History | Holiday Issue 2017 | Interviews | Lit | Radio

Chicago Public Libraries, Uncovered

Anne Keough on the hidden archives in the Blackstone Branch

Rod Sawyer

When Anne Keough, the branch manager at Blackstone Library, looked in the cabinets behind her desk during recent renovations, she didn’t expect to find a treasure trove of historic documents. Blackstone Library opened in Kenwood in 1904 as the first branch of the Chicago Public Library system. In Keough’s office sat volumes of Shakespeare from the late 1800s, old copies of the Hyde Park Herald, and decades-old library policies. Weekly editor Rod Sawyer spoke with Keough about her discoveries, the history of the Chicago Public Library System, and the importance of time capsules.

History

Sunken Histories

The Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago tells the stories of Lake Michigan’s shipwrecks

Courtesy of the Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago

On Saturday, September 29, 1906, the Great Lakes were struck with a gale. That same day, the barge, Car Ferry No. 2 was carrying twenty-eight railroad cars of iron ore and cedar telegraph poles from Peshtigo, Wisconsin to South Chicago. As the barge neared Chicago’s port, waves began to break and water made its way into the hold. Otto C. Olson, captain of the ship, threw down an anchor, and began to pump out the water. But the iron ore was too heavy. The ship flipped.

Features | History | Nature | Nature Issue 2017 | Parks

Greener Pastures

What the history of Jackson Park tells us about its uncertain future

Within a year of the World’s Columbian Exhibition’s closure, a large fire razed most of the buildings, which gave Olmsted the opportunity in 1895 to create this revised general plan for Jackson Park—a waterway system that would connect Jackson Park through a canal running down the Midway to Washington Park. (New York Public Library)

Parks are for people,” Frances Vandervoort told me. A board member and Committee Chairman of the Hyde Park Historical Society, she holds a similar position on the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC), a watchdog organization for the South Side park of the same name. That’s what I’ve come to talk with Vandervoort about: the changes that will soon come to Jackson Park. The first signs of these changes are visible even today—a nonprofit called Project 120 Chicago, in partnership with the Chicago Park District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), has partially underwritten a series of revitalization projects taking place in the park since 2013. These are forerunners of more significant changes to come: the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) is slotted to open in Jackson Park in 2021, and the Tiger Woods–designed revitalization of the Jackson Park and South Shore Golf Courses—which will combine them into one PGA-grade course, and will be financed through a public-private partnership—is expected to be completed by 2020. Both projects have been sources of controversy.

History | Hyde Park | Kenwood | Politics | Woodlawn

The Past and Future of the SECC

Looking back on the South East Chicago Commission’s past as it enters a new era

The University of Chicago announced on January 26 that over the course of this year, the nonprofit South East Chicago Commission (SECC) will gain considerable independence from the university. Much of the SECC’s university funding will be cut, and the university will no longer be able to appoint or approve the organization’s board members. According to both parties, the move reflects the SECC’s need to reevaluate its direction as an organization.

History | Music

The World’s Most Musical Hardware Store

After a century, Meyers Ace Hardware will vacate its historic building

Robert O'Connor

Everybody wants to hear my story,” said Dave Meyers, the owner of Meyers Ace Hardware on 35th and Calumet. Meyers put up “CLOSING” signs on the front of the store last month, telling DNAInfo he couldn’t afford the space anymore.

History | Housing | Music

Home Histories: Mahalia Jackson’s Home

Natalie Gonzalez

Mahalia Jackson, the New Orleans-born gospel singer and civil rights activist, spent the later part of her life living in Chatham, in a spacious 1950s brick ranch house complete with seven rooms, a garage, a large chimney, and green lawns, located at 8358 South Indiana Avenue. When she moved to Chicago in 1927 at just sixteen, she lived with family and in various flats while she sang in churches up and down the South and West Sides of Chicago. After her 1947 hit, “Move On Up a Little Higher,” she gained international fame. With profits from her recordings and tours, she began investing in real estate on the South Side and looking for a home of her own. But when she began inquiring at homes with “For Sale” signs in Chatham, which was a majority-white suburb at the time, she was turned away by many homeowners—that is, until she stumbled across a white surgeon who had heard Jackson sing and was glad to sell his house to her. She bought the house in 1956 for $40,000 and was the second African-American homeowner on the block, after her neighbors, the Grants, who had moved in two years earlier.

History | Housing | Woodlawn

Home Histories: The Strand

Natalie Gonzalez

Last November, when William and Jacqueline Lynch moved their art gallery into the recently reopened Strand Apartments on 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, they were unaware of their new building’s historical import. “I did know about the Grand Ballroom down the street,” said William. “I didn’t know anything about this building.”

Essays | History | Housing

Chiasmus

A Narrative of Ascent

Turtel Onli

It’s 1986 and I’m born on the South Side of Chicago. My mother Sharon’s a Chicagoan too—born in 1964…six years into her parents’ northern life. My grandma Pearlie Mae is born in 1942 in a Mississippi Delta town founded by formerly enslaved people. My great-grandmother Wyona’s the first of us to be born in the twentieth century and would be eleven when white women got the vote, forty-five when segregation fell on paper, and fifty-nine when Dr. King was shot. Her mother Trudy was born in 1887 just up the road in the town where WC Handy first heard the Blues. Her mother Lucinda was born in 1862, one year into a war that’d color the conscience and collective memory of a nation. Her mother Martha was born in 1820, part of the generation begging for that slouch toward justice and would be forty-one years old when it began.

History | Housing | Lit

Home Histories: Lorraine Hansberry Home

Natalie Gonzalez

The Lorraine Hansberry House in northwest Woodlawn is unremarkable in appearance. Its brown brick walls and minimal adornments mimic thousands of other brick three-flats built in Chicago throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its outward appearance is transformed, however, when one learns that many of Hansberry’s experiences growing up in this house served as the inspiration behind her canonical play A Raisin in the Sun—a fictionalized reflection of her parent’s fight against housing discrimination in this very home.