New Years Eve in Chicagoland

As a child at home in the 1960’s, it was about watching the ball drop in New York at 11 Central on TV and then turning on whatever Chicago hosted an hour later for a second New Year’s eve celebration. Sometimes I didn’t make it past 11 pm. On occasion, we would go to a friends house to spend the night. I would play with the other kids upstairs and of course, the parents would do the unspeakable…have fun. .drink…dance to the sounds of Mitch Miller in their finished basement.

Sometimes other shows were on that hosted Guy Lombardo’s Band playing Auld Lang Syne; his final New Year’s Eve appearance took place in New York in 1976. Not many may remember him. And if Guy Lombardo traveled to Chicago, many celebrated bringing in the New Year at the Aragon Ballroom to listen to his orchestra, which was a powerhouse attraction in the 1940s. Aragon is still in existence today at West Lawrence Ave in Uptown Chicago as I talked about in another article. The Aragon was known as one of the most elegant ballrooms in the world and has a capacity of 5,000, still offering live entertainment.

If my parents went out for a New Years Eve extravaganza…before my time, it was also to the beautiful Edgewater Beach Hotel, a resort hotel complex on Lake Michigan that featured such stars as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Other new year celebrations included live music at the Willowbrook Ballroom, which had a history of over 80 years of entertainment before it was destroyed by fire just a couple of years. A variety of big bands would take the stage for dancing events that occurred on a 6,000 square foot dance floor.

Today, popular celebrations that have created timeless tradition in Chicago is a trip to Navy Pier where you can enjoy entertainment and family attractions. Navy Pier offered exquisite cruises along the lakefront with an amazing fireworks display on New Years Eve. Many may have reserved a table to celebrate New Years at a fine restaurant in Chicago that offers the best in fine dining such as The Signature Room at the 95th. In the Western suburbs, you may want to try the most popular Meson Sabika in Naperville where you can enjoy brunch, lunch or dinner at this Spanish tapas restaurant.

Maybe your New Years Eve is just centered around pizza delivery, lots of wine and banging pots and pans in your yard with the little ones.  Regardless of how you spend the evening,hopefully, the New Year will bring to you nothing less than an abundance of health, happiness and peace.

Happy New Year!

Holiday trip to the Museum of Science and Industry

Chicago museums were an integral part of my childhood field trips as well as my own little ones to follow. Most field trips as a child and parent were hours spent at the Museum of Science and Industry. It almost scared me away because in some of my early trips, there was a boom I cannot describe and still have no idea what exhibit produced the sound. For me, watching the chickens hatch was so exciting, exploring the 1960’s ranch house of the farm and suburbs, Telefun Town, where there were no cell phones, but we had fun talking in phone booths. My true love was Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle since I was fascinated by dolls and miniatures. My first souvenir from the museum was a Japanese doll dressed in beautiful red silk to add to my collection. Millions have enjoyed the castle and my daughter, too, could not take her eyes off the intricate displays behind glass.  For my son who was a train fanatic and got his first train at the age of two, it was the magical towns and miniatures trains that he could watch for hours like the 3,500 square foot model railroad. Other exhibits we enjoyed were the coal mine, the museums first exhibit, and German submarine U-505.

It was truly Yesterday’s Main Street that was the highlight of Baby Boomers generational experience at the museum. You could get travel the cobblestone streets and see the following:

  • The Berghoff restaurant
  • Chicago Post Office
  • Commonwealth Edison
  • Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor and Photo Studio
  • Gossard Corset Shop
  • Jewel Tea Company grocery
  • Jenner and Block Law office
  • Lytton’s Clothing Store
  • Dr. John B. Murphy’s office
  • The Nickelodeon Cinema
  • Chas. A. Stevens & Co.
  • Walgreens Drug Company

Unlike the other shops, Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor and The Nickelodeon Cinema can be entered and are functional. Finnigan’s serves an assortment of ice cream and The Cinema plays short silent films throughout the day. And, believe it or not, getting our picture taken at the arcade studio where we could dress up and drive our 1920’s car was the best. The one included in this article was when my now 30+ children visited yesteryear and delighted in strolling the cobblestone streets while having a treat at the old-fashioned ice cream parlor. I have another of my daughter and I during her high school years. I am not sure if the museum still offers the car photo to guests.

The Museum opened in 1933 in Jackson Park actually housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. During the holidays, it began in 1942 with a single tree. Today, the Museum’s annual celebration featuring a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe. Other new exhibits include No Time Like the Future, The Henry Crown Space Center, Transportation and Ship Gallery.

Christmas reflections 2021

By Caryl Clem

Holiday’s allow us to travel through time

Bouncing back and forth between then and now

Cherished Christmas tales lit by fireplace flames

Imagination casts a spell over moonlit lawns

As children fight sleep to spy

Or hear the whisper of a silent sleigh

Pulled by reindeers hooves on frozen stardust

Trails in the starlight sky

Shining proof he has stopped by

Musical bells heard below

Blend with Secret Santa’s HO! HO! HO

Every tradition and custom feels brand new

Timeless wonder the magic surrounding Christmas

Another year passes with grace

As we reflect on the love in our lives

Eager to begin another year

Celebrating promise and hope

Stepping forward into a Happy New Year.

