Chicago’s Oak Street Beach

It was in the 1970’s during my high school and college years that I remember traveling with friends to Chicago’s Oak Street Beach for a summer field trip from the south suburbs of the city. We would also pick out high rise apartment buildings we wanted to live in after college. And I remember it crowded with beach chairs, towels, bicycles and of course, numerous bathers and acrobatics. I remember male friends wanting to be a life guard as a summer job there; where prestigious life began. Oak Street Beach is located at 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive at Oak Street and Lake Michigan near the Gold Coast/Streeterville neighborhoods.

According to the Chicago Park District, Lincoln Park and Lake Shore Drive suffered constant damage from storms and lake shore erosion. The city built a breakwater made of pilings, planks, and stone on the lake’s edge between Oak Street and North Avenue in the 1870’s. This device could not protect Lake Shore Drive, so in the late 1880s, the commissioners began working with the Army Corps of Engineers to design a seawall between Fullerton and North Avenues to provide better protection. Lake Shore Drive was also extended south from Oak Street to Ohio Street.

The park district claims property owners helped pay for the landfill extension, which included a breakwater to protect the lake shore and roadway from erosion. Constructed in the 1890s, the project included a 50-foot-wide roadway as well as an extensive granite-paved beach, stone sidewalks, bicycle path, bridle path, and luxury lawns with elegant trees.

The beach was extremely popular in the early 1900’s but rich, mansion property owners complained about how small it was so it was extended in 1923. My father remembers living in the city in those early years as a child attending the beach. According to sources, over 50,000 visitors were known to travel to the beach during that time.The Chicago Park District offers some wonderful history on all Chicago area parks and when they can be used.

Today, Oak Street has gone through many renovations and has a outdoor cafe though with Covid restrictions, not available at this time. Currently, the beach is closed but when opened, you can rent beach chairs, umbrellas and cabanas. Of course, public restrooms are available. Usually, various vendors carts are seen along the path. Besides swimming, many beach goers play volleyball or just sit, taking pictures of amazing sunrises and sunsets. Still, a beautiful place to visit.

Photo courtesy of Greg Wass

Ice cream facts

By Caryl Clem:

Surviving Italian Florentine rebellions, at the tender age of 14, Catherine d’Medici was to wed the second eldest son of the King of France, Henry Orleans in 1533.  Her two loves, ice cream and high heels are still around today.  She had purchased a recipe for ice cream from a goat and chicken farmer who won a contest her family sponsored. This frozen dessert won instant popularity after it was served at her wedding.  As a short new bride, Catherine wanted to ensure her grand entrance before the Royal Court of France; a stunning pair of custom made high heels was a fashion first.   Catherine became Queen of France in 1536 bearing 10 children with her husband.

Since 1686, a café that entertained the greatest thinkers in Paris was Café Procope . Famous clientele included Voltaire famous French author against tyranny, Diderot, inventor of modern encyclopedia organization, Americans Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington discussed world issues over coffee and ice cream.

The first recipe for ice cream used by George Washington in America had 21 steps.  Rich mansion owners had underground ice houses for blocks of ice cut in the winter.  Only the wealthy could afford the necessary ingredients.

Before Chicago, Philadelphia was an ice cream “hot spot”. Quaker schoolteacher named Louis Dubois Bassett set out to make high-quality ice creams on his rural New Jersey farm.

Fast forward to the late 1800’s when Chicago enters the ice cream market limelight.  Early vendors hawked their half Penney and Penny licks ice cream from reused, rinsed, small hand held glass containers.  Italian vendors sounded like they were saying, Hockey Pokey’s.  Believed but not proven, the more sanitary ice cream wafer cone happened at a World’s Fair Exhibition in St. Louis.  An ice cream vendor ran out of glass containers so he paired business with his neighbor selling thin wafers, rolling them then placing a scoop on top.

