Five of the best Chicago land holiday light presentations

It was called the Christmas Tree House. That’s what my kids called it, anyway, back in the early 1990’s. And you had to wait…a mile long car line on Christmas Eve to see the house in Downers Grove, Il. Neighbors of the Gorsham family also decorated to excess so you were entertained while you moved pleasantly through the neighborhood…your children oohing and ahhing in the back seat.

The Gorsham house had a booth that held Santa and Mrs Claus on weekdays and the house was highlighted with a beautiful train village in the garage and several booths of animated scenes.The crew members would begin decorating in October and the Gorsham’s would end up with an electric bill of 3 to 4 thousand dollars. They finally retired and moved to a warmer climate selling their stock to a neighboring village.

Where are some of the best places in the Chicago land area to view decorations and lights today? The zoos are the first favorites to begin.

Lincoln Park Zoolights 
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago
On the north side of Chicago, for over 20 years Lincoln Park Zoo has provided a beautiful light display of over 2 million lights. You can also find beautiful ice carvings throughout the zoo grounds and other holiday related activities such as ice skating where you can bring your own skates or rent a pair.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo 8400 31st St. Brookfield, Il 60513
Just south of Chicago in Brookfield at the zoo, you can see over 30 years of celebration for the holiday season. Visitors can be dazzled by over a million lights and can enjoy caroling with the animals and special treat with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Several corporations have set up trees set to music and one that you can actually interact.

Aurora’s Festival of Light’s
Phillips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Drive. Aurora, IL 60505
Free admission to the festival in Aurora just southwest of Chicago which is considered one of the largest displays. You can drive through a dazzling mile of lights that are animated and a Christmas Tree that is 20 feet tall and actually sings.

Larsens in Elburn

When he was a senior in high school he was awarded the lawn maintenance contract for the City of St. Charles; a huge contract and from there he went into landscaping and design work.

In 2000, Brian Larsen incorporated County Wide Landscaping, Inc. and pretty much got out of maintenance and concentrated on design work. He went to CAD architectural school and focused on designing outdoor living spaces. Since he has won awards for his work and has designed his own Christmas house since 2006. People have traveled from all over the world to see this show light show during the holidays. Brian uses a little over one million lights and because of how the display is set up, over 20,000 extension cords.

According to the Larsens, inside the house you can’t even tell what is going on outside unless you look out the window. The music is also transmitted to play on the visitor’s car stereo via a FM transmitter so you don’t hear the music.

Mooseheart Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights at Mooseheart in Batavia is one of  the largest Chicagoland’s light displays! The lighted route is approximately 1.8 miles and has more than 80 lighted displays to view.

New this year is a half-mile extension of the route to include Mooseheart’s farm area for the first time. A live Nativity scene will highlight this new portion of the show on Nov. 30, Dec. 7, 14 and Dec. 21-24.

Even though Santa is extremely busy this time of year, he couldn’t turn down an opportunity to visit Mooseheart! For six nights this year – Dec. 8-10 and Dec. 15-17 – the admission price includes not only the Holiday Lights show, but also a chance to see Santa Claus at the Mooseheart fieldhouse.

Santa will sit for free photos beginning at 5:30pm. In addition to Santa Claus, children can enjoy a crafts, holiday music, hot chocolate, and Christmas cookies at the fieldhouse.

Holidays in Chicago: Remembering Marshall Field and the Walnut Room

The first clock went up in 1897 at State and Washington while the second was added in 1907 at State and Randolph. It did receive a new paint job in 2015 according to ABC news.  and still keeps time.

Being a lifetime resident for many years, Chicago has magnificently celebrated the winter holidays with amazing, timeless displays at the building behind the clock that have become well-known throughout the country.

I continue to meet people today who talk of the same tradition that they had experienced as children, parents, grandparents and even great grandparents. The Marshall Fields store on State Street that began in 1870 and renamed Macy’s in 2009 have kicked off the most treasured memories for family and friends.

