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!

Continue reading “Sliding down the Pole”

Fond Memories-Walter’s Waterfall

s-l1600 Walter Eugene Olson was born February 18 1884. If you are a real Chicagoan, and a bit old, you might well remember the gift he gave to all of us. It was the  22 acre Olson Park and Waterfall which opened September 27, 1935 on the northwest corner of Diversey and Pulaski (back then Crawford Avenue). in Chicago. factoryHe wanted to “transplant some of the Wisconsin out of doors spirit to the then somewhat drab factory grounds.”


ghjhgNext to his massive carpet factory there was this landmark park made of 800 tons of stone,  800 yards of soil, 3,500 perennials,  junipers, spruces, and pines. There were paths with birch railings and foot bridges that allowed visitors to walk across the waterfall, a birch bark canoe, a teepee, a statue of a Native American, and more. There was a rock garden, picnic area, bird sanctuary, a duck pond, ravines and caves. In 1942 there were peacocks, golden pheasants, and even Corriedale sheep! Continue reading “Fond Memories-Walter’s Waterfall”

100 Million Gallons of Beer



The World’s Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago on May 1 1893 and drew 26 million visitors. There were inventions, music, the ferris wheel and electricity. Edibles were introduced including Aunt Jemima pancake mix, Juicy Fruit gum, Crackerjack,  and Vienna frankfurters (the revered Chicago hotdog).

. And there was beer. Lots of beer. Beer was a serious issue. Continue reading “100 Million Gallons of Beer”

Give the Lady What She Wants


This is the story of two legends.  Marshall Field and Potter Palmer both now resting in Chicago’s Graceland cemetery.

palmer facepalmer tomb

Potter Palmer’s monument is a bit more upscale , Marshall Field’s not so much.220px-Marshall_Field_circa_1915_(cropped) mei

Both were two of the wealthiest men in Chicago,  mastering the world of retail. More important, they both totally understood the women who would shop at their stores.

.Potter Palmer was born May 20, 1826 in Albany County, New York, the fourth son of a Quaker family,  Benjamin and Rebecca (Potter) Palmer. In 1852, Potter Palmer founded, Potter Palmer and Company, a dry goods store on the then fashionable Lake Street in Chicago.  He focused on women and encouraged their patronage. Palmer practiced a “no questions asked” returns policy and was the first owner to advertise with large window displays.  In 1865 because of ill health, he brought in partners Marshall Field and Levi Leiter. The trio joined forces and renamed the firm Field, Palmer, Leiter and Company. After the devastating Chicago Fire,  the store’s name eventually was changed by 1881 to “Marshall Field and Company”.

Marshall Field practiced the maxim that the customer was always right, He pioneered free, same-day delivery service to customers’ homes via a horse and wagon. He like Palmer, offered unconditional refunds, In 1885, he began selling in the basement dubbed the “Budget Floor” with incredible sales numbers. These were just a few of his many groundbreaking innovations designed to please his guests.


28shopcoronetThe story is told that he once found a retail manager speaking heatedly with a woman customer. “What are you doing here?” asked Field. “I am settling a complaint,” he replied. “No, you’re not,” snapped Field. “Give the lady what she wants”! He was one of the first to concentrate on the retail needs of women, a new concept for the time.

Marshall Field was born on a farm in Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts, the son of John Field and  Fidelia Nash.

At the age of 17, he first worked in a dry goods store in Massachusetts before coming to live with his brother in Chicago, Illinois at age 26. Field married twice. First in 1863, he married Nannie Douglas Scott of Ironton, Ohio.  They had two sons and a daughter,  one son, Louis, died in 1866 as an infant. The surviving children were Marshall Field Jr. and Ethel Field. After the death of his first wife Nannie in 1896, Field married Delia Spencer Caton. They had no children together.

Potter Palmer was born Albany County, New York, the fourth son of Benjamin and Rebecca (Potter) Palmer.  He married Bertha Honoré In 1871., she gave birth to a son in 1874, Honoré, and in 1875, she gave birth to another son, Potter Palmer II.

 extralarge Marshall Field pioneered quality retailing, but we all will remember the famous clock at State and Washington and the enchanting and elaborate Christmas windows,  where visiting them at Christmas was a wonderful family traditionftgghyywindow

clockIn later years, Marshall Field and Company was known for the Walnut Room, Frango Mints, Uncle Mistletoe, and over 100 departments. There was the enchanting toy department, magical before Christmas. There was a stamp and coin department, a book department where he pioneered book signings.untitledfrangoGoddard-image-5-600x475

marshall-fields-company-building-interior-macy-s-state-street-field-state-street-chicago-illinois-36128327And behind the scenes:fghyh


The magical toy department


rugIn the 1920’s, the Marshall Field company pioneered machine-made oriental design rugs of high quality at realistic prices. under the Karastan name from his own mills in North Carolina. They wowed tens of thousands of visitors at two World’s Fairs. Consumers quickly learned that the Karastan name means quality, beauty, and durability. an exciting and innovative product . The company built the massive Merchandise Mart for $35 million between 1928-1930 for their wholesale operation, but the depression did not treat it kindly. It was sold to Joseph Kennedy for $12 million in 1945. Fields owned around 30 mills, most producing or converting textiles. which marketed sheets, towels, bedspreads, and blankets under the Fieldcrest label.

Still later,  as the company grew, there were to be over 60 stores, mostly in the Midwest. In the Chicago area, There was Oak Park and Evanston, but other stores were built as shopping malls became popular like Old Orchard, Oakrook, and Park Forest.

1905 s prarieBoth Palmer and Field were very wealthy and lived well during those early years. Marshall Field had a mansion at 1905 Prairie Avenue, a street of wealthy and prominent Chicagoans.



300px-Palmer-8174-1Potter Palmer built his opulent mansion at 1350 N Lake Shore Drive. He also built a luxurious hotel, the Palmer House, as a wedding present for his wife.

.Potter Palmer died in his home of a heart attack on May 4, 1902. The Palmer house is still a Chicago landmark.

imagesVN9CNEW5Marshall Field died in New York City, New York, on January 16, 1906 at age 71 from pneumonia contracted after playing golf with Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son Robert Todd. The Field Museum of Natural History was named after him in 1894 . The University of Chicago was founded in part by Marshall Field.

Fields was sold to Dayton-Hudson in 1990 which later changed their name to the Target Corporation. Target then sold Fields to Macy’s. And there went the golden age of retailing.

Next time you are in downtown Chicago, meet me under the clock.