“Never witnessed a sight so terrible”



office1At 2:42PM on December 1, 1958 on the sixth floor of Chicago’s City Hall, William Bingham,  the senior alarm operator within the Chicago Fire Alarm Office took a phone call from  rectory housekeeper Nora Maloney.


joker3Immediately, the loudspeaker at the firehouse at 3700 West Huron crackled with: “Engine 85 , truck 35, Squad 6, Battalion 18, Patrol 7, a still alarm , 3820 Iowa, 3-8-2-0 Iowa”. 3700 huron2



Those first firetrucks arrived within three minutes, despite that the fire was actually around the corner at 909 N. Avers.

In the meantime the fire alarm office received a second  telephone call from Barbara Glowacki, the owner of a candy store who used the private telephone in her apartment behind the store to say she sees flames. Fifteen more phone calls soon followed.

A school was on fire! Continue reading ““Never witnessed a sight so terrible””

Burial Cards: John’s left foot

Cemetery records are a rich source of genealogical information, especially when a death certificate cannot be found or expensive. They may reveal valuable extra information such as the place of death, last home address, and even more. However, cemetery records were never designed with the idea that they would be someday be valuble for genealogical research. In a cemetery office, ledger books and burial cards are two of the most common recordkeeping systems. Often the entries in a ledger book may be in chronological order making a search a bit difficult when you do not know a death date. Burial cards, on the other hand, are stored in one or more file drawers and are filed alphabetically, making a name search much easier without much further information.

john cull

Burial cards for Chicago area Catholic cemeteries are available online. The Chicago Archdiocese of the Catholic Church manages 45 cemeteries in Chicago, Cook County, and Lake County, from Ascension Cemetery in Libertyville serving Northern Cook and Lake to Assumption Cemetery in Glenwood to the south.,

There are FOUR different ways to access burial information in the Chicago Archdiocese for your Uncle Louie. If you are seeking a person buried in a Chicago area Catholic cemetery.
Continue reading “Burial Cards: John’s left foot”

Thanksgiving, Turkey Dressing, & Cemeteries

This week, some 397 years after the first Thanksgiving, we begin the busiest time of year.

cemmTake time for yourself by going on a long walk on a sunny day through your favorite or nearby cemetery. Ponder the memories that you hold close,  because many our family members are no longer with us. They sadly will not be at our thanksgiving table as in the past. This is a story about both my family and yours, where we remember Thanksgiving, that very important family celebration.
xlinda 030with ham

Continue reading “Thanksgiving, Turkey Dressing, & Cemeteries”

When Chicago Cried



94264528-fa26-4ff4-9c4c-5d7114246c7eIt was July 24th  and for Willie Novotny age 7,  school was out for the summer. On that cool and damp Saturday morning, Willie woke up well before dawn, much too excited to sleep. His nine year old sister Mamie, (sometimes called Minnie) woke up soon after. Willie quickly dressed in his Sunday-best clothes and came to the breakfast table. Their mother Agnes, age 35, likely prepared a traditional Czech breakfast of dumplings and eggs, dark rye bread, maybe  a rohlík yeast roll with butter and jelly or maybe on a good day,  a slice of salami or cheese. Their father, James (Vaclav),   born Ponedraz Bohemia,  also age 35 was the last to the table for his morning hot cup of coffee. He looked forward to spending a rare and wonderful day with his family.

5527About 6:00 am,  the family of four would likely have left their house at 5527 West 24th Place in a blue-collar working class neighborhood of Czech’s and Polish. About 10 minutes later, and less than a half mile walk, they would have entered the Metropolitan West Side Elevated, 56th Avenue Station at about  2126 S. 56th Avenue (now Central Avenue).station


They  never returned home. Continue reading “When Chicago Cried”

Mystery: The Suitcase in the Cemetery

This is the true and amazing story of an old, non-descript suitcase,  forgotten for many years in a dusty storage area of a cemetery. It was almost discarded. Inside was a treasure trove of family pictures, genealogy and precious memories . Who did it belong to? How was it forgotten in a cemetery of all places? How old is it? Could someone figure out who’s it was? Would a family member be thrilled to have it once again?

There was a high school diploma, letters, papers,  priceless photographs, and clues of a life well lived. There was even a handmade needlepoint! Continue reading “Mystery: The Suitcase in the Cemetery”

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.