The magic of the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle

One kindergarten student went to the Museum of Science and Industry, loving the baby chicks as her favorite exhibit. I did too and so did my own children. But when I begin another trip in the room with the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle,I am constantly in awe. I am quiet and so overwhelmed by the intricate detail of the amazing workmanship, artistry and beauty every time I visit. Maybe I have missed something again. I always do. But one year, I finally bought a book before the Internet was a resource.

The creation is the ultimate dollhouse/castle donated by Colleen Moore to the museum in 1949. She was a  Hollywood icon and one of the highest paid actresses. She conceived and designed it with about one hundred Hollywood craftsman and designers between the years of 1928 to 1935. She spent about a half a million on the castle. It has toured the US raising over a half a million dollars to give to children’s charities. Currently, the castle has 11 rooms and wonderful stories to go with each room.

The following describes each room and the finishing touches that were fascinating to me and my children:

Kitchen: It was not just the Mother Goose fairy tale murals on the walls. The best thing I liked is the kitchen of the witch from Hansel and Gretel.

Dining Room: The tapestries on the walls are so intricate that you cannot see the stitches at and the silver ware and plates on King Arthurs table are made of gold. So many pieces are over 100 years old.

Cinderella’s Drawing Room: The floor is made from China combined with quartz and jade. There is a beautiful of mural of Cinderella. A grand piano with an illustration inside the top is an instrument I always wanted to play on. I took piano lessons for many years and taught lessons.

Great Hall: On walls, windows and the ceilings there are amazing drawings of several fairy tales. There is a rosewood table that has Cinderella’s slippers on it and the chairs of the Three Bears. Of course, the balusters throughout and the stairs are gold.

Chapel; On the prayer bench is a small bible. The smallest in the world and printed on real type. I always stared at the electric pipe organ with gold pipes and music pours from it. The stained glass windows are actually made with diamonds and emeralds taken from Moore’s brooch.

Library: Is a sea motif in beautiful blue shades. There are pictures describing the classic literature of Gullivers Travels and Robinsoo Caruso. There are over 100 real books in the library many of them handwritten by famous authors.

Princess Bathroom and Bedroom: The bath tub is silver and real water can flow from the dolphins mouths on both sides of the tub. The bed is the same that Sleeping Beauty, my favorite Disney character, slept in. There is also a golden harp instrument that I always wanted to play

Prince’s Bathroom and Bedroom: The bathroom is upstairs with a mirror filled jewels. The bedroom has a huge white bear rug with real mouse teeth that I was always a little afraid.

Attic: This is just like most attics. Things that used to be in other parts of the castle are stored in the attic.

Magic Garden: Another favorite of mine. I loved the cradle that rocked the baby and you could actually see Santa Claus all year round.

Remembering Chicago street cars

She was 100 in 1999 and said the biggest change she had seen during her life in Chicago was not having streetcars though that was before the Internet and cell phones. She probably would have spoke differently. At one time, Chicago had the largest railway system in the world. The street cars began in 1859 with a horse-drawn cart running along a single rail track down State Street. However, they were replaced with cable cars and then replaced again with electric streetcars powered by an overhead trolley. Over 3,000 passenger cars existed.

As a girl, my Aunt used to ride the red street cars for only a nickel back in the early 1900’s and she said she could go anywhere in the city of Chicago for that cost. They also had a free transfer privilege where you could switch from one car to another. The streetcar industry began to decline in the 1920’s because of automobiles but at the time her family could not afford a car so she was a regular streetcar customer. A white band surrounded a pole to indicate where the car would stop. And according to my Aunt, you only had to wait a few minutes for the next car. There were over 100 routes throughout the city. A motorman stood in front of the car while the conductor was in the back where people loaded onto the car. The conductor rang a trolley bell to let the motorman know they were ready to go.

