Timeless humor in comic books

By Caryl Clem:

Sundays were steeped in family traditions, first religious activity, then enjoying a  labor of love feast with the family. My main source of Sunday entertainment was the newspaper’s “funnies “section.  Forty five years later after the New York Evening Journal in 1912 began issuing a full page funny portion boosting sales by the thousands; the technique still “hooked” readers.

Newspapers were the impetus for the creation of the “comic book”. Classic comical figures such as “Popeye”, “Little Orphan Annie”, “Blondie and Dagwood”, “Mutt and Jeff” were presented in cartoons in panel series on a weekly basis.  A publication, The Comic Monthly, reprinted the popular newspaper series in book form with the last page announcing this was a “comic book”. The first original comic book New Fun work appeared in 1935. The ability to create new characters for fans to love increased the thriving market. September 25 is National Comic Book Day.

Heroes you could count on surfaced as the country battled the consequences of the Great Depression.  King Features started Flash Gordon in 1934 introducing a science fiction super hero intergalactic theme.  A Detective Series  #1  composed by Jerry Spiegel Joe Shuster  introducing the forerunner to Superman, Slam Bradley in 1937.  Another figure with super human powers, Batman arrived to fight crime in Detective Series #27 on March 30, 1939. “Dick Tracy” was based on a Chicago policeman fighting gangsters out maneuvering criminals with gadgets invented by “Brilliant”.  Dick’s Radio Wrist Watch has been claimed to be the inspiration for the Apple Smart Watch.  During the 1940’s, surviving World War II introduced another hero, Captain America.   

 The fans clamoring for more laughter and suspense almost lost their comic book “fix”. An author warned the public about the absolute harm reading about fascist ideals, abnormal sexual behavior and fascination with corruption in Seduction of the Innocent by Dr. Wertham.  Congress asked him to testify before a committee concerned about Juvenile Delinquency. Immediately the Comics Code Authority was formed to assure parents that the comic book content was safe. The codes promised good would triumph over evil, females were to be drawn realistically, and no vampires or ghouls. 

Charles Schultz in 1950 featured the lighthearted “Peanuts” with Charlie Brown and Snoopy, “The Flintstones’” stumbled their way into your heart, and heroes resurfaced to save our world. Comic Book characters surged back to life starring in television and movie features.  Recent favorites include   X-Men, Immortal Hulk, Avengers, Daredevil and Doctor Doom.  In 2019 Captain Marvel, Avengers, Endgame, Far From Home, Dark Phoenix, Shazami, and Joker proved comics universal ageless appeal.  If you want to unwind, pick up a comic book or enjoy one of its current expansions.  

 If you are interested in comic history in more detail, check out the following You Tube information.

1920’s and 1930’s travel: Chicago’s Northwestern Train

By Caryl Clem: 

Traveling by train offered luxurious surroundings in the 1920’s to appeal to anyone bitten with the travel bug.  Magnificent lightening, rich facade décor, red carpeting, table linens in the dining room and appealing curtained sleeping quarters echoed eloquence at reasonable prices for passengers. In college attending the University of Illinois in 1927-1930, my father worked for the United States Department of Agriculture traveling through the state to examine the corn fields for disease bearing insects.  He enjoyed riding on trains whose seating arrangement s was intimate, 2 booth seats across from each other between a tables looking out the window.  “Coach” cars had sofas and upholstered furniture. My father carried a black leather suitcase smaller than the backpacks students carry today.

In 1931, my Father’s fiancée lived in Mattoon, a major railroad crossroads in southern Illinois while his first teaching job was in a small rural town in northern Illinois. Train travel shortened the distance between them on weekends.  His fiancée’s father was a train engineer, free passes to ride the rails.

Gilbert Clem wrote about one night in Chicago’s Northwestern Station with three story waiting room areas with marble walls and floors waiting for the last train. The place was as dead as a morgue.  Not a person in sight until he entered the elaborate washroom where he noticed a very shabby dressed man scurries into another stall.  A quick flush and the man had left before my Father had a chance to use the lavatory.  As my Father exited, the bright lights outside illuminated at single dollar bill just outside the door.  At a time when 2 hamburgers at a restaurant cost 25 cents, the urge to bend down and lower his head for the free money was a temptation.  My Father’s defensive sense kicked; “Why is there a dollar bill in an empty building? “ He passed it up and walked quickly away.  He turned around a few feet later to see the shadow of the shabbily dressed man picking the bill up and placing it into his pocket.