During the 1960’s, it began for me in a car driven by Mom accompanied by my best friend and her Mother. Of course, we were dressed in our finest, sometimes with hats and matching gloves, but always in dresses. We parked in what was known as the Underground Parking Lot on Michigan Avenue though many took the Illinois Central to walk a short distance to Marshall Fields Department Store. And there it began before we even entered the massive 8 story building.

The store had designed animated windows that told a story and so we would begin our trip around the building to see each breathtaking display. In 1946, Marshall Field’s created Uncle Mistletoe that became so popular, it was a local television show for awhile and we would watch his adventures in one window after another. Finally, generally cold and hungry, we made our way to the 7th floor to the beloved Walnut Room established in 1907 with beautiful paneling, seating 600 guests around a phenomenal Christmas Tree always stretching our necks to see if Uncle Mistletoe graced the top of the tree.

In the early 1990’s, I took my little ones to the Walnut Room as well but they seemed more impressed in the pagers signaling when a table was available.

The Walnut Room at Macy’s can still be enjoyed for the holidays. Macy’s on State Street still offers holiday windows and lunches around their Christmas tree though weekdays are the best for wait times. Holiday shoppers will receive a pager so they can still shop while waiting for a table. A breakfast buffet is also served through the holiday season. Relive your childhood or start a new tradition with your children and after lunch, visit Santa on the fifth floor. See if Uncle Mistletoe is still on top of the Great Tree.

Holidays in Chicago: Lighting the Tree

In December 1956, Chicago’s Christmas tree was in fact one large tree that had been created from many smaller trees. The tree was 70 feet tall, decorated with about 4,400 lights and more than 2,000 ornaments, and was located in the Grant Park tree platform at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue. The Tree Lighting Ceremony was eventually  moved to Civic Center Plaza, known today as Daley Plaza, in December 1966.

That was where I remembered the beauty of the tree.I was shocked that the tree was so tall because there was more than one tree bundled together. Each year I kept looking up trying to figure out how this all worked and the time it must have taken. I remember going to see the tree with many waiting regardless of the weather. I remember that first gasp we all made together as the lights came on. Over a 100 year tradition that we celebrated and eventually the tree lighting came in tandem with the magical Christmaskindlemart.

Chicago’s first municipal Christmas tree was lit in 1913 on Christmas Eve by Mayor Carter H. Harrison in Grant Park. The tree was a 35-foot Douglas Spruce placed on 40-foot poles and studded with smaller trees to give the appearance of a much larger tree. It was decorated with 600 multi-colored lights and topped with the Star of Bethlehem according to the City of Chicago.org.

The first Christmas tree was a gift of an associate of Captain Herman Scheunemann and was lit in his honor. He was the captain of the Rouse Simmons, known as the “Christmas Tree Ship.” The ship was lost in a storm in Lake Michigan on November 23, 1912.

In the 1990s, the cost of constructing the tree with individual trees was astronomical  So  the city asked for donations of single, massive trees.  In 2008 one family actually donated a 70 foot tree.

Enjoy this holiday tradition, a glittering tree set among Chicago’s sparkling skyline and the iconic art of Millennium Park. The City of Chicago is proud to present the 104th Anniversary of the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday, November 17. Chicago’s 104th Christmas Tree was donated by Darlene Dorfler of Grayslake, Illinois. The 62-foot Norway Spruce was selected out of 71 submissions received by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

The ceremony will be emceed by WGN TV’s Demetrius Ivory and Erin Ivory along with a special appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Admission to the Tree Lighting Ceremony and all other holiday activities in Millennium Park is free.

The Christmas Tree will remain up until Saturday, January 6, 2018.

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Chicago’s Most Haunted Houses: Hull House and Glessner House

The Jane Addams Hull House Museum is worth a trip to see whether are looking for a ghost or not. Jane Addams founded, with Ellen Gates Starr, the world famous Hull House on Chicago’s west side. Jane Addams lived their until her death in 1935 where she established a kindergarten and day care facilities for children of working mothers as well as providing classes. Some of the classes included preparing for citizenship, theater, music and art.