Gone but not forgotten the Buffalo ice Cream Parlor in Chicago.  Elaborate décor of cherubs dancing murals on the walls, leaded glass windows, rich dark walnut wood and marble top counters, amid the whirl of 20 malt mixers concocting heavenly combinations.  The Buffalo offered a perfect place to escape reality and enjoy sumptuous ice cream desserts.  The original Buffalo in Chicago opened in 1902 moving to the Irving Park in 1918.  The new location had the Commodore Theatre across the street.  Now a Shell Gas Station stands has replaced the spot ice cream was enjoyed.

At the end of the civil war, a jobless William Breyer started hand-cranking ice cream in his kitchen in Kensington outside Philadelphia then selling it to neighbors.  He was the first using a wagon equipped with a loud dinner bell to announce his location.  Breyer’s reputation rests on simple good for you ingredients for over 150 years. The cream, cane sugar, fruits and nuts ingredient base became known as the Philadelphia American style ice cream.  During the 1960’s only ice cream parlors sold the number one rated Breyers.  In the 1970’s, Breyers joined the Kraft product line.  A suburb favorite, Homer’s Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream.

In Oak Park, Petersen’s Ice Cream has been in business over 80 years. Founded by a Greek immigrant, his son, Dean Poulos, reports that his grandfather’s secret ingredient was butterfat. With décor from the 1919 era complete with tin ceiling tiles is Petersen’s Ice Cream Shop. Exploring Chicago’s ice cream history is definitely a summer treat.

Buffalo Ice Cream photo Courtesy of Patrick Crane

Chicago’s Rainbow Beach

During the early 1960s, I always wanted a backyard pool as a child. My best friend had one above ground and we could swim often. When she wasn’t around,I got stuck with a sprinkler in my backyard instead. But we did travel from Calumet Heights to Rainbow Beach on hot summer days. I remember the alewives the most. Large die off’s of this fish littered the beaches and Rainbow was one of them. I also remember some of my first sunburns at Rainbow Beach being treated with Solarcaine, Noxzema or Calamine lotion but as long as you had a portable radio, you didn’t care. I was in my pre-teens when attending Rainbow. Many who were a few years older took the bus or learned to drive in their parking lot.

Chuckman’s Places on WordPress offers some wonderful Chicago pictures from the past as well as vintage post cards. John Chuckman grew up in Chicago having one of the best collections of vintage photography. He is a former chief economist for an oil company in Canada. He lives in Canada and his writing appears on many internet sites.

Rainbow Beach was named for the U.S. Army’s 42nd Rainbow Division that fought in World War I and began its journey in 1908 as two beaches. Rocky Ledge Beach was crowded with changing rooms and bathrooms illuminated with electric lights. The city bought more land and expanded in 1918 officially naming the beach Rainbow. Located at 75th street and Lake Michigan, for many years the park lacked sufficient indoor recreational facilities, so in 1999 the Chicago Park District constructed a large field house designed by David Woodhouse Architects. Today, Rainbow Beach features a gymnasium, fitness center and multipurpose rooms, handball courts, and one of the oldest community gardens in Chicago.

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.

Forgotten mall: Hillside Shopping Center

Hillside Mall located in the Chicago suburb of Hillside at Roosevelt and Wolf was originally an open air mall that was built in 1956. The anchor stores were Carsons and Goldblatts and initially 21 stores existed, however, that increased in 1958 according to Mall Hall of Fame.  Stores I remember were Carsons, which was three levels. A friend remembers special times with his Dad at Karroll’s Men’s Wear. But in the 1960’s the mall was sold and refurbished; enclosed and climate controlled in August of 1967. Stores also included Lyon and Healy where my Mom and I bought sheet music. Armand was a great restaurant with a smorgasbord as they were called then.

Newer and larger malls began to show their face which included Oakbrook and Yorktown in Lombard which are still open today. Also opening in the 1970s was the North Riverside Mall. Remodeling was done in the late 70s and early 80s but Hillside was declining rapidly. Located near the Eisenhower expressway, there were no immediate off ramps near the mall and people had to go a few miles out of there way to get there.