A common diversion on trains was playing cards, especially poker.  Gilbert was asked to join a group of guys that needed a fourth player to play bridge. He left his overnight bag on his seat informing his neighbor he was leaving for a short time. A member wanted to play a poker hand  to place bets on the hands dealt.  My Dad never gambled and refused to join.  Poker first, winnings spilt. The bridge hands were played keeping scores. Then the second hand and the poker betting was higher. The loser felt cheated.  Gilbert turned his hand in and hurried to his seat in the next car. Later security was looking for the fourth player of the group in trouble for fighting over the cards.  Gilbert sat quietly reading , acting like he had never  left his seat. Train travel has changed  but you still need to be careful to stay safe.

Memories of the Palmer House

It was always the lobby as a child growing up in Chicago looking at the intricate, lavish ceiling, the amazing gold chandeliers as well as candles throughout. I could not speak, my eyes wide, staring at the beauty. It was always the ornate lobby chosen as an adult for meeting a friend for dinner or drinks. The lobby is actually known throughout the world; one of the most elaborate of all time. A hotel almost 150 years old, built only thirteen days before the Chicago Fire, and re-built by Potter Palmer. In the late 1930’s, my father talked of seeing Frank Sinatra sing in the Empire Dining Room. A friend of Mom’s got to see The Letterman in 1973. Now, the Palmer House may close like so many hotels throughout the county.

According to sources, The Palmer House was the first hotel in Chicago with electric lights and elevators. Telephones were in all the guest rooms. It opened on September 26, 1871, but burned down just 13 days later on October 9, 1871 in the Great Chicago Fire. It was initially a wedding present from Potter to his wife. Potter Palmer secured a little over a million dollar loan and rebuilt it again, completing it in 1875. Many presidents stayed there at the time such as Ulysses S Grant, Grover Cleveland as well as well-known writers, Oscar Wilde and Frank Baum. It was re-built again in the 1920’s on the same site to include more rooms and facilities.

In December 1945, Conrad Hilton bought the Palmer House for $20 million and it was thereafter known as The Palmer House Hilton. In 2005, Hilton sold the property to Thor Equities, but it remains part of the Hilton chain. The hotel was completely restored beginning in 2007-2009 while spending 170 million. The Palmer House Hilton currently has 1,639 guest rooms.

The hotel has been closed since March because of Covid and may not re-open. The reports claim that the debt owed may not be able to be paid. According to the Chicago Tribune, the owner has been sued for an unpaid loan resulting in 338 million dollars. Banquets, weddings, and conventions have been the hotels livelihood in the last few years.

After a massive Chicago fire, that destroyed most of the city, the hotel was re-built and survived decades and decades later. I don’t know if violent protests and a virus is going to save it this time around.

Enticing Blarney Island

By Caryl Clem:

A popular vacation escape opening in 1908 promoted the lure of lotus fields in bloom off a peninsular in Grass Lake, Illinois.  A wooden platform was built on a peninsula to provide a breath taking view of the surrounding wild beauty of lotus beds floating on the water. Rohema sounded exotic and exciting, a novel adventure waiting to be explored. Nearby Fox Lake was gaining the reputation of “the place” to go.  Hotels, bars, restaurants were available to broaden your touring satisfaction.

Jack O’Connor had an idea to cash in on this new business. An example of American ingenuity, he bought a house boat dubbed “Blarney Island” offering tours in vogue spot. His boat ride added a layer of excitement that passed standing still on a platform looking at the lake. Shorty Shobin, the owner of Rohema did not appreciate the competition.  A high stakes poker game played between these rivals would determine who had sole rights to the buildings and view of the lotus fields. Jack won the game and Shorty disappeared. One version claims Shorty shot himself in a bar’s backroom, or he shamefully left town for good. He was never seen again.

Karma or fate burned Jack’s houseboat down. The land and buildings jutted out from shore.  Over time the water deepened and the platform was an island.  Jack named this paradise, “Blarney’s Island “. In 1972, the Haley’s couple purchased the island. The ravaged by floods in the 1950’s structures were repaired and enlarged.  Entertainment activities blending a bar with bands and dancing, or drag boat racing were added.  A ferry would transport you to a place with the reputation anything could happen.  The ceiling of the bar sported stapled pieces of clothing as poof. 

By 2003, the business was bought by a former business partner of one of the Haley’s brothers, a banker named Rob Hardman. The wooden telephone poles and pier posts were replaced with steel pylon anchored in the ground. A red wood platform was built on top. Palm trees were added, a new kitchen, a new bar and increased enclosed protected space for patrons. Live bands play Friday through Sunday. The theme is a Key West vibe. A ferry carries 40 passengers shuttling to the boating bar that has room for 300 parked boats.  Extreme Boats Magazine awarded Blarneys Island, “the greatest boating bar” in the country.  Festivals such as Blarney’s Mardis Gras and Fantasy Fest mirroring the Key West event are held.  Blarney Island is open for business;  a novel place still providing an unique experience.