Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd opened on May 30, 1932 and for some time it has been the largest indoor facility in the world. I vaguely remember trying to catch site of the floating seahorse with plants in the background which was new to the Shedd back in the 1960’s; it is home to many species. The highlights for me was the beluga whale or the sharks. I loved watching the trainers giving toys to the whales. The Caribbean Reef exhibit was built in 1971, making me approximately 15 years old then, on the site of the aquarium’s very first exhibit, the Tropical Pool. A feature of this exhibit is a diver that interacts with the animals while talking with the people. A part of the exhibit is a 90,000-US-gallon (340,000 l) circular tank that allows for maximum walk-around viewing. My own daughter was going to be a dolphin trainer or a marine biologist which she never became after bringing her to visit in the 1990’s. We loved spending time checking out the beautiful Chicago lakefront and eating lunch on the outdoor patio.

Shedd Aquarium was the gift of retail leader John G. Shedd, a protégé of Marshall Field (benefactor of the adjacent Field Museum), to the city of Chicago. Although Shedd only lived long enough to see the architect’s first drawings for the aquarium, his widow, Mary R. Shedd, cut the ribbon at the official opening ceremony. Shedd has expanded twice, with both additions carefully respecting the original architecture that earned the aquarium a National Historic Landmark designation. The modernistic Abbott Oceanarium, which opened in 1991, was linked physically and philosophically to the original structure by using the same white Georgia marble on its exterior. Wild Reef, which opened in 2003, was constructed 25 feet below street level under the original south terrace.

Today at Shedd ,you should check out the Giant Pacific Octopus. The average arm span is 14 feet. With no bones to encumber it, however, this soft-bodied animal can slip through a hole no larger than its hard beak—2 inches or less. It’s also great at camouflage, blending its color, texture and shape into the seascape to ambush fishes, crabs and other prey. Watch them feed the sharks. Bearing horns and hammers, stripes and spots, sharks come in all shapes and sizes. They’re found in every ocean, in habitats ranging from shallow tropical reefs to the deep, cold seafloor.

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 was 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.

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 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.

Legacy of bookmarks

I was attending a meeting with other assistants and teachers in our southwest suburban school district that contains three schools. As soon as I walked in a mother who now works in the district flags me down with her son beside her who is now in fifth grade. It took me only a brief minute but she said,” Do you remember my son? “I remembered him in kindergarten; a delightful boy who was a joy to work with and now a fan of the Greenbay Packers, like me. “He still uses all the bookmarks you made for him and he nods with pride,” she said.

The bookmarks???? Five years ago, it began….before the pandemic. When I started making bookmarks to celebrate all holidays in our school building. The school hosts kindergarten-2nd grade while the two other schools supported 3rd-5th and 6th -8th.  First, I began making them for the classroom I was in which was usually kindergarten and would try to personalize each with their name. Then, I would create a bookmark of something they enjoyed such as a unicorn which I distinctly remembering how popular. It also depended on the time of year or holiday.

They were three-dimensional in some way whether it be fancy heart stickers for Valentine’s Day or the great snowman with delicate snowflakes for winter break. And everybody usually got their favorite colors if my memory served me well. Sometimes if I was really in the mood, bookmarks would have an original saying such as follow your heart for Valentines Day.

After my first attempts, I would have the occasional student from another class ask if I had a book mark and so it began. I started making more….just in case. And for many that would go on to the next grade, my bookmarks followed. They would see me in the hallway and ask if I was still making them for my current students. I always had extras… given with approval. They knew where to find me. Again, never missing a student who needed that bookmark for their favorite book.

Last year, I did create bookmarks at the end of the year for a first grade class. Each in a plastic bag with a glow worm necklace following pandemic rules. They weren’t impressed. I had lost my touch with few stickers and variety. No, there is a difference in maturity levels in first grade.

I am helping in the kindergarten and have not made one this year. Maybe after the beautiful message from the fifth grader, following my heart and God, my latest bookmark beginnings will celebrate the upcoming holidays with the best snowman art I can create. But again, that is not what they like. It is just creating something handmade which is special to them even if it lacks variety. This is their first year of school and generally they are just more accepting of mistakes; trying our best, forgetting all the rest. Forging ahead with patience and love this Thanksgiving break…….the bookmarks are almost done.

Decades of Chicagoland holidays

Growing up on the south side of Chicago in the late 1950’s, for my Dad, it was the Christmas Tree. In the picture, this was my second Christmas, My second tree. The Christmas tree that was real. Not the fake trees that were first metal, silver and generally had coordinated ball ornaments that were all the same. The metal tree also rotated in a stand to music with floor lights. My father had to have an 8ft real tree with over 600 colored bulb lights where two lights of the same color were never together, bubble lights which were effectively scattered as well as intricate ornaments  placed with care on each branch to compliment the space. Tinsel was hung one string at a time. And that was it…sometimes he would put colored lights to frame his creation around the front window facing the street. The tree took hours, sometimes days to complete but it was his masterpiece and still remembered by many today. After Dad passed away , I tried to carry on the tradition in the 1970’s for my Mother. She switched to a fake, green tree with the new Italian lights and garland while living in Dolton. My own children had the same in the 1990’s only with new ornaments, bows and taller since it sat in a foyer at our home in Downers Grove.