The PCC car was her favorite which only last a short time from 1945-1946. The streetcar company known as Chicago Surface Lines would not give up on their streetcars. Four companies formed the CSL: the Chicago Railways Company, Chicago City Railway, Calumet and South Chicago Railway, and Southern Street Railway which continued with Hammond, Indiana until 1940.

The new public agency Chicago Transit Authority took over Chicago Surface Lines and the streetcar system in 1947. They began to integrate the surface lines with the city’s elevated train network. The last street car journeyed down Vincennes Avenue on June 21, 1958. James O’Neil talks about his memories as a child with streetcars and living near a large streetcar, later bus, “barn,” as they used to call it. He used to have quite a collection of paper transfers.

Many years ago, I took my son to Illinois Railway Museum where he saw the red street car that my Aunt talked about. He was too young when she passed away but his love for everything on rails was passionate. The Illinois Railway Museum is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization which is owned entirely by its volunteers. The museum receives no state or federal money for its operations. All capital and operating costs are paid by individual donations and revenue derived from tickets and on-site sales. Currently, they are closed until early May but they are always looking for volunteers.

 

 

Christmas Tree Shimmer

By Caryl Clem

Communities across America kick off the Christmas Holidays with Tree Lighting ceremonies. This tradition was almost short circuited. A pastor lit a Christmas tree in the late 1890’s in a small town in Pennsylvania. The tree was torn down by townspeople who feared evil spirits had possessed the tree. First, Boston held a tree lighting ceremony on December 24, 1912. Chicago was a leader in spreading the idea of Christmas festivals starting with the grandeur of a giant shimmering tree. Mayor of Chicago, Carter H. Harrison, Jr. held the first official Chicago Tree Lighting in 1913 in Grant Park. Attended by 100,000 enthusiasts, the festival was planned by the President of the Art Institute, Charles L. Hutchinson according to Glessner House website.  The first President, Grover Cleveland, had an electric tree in the Oval Room for his granddaughters.  Ten years after the grand Chicago affair, President Cleveland presented a 3,000 bulb tree in the Ellipse on Christmas Eve. The magic of illuminated trees overcame the original mistrust of using electricity.  New York City in Rockefeller Center celebrated their first tree lighting ceremony in 1933.

Edison’s business partner, Edward H. Johnson invented the first string of white, red, and green bulbs in 1892 which he proudly displayed on his tree in a parlor window overlooking Manhattan in New York City. The first lit Christmas tree emerged. Johnson resourcefully hired a reported to take pictures. Only the rich could afford to hire a wireman (labor $1,000) to install a string of bulbs ( $300-$350 each).  General Electric was offering bulb strings for sale in 1903. The prices dropped after World War II, increasing the popularity of Christmas lights.

Every child hears stories of Christmas Magic. I was convinced these stories must be true after one glance at “bubble lights” on our family Christmas tree. I could sit and stare mesmerized by the bubbling glow amidst the popcorn strings, dangling cookies and bright tinsel.  After the introduction of “BUBBLE lites” by the NOMA Electric Corporation in 1946, competitors produced similar lights with the names Kristal Snow and Sparkling Bubble Lamp. The idea for bubbling inside a light was inspired by 2 popular selling items from the Montgomery Ward’s store. An accountant, George Otis combined the traveling light action in an illuminated Juke box with the shape of a Glow Light Candle. He filed a patent in 1935 that he later sold to NOMA. He was hired as a designer who played an active in improving lights in the years to come. The founder of Ward’s was a Chicagoan,  Aaron Montgomery Ward starting his business  in 1871 with the idea to sell to rural farmers the goods too far away for them to normally purchase. By 1923, the business had expanded to 244 stores in various states.

By the light of a shimmering tree, feel inspired by this year’s holiday magic!

Thankful for classroom pencil sharpners

When I first began assisting in the elementary classroom, I looked around for something that would truly remind of my youth. Yes….there were bulletin boards but I loved having the chance to sharpen my pencils with an automatic pencil sharpener with the old crank and sometimes smell the pencil shavings. Though there were times, the sharpeners would jam if the plastic enclosure collecting shavings became too full. I also remember metal clips on the top of many to manipulate while fitting the pencils.