It was purchased by Northbrook-based New Castle Partners in January 1992. They decided to remarket the struggling complex as a value-oriented shopping hub, changing its name to WEST POINT CENTER in February. Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based Menards opened a home improvement store in the vacated Goldblatt’s space in mid-1992. Prior to Menards, Zayres and Ames were also there. But when Carson’s was closed in 1997, the mall was demolished.

The Hillside Mall Cinemas was closed by Loews Cineplex in late 2000’s and now houses a church, while the adjacent Hillside Mall is now a Carmax used car retailer. They opened as one screen in 1962 but eventually had three. Cinema Treasures offers some great history of different movie theaters throughout the country and is building the world’s largest guide of theaters. They have over 53,000 movie theaters from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and dozens of other countries around the world.

 

 

 

 

Good Old Days: Strange parallels with 1918 and the Asian Flu in 1957

My grandmother had saved 50+ copies of these comics in the 1950’s. She, too, was a published writer for a newspaper and artist. As I searched through the copies this week, I found a group called Miserable Moments, having no idea that this comic, written by Erwin L Hess, described the Spanish flu from 1918 comparing to the new pandemic of 1957 that was just beginning. The grandfather talks about 1918 when churches, school and theaters were closed…most people still getting it regardless of wearing mask. The author also talks about the flu which would probably get them in October, 1957 when this was published.

The “Asian flu” was the second major flu pandemic outbreak of avian influenza(H2N2) that originated also in China early 1956 lasting until 1958. It originated from a mutation in wild ducks combining with a pre-existing human strain. The virus was first identified in Guizhou. By June 1957 it reached the United States. Some of the first affected were United States Navy personnel at destroyers docked at Newport Naval Station, as well as new military recruits elsewhere. 

The first wave peaked in October which he talks about in the comic and the second wave, in January and February 1958 among elderly people, which was more fatal. It was spread among children but not harmful to them.The vaccine was available from October 1957 in the United Kingdom in small quantities but once sent to the US, it was effective. According to sources, about 100,000 people died in the US and almost two million died world wide but considered the worst flu epidemic. Some only experience mild symptoms such as a mild cough, fever while others developed severe respiratory illness such as pneumonia. 

Comic artist Erwin L. Hess (1913-1999) featured nostalgic memories in his popular newspaper comic panel The Good Old Days. His detailed art combined with easily-recognized themes from American family history resonated with readers who grew up in small towns and farms across the country. The Good Old Days was published from 1946 to 1981.

After reading about the history of the Asian flu and the onslaught of H1N1 in 2009, one report commented about in spite of the scare stuff in the lay press. When it comes to social media and the news emphasizing fear over faith, some things never change.

Stretching your pennies and dollars

By Caryl Clem:

As the weather progresses towards spring, the winter wardrobe dominated by dark colors casts a shadow on ensuing longer and brighter days. January was the warmest on record for over 25 years, and February followed that same trend.  If you are thinking about Easter finery, decorating or just wearing lighter, brighter clothing turn your shopping navigator towards a charity thrift store. You can shop guilt free knowing you are helping others.

The growth of the resale market keeps climbing in sales. In previous times, a stigma was attached to shopping at a thrift store; it meant you were poor. The thrift store image has undergone a major face lift.  There is a web site devoted to catchy thrift store names. Federal funding assists Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries operations as well as many other charitable organizations. Social media is a vehicle for advertising merchandise, sales and reward points. The finer merchandise from charities can be found on E-Bay.  Retail stores donate inventory to reduce loss costs, tags from the store can be seen on the dresses and gowns. You can find designer wear clothing hanging on a rack for a price 75% cheaper than in a store. Hospitals, churches, and multiple charity causes sponsor thrift store locations.