The Museum is located in two of the original settlement house buildings- the Hull Home, a National Historic Landmark, and the Residents’ Dining Hall, a beautiful Arts and Crafts building that has welcomed some of the world’s most important thinkers, artists and activists. Located on the second floor of the Residents’ Dining Hall, the museum’s gift shop has a range of ecologically and socially sustainable gifts including all natural hand soap, t-shirts, books about Jane Addams and the Reformers of Hull-House, and other items that you can only find at Hull-House.

The Museum is closed on Mondays and Saturdays and public tours are available without a reservation unless you have a group of ten or more.  Hull House Museum is located at the University of Illinois /Chicago at 800 S. Halsted.

According to Prairie Ghosts, at the time that Jane Addams took over Hull house she thought it was haunted and writes about this in her book Twenty Years at Hull House. She had heard loud footsteps in her room which was where the previous own Mrs. Charles Hull had passed away and she then took a different room.  Local legend claims that a deformed baby was born in the houses called the Devil baby and some claim to have seen the ghostly figure of the disfigured child who was suppose to have horns. The movie Rosemary’s Baby actually was created from the parts of this legend.

Over the years, I have enjoyed strolling Prairie Avenue in Chicago and reading about the life and times of the rich and famous during the late 1880’s, researching stories of Marshall Field, who lived in a six block section of the street only for the elite. This also included George Pullman, John Glessner and Pillip Armour. Prairie avenue was sometimes called Milionaires row and the beautiful Glessner House/Museum still stands and available for tours.

Glessner House was designed by noted American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1887. So different from the Victorian houses that were being built at the time and eventually those, for the most part, were torn down. The House is a National Historic Landmark and offers wonderful tours with many of the rooms accurately restored to their original appearance and decorative objects and furnishings have been added by the Glessner family. John Glessner lived there until 1936 and thousands tour the house every year.

However, is a ghost and many visitors continue to see his apparition.

Henry Hobson Richardson never got to see his creation built since he died after he completed the blue prints. Many have seen him walk the halls. Even during the time the Glessner family lived there, Haunted houses.com  claim that many family member felt a cold presence moving through the mansion,even today.

The Glessner House Museum offers haunted tours of historic Prairie Avenue. Director of the Glessner House has admitted that there is a strange feeling that has been experienced on the street. The Keith House, privately owned by Marcy Baim, is another on the street. It has been restored, at 1900 Prairie and offers special events such as weddings.

Many say it is haunted too.

Hope’s Front Door: Financial Literacy program changes lives

By Janell Robinson:

Kim was pregnant, unemployed and homeless. She came into Hope’s Front Door because she needed help obtaining medication and transportation vouchers for a job search, but found a resource that would not only change her life, but that of her unborn child, Noah, as well.

“I have never been a saver. I was like, I need some help here. I thought to myself, I am here anyway, maybe I should meet with bank counselors. During my sessions with the bank counselors, the bankers helped me create a plan to pay off my debt. I just started paying the smaller ones first and then putting the larger ones on a payment plan as they suggested. My credit score is now at 735. I also started a savings account at that time with the help of the program. I wanted a rainy day fund.”

“Noah knows I was homeless before he was born. So, it was important to show him that we were saving money. Each time I would get a receipt from the bank after making a deposit I would show Noah and tell him, ‘Look! That is what we have now in the bank.’ When he saw the amount growing, Noah decided he wanted learn how to save too. So, we went to the bank and they gave him his own little piggy banks, which he filled for his college fund.”

“Noah has been saving since he was five years old; he just turned 10 years old last month. He likes going to the bank. He likes to collect change from everyone’s pockets. The bank tellers’ print out the receipts with how much has been put in the account and how much money we have. He likes to tease me saying, ‘I have more money than you, Mom!’”

“I have taught him about saving and budgeting his money using Legos which are his favorite toy. I ask him, does he want to save his money to buy the big Legos that he really wants or spend right now for the smaller ones. He is very disciplined with his money. I hope that he realizes the more you save, the more you can get, and the more self-sufficient you can become. At his age, I would have just spent all of the money I could have saved!”

“Basically, by going through the financial literacy program, I wanted to share with him some of the things I learned. I wanted to show him that if you spend everything you won’t have anything, you will have to be dependent on others and no one wants to live like that.”