Today, teachers now ask me to sharpen student pencils and I still have fun selecting an appropriate hole to fit the pencil, pushing in gently and listen to the electronic motor do its work. But the elementary students, when given the chance, really like to push it…if you know what I mean. And if it stops, they keep trying different holes. It has a powerful motor with the patented smart stop feature that shuts off the motor and illuminates a blue LED light when the pencil is finished sharpening. The sharpeners also contains an area enclosed where shavings are stored and when full, the sharpener will not work at all.

For most of its existence, the Automatic Pencil Sharpener Company was owned and operated by the Spengler-Loomis MFG Co. of Chicago according to Made in Chicago. , aka APSCO—a brand so prominent, it was like the No. 2 Pencil of pencil sharpeners. According to research, it briefly began in New York, but eventually was designed by a Chicago inventor,Essington N. Gilfillan in 1906.

In 1910, hundreds were designed at 31- 35th and Randolph Street and sent to offices as promotional strategy. What many liked is that there were no additional parts involved and in 1913 a plant was opened in Rockford. The state-of-the-art Rockford factory, completed in 1914 and located at 2415 Kishwaukee Street, covered 26,000 square feet, with 150 employees soon working to produce half a million pencil sharpeners per year. The building is still there but the company was sold several times in the 1950s, 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. Finally, it could not compete with the electric sharpener. However, many of the older models such as the Chicago pencil sharpener would stop cutting if a point was produced. The crank could not be moved.

The Made-in-Chicago Museum, est. 2015, offers quite a collection of automatic pencil sharpeners as well as a great photos online. In Rogers Park, There are over 300 industrial antiques and vintage wares on display so far—all of them dating from 1900 to 1970, and all of them, of course, Made in Chicago.

Chicago’s Art Institute

For me as a child in the 1960’s, it was the Thorne rooms first that truly excited me to see what was inside of the building with the huge lions. I loved dollhouses and anything miniature to collect and play.  And I also liked to visit them again during the Christmas holidays catching glimpses of holiday decorations in the rooms.

My children loved the Thorne rooms too in the 1990’s and to this day, somehow we head to them first. The rooms were elaborate and different from our own homes; a wonderful learning experience of the past where we could view a Pennsylvania kitchen in 1752 or an English cottage during the Queen Ann period.

The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications. Her work shows the upper class homes in England and Frances as well. Hours can be spent visiting the Thorne room exhibit and examining the precise details behind the glass in cased rooms.

From here, it was important to see the Georges Seurat painting  A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and we were interested in counting the dots. The Art Institute has one such sketch and two drawings. We also had to see the most popular American Gothic by Grant Wood. This familiar image was exhibited publicly for the first time at the Art Institute, winning a three-hundred-dollar prize and instant fame for Grant Wood. The image contained the farmer with his pitch fork and daughter in front of their house.

And then it was on to the gift shop and being a true lover of all books, this was one of my favorite shops. Though not a good painter or sculpture by any means, the shop had wonderful art books, postcards, colored pencils, special paper, and reproductions such as Monet’s Water Lilies. And today, they offer fashion items and jewelry. You can created an account and order online.

Today, there are a variety of dining options at the Art Institute that includes a fine dining restaurant called Terzo Piano. There is the Museum Cafe that provides great choices for kids and the Balcony Cafe that provides a snacks and desserts.

 

Honoring black history

By Caryl Clem:

Chicago has been the front stage for introducing life changing famous black trail blazers. The first street in a major city to be named after a black women civil rights activist and journalist, Ida B. Wells was dedicated on February 11, 2019.  The last street change was done in 1968 to honor Martin Luther King.  In the magazine, “ Make It Better” February 2019 edition, on the list of what to do in Chicago is the new exhibit at the Museum entitled, “Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade 1808-1865 featuring free Saturdays February 9.16, and 23.  Celebrating Black History Month includes recognizing the dynamic black women leaders who make a difference in Chicago. Last year, this magazine did a feature article describing 42 influential black women in Chicago in all career fields.

