine have sold in the $135-$200.00 range.     Universal Monsters Soaky Bubble Bath Containers – 1963 Made by Colgate-Palmolive in 1963 for 59 cents each, a mint set of…

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Get Your Skee-Ball On

Outdoor Skee Ball

When I was a kid, I was particularly good at Skee-Ball. I remember one family vacation to N.J. to visit my Aunt Ella, stopping at some run-down arcade with Skee-Ball and rolling a high score. This talent continued through my teen years and early adulthood. When I visited NYC in the mid- to-late 1970s, I always made it a point to stop at the Playland at 1565 or 1580 Broadway and play Skee-Ball. As I recall, I accumulated enough tickets to win a metal Statue of Liberty souvenir. Back then, every neighborhood carnival seemed to have a few Skee-Ball lanes, but these dwindled over the years until you could no longer find them. Skee Ball was relegated to a a few old school game arcades and later to party venues like Chuck E. Cheese, GameWorks, Dave & Buster’s, and the like. The balls at GameWorks are made of cheap white plastic and simply don’t have the same “roll” as the originals or well-made new balls. Furthermore, one game costs four credits which is $1.00!

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Don’t Let Preventable Injuries Ruin Your Winter Holidays!

Remember the beloved film, A Christmas Story? Nine-year old Ralphie only wants one gift for Christmas – a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and sundial. The very last present his parents give him is the beloved Red Ryder. Ralphie takes the gun outside, firing at a target perched on a metal sign in the backyard. Unfortunately, the BB ricochets back at him, knocking his glasses off. Ralphie actually thinks he shot his eye out since he cannot see without his glasses. He steps on the glasses while searching for them and they break. He tearfully conceals this fact from his mom, telling her an icicle fell on his face. Every year, thousands of people including children younger than Ralphie suffer injuries from BB and air guns. These aren’t toys, although I’m certain thousands of people will disagree with me on that. I did not have a BB gun as a kid, but I played with a cool, tooled toy cap gun that used a minuscule amount of gunpowder in the caps. I remember loving the way it smelled.

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The Village Next to Lincolnwood – Greetings From Skokie, Illinois

Skokie, as it is known today was incorporated as Niles Centre in 1888. Around 1910, the spelling was Americanized to Niles Center. A village-renaming campaign began in the 1930s and residents chose the Indian name Skokie over Devonshire in a November 15, 1940 referendum. Its population today hovers around 65,000, but it’s been higher. In the mid-1960s, 58% of the population was Jewish, the largest percentage of any Chicago suburb. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 pf those residents were Holocaust survivors who started life anew after suffering immeasurable pain. Infamous History   In a November 27, 1934 shootout dubbed the Battle of Barrington, infamous bank robber Baby Face Nelson and his gang killed two FBI agents. Nelson was severely injured and his body was brought to Winnetka where he died. According to history, his accomplices either dumped his bullet-riddled body at the north end of St. Paul Lutheran Church Cemetery on Harms Road or in a ditch adjacent to St. Peter Catholic Cemetery in downtown Skokie. In 1977, a neo-Nazi group led by Frank Collin announced plans to march in Skokie. The news set off a rhetorical firestorm and residents filed a court order to prevent this on the grounds it would “incite or promote hatred against persons of Jewish faith or ancestry.” This Skokie controversy triggered a rare, remarkable moment in American history when citizens throughout the nation vigorously debated the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union represented the First Amendment rights of the neo-Nazi group. The Supreme Court ruling on June 14, 1977 stated the group could march wearing uniforms with swastikas under the constitutional protections of freedom of speech and assembly. Ultimately, they decided to march in Chicago, which was met by derision and little turnout. In the summer of 1978, in response…

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Lincolnwood, Illinois – A Trip Down Memory Lane

In 1959, my parents moved from Rogers Park to Lincolnwood, a quiet Chicago suburb with a current population of about 12,697 people. My dad broke the mold of all his physician friends, many of whom moved from Hyde Park or South Shore to North Shore suburbs such as Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, and Highland Park. They all thought he was a little nuts for choosing this somewhat obscure, unassuming village. However, he had the last laugh because Lincolnwood is an easy commute to North Michigan Avenue, where nearly all of them practiced and my dad has since 1958 – and still does part-time at age 93! My dad could have bought a house in the Lincolnwood Towers, famous for its extravagant Christmas decorations. Back in 1959, there were very few if any Jewish families living in the Towers, so instead he opted for a house in the Lincolnwood Terrace section just east of the Towers. My dad loves recounting the story of live reindeer with a manned sleigh that graced one homeowner’s front lawn when they first moved to Lincolnwood! Actress Barbara Eden looked at a house in the Towers at North Shore and Navajo when she married Charles Fegert, a Chicago Sun-Times advertising executive, but they ended up living in Water Tower Place (1977-1983). Lincolnwood is just a stone’s throw away from Chicago – Sauganash and Edgebrook are the lovely communities closest to where I grew up, near Pratt and Cicero. When I went to college on the East Coast, nobody heard of Lincolnwood, however, when I mentioned Skokie and Evanston, that elicited a glimmer of recognition. I wrote before about Lincoln Village, which was just over the border in Chicago on Lincoln Avenue between Kimball and Kedzie and the adjacent Hollywood Kiddieland. I discuss both beloved places later in this blog. A Short History Incorporated as Tessville…

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Matisse and Monet – the Artists and Our Kitty Cats

When we adopted two kitties in May of 2015, it took a little while to come up with two perfect names. I never had a kitten and did not have cats growing up. Sweet Pepper came into my life fully grown when I met Jeff in 1998. I fell in love with him, but it took a few more years to fall head over heels in love with Pepper and truly become a cat person. Pepper succumbed to kidney disease at age 19 1/2 in December 2014. While I thought we would never get over this loss, I have to say that Matisse and Monet have filled the collective hole in our hearts. Jeff let me choose the names Matisse and Monet for our male and female kitties – he liked the names right away, but now he cannot imagine any other names for our two little characters. Aside from the fact that we are both artists and these were two of the greatest French artists of all time, the names are beautiful, rolling off the tongue like music to the ears. I love van Gogh as an artist more than Matisse or Monet, but I could not see naming our male cat after the talented and tortured Dutchman – when you pronounce it the correct and guttural Dutch way, it’s not so pretty! When I first told my dad the names of our new kittens, he said, “Monet is a man’s name,” and yes – Claude Monet was a guy – and an immensely talented one at that. However, Monet is also a girl’s name, as in Monet Mazur.

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Howard Clothes Tribute – Epilogue

It was really nice that so many family members reached out to me and commented on my first Howard Clothes article. This yielded a good deal of insight and information, which inspired the desire to write this epilogue. Based on my communications with family members, I found out Elaine Winik is the sole surviving child of Samuel and Minnie Kappel. I also discovered she wrote a book entitled Still Looking Forward, published in 1996. I decided to purchase a copy on Amazon and gave this to my dad to read first. After all, it was his family with the connection to Howard Clothes and to Minnie and her mother Mollie Sennowitz. Elaine’s book filled in a lot of blanks including first names of people who were unknown to me when I wrote the first article, and had escaped my dad’s memory at this point in life – he is 92 after all. A few weeks later, I had the pleasure of talking to Elaine on the phone, and she graciously sent me a few clippings and photos that I have added to this blog. My dad got a real kick out of this passage from Elaine’s book: After living with us, grandma came to my parents and said that although we all were wonderful to her, the house wasn’t kosher, and besides, she missed her Yiddish-speaking contemporaries. If mother and dad would pay rent to “the greenie,” (all immigrants were referred to as greenhorns) her newly arrived cousin from Russia, she would live with him and his wife. Of course we could come and visit her there. She also mentioned that it would be very nice if my parents would furnish the apartment for the “the greenie” as he had no money at all. They did, as they asked.

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