Kim and Noah’s journey from being homeless to becoming financially secure started with help from the community.

HOPE’S FRONT DOOR (HFD) often acts as a “first responder” to neighbors who are facing financial and/or medical crises. They serve the homeless, as well as those seeking assistance in the communities of:

  • Darien
  • Downers Grove
  • Lisle
  • Westmont
  • Willowbrook
  • Woodridge

Hope’s Front Door will be hosting The Traveling Feast fundraiser on October 5, 2017. Guests will be tasting delectable food offerings from five downtown Westmont restaurants before traveling down the road to their next culinary destination. We’re looking to raise to raise $20,000 that will be used in support of our Financial Literacy Program – helping area residents, like Kim and Noah, gain financial self-sufficiency through baseline financial literacy including budgeting, savings and credit repair.

For more information about the event or to purchase tickets, please visit www.hopesfrontdoor.org or call 630-322-9804.

Favorite vintage Chicago land records and shops

My first experience flipping through 45’s was traumatic. After getting my first portable record player, my Mom took me shopping and said I could buy 4 45’s and she didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time in the record store. So not really sure where my head was at and feeling overwhelmed because you could spend a whole day in a record shop, I picked Woman, Woman by Gary Puckett and The Union Gap even though I loved the melody but have you got cheating on your mind for girl in junior high was not really what I was thinking about.

My second choice was Spirit in The Sky by Norman Greenbaum…the newest in psychedelic rock. Bend me Shape me by The American Breed  about all women having the power to turn on the light… pretty narcissistic for a young girl and then of all things, My Baby Does the Hanky Panky by Tommy James and the Shondells. And no, I did none of those things.

After graduating to albums , Three Dog Night, One , Carol Kings Tapestry, Led Zeppelin III, and Deju Vu by Crosby Stills Nash and Young and 64 of the Greatest Motown Hits (4 albums) i Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings, All Things Must Pass by George Harrison , Chicago VI and Billy Joels The Stranger.

Still playing some of them today on my daughter ‘s turntable who is 27 and loves records including the creative past of rock and roll. Now called by many as the vinyl comeback with new record shops are opening throughout the area.

However, the following describes some of the best gone, but not forgotten, record shops Chicago land had to offer in the past.

Rose Records/Tower records: Two stories located on Wabash Ave and some remember that you had to get a sles slip from one of the association before you pay for your records? They were arranged by label and catalog number and they had catalogs to check what you were looking for.

The Flip side Record  chain had twelve stores in the Chicago area (1971-1991). The Flip Side sold an array of records and tapes, music-related merchandise, electronics and a full line of clothing and shoes.

Sam Goody was a music and entertainment retaile in the United States and United Kingdom, operated by The Musicland Group inc. It was purchased by Best Buy in 2000, sold to Sun Capital in 2003, and filed for bankruptcy in 2006 closing most of its stores.

Hegewich Records in Calumet City was one of my personal favorites. Hegewisch Records started in 1965 in the Hegewisch section of Chicago as a novelty store selling sundries as well as records and music.The record and music operation moved to its Calumet City location at 522 Torrence Ave. in 1974

Camelot Music, for me, was a place to buy written music for piano but many did by records and was one of the largest music retailers in the United States

Still celebrating over 45 years in Oak Park this month, My daughter and I now record shop at Vall Hallas which began her store in 1972 and almost closed due to lost sales but was saved through community and customer fundraising efforts.

Picture courtesy Internet FM

Gone but not forgotten Chicago stores for clothes/school supplies

August brings out the best memories of shopping for school clothes and supplies. I could dress up because in the days of old timers we had to wear cute little dresses to elementary school….if you were a girl. Though I am sure many of you were not excited about that cute little uniform you had to wear while attending private school.  Relaxed dress codes did not happen until I graduated high school though we were upgraded to wearing dress pants to school with occasional jean days.

My trips began at a gone but not forgotten childrens store called Bramsons in South Shore on 71st  and possibly Marshall Fields downtown with a trip to the Walnut Room if at Christmas but I liked a restaurant on the seventh floor surrounding us with beautiful light blue walls. For the life of me, cannot remember its name.