Since artistic expression is a major tourist attraction for Chicago, several noteworthy black women are leading the way.  Currently, the Deputy Director of Development at Chicago’s Contemporary Art Museum is Gwendolyn Perry Davis. Last year, she promoted an exhibit of Howardena  Pindell, a black women pioneer in abstract art. Ms. Pindell is famous for her techniques working with circles. The interview begins with this quote, “All the pieces … are an attempt to unite my mind again, to mend the rupture.”—Howardena Pindell.  She was troubled as a child to notice the  red circles drawn beneath the dishes her family ate on when dining out on vacation trips. During this interview, titled Controlled Chaos by Jessica Lanay, Ms. Pindell explains why she wanted to change how circles influenced her life.

Perri L. Irmer is the President  & CEO of DuSable Museum of African-American History, a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. Ms.Irmer stated in the magazine article, “The DuSable Museum is elevating the often hidden histories of Chicagoans such as Jean Baptiste Point DuSable — the Haitian immigrant who founded our city — military leaders, educators, and other black Chicagoan’s whose contributions are illustrative of black accomplishment throughout society.”

The political landscape of Chicago has been shaped by twenty famous black women and men. A comprehensive description covering their various contributions from Jesse White, Chief Jude Timothy Evana, Barrack Obama and Emil Jones, Jr. a Kimberly Foxx, Toni Preckwinkle to name a few examples in Chicago Defender’s Top 20 Most Influential Political Figures by Mary L. Datcher, Managing Editor for Chicago Defender.

If you want to explore a well-known black neighborhood gathering place, take a trip to a non-profit café with a welcoming atmosphere that encourages conversation and friendship, Kusanya Café 825 W. 69th Street  Chicago  773-675-4758.  In Englewood, a rustic chic coffee shop nestled inside a 100 year old building, surrounded by the art work of local artists, it is a haven offering a safe place to meet and enjoy life.

As described in an article describing the café,” Kusanya is home to a variety of free, community-driven arts, culture, and educational events, including Saturday morning yoga, a farmers market on the first and third Wednesdays of each month from 4-6 p.m., and an open mic on second Saturdays featuring storytellers from around the neighborhood and across the city.”

The tapestry of Chicago life has been made richer in texture by its black men and women. Chicago offers many opportunities to celebrate Black History in Chicago.

Chicago Christmas shows and other magic

  • Nutcracker Ballet  My first experience with the Nutcracker Ballet was actually at the Goodman Theater when I was six not sure who actually performed the ballet. I was taking ballet lessons at the time and was disappointed. I would never be able to stand on my toes like professional dancers. My first experience with the Joffrey Ballet was not in Chicago but in New York in the late 1970’s seeing the Nutcracker Ballet. However,  The Joffrey’s modernization that premiered last year re- imagines The Nutcracker set in a modest Chicago home rather than in a wealthy family’s mansion taking place just a few months before the Columbia Exposition in 1893.
  • Christmas Carol   My first experience with a Christmas Carol ended up with a broken arm and an overnight stay in a hospital. That is what we did in 1966 after I tripped on a step at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook; attending The Christmas Carol for my best friends birthday. The play is the heartwarming story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s discovery of kindness, compassion and redemption. Currently, you can purchase tickets at The Goodman Theatre.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life  Not only a wonderful movie with Jimmy Stewart, you can also see the radio play. American Blues Ensemble treats Chicago audiences to a live 1940s radio broadcast and has been the second longest running play in Chicago. The play is about 90 minutes and the production closes on January 5th.
  • Holiday Inn  Based on the classic film,Irving Berlin’s tells the story of Jim, who leaves the bright lights of show business behind to settle down on his farmhouse in Connecticut. Running about two hours and 30 minutes, the plays offers some great dances and songs including Heat Wave, and Blue Skies at the new Marriott Lincolnshire and performances are scheduled until January 6th.
  • Wonderland Express  Always a favorite of mine during the spring and summer, I had no idea that they had an amazing display for the winter holidays; one of Chicago’s top holiday destination. Walking through the Heritage garden, there are beautifully lit trees. You will see a gingerbread village and when you enter Nichols Hall, there are an abundance of trains even Thomas the tank engine. The city of Chicago is in miniature with over 80 buildings. It is also snowing inside though certainly not with frigid temperatures. The snow is 99 percent water with just a touch of vegetable oil so you can safely catch them in your mouth.

