Growing up in Chicago in the 1950’s

in this crazy upside-down world of ours, I find myself spending more time recalling the past, as a kid in a simpler Chicago. Neighborhoods were safe and we didn’t lock our doors.  Maybe not all of you are as old as I am but bear with me while I remember my Chicago in the 1950s.

The picture above is of Kindergarten September 1949, Daniel Boone School on the far northside of Chicago. I am the kid behind the birdcage, already having to wear glasses.

Growing up was carefree as we rode our bikes through burning leaves at the curb and stayed out til the streetlights came on. How I remember the unmistakable smell of those smoldering leaves.

We had  water balloon fights on hot summer days and played  ball in the alley. Third base was Mrs. Erickson’s garbage can.

Well before our softball game or water fights, the milkman would come down the alley in his tiny white truck. The strawberry man would come down the alley selling lugs of fresh strawberries. The scrap man would come down the alley loudly calling out “rags and old iron”. I always thought he said “ragsolion” but what did I know? I was just a kid. Without apology, this was simply my Chicago as I was growing up.

 We captured butterflies, grasshoppers and lightning bugs, we climbed trees, built a fort on an empty lot. We ran through the lawn sprinklers. We traded baseball cards and had a cherry Coke at the soda fountain. We drank Kool-Aid or set up a lemonade stand on a street corner.

please understand that I’m seeing our city from a Northside perspective not intending to slight the South side. Your mileage may vary but please read on and enjoy. It gets better.

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Before McCormick Place- in 1872 the largest Exposition building on the continent!

Some 87 years before McCormick Place,  Chicago had a grand exposition building. On September 25, 1872 the Chicago Interstate Industrial Exposition building opened on Michigan Avenue, now the site of the Art Institute. This huge convention center opened just two years after the great Chicago fire destroying over 17,000 buildings.

The “Glass Palace” as it was known, was to show how much the city had recovered following the great fire. It was billed as “the largest structure ever built on the American continent” with 220,000 square feet of exhibit space. It held that title until the 1893 world’s fair where the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts building was built even seven times bigger.

Continue reading “Before McCormick Place- in 1872 the largest Exposition building on the continent!”

An airport in Skokie Illinois – Planes landing at Eadie Field!

During the Cold War of the 1950s, Americans were so concerned with surviving a nuclear attack. The Civil Defense act of 1950 was created to deal with the immediate emergency conditions that an attack would create.We heard air raid sirens every Tuesday morning at 10:30 AM. Public fallout shelters were created in buildings and subways. Civil Defense units were created in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Skokie civil Defense felt the need to build an emergency landing field in the area, reportedly the first civil Defense airport in the nation.

The land for Eadie field was graded and ready for use in mid-October 1953. It was located between Dempster and Church Street, along the west side of the sanitary Canal in Skokie (also known as the north channel of the Chicago River.) It was just a few minute drive north from the beloved Hollywood Kiddieland and Thillens Stadium. Newspaper accounts said that it could accommodate 50 airplanes.

Continue reading “An airport in Skokie Illinois – Planes landing at Eadie Field!”

Sliding down the Pole

I was just a kid on Chicago’s north side when my grammar school class toured the Chicago fire Department Engine 71’s firehouse at 6239 N California. Watching the fireman slide down the fire pole, we learned  that the fire pole was actually invented in Chicago some 71 years earlier. A few other cities claim that they had a fire pole first, but I shall stubbornly stick to this Chicago story unless proved otherwise.

Flash back to 1878 and a three story wooden frame firehouse at 313 Third Avenue (later renamed and renumbered to 909 South Plymouth Court) in Chicago.  Although long gone, it was then the busy quarters of Engine Company 21 organized in 1872 as the first black fire company in the Chicago fire Department. The ground floor containing the firefighting equipment and the horses, the floor above was for sleeping, and the top floor the hayloft used to store the winter supply of hay to feed the horses.

Until 1878, firefighters would come down from their sleeping quarters to their fire apparatus  either by a spiral staircase or through a slide chute. A spiral staircase was better than a regular wide staircase because it took up less space in the firehouse. Worse yet, the fire horses could at times try to climb the regular stairs to visit the firemen or get a treat! Just picture a firemen who would awake to either a hungry or playful horse that missed their human companions. It really happened!

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