Chicago History Museum

The first time I visited the Chicago Historical Society, which is now the Chicago Museum, was the day after the death of John F. Kennedy. It was a field trip planned in advance with friends to celebrate my 9th birthday that my Mom did not want to cancel. After arriving, I remember seeing the bed that Abraham Lincoln died in and also seeing different guns representing the Union and Confederate Armies. It was a somber event, for many of us kept thinking about the irony of this trip after the recent assassination of our President John F. Kennedy who was also shot in the head in on Friday, November 22, 1963. My actual birthday was on the Thursday, the 21st, though we planned to celebrate on Saturday, November 23rd since we were off of school. Taking my own little ones, to the museum in the 1990’s, they, too, were fascinated with the gun collection, and Lincolns bed, but also loved the clothing that Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln wore on the evening of the assassination. We also enjoyed the beautiful historical paintings and dioramas throughout the building. Learning more about the true Chicago Fire was another interest that sparked our attention.

The museum has been located in Lincoln Park since the 1930s at 1601 North Clark Street at the intersection of North Avenue in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood. The CHS adopted the name, Chicago History Museum, in September 2006 for its public presence. Later that year, the museum celebrated a grand reopening, unveiling a dramatic new lobby and redesigned exhibition spaces. Signature exhibitions such as Chicago: Crossroads of America and Sensing Chicago debuted, while an old favorite, Imagining Chicago: The Dioramas, was restored and updated.

Today, the Chicago History Museum, Stephen Burrows, Scotty Piper, Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith, and Barbara Bates—five stories within the folds of fashion. The clothing we wear and the styles we embrace often reveal what we value and what we aspire to, ultimately helping us understand ourselves and the world in which we live. The clothing collection consists of more than 50,000 pieces, ten never-been-exhibited ensembles were selected to tell the remarkable stories of these five designers. Vivian Maier was an extraordinary photographer who took pictures of real life and many on the streets of Chicago. Maier died before her life’s work was shared with the world. She left behind hundreds of prints, 100,000 negatives, and about a thousand rolls of undeveloped film, which were discovered when a collector purchased the contents of her storage lockers.

Remembering Dr. King: 1929–1968 invites visitors to walk through a winding gallery that features over 25 photographs depicting key moments in Dr. King’s work and the Civil Rights movement. And there is much more to the museum, that includes a variety of programs, publications, temporary exhibits, and online resources such as virtual fieldtrips, on-site fieldtrips and you can host an event. The museum offers a great gift shop with wonderful historical and fictional books about the city. You can also purchase kids’ books that offer a solid look at American history. You can buy apparel as well home goods.

What ever happened to sky blue?

One day, some of the kindergarten students were drawing a hopscotch game on the playground. When you get to the giant circle that was the number 10, somebody said they thought you died and went to heaven. No…I had to correct them even though now there are tons of different rules and regs for hopscotch. When you reach the circle, you yell “sky blue”. I don’t know about others, but when I am reminded of this game, the only words I can think of is SKY BLUE. But the children of today did not buy it. That is a memory that is so clear on a beautiful day. In front of my house on the south side of Chicago in the 1960’s. It was just like yesterday remembering my Mom standing in the picture window just watching me trying to draw the game in front of our house when I was real little. But it didn’t take a phone call for other friends on the block to come out and help. Somehow, they just appeared; probably watching from their own windows. It was those creases between sidewalk slabs that made it difficult. My older friends really helped me. Once completed, we all played together.

An ancient form of hopscotch was played by Roman children in the 17th century. The original courts were much longer. There are many other forms of hopscotch played across the globe. And in some games, sky blue becomes plum pudding or cat’s cradle according to the English.

You can make a cardboard game for indoor fun,and by doing so in the example, you actually separate the letters with longer spaces in between to help build coordination and fun. Its a wonderful way to learn how to hop on one foot or two which is exactly what kindergarten students are learning in physical education classes. You can actually purchase indoor hopscotch games.  Learning Carpets 79” by 26” Hopscotch Play Carpet is available on Amazon in different patterns. No chalk required! Toss a stone, coin, or bean bag and hop your way through the numerical maze.

Moms from the district came out to actually permanently paint a hopscotch on our playground,,,, number 10 as the last number. As a playground supervisor, I am going to just blow my whistle and yell “sky blue” as the children proceed, whether they like it or not!

When did all of this dyeing of the Chicago River and St. Patrick’s Day Parades begin?

Today, it is amazing how popular St. Patrick’s Day has become for little ones at school. Their major focus is trying to build traps to catch leprechauns, which I didn’t do, though my kids did at home, opening windows to grab those creatures. But for many suburban Chicago kindergarten children, several talked about taking a family fieldtrip to see the river dyed green. One girl brought pictures to show the beauty of the green Chicago River. One talked about seeing the parade with Aunt Sue. One mentioned her friend who was Irish step dancing in the parade. In the 1970’s, I also remember viewing the river one year celebrating lunch with friends in college, but we were standing closer to Union Station. In the 1990’s, I remember standing with my own little ones near the bridge by the Wrigley building; fascinated by the river as well as the pipe and drums of the bagpipe players. In 1962, the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers Union Local 130 dumped 100 pounds of the dye into the Chicago river just to have some fun. It was green for an entire week. Ever since, it has become a St. Patrick’s Day tradition; happening prior to the infamous St. Patrick’s Day parade, which became an official event in the 1950’s.