Several categories consistently save big bucks. Kitchen appliances and cookware at thrift stores average 50% less than retail prices. For example, a food dehydrator new was $10 dollars vs. over $50 at Wal-Mart,  a Calphalon skillet and lid $5.00, over $38.00 online, Mr. Coffee machine $3 vs. $18 at Target. If you need furniture, you can find end tables under $50.00 that feature names like Bassett or Kincaid. A new couch will cost under $300 or used under $150 and less depending on condition of material.  An Ashley couch for $500 looks just like a couch for $125 in the Libertyville location of Saint Vincent DePaul. Another frequently bought item, shoes unless otherwise marked are $3.00.  Purses are $3.00 unless a designer name. Readers, browse our bookshelves, books are 30 cents including hardcovers.  Thrift stores are a soup to nuts treasure hunt.

With the Paying It Forward Movement, spreading good deeds should include supporting the charity of your choice.  It’s a win/win move to spend your dollars helping others.  Salvation Army ranks as the 4th biggest charity on Forbes 2019 list while Goodwill was ranked as 14thSparrows Nest Thrift Stores – Home of the Sparrow supports abused women with 8 locations in the Chicago suburbs. I volunteer at Saint Vincent DePaul where a customer in the store could be a neighbor, flood victim, cancer patient, newly homeless due to a family disaster, fire disaster victim or frugal bargain hunter. The members of SVDP screen applicants and provide household items and clothes at no cost to those in immediate need.  Everyone in the store is treated with dignity and respect while helping them locate necessary items.

African American Inventions Improve Our Daily Life

By Caryl Clem:

Through the last 100 years, when faced with a problem that needed a solution, African American inventors created products we still use today.  A common example, today’s ironing board with a narrow to wider proportioned curved board. A former slave woman whose main job was ironing women’s garments had moved from Craven County, North Carolina to New Haven, Connecticut after the Civil War.  The president of Yale College in New Haven was a fervent supporter of blacks acquiring the same standard of living as whites. In 1892 when Sara Boone was 60 years old, she patented the device as a cheap, efficient method to iron clothing. Previously, square planks on stands or across chairs were used for ironing.

Do you love to climb stairs or would you rather ride an elevator?  An unsung hero that invented the automatic elevator door is Alexander Miles. His own granddaughter nearly fell down an elevator shaft due to a faulty door. Since his patent in 1887, it’s the base of ones manufactured today.

If you have traveled on a main road, your safety was increased by the installation of the 3 Way Traffic Light Systems.  A successful African American inventor, Garrett Morgan, was the first black man to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio where he witnessed a terrible carriage accident. He was confident that a warning yellow yield light would decrease accidents. He patented his 3 Way Traffic Light in 1923 that was later sold to General Electric. His patents ranged from friction clutches in cars, hair straightener, breathing devices in safety hoods firefighters wear, gas masks, and sewing machine improvements. He left home after an elementary school education.

In 1940 a method to cool the roofing of a truck by Frederick McKinley Jones was the start of a new industry, refrigerated trucking.  Now supermarkets could receive from other areas perishable meat, fish, fresh eggs, bread, dairy, vegetables, fruits, medical supplies, donated blood, and flowers. During World War II his idea made possible sending supplies to our troops of food, blood and medical supplies. He had 60 patents.

Dr. James West was given the assignment to develop a sensitive, compact microphone while working at Bell Labs. He co-founded the electret transducer with Gerhard M. Sessler that is used in  90% of microphones. During his career he had 250 patents and was a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Pioneer computer trailblazers include African American Dr. Mark Dean who was the first African American to win the Black Engineer of the Year Presidential award in 1997. He was the chief engineer at IBM heading a team of 12 members.  At career’s end, he held 3 of the 9 original IBM patents. Dr. Dean was responsible for the color IBM monitor and co- founded the Gigahertz chip that increased processing speeds at a billion calculations per second. . He developed with his colleague Dennis Moeller, The Industry Standard Architecture that allowed plug in devices such as disk drives, printers and monitors to go directly into the computer. He was inducted into the National Inventor Hall of Fame in 2001.

African American Inventors are a bulwark of our national strength and capability.