Pretty soon you will hear them prancing!

She found the book a few days ago; sharing her memory as well as my own. Twenty one years ago, my daughter wrote a Christmas poem, given to her teacher at Indian Trail school in Downers Grove to be submitted to the Anthology of Poetry since she loved writing. Though at times, I wonder if it was me more excited about my love of writing; guiding her my way. However, both of us strongly remember sitting on the bed working and I think there was a great deal of time spent at dining room table where arts, crafts and homework always took precedence.  I, too, had published in poetry anthologies and now they were looking for young writers. If hard to read in the picture, the copy of the poem is written in this article.

The poem was accepted in the 2001 addition. The editors accepted the poems in their format and punctuation; extending a warm thank you to those they selected as well as expecting great things from them in the future. Just being able to spend a wonderful time with my daughter then and appreciating her love now is what I call a great things in the future that the editor had hoped for all who had been published in the book.

Anthology of Poetry still exists since their first publication in 1990. Working with elementary, middle school and high school teachers throughout the United States, the AOP offers a professional forum for students’ poems and short stories. They also engage teachers in the selection process for our Teacher’s Selection anthologies. We recognize how challenging it is to develop a love for reading and writing in students when there are many distractions and few tools.

Christmas

Hang the stockings

Trim the tree

Make snowman cute as can be

Watch the snowflakes fall to the ground

Grab your boots and let’s run around

Drink hot chocolate from a Christmas cup

Build a fire to warm you up

Check the sky for Santa’s sleigh

He sure won’t be far away

Very soon you’ll hear them prancing

Santa’s reindeer will be dancing

The time has come for you to hear

Santa Claus’ jolly old cheer

You leave your room to sneak some peeks

At the man with the big red rosy cheeks

He piles packages under the tree

And turns around to smile at me

Then we go to find a treat

And we both sit down to drink and eat

When he is ready to leave I go to bed

And out of my window I see his fabulous sled

From high in the sky he waves goodbye

Until next year comes for my friends and I!

Wishing you a Charlie Brown Christmas

By Caryl Clem

On the short list of my holiday movie favorites is Charlie Brown. The fact I have aged and he has not, I do not hold against him. I am an unswerving Charlie Brown Peanuts fan. Imagine my amazement when I discovered Charlie Brown at Christmas was almost canceled. The fact Charlie Brown has performed for over 50 years this time of year borders on a Christmas miracle.

Charlie Brown surfaced in the newspaper comics in October 1950. Charles Schultz his creator wove the trails of life seen by his young characters into Sunday morning remedy.  Ironically, Lucy’s advice for 5 cents echoed the new price increase for newspapers that year. Charlie faced wistful, nonreciprocal love: sports failures, academic challenges, and Lucy’s domineering force with gut wrenching persistence. He never gave up in spite of failure after failure. He sheltered Linus with his Security blanket understanding that feeling secure was a form of success.

In 1965, producer Lee Mendelson urged Schultz and Disney animator Melendez to consider expanding Charlie Brown’s audience to  a television 30 minute special sponsored by Coca Cola.  Mendelson confided CBS executives didn’t think it would work. Skeptics claimed it was slow moving, too religious, not lighthearted like the popular comic strip and diverted from what children expected to see. Determined to win approval, a week before the final deadline Mendelson submitted his final draft. In spite of the initial misgivings, CBS was aired the special on December 9, 1965.

The New York Times stated that 15 million watched the first A Charlie Brown animated cartoon.  As the story unfolded a young boy feeling frustrated by his inability to connect to the festive Christmas spirit; he discovered the magic of Christmas at the end. Every heart in the audience must have been touched by Charlie’s dilemma since an Emmy and the Peabody awards were given for outstanding children’s programming in 1966. A Charlie Brown Christmas is on PBS at 7:30 EST.

Charles Schultz used his genius to weave a story within the limits of reality. Charlie Brown animated cartoons were the first to children voices instead of adults.  Peter Robin’s was 8 ½ years old filling a tall order for a jubilant Christmas ready kid sounding depressed or weary when reading a Charlie Brown script. All the Peanut characters voices were done by kids, a crucial element that makes Charlie Brown so believable.

The holidays are a mix of stress and elation. Remember, Charlie Brown always bounced back, never gave up on hope in the future. I am Wishing Everyone A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Home alone and more of John Hughes

It had occurred to me to write about this Chicago based movie last year since in 2020 we would be celebrating its movie anniversary, produced in 1990 but the draft had been put on hold. Everybody was writing about the infamous movie’s anniversary. Then I talked to a student at school this month and he could not stop talking about his field trip from Downers Grove, Il to the northside. He wrote about it in his first grade journal. He saw the Home Alone house! The Home Alone house is located at 671 Lincoln Avenue in Winnetka, Illinois. and so I pulled some pictures online for him to verify. Oh my,,,,that was it though I had to be extremely careful. He knew the difference between older pictures of the home that did not have a fence around the house. The fence was fairly new to the property; keeping current onlookers at a distance.