According to NPR, the green dye was originally part of the city’s effort to clean up the river’s waterfront areas, which had long been a depository for Chicago’s waste. Mayor Richard Daley had originally proposed dyeing part of Lake Michigan green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, he was persuaded by his friend Stephen M. Bailey, who was the business manager of the Chicago Plumbers Union. They used to use an oil based dye but now the dye is a powder that spreads easily. Two boats are used; one to drop the dye into the river and the other to actually steer it. Over the last 65 years, this has become such a proud tradition that other Chicago suburbs have dyed lakes or streams in their area such as Lake Katherine in Palos Heights for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Throughout the United States, other cities such as Tampa, Florida and cities in Texas, are following Chicago’s tradition.

According to Choose Chicago, Chicago is one of several U.S. cities that drew large numbers of Irish immigrants in the 1800s. By 1850, about one-fifth of the city’s population was Irish. What was an unofficial parade that began in 1843, became legendary and official. The parade also has a parade queen and Grand Marshal every year. The city of Chicago actually has three parades that are extremely popular. The South Side Irish Parade and the The Northwest Side Parade. Alone, this year over 100 floats and 15 bands was involved in the South Side Parade. The parades are probably some of the largest in the country.

Sambos

We moved to Dolton in 1970, living at 152nd and Chicago Road. Mom and I began going to church at Faith United Methodist, which was located at 15015 Grant Street, only a few blocks away from our new apartment. For awhile, I was involved in the church, and I became a Sunday school teacher, but it was after church services that I enjoyed the most. We headed out to 633 E Sibley Boulevard for Sunday brunch at Sambos. Many breakfasts and lunches were spent at Sambos, many days of the week, probably until 1978. I remember having the best pancakes and how much Mom loved her coffee. At one time, it was only 10 cents. I shared experiences with many friends from Thornridge as well as Thornton Community College, now South Suburban College. After a few drinks for me in later years, at night, it was time for coffee and another sobriety breakfast. Though back then, friends would also hang out at the Denny’s in Calumet City for that reason. Illinois had more than 20 locations of Sambo restaurants, including many situated in Chicago’s south and north suburbs. Downers Grove, Countryside, Arlington Heights, Bridgeview, Glenview and Elk Grove Village to name just a few.

The first restaurant opened in 1957 in Santa Barbara, California. Though the name was taken from portions of the names of its founders, Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett, the chain soon found itself associated with The Story of Little Black Sambo. Battistone and Bohnett capitalized on this connection by decorating the walls of the restaurants with scenes from the book, including a dark-skinned boy, tigers, and a pale, magical unicycle-riding man called “The Treefriend.”The restaurant was expanded to more locations. In late 1963, it had restaurants in 16 cities—in California, Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona. By 1969, the company had grown to 98 locations. By the late 1970’s, there were 1,117 Sambo restaurants in 47 states. All have been closed for many years, though the original stayed open in 2020 but changed its name. It is owned by the grandson of Battistone and is called Chad’s now. 

The owners did not set out to create trouble, and they were successful, raking in over 380 million dollars a year when Jimmy Carter was President, but in many places, the murals on the wall did not sit well in communities that were fighting for civil rights, and the little black sambo had been considered racist even before the business opened, though they took pride in their murals. But as the late 1970’s progressed, more and more restaurants, especially in the East, were confronted with lawsuits against the name. The company renamed some locations, such as the Jolly Tiger, but it didn’t work. In March of 1981, they tried, “There is no place like Sams.” By November of 1981, they filed for Chapter 11 and continued to fail. By 1982, all but the original Sambos were sold. Several were sold to Bakers Square or Denny’s.

Club El Bianco

I was only eleven years old in 1966 when my Aunt Lil took me for what she called “a real Italian fiesta” for my birthday. I remember trays, carts and more trays of food. My greatest memory was sparklers in my dessert and the waitress asking if it was my birthday. I also remember the unique candlesticks on the table. I also enjoyed the fire glowing in the grates of their fireplace since my birthday was in November. Visiting in later years, it truly was a perfect choice to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. The restaurant was located at 2747 West 63rd Street and California in Chicago and turned out everything from a variety of cheeses, salads, soups, meats, desserts, and special wines. In 1948, Henry Bianco’s special Fiesta Dinners began with several courses that some columnists called a three hour meal with two large napkins provided; one to be spread in the lap. It was just down the street from St. Rita’s church. I had visited the church for a festive wedding and a miserable funeral of a two -year old who had been hit by a car in the neighborhood. Family friends lived on Fairfield off of 63rd. Some worked at the restaurant.

Many worked at Bianco’s to create the fantastic meals. At one time, sources claim that the restaurant staffed over 40 people. Fiesta dinners were amazing, sometimes taking weeks to prepare and the anti-pasto was what the restaurant was known as well as a bowl of minestrone soup, a variety of salads, pepperoni sausage, snails in season, chicken a la cacciatore with lime sherbet (“potatoes would fill you up; the sherbet enables you to eat more”), egg plant a la Parmigiana, baked mostaccioli with Ricotta, veal scallopini, fruit plate dessert, spumoni, helpings from the cheese, nut and pastry carts. My mother thought the coffee was out of this world. Cordials and small gift items were available to take home. People traveled from neighboring states to eat at Bianco’s. Some would stay for an hour, some for three, and the restaurant was completely air conditioned during the spring and summer months.

Ebay offers a matchbook that you can purchase as well as many vintage restaurant matchbooks and other memorabilia.