The following our places we shopped together for great school supplies, coats, and of course Florsheim/Buster Brown shoes.

Grants , a United States chain of low priced mass merchandise which briefly gives me the chills as I recount my missing child experience when I was only four or five. Within the store on the south side of Chicago, I slowly turned and Mom wasn’t there. I just walked down the same aisle and I would be sure to see her still….no Mom. So I turned down the next aisle, a little bit more quickly, a little more panicked…no Mom. The next aisle looked exactly the same as the last, cloth, linen that appeared colorless through my unmanageable tears.. Finally, someone grabbed my hand…we will find her. I was only sobbing a little by this point and the kind lady walked me to the service deck. I had to crane my neck to face the women behind it who asked me my name. I admitted no shame and spoke it clearly. It was strange to hear my name announced on the loud speaker. It was strange to hear my last name pronounced correctly. But she found me…did not leave me stranded.

Robert Hall on the South Side of Chicago was great for ski jackets. I could never find a coat that fit my small frame a but Robert Hall always had what I needed in winter clothes and it lasted forever.

Gatelys People Store was located in Roseland and I took piano lessons just a few blocks away so that is why Mom and I would spend sometime in Gatelys. The store thrived until the late 1960’s and moved to a smaller location in Tinley Park. I remember a pair of beautiful white gloves with a pearl enclosure that my Mom bought for me to celebrate Easter. Yes, we old timers always wore white gloves to for celebrations and holidays.

GoldBlatts/Wiebolts/:  Though I did not spend a great deal of time shopping in these stores, I remember my first experience with Goldblatts where I sold girl scout cookies outside of its doors on 91st and Commercial.

Lyttons/Chas Stevens : Mother loved Lyttons and always found that new dress that she dreamed about at the store in Evergreen Plaza. My first shopping field trips alone with my best friend took place in Evergreen Plaza where we would take the 95th street bus from the south side and spend our allowance money. In later years, I actually worked a summer job at Chase A Stevens in Waukegan modeling perfume and receiving a new dress free.

Florsheim/Buster Brown/Thom McKan:  As a child shoe shopping, was almost as important as a doctor visit. Since most parents took their children to the same store, sat patiently in their chairs, had the right socks or hose on with clean feat and waited for the foot to be measured carefully. It was the salesman that diagnosed the best style for your feet.  I always seemed to be fitted in saddle shoes and hated them. My mother would  never veer away from these stores though I loved Chandlers Shoes in later years.

SCHOOL SUPPLIES AND ACCESSORIES

Woolworth’s/Ben Franklin/Zayres:  Today it is an all in one adventure at Target or Walmart where clothes, school supplies and accessories are purchased, even food and snacks for your lunches. But for some reason, I remember Ben Franklin for my favorite candy and Woolworth’s for childhood accessories or crafts.  It was at Woolworth’s where I could buy art supplies to make my own Christmas ornaments, buy a necklace buried in a bin or favorite kid nail polish and perfume. Oil cloths to cover my many desks at school through the years had to be just the right pattern and for some reason, loved a certain smell that they would emit.

Kresge’s was a place of employment during the summer months one year while going to college. Kresges, the store located in River Oaks Malls in Calumet City and its infinite lunch counter is where I learned that waitressing was not for me. My uniform completely covered with food by the end of the day but the manager kept trying to help. I finally slipped on a wet floor and was out for three days with back pain….my mistake …not there’s… and that was the end of my summer adventure at Kresge’s.

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections 

Fond memories of fine dining: Restaurants now extinct

Fine dining was a special favorite for my Dad and we went to a new place frequently. He was a business owner and that was the way he felt he could thank those that purchased his product. That was the way he thought he could teach his only child manners and grace. Though, I loved to explore new places , it was always the same as far as my food choice, a kiddie cocktail and a steak sandwich/medium rare without the bread. After he passed away, my Mother continued the tradition with me through the decades. Though long gone and my list could go on and on, I just included places that I had visited in the outlining suburbs/towns of Chicago back in the day.