My 30 + year old daughter and I have taken several field trips to the house too; some years ago with Starbucks in our hands. No fence! Home alone was and still is one of the favorite movies in our family. My daughter became a connoisseur of John Hughes films, especially produced in Chicago. Another family favorite was Sixteen Candles is a 1984 American coming-of-age comedy film starring Molly RingwaldMichael Schoeffling, and Anthony Michael Hall. It was written and directed by John Hughes in his directorial debut. In 1985, he produced the Breakfast Club. It stars Emilio EstevezAnthony Michael HallJudd NelsonMolly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy as teenagers from different high school cliques who spend a Saturday in detention with their authoritarian assistant principal. (Paul Gleason). Again, we traveled to Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, which had been closed in May 1981 and filming took place here for the Breakfast Club and Molly Ringwalds home in Sixteen Candles. Again, Sixteen Candles was mainly filmed in the north suburbs of Chicago. The Baker house is located at 3022 Payne Street in Evanston. The church (Glencoe Union Church – 263 Park Avenue) and parking lot where the final scenes take place are in Glencoe. Glencoe has become our favorite spot for a field trip to walk the beach.

Home Alone premiered on November 10, 1990, in Chicago, and entered wide release in the United States on November 16, 1990. With a total gross of $476.7 million, it was the highest-grossing live-action comedy until 2011. An eight-year-old troublemaker must protect his house from a pair of burglars when he is accidentally left home alone by his family during Christmas vacation. Home Alone has won one award after another and is considered one of the best Christmas films of all time. A sequel, Home Alone 2, Lost in New York was released in 1992. According to NBC Chicago, this year you can actually book a one night stay at the Home Alone house this holiday season. This can be found on Airbnb’s website for only 25 dollars, but you must pay for travel expenses to Chicago.

Who burned the St. Lukes Methodist Church on the south side of Chicago during the holidays?

We had just finished our Christmas pageant in the sanctuary. I was only 10 in December of 1965 and didn’t like being in shows since I was pretty shy back then. I think I was an angel because I vaguely remember my mother and Ms. Elaine, my Sunday School teacher helping with my wings. But I was going to do this because my father was going to come and watch. He was not a regular church-goer as I called then like me and my Mom. We attended St. Lukes Methodist Church at 93rd and Paxton on the Southside of Chicago. My first religious experience. My mother sometimes taught Sunday school and made new friendships. It is where I also met my friend Sue who I still talk to today. The pageant, however, is not a strong memory because of the arson fire that took place days later. In January of 1966, one arson fire followed eight days later by a suspected second arson fire at St. Luke Methodist Church.

The church served only about 100 families but we enjoyed the smaller space for it gave my family more opportunity to be involved. After the first fire, we were hopeful due to some water damage, we still gathered hymnals to save as well as other remnants and church carried on. My friend of over 50 years, Sue and her brother retrieved quite a few things from the burning building. She still has two of the small footed bowls, above, that the ladies served the cranberry sauce in at their turkey dinners. And her brother had painted a paint by number of the last supper or the face of Jesus that he retrieved. But it was the second fire that destroyed the pulpet. It was completely blackened with soot and as a young girl, I remember thinking how could anyone destroy Jesus…his image. My mother just told me she thought it was a young man who came to the church off and on but had some mental issues. Even after researching, I don’t think anyone was arrested for the crime. The remainder of the church was torn down.

According to the History of Southlawn church, picture above, around 1965, the Calumet Heights Community began undergoing racial change and transition, as did Southlawn. African-Americans were welcomed. In January 1966, one arson fire followed eight d Some believed that the fires were related to then pastor, John K. Brown’s active support of civil rights. Following the arson fires, the St. Luke congregation was merged with Southlawn. In 1968, the Methodist Church abolished the Central Jurisdiction. Portions were added to the Rock River Conference, which was the predecessor Conference of The Northern Illinois Annual Conference. The merger created The United Methodist. I did go through the confirmation process at Southlawn but it was just not the same.

My friend Sue believed that the church was too small and had to be subsidized—a lot of force mergers at the time. Plus,negotiations were going on for the merger with another denomination to become the United Methodist church. She distinctly remembers discussions at her house about the 100 families in the church. Her dad insisted they could get $1000 pledges from each family to rebuild and most members were in agreement. It was her understanding that politically it was just not to be allowed because of finances and the merge with Southlawn was forced by the bishop at the time. The racial discrimination and further integration of the neighborhood may have played a large role, but Sue or I never heard any issues about that: all she heard was the financial issues.