Swedish Christmas traditions in Chicago

By Caryl Clem:

During Roman rule, a young maiden brought food to starving Christian prisoners. Legend paints a picture of her wearing a crown of candles in her hair so her hands were free to serve food.  Slain for her religious beliefs, she becomes one of the first woman martyrs, St. Lucia. In Scandinavia, Denmark and Finland St. Lucia is honored at the start of the Christmas season with a candlelit procession on December 13th.  One young girl is selected in cities and villages to lead the parade. Adorned with a crown of candles in a billowy white gown, she is followed by costumed boys carrying stars while singing. School is dismissed by midday for preparations. Before the festival, the family’s eldest girl is dressed in a white gown serving gingersnaps, lussekatter (buns flavored with saffron topped with a raisin) and Swedish glogg or coffee to visitors and guests. During the longest night of the year, St. Lucia festival shines with thousands of candles symbolizing the promise of light and hope.

Love Disney…… still feel the desire to check out the latest Disney creation?  What better time than Christmas Eve to tune in to an old favorite childhood friend.  For decades, Sweden T.V. fans had two channels. A custom was born in 1959 when at 3 p.m.  Donald Duck starred wishing friends and family a Merry Christmas.  Last year, Donald Duck was still the most popular proving laughter heals.  One review stated that emergency calls dropped by 20 %. Another review stated cell phone use dropped on that day lower than any other day. The charm of Swedish Donald lives on.

If you are curious to explore Swedish ethnicity, several neighborhoods have their background.,” 1920 Swedes dominated the North Side neighborhoods of Lake ViewAndersonville, and North Park; and West Side neighborhoods of Austin and Belmont Cragin. On the South Side, Swedes settled primarily in Hyde ParkWoodlawnEnglewoodWest EnglewoodSouth ShoreGreater Grand CrossingEast SideMorgan Park, and Roseland.

Feel like embarking on a Swedish food adventure? Chicago has several places offering these delicacies.  Check out the Swedish Museum, 5211 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 60640 phone 773-728-8111

Germanic traditions impact Chicago Christmas culture

By Caryl Clem:

Treasured Christmas memories ignite the passion within us to decorate and celebrate holiday customs. Smelling fresh evergreens in the chilly crisp air erases years as you hunt down the perfect tree with childhood excitement. Later with friends and family transforming bare branches into a living room reigning queen topped by the family heirloom Angel.  Pine cones adorn a red bowed wreath that hangs on the front door, promising a circle of friendship and goodwill within. An Advent Calendar hangs on the wall near the candelabra.   Mistletoe hangs around with sprigs of holly. These customs have Germanic roots.

In the dark months of winter in forests deep, Norsemen stocked their homes with evergreen branches mixed with mistletoe and holly to ward off evil spirits. Since these plants stayed green through the cruel winter season, it was proof these plants had powerful, magic. As Christianity replaced pagan beliefs, St. Boniface declared evergreens represented everlasting life. Ballads circulated throughout Germany praising the mighty  O Tannenbaum by the 1550.  A wealthy German Duchess gave a gift of a decorated Christmas tree with wax candles and blown glass ornaments to the royalty in Paris about 1717. Another German royal gave a tree to a king in England.  Hand carved wooden angels hanging from branches or crowning the top, another Germanic custom.