Green Shingle in Harvey had exemplified true love from the early 60’s. It with my first date with my Dad in my best dress, shoes and gloves. It was my first steak sandwich medium rare but would not be last.After my Dad passed away, it was my second date with my college professor who helped to celebrate my birthday with fellow students;  that same college professor who passed away from cancer a few years ago. And finally, a date with my first boyfriend as we first held hands at the candlelit tabkle; killed in a car accident shortly after.

Dunlaps started as a concession but moved in 1937 to its Palos Heights location on 123rd lasting for 60 years. My father owned a business in decorative and auto glass. One of his clients was Dunlaps in which he created the smoked glass that enhanced visitors behind the long, bar still in exquisite condition when the restaurant closed. Even as a child and adult, I remember staring at my self, proud of my family contributing some part to an institution for great food including real relish trays with pickled beets.

Yesteryear in Kankakee,IL was a restaurant situated in the Frank Lloyd Wright home the B. Harley Bradley House located on Harrison Avenue. In the early 1940’s, my Mother lived in Kempton, IL and wanted to go to college. She rented a room from the Gates family who lived in the 400 block of Harrison Avenue  and attended Kankakee’s Business College.  The Gates, George, Ruth  and son Les became her adopted  family until they passed away in the late 1970’s. Les, who is 94, is still alive today. As a very young child, we would walk to Yesteryear which had opened in 1953. As a young adult, I attended a 50th anniversary of a family member from Cullom, IL.

Phil Schmidts, on the border of Illinois in Indiana, had been opened for 97 years . It was a place of many memories that included the celebration of events such as graduation parties. Known for their seafood, their most popular was frog legs and perch. Beginning in 1910 and closing in 2007, also made their own amazing tartar sauce.

The Tivoli on Glenwood Rd in Chicago Heights was also a favorite establishment especially for weddings or other family events. Though older when I visited the Tivoli, I had graduated from a steak sandwich to a wonderful porterhouse they served there and a broiled filet mignon topped with blue cheese.

The Old Barn in Burbank was a beautiful, elegant adventure for me as a child and adult dating back to the 1920’s when it originally was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Another great choice for wedding receptions and family dinners which had closed in 2008 and was 87 years. The Old Barn was especially beautiful during the holidays with leather chairs in the dining area and beautiful sofas and fireplace in the lounge.

Country Squire in Grayslake, IL was originally built in 1938 as the residence of a Sears family member and it was a mansion that became the Country Squire Restaurant in 1954. A breathtaking estate that I enjoyed often as an adult, experiencing on a date and also enjoying a wonderful wedding of a dear friend. I remember celebrating Mother’s Day with my own Mom  as she cried for its beauty and wonderful food.

The Flame, finally, in Countryside became another family favorite celebrating the same Mom’s  65th birthday there with her grandchildren. The restaurant was a classic with another dress me up atmosphere and the best in seafood and steak.  My love still was always steak or a Chateaubriand for two and for Mom, the best orange roughy she had ever tasted!

Childhood road trips: Good Old Neon

As a Baby Boomer child  in the car traveling  with my parents, there were no cell phones to play or movies to watch on video players. You were lucky if your parents played games like 20 questions, Name that Tune or Alphabet  where you would look for every letter of the alphabet from the road signs you passed. It could be any sign but neon were easy to see with their beautiful varieties of color, sparkle and great logos.

Though for me, I didn’t really care about the games. Unfortunately, reading a book while traveling made me sick. I just loved to pass the majestic signs. Ultimately, it was the neon signs alone that offered a colorful road trip suggesting great places to visit such as Kiddieland , Margies Candies or the Seven Dwarfs Restaurant.  How my parents loved the Green Mill Lounge with its beautiful gold array of lights highlighting the green title,even back in the days of mafia connections.

I always wanted to stay at the Tangiers Motel…something I thought…  truly out of the country. Fortunately, I was spoiled. When I pointed and cheered with determination at the mesmerizing neons, we would actually stop at many taking advantage of the rides, sweets or a chocolate shake; maybe even an overnight stay.

