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Chicago And The Chicagoans

( Originally Published 1913 )

EARLY in the morning the city by the lake is astir. Before the first long scouting rays of earliest sunlight are thrusting themselves over the barren reaches of Michigan state and lake Chicago is in action. The nervous little suburban trains are reaching into her heart from South, from North and from West. The long trains of elevated cars are slipping along their alley-routes, skirting behind long rows of the dirty colorless houses of the most monotonous city on earth, threading themselves around the loop receiving passengers, discharging passengers before dawn has fully come upon the town. The windows of the tedious, almost endless rows of houses flash into light and life, the trolley cars in the broad streets come at shorter intervals, in whole companies, brigades, regiments a mighty army of trucks and wagons begin to send up a great wave of noise and of clatter from the shrieking highways and byways of the city.

The traveler coming to the city from the east and by night finds it indeed a mighty affair. For an hour and a half before his train arrives at the terminal station, he is making his way through Chicago environs — coming from dull flat monotonies of sand and brush and pine into Gary with its newness and its bigness proclaimed upon its very face so that even he who flits through at fifty miles an hour may read both — jolting over main line railroads that cross and recross at every conceivable angle, snapping up through Hammond and Kensington and Grand Crossing to the right and to the left long vistas with the ungainly, picturesque outlines of steel mills with upturned rows of smoking stacks, of gas-holders and of packing-houses, the vistas suddenly closed off by long trails of travel-worn freight-cars, through which the traveler's train finds its way with a mighty clattering and reverberating of noisy echoes. This is Chicago — Chicago spreading itself over miles of absolutely flat shore-land at almost the extreme south-ern tip of Lake Michigan — Chicago proudly proclaiming herself as the business and the transportation metropolis of the land, disdaining such mere seaport places as New York or Boston or Baltimore or San Francisco — Chicago with the most wretched approaches on her main lines of travel of any great city of the world.

If you come to her on at least one of the great rail-roads that link her with the Atlantic seaboard, you will get a glimpse of her one redeeming natural feature, for five or six miles before your train comes to a final grinding stop at the main terminal — the blue waters of the lake. This railroad spun its way many years ago on the very edge of the lake much to the present day grief of the town. It gives no grief to the incoming traveler to turn from the sordid streets, the quick glimpses of rows of pretentious but fearfully dirty and uninteresting houses to the great open space to the east of Chicago nature's assurance of fresh air and light and health to one of the really vast cluster-holds of mankind. To him the lake is in relief — even in splendid contrast to the noise, the dirt, the streets darkened and narrowed by the over-shouldering constructions of man. From the intricate and the confusing, to the simplicity of open water no wonder then that Chicago has finally come to appreciate her lake, that she seizes upon her remaining free waterfront like a hungry and ill-fed child, that she builds great hotels and office-buildings where their windows may look — not upon the town, stretching itself to the horizon on the prairie, but upon the lake, with its tranquillity and its beauty, the infinite majesty of a great, silent open place.

In the terminal stations of the city you first begin to divine the real character of the city. You see it, a great crucible into which the people of all nations and all the corners of one of the greatest of the nations are being poured. Pressing her nose against the glass of a window that looks down into surpassingly busy streets, over-shadowed by the ungainly bulk of an elevated railroad, is the bent figure of a hatless peasant woman from the south of Europe — seeing her America for the first time and almost shrinking from the glