history

Episode 25 – A Book and A Beer: George Ade and the Old-Time Saloon

The path to riches is not often associated with journalism, but in the case of George Ade, writing for Chicago newspapers was his road to wealth and fame. Ade, (1866-1944) who was born and raised in Kentland, Indiana, attended Purdue University and then came to Chicago to work as a reporter in the heydays of newspapers.

Today George Ade is rarely remembered, with his books out of print, and decades since his musical comedies were performed. But from the 1890s to the early 20th century, he was compared to Mark Twain, a friend of his, and had not just one, but two hit plays on Broadway at the same time. Ade earned so much money from his successful books, plays and syndicated newspaper columns, he built an English Tutor on a 400-acre estate in Indiana, named Hazelden. There Ade threw big parties and was visited there by U.S. Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Calvin Coolidge. In fact, Taft began his Presidential campaign of 1908 from Hazelden.

Ade’s name lives on through his philanthropy, like the donation of 65 acres, with fellow alum David E. Ross, to Purdue University, for a football stadium in 1924, which is now known as Ross-Ade Stadium.

What was true then about Ade’s writing is also true now, and that is Ade’s stories are hilarious. His final book “The Old Time Saloon” (1931) is laugh-out-loud funny and a recent edition from the University of Chicago Press is annotated by Bill Savage.

Bill Savage, Ph.D. is a professor of English at Northwestern University and our guide through not only the work “The Old-Time Saloon: Not Wet – Not Dry, Just History” and this podcast. Dr. Savage paints a picture of the Chicago Ade knew from the high-class Saloons downtown to the more seedy establishments frequented by his friend, Finely Peter Dunne, whose literary bartender, Martin T. Dooley, delighted a nation with his quips.

Writers like Ade and Dunne started out as journalists, and along the way captured the rhythms of speech and the vernacular of the working man, and in doing so gave birth to a new type of literature. A style practiced later by authors such as James Farrell, Nelson Algren, Mike Royko and Stuart Dybek. We hope you will enjoy this dive into Chicago’s literary and drinking past.

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Episode 24 – Bonus: Working on the Railroad

October is Railroad history month in Chicago. Although we already released Episode 24 – The Railroads in honor of railroads history month there was too much good stuff to stop there.

Episode 24 – The Railroads

For 150 years, Chicago has remained the country’s busiest rail hub at the center of the nation’s rail network. In all, 40 railroads provide services from Illinois to every part of the United States and all seven of the major North American freight railways converge in Chicago to make it the largest US rail gateway. Moving anything coast-to-coast by rail is almost guaranteed to pass through Chicago. In 2011, Illinois ranked first in the US for rail freight volume accounting for 490.4 million tons. Today, the state is the world’s third most active rail intermodal hub with 25% of U.S. freight rail traffic and 46% of all intermodal traffic beginning, ending or traveling through Chicago. Each day, nearly 500 freight trains and 760 passenger trains pass through the Chicago region, moving the goods and people that are the life blood of the national economy.

In this episode we talk with retired train engineer and rail historian David Daruszka to discuss Chicago’s rail history from its founding in 1848 to its peak in the 1940s and on into today’s operations. Though the waterways established Chicago the railroads soon became a key connector and transfer link to the continent from east to west and north to south. The development of Chicago from a frontier town into a world-class city could not have happened as it did without the railroads. Chicago became and arguably still is the greatest railroad center in the world. We hope you enjoy this journey into Chicago’s railroad history.

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Episode 16: The Second Star – The Fire

There is one story well-known throughout the world about the Windy City and a cow kicking over a lantern that set the Great Chicago Fire in motion.  The fact that the story of Catherine O’Leary’s cow is totally false seems not to matter, as this wrong-headed legend continues to perpetuate itself with the general public.  As the newspaper editor Dutton Peabody says in the 1952 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” 
And so it is, a hundred and fifty years later, Mrs. O’Leary and her cow live on in popular culture. 

The events of the evening of October 8th, 1871 would be the culmination of a prolonged hot, dry summer in the Midwest, and when Chicago began to burn, there were fires burning in several other places as well.  However. Chicago and the legend of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow eclipsed the reporting of the other fires, and stuck in the popular imagination. 

The Great Chicago Fire became the second star on the flag of Chicago, a marked tragedy, as approximately one-third of the residents lost their homes and the more than 300 who lost their lives.  But the fire was also considered a beginning for Chicago, a reset, a blank slate — that would allow the city’s business leaders and architects to imagine a new and better Chicago to rise from the ashes like a great phoenix.

In this episode, the Windy City Historians interview William Pack, a historian and author of “The Essential Great Chicago Fire” (2015) to recount the events of that faithful Sunday night when smoke was spotted southwest of the city center, near the intersection of Jefferson and DeKoven Streets.  It is an illuminating story of mistakes, delays, human error, and heroism, and a transformative event for the young city on the prairie that became the “City on the Make” as later chronicled by Nelson Algren.  Two days after the fire co-owner and managing editor of the Chicago Tribune Joseph Medill wrote, “We have lost money, but we have saved life, health, vigor and industry.  Let the watchword henceforth be Chicago shall rise again!” In December of that year Medill would be elected mayor of the City of Chicago as a candidate of the “fireproof” party serving two terms from 1871 to 1873.

Links to Research and Historic Sources:

Episode 15: The Stockyards

In the Spring of 2020, one of the first cracks in the American economy with Covid-19 was the closing of several meatpacking plants in the United States.  The nature of the process with workers stationed in close proximity to one another, poorly ventilated spaces, and often arduous work conditions and practices became a breeding ground for the virus and created Covid hot-spots around the country.  Meanwhile, the White House exercising its executive authority via the Defense Production Act ordered slaughterhouses to remain open for fear of disrupting of the nation’s meat supply. 