Remember Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket neon sign in Willowbrook?  I am only a few miles from the Chicken Basket and the sign still guides me today…one of my favorite restaurants.

Nick Freeman felt the same way about neon growing up and Chicago’s rich neon heritage is published in his full-color collection of delightful signs. From the South Side of Chicago to Wisconsin, his book Good Old Neon  spotlights the familiar signs captured in over 130 photos; many fast-disappearing artifacts of a glorious era when brightly lit signs filled the landscape.

“Several dozen of the signs pictured in my book have disappeared since its publication, and once they’re gone, they’re not coming back,” Nick comments, ” Big reason for my passion for preserving them through photography.”

Nick talks about the cost of the neon which is expensive due to the hand-crafting that goes into each one, as well as the physical and technical requirements involved in their construction and placement, not to mention upkeep.  The fragility of glass tubing continuously exposed to harsh Chicago weather makes the survival of an old sign a kind of urban miracle, deserving, at the least, of photographic preservation. Even the many that have outlived their functional glory days have their own visual appeal. Animated neon signs, working or not, are a special treat.

Nick Freeman, a life-long resident of the Chicago area, has been involved with words and pictures throughout his professional career. Starting at Feldkamp-Malloy, one of the last of the old-time art studios in the city, he spent 30-plus years in advertising–god help him–serving as production director at Leo Burnett and other agencies.

He now devotes his time and attention to his first love, oil painting, and has exhibited his work in a number of local and regional shows. His art, both paintings and photography, can be seen at galleryfreeman.com.

After viewing his work on his website, I was amazed by his polished, realistic technique and use of color. Two of my favorites were Isla Jane and the Pumpkin Farm which were sold. But his wonderful collection offers a great painting of Dog N Suds called Root Beer, Flea Market II, the Blue Goose for sale and many others. He currently resides in St. Charles, Illinois.

Good Old Neon is available direct from Lake Claremont Press, Amazon or wherever fine gift books are sold. Founded by Sharon Woodhouse in 1994, Lake Claremont Press has been publishing amazing histories and guidebooks about Chicago by Chicago authors.

Unlike many publishers, their books truly capture the passions and knowledge of their authors. Many have been featured in national newspapers and numerous television shows such as the History Channel and The National Geographic Channel. Because of their credited field expertise, most authors are actively involved in non-for profits and several of the the greater Chicago land missions.

Please visit their site and you can sign up for the Lake Claremont Press newsletter to receive announcements about new book releases and special offers of distinguished Chicago authors.

The best of Chicago land’s homemade candy

For me, my weakness has been a toss up between ice cream and homemade candy. My vintage trips to Marshall Fields always called for a box of Frango mints and some of Chicago lands favorite home made candy shops offer those delectable mints today.

As a last minute stocking stuffer, my daughter runs to the grocery store to add a couple of bags of Lindt’s Lindor truffles which has been around since 1845.  I can eat one bag in a few minutes. For many, the following shops have been favorites for decades, a pride of the best Chicago businesses and some also offer home-made ice cream.

Margie’s Candies story begins in 1921 when  George Poulos opened an ice cream parlor on the North Side. The shop became known as Margie’s Candies in 1933, when Poulos’ son George Peter Poulos married Margie Michaels. Still family owned, Margie’s is known for their delicious fudge, Kosher dark chocolate wrapped in handmade boxes. Many ice cream connoisseurs love the varieties of homemade ice cream flavors as well. Margie’s original location is still open at Western Avenue. The only good complaint I have heard about Margie’s is that their lines can be long at times and they do have a second location on Montrose Avenue.

Amy’s Candy Bar located in Lincoln Square was opened in 2011 originally inspired by Amy’s grandmother, Geraldine. As a child, Amy spent hours watching and helping her grandmother bake but decided to forge a career with a degree in psychology and marketing. She worked in corporate America in later years.  But her initial passion for candy told her to follow her heart. In 2006, she decided to leave her present position and enroll in the French Pastry School in Chicago. Amy’s shop offers some of the best, award winning, hand-crafted confections that include her signature sea salt caramel. You can also order your favorites online.