Advent Calendars

The wife of a Protestant Pastor in Germany during the 1880’s had a little boy who kept asking how many more days until Christmas.  She had a great idea; she decorated 24 boxes with a hidden treat inside.  Each day on the Christmas countdown, the boy opened one box to find a Lebkuchen to eat. Several years later at a printing company in Munich, a young man is busy creating an advent calendar to market. The fun to open doors appears after 1920, popular chocolates add to the enjoyment in the late 1950’s.

Shopping via German Style features an outdoor festival of unique food and decorations.  Several markets are available, check out the online home page for Christkindlmarket for inspiration.

At the Christmas Eve Service, I love giving full throttle to my voice during, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.  The composer is none other than German composer, Mendelssohn. Ironically, the Methodist minister who adapted the lyrics to fit this melody, did not know that Mendelssohn never intended it to be a hymn.

Holiday homeland favorites are relished such as red cabbage, sauerbraten, potato dumplings and  Pork SchnitszelThe midday meal beverages star mulled wine, flaming Fire Tong wine /rum punch,  or a hearty eggnog toast. Traditional German desserts of gingerbread men, Stollen, Lebkuchen, or Pfeffernuesse cookies. Many recommendations of Chicago restaurants can be found on Yelp.

German neighborhoods include Old Town, Northwest Side between Chicago Avenue and Fullerton Avenue.  North Avenue had the nickname of “German Broadway. In 1900, one in every four residents was from German descent. Exploring German culture can be done at this cultural center and museum called Dankhaus.

 

 

Chicago’s Navy Pier

My childhood memories of Navy Pier were just that, a pier that was cold, dark and gloomy. A pier that was falling apart, in transition, and far from the dazzle we have today. In fact, the last of the World War II generation remembers it as a training ground to fight. Over the decades, Navy Pier has demonstrated a variety of purpose.

Navy Pier was designed as a municipal pier in 1916 and host to a prison for draft dodgers during World War I. It was named Navy Pier in 1927 as a tribute to navy veterans who served in the first World War. In World War II, the pier was used a center to train pilots and according to Navy Pier’s current website, over 200 planes can still be found at the bottom of Lake Michigan. During these training years, tens of thousands of boys that were drafted used the facility and could also exercise in a huge gym, cafeteria and theater for entertainment.

After the war in 1946, Navy Pier hosted students from the University of Illinois for a two year program though they did have to finish their four year degree at the home campus in Champaign/Urbana. Finally to complete a degree at one campus, Chicago’s Circle Campus ( an new annex of the University of Illinois) was born in 1965. At that time, Navy Pier needed a new face lift.

Since the 20th Century, Navy Pier has been transformed into acres of parks, fine dining, fabulous cruises, a ferris wheel that holds 300 people, and much more. As a result of much to do at the Pier and year round events, Navy Pier proudly holds the number one tourist attraction position in the Midwest. Cruises on the Odyssey, Spirit of Chicago and Mystic Blue offer special holiday festivities and great ideas to spend New Years Eve with your loved ones.

Besides taking a cruise, some of the restaurants can provide a great eating experience and waterfront views. Some of the favorites are Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Big City Chicken, Frankie’s Pizza, and Tiny Tavern where you can stop for a cocktail.

Presently, the Fifth Third Bank is sponsoring Winter Wonderfest at the pier Friday, November 30, 2018 – Sunday, January 6, 2019. featuring 170,000 square feet of carnival rides, giant slides, holiday-themed activities, and Indoor Ice Skating Rink, and more.

Celebrate your Chicago New Year’s Eve. Book your tickets to the 7th Annual Chicago Resolution Gala. The Resolution Gala is the top Chicago New Year’s Eve party going down this year. Every year up to 3,000 guests gather inside of the Grand Ballroom to ring in their New Year. Celebrate your night with food, drinks, a top live DJ, and the perfect intro to 2018 in Chicago!