This underbelly of the food chain is often overlooked, yet for more than a century Chicago was largely identified with wholesale slaughter and meat processing thanks to the Union Stock Yard & Transit Company, which opened on Christmas Day 1865.  Stockyards and the downstream processing operations would soon become a ubiquitous presence in the economy of the growing metropolis of Chicago, the commerce of the United States, and the world. 

The Union Stock Yard & Transit Company led Carl Sandburg to coin the dubious moniker for Chicago, “Hog Butcher to the World.”  Yet these operations provided an important testing ground for great ideas and smart solutions employing many great minds, including civil engineer Octave Chanute (1832-1910) and the architect Daniel Burnham (1846-1912).  The Stockyards were a prime tourist attraction in Chicago for the general public and people of note such as authors Rudyard Kipling, who was shocked by it, or Upton Sinclair, who based his novel “The Jungle” on the conditions and worker experiences there.  The Yards as locals referred to it spurred additional innovations — for instance the butchering disassembly line inspired Henry Ford to reverse the process to build automobiles which ultimately made them affordable to average Americans. 

The Union Stock Yard created huge fortunes and dynasties with names like Armour and Swift, often on the back of worker exploitation, which prompted strife and conflict and influenced the development of labor unions.  Great gusts blowing across the prairie turned small fires into great conflagrations on several occasions, and yet the Yards survived for more than a century before meeting its demise to the gradual shift of economic winds.  However in its heyday, the Yards was the place to be.  Join us in this episode to hear some more great Chicago history as we interview historian Dominic A. Pacyga, author of Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made

Links to Research and Historic Documents

Episode 13: Early Chicago

In this episode of our “Laying the Foundation” series of the Windy City Historians we explore an often ignored and long forgotten era and complete our interview with Dr. Ann Durkin Keating. We tap into the history of Juliette Kinzie and the city’s early wheelers and dealers as it rises up out of the swampy prairie landscape along the Y-shaped Chicago River on far southwestern shore of Lake Michigan.

Episode 12: The First Star – part two

Fort Dearborn at the beginning of the War of 1812 . . . is it a Battle or a Massacre? How should we, in the twenty-first century, talk about the events that occurred on Chicago’s lakefront on August 15, 1812 — a month-and-a-half after the declaration of war? How do we describe what happened to the column of approximately 100 soldiers, farmers, women and children in Indian Country that abandoned Fort Dearborn, mostly on foot, for Fort Wayne when they are attacked by approximately 500 Native Americans?

Join us in this episode of the Windy City Historians Podcast for the second half of our interview with history professor Ann Durkin Keating, Ph.D. and The First Star — a reference to the first star on the Flag of Chicago. Does William Wells actually get his heart carved out to be eaten by the victors? Find out about this and much more as we discuss the final events, implications, art and language surrounding Chicago and aftermath of this infamous attack in Chicago in 1812. We hope you will enjoy it as much as we have putting it together!

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 10: The First Murder

Founded in 1803, Chicago’s Fort Dearborn is the western most outpost on the frontier, and by 1812 still the most isolated fort in Indian Country. The garrison and few settlers are outnumbered five-to-one by the neighboring tribes within a day’s ride. A pivotal year in Chicago history the corner of today’s Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue is the site of Chicago’s first murder on June 17. At that point tensions are already high and this killing comes one day before Congress declares war on Great Britain. Although, the approximately 100 residents of Chicago will have no idea war is declared until mid- to late-July.

Just why trader John Kinzie stabbed fort interpreter Jean Lalime to death is a two-centuries’ old Chicago mystery. Was it jealousy, a trade dispute, bad blood? Listen in as we set the scene of Chicago on the cusp of the War of 1812, weight the accounts, motivations, and events surrounding this gruesome murder on the banks of the Chicago River. We hope you enjoy this fascinating slice of Chicago history and interview with writer Paul Dailing who authored the Chicago Reader article “The long death of Jean Lalime“.

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 9: The First Scandal

Early settlement of Chicago begins, Fort Dearborn is established at this outpost in Indian Country and it gets entangled in Chicago’s first scandal.

Episode 8 : The First Settler

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines settler as, “a person who goes to live in a new place where usually there are few or no people”. Native Americans have lived in the greater Chicago area for approximately 10,000 years dating back to the last ice age. Dependent on long lost oral histories we have no clear records of the future city’s earliest peoples, though archeological efforts and early French documents seem to indicate no native villages existed within today’s Chicago city limits. There have been significant native villages in the suburbs surrounding Chicago, but no evidence of native settlement on the Chicago River has ever come to light.

The last seven episodes of the Windy City Historians Podcast has attempted to relate the first hundred plus years of Chicago’s earliest recorded history from the first westerners to pass through the area; be it Nicolet somewhere between 1628 and 1634 or Jolliet and Marquette in 1673. We now unveil this story of Chicago’s very first settler connecting us to the permanent and continuous settlement of the City of Chicago.

This man, a man of color, and his family has long been swept under the rug while the trader and opportunist John Kinzie was held up as the town’s founder, a man we can best describe as Chicago’s first scoundrel. We hope you will enjoy this in depth conversation with historians John Swenson and professor Courtney Pierre Joseph Ph.D. relating the life, times, and impact the very first settler made on the site and city that would follow in his footsteps. This is the story of the trader, gentleman farmer, and Chicago’s founder — Jean Baptiste Point de Sable. Mr. Point de Sable, and yes, that is the proper French spelling of his full surname, is a fascinating character we hope you will enjoy learning about as much as we have.

Links to Research and History Documents