What about other holiday decorations famous through the years? Over 108 years, the Chicago downtown tree has always been a major a favorite to visit. The first official Christmas tree in the city of Chicago was installed in 1913 in Grant Park and lit on Christmas Eve by then-mayor Carter Harrison. This first tree was a 35-foot (11 m) tall spruce tree. Beginning with Christmas 1966 the official Chicago Christmas tree was placed in Civic Center Plaza, now known as Daley Plaza. At that time, it was over 70ft tall and made of several trees. I was mesmerized as a child though my children were not as excited. With the exception of 1981, the tree was installed in Daley Plaza each year until 2015 where it moved to Millenium Park. The Civic Center now celebrates the 25th year of Christkindlmarket. The booths were always fun to visit with my children occasionally buying a mug of the best hot chocolate.

At two years old, my son began calling it the Christmas Tree House. His first trip was in 1989 and that is what stuck with our family all these years. Throughout the 1990’s, my son and my daughter traveled there every year for Christmas and just could not stop staring; could not be pulled away regardless of the weather. Some called it Santa’s house, others, the Christmas House. However, it was the most beautiful holiday home in Downers Grove created by Diane and Rion Goyette.

More great places today!

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.

Chicago Botanic Garden is bringing back their experiential Lightscape experience for another year. The awe-inspiring display is set along a mile-long path where visitors can admire light installations by artists from around the world. Lightscape is open on select dates from November 12, 2021 to January 2, 2022.

Morton Arboretum is wonderful place but tickets are currently sold out.

Aurora Festival of Lights One of the largest free outdoor drive-through holiday light displays in Northern Illinois, the Aurora Festival of Lights, returns for its 15th year in 2021 with dazzling displays that will delight both adults and children. The light show begins the day after Thanksgiving, Friday Nov 26, and runs through Dec 26. Sunday  through Saturday 5-9pm. Last year, the festival had over 50,000 cars. Buses are welcome too.

A Looking Glass…..Colored Thankful

A reflection written by Caryl Clem

Thanksgiving season is a great time to reflect on the blessings in our life. Not all blessings are tangible because I am grateful for the time I spent in classrooms during my life.

As I walked to school as a child thinking the cold stern brick building with unblinking eye windows appeared formidable. I soon discovered that classrooms are alive with caring and sharing.  I thrived in the small town classes. Kids on phones are missing out on the secret note passing experience.

Magically through the years, friendships are at the top of the blessings list. I doubted my continued career in education then a birthday gift changed my mind. A small picture frame contained a big moment in life message: “ One Hundred from now…it will not matter what your bank account was, the sort of house you lived in, or the kind of car you drove, but the world may be different because you were important in the life of a CHILD.

Every time I view this silver framed jewel, like a movie reel inside my head a past teachers’ voice and smile surfaces. “I had talent. I must never give up. Believe in yourself and your potential.  Stay positive.” The same advice I carried into my classrooms.

When I asked my Dad for guidance on how to manage students, he thoughtfully replied: humor, compassion, preparedness. He said his favorite teacher opened every class with a joke, or some thought provoking comment.  I remembered my Dad’s classroom with an array of Salada tea bag sayings, quotes or Peanuts’ cartoon plastered on a bulletin board.  Dad urgently stated, “Listen to every student’s story, they need to feel you are on the same page with them.”

Years later, a few students have updated stories left unfinished when they graduated. A former gang member had a scholarship in Criminal Justice.  Another former gang member, now a mentor working with the Sheriff’s Department.  Students who thought college was not possible became college graduates.  A determined male teen opened a successful business with his older brother. Years of stories have convinced me the majority of students win in the Game of Life.

I am thankful for all the teachers who know the unbeatable formula, combine your heart and soul with the science of learning.  A classroom is so much more than a backpack with textbooks.

(the glass is available at ETSY)

Thankful for Chicagoland theaters

It was the Chicago theater where I went to see my first movie. Though only three, I remember sitting on the right side of theater only a few rows from the front; fascinated by the colors, magic and amazing action presented in Sleeping Beauty. It was also at the Chicago Theater that I remember seeing Mary Poppins in 1964 and Sound of Music shortly after.