Katherine Anne Confections began her candy adventure at the age of 10, when Katherine would use cream from her family’s Jersey cows to create soft, old-fashioned caramels on their farm in Wisconsin. “Katherine’s Karamels” were sold at her Dad’s office and quickly became a local favorite. The amazing confections were launched in 2006; everyone ordering her famous chocolate for the holidays. Finally, in 2012, Katherine opened her cafe in the Logan Square neighborhood on Armitage and she also offers excellent coffee drinks to compliment her sweets. They have a great online store and host corporate events.

Galena’s Kandy Kitchen was established in 1974 when George Paxton left Chicago and the overwhelming business of computers that he worked to come to Galena, Illinois, and open his confectionery. His father William (Bill) Paxton helped to create Chuckles candy in the 1930’s and continued on inspiring his son until he retired from the candy business at the age of 98. They are known locally for their “Pecan Georgies” named after George. George passed away from cancer in 2011.  Galena’s Kandy Kitchen is known for its awesome hand-molded chocolate bars with potato chips as well as excellent jelly beans that can be purchased online.

Andersons Candy Shop in Richmond IL offers an interesting history with Arthur Anderson beginning a candy shop in 1919 in Chicago and then moved his family to Richmond in 1926, purchasing a home there. He ran his business out of his front porch and living room selling candy during months that were not hot and ice cream in the summer. In 1933, his business took on new meaning after Grandpa and his family visited the Chicago World’s Fair. He came home with the first air conditioner in McHenry County, of course, this ingenious purchase allowed him to sell  chocolates year round. Some of their bestsellers are the delectable buttercream, handmade caramel and something new, smore’s bars!

Old Fashioned Candies began its journey in Chicago in 1969 and moved to Berwyn in 1971. Owned by George and Theresa Brunslik, a fire almost wiped them out but the family business is still going strong with a second store in Indian head Park. Both stores offer some great ideas for celebrating events with hand made chocolate party trays as well as Cubs and Socks Suckers. But Old Fashioned Candies truly specializes in great party favors for a new baby, graduation or wedding. Customers rave about the best chocolate covered strawberries that are available daily. Another favorite are frozen chocolate covered bananas and they ship throughout the US.

Cunis Candies originally opened its doors in 1933 on 79th street by George Askounis. The store was between the streets of Kingston and Colfax; a neighborhood I grew up and my family visited their shop many times. Now, Kathy Biesiada owns the store in South Holland which has been a south suburban favorite since 1971 and still family owned. Again, a shop that followed me or I followed them when I went to high school at Thornridge in Dolton. Cunis is also known for their amazing ice cream. Some delights include the Turtle Sundae and Peach Ice Cream topped with fresh peaches, the latter available in the summer months. They take pride in their homemade chocolates that include freshly dipped turtles,  chocolate covered orange peels and in the fall, the best caramel apples.

Gayety offers beautifully boxed assortments of homemade chocolates that include Muddles Pecan Caramels, Chocolate Almond Clusters and Butter Toffee. Gayety also serves ice cream and has shops in Lansing IL and Schereville, Indiana. James Papageorge came to America and purchased his ice cream shop Gayety’s,  located on Commercial Avenue next to The Gayety Movie Theater in South Chicago in 1936. He worked seven days a week;  never giving up the passion that meant so much to him. Lee started his career at the Gayety as a responsible and an active 12 year old eager to follow in his uncle’s footstep, then his son Jim became in charge in 2003 and the shop is still family owned.

Cupid Candies is another family owned business, founded by Paul Stefanos in 1936 and has been producing quality chocolates; serving Chicago land residents in their own retail stores for the past 68 years. The first store was at 79th and Ashland, where only fudge, toffee, and popcorn were sold. By 1940 Paul Stefanos, and his wife Pauline, opened another store at 3207 W. 63 rd Street, along with a small manufacturing facility, where the chocolate line really advanced. They continue to manufacture chocolate for some of the finest candy shops in Chicago offering a wonderful melt-away mint. Currently, three locations are available in Chicago, Oaklawn and Orland Park that offer a soda fountain service.