Another favorite for Southsiders’ was the Jeffrey theater on 71st in South Shore with a vertical marquee that could be seen up and down the street. In addition, The Hamilton Theater was opened in 1916, for the Cooney Brothers circuit, in the heart of the South Shore neighborhood’s 71st Street retail district.

Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park was a place we could hang out with our friends and Evergreen Theater was added in a separate building located on the malls south side in 1964. I remember seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Originally Evergreen Plaza, the shopping center opened in 1952 as an open-air mall, with Jewel, Lerners, Kresges,Carsons, Chas. A Stevens, Lyttons, and Walgreens being early anchors. The mall was enclosed in the early 1960s, becoming the nation’s first suburban indoor mall.

After living in the south suburbs, the original one screen River Oaks Dimension 150 Theater was opened May 30, 1969 by ABC Great States Theaters. It had 1,600 rocking chair seats, a large curved screen, auditorium lights on the sides of theater that were dimly lit during intermission, and a giant curtain that opened from both sides at the middle. It was here that I saw the GodFather somehow remembering the horse head the most.

It was at the Ford City Mall Theater that I saw the Exorcist becoming one of the highest grossing films and the best in horror along with Jaws a few years later, of course, being released in the summer. Actually according to statistics, Jaws was the highest grossing film of all time until Star Wars was released in 1977.

Opening at the Biograph,was the Rocky Horror Picture in 1975 which probably gets more attention now than ever before, always accompanied by a live cast.

Throughout the early 1980’s, there were many others that included the 400 on Sheridan Road in Rogers Park and the Genesee theater in Waukegan which opened into a huge lobby with a large chandelier. The stage was created for live theater and movies. In 1982, the Theater stopped showing movies due to economic decline and the rise of major movie cineplexes. And in 1989, it officially closed and went up for sale.

The City of Waukegan purchased the building in 1999 and began renovations at a cost of almost $23 million with the help of over 120 volunteers. The Genesee Theatre reopened on December 3, 2004 and still a host to many old time favorites that include Huey Lewis, Gordon Lightfoot and REO Speed Wagon.

Where is the Wish Book?

After leafing through a small catalog mailer checking out the two page kid section, it was certainly far from grand as I remembered during my time when the Wish Book came in the mail at our house….just about this time of year, every year. For those that remember, The Wish Book was every child’s hopes and dreams to be eternally satisfied in gifts from Santa for the holiday season. The Wish Book was every parents dream to keep us busy marking the pages, even cutting out, and highlighting the most important choices that would be wrapped and placed under our Christmas tree. I made excuses to stay on the potty longer than usual, my posterior sore just to intensely study and plan with my Wish Book. This was no flimsy flyer. Published by Sears in the forties, fifties and 1960’s holiday additions where over 400 pages in length. In 1964,1968, and 1969 proudly boasted over 600 pages and it took two hands to carry. I finally cut out the Barbie I wanted and carried that around until Christmas.

How beautiful the dolls…. dressed in ruffles and fairyland colors just like it says in the book in 1964. There was Betsy Wetsy, the tiny kissing cousins, the exceptional Thumbelina. Barbie, Ken, Midge, Allan and Skipper, Barbies new dream house, vinyl cases and sculptured doll carriages priced as low as $4.98. Then there were pages of vanities with neatly filled cosmetic trays, Little Hostess Buffet, All in I kitchen in corrugated card board as well as all steel play kitchens and fully furnished Split level houses of sturdy steel for under $10.00 along with phonographs that never needed a tube replacement. There were tuck and touch needlepoint sets that were never that easy. There were paint by number which were my favorite that I still do.

Of course there were the 3 speed bikes, Gilbert train sets, Ford J slot cars, Gemini rocket to blast to the moon,walkiestalkies with code buttons to send secret messages. There were the electric build it sets and basic science club kits, chemical sets and wood burning sets in all shapes and sizes with an actual analog computer for only 5.88. Gas and battery powered miniature cars and planes and at one point motorized erector sets. Make things work boys, with your own 53 piece workshop with a workbench to match for under 20 dollars. And there were plenty of guns from the newest assault rifle to the western marshal outfit.

We both had view masters with our collection of pictures from Cinderella, Bambi, Batman and the Man from Uncle as well as an etch a sketch for under 3 dollars. I guess those were like our cell phones today. We both played music. For the boys, it was Roy Rogers Guitar, an accordion and girls tended to receive pianos in all different sizes.

And what about the games for the entire family? There was dominos, chess, checkers of all types,along with CandyLand, Cootie House, Dr. Kildare, Lie Detector, Dick Tracy, Snakes Alive, battery operated table top Pinballs.

And believe it or not, my wish book has finally arrived once again. Not in the form of back breaking print but I can peruse through the pages of several Sears catalogs from my time at Wishbookweb.com. I can thumb through the entire catalog while sitting on the potty with my phone.

I wonder if I could place an order too!

Aww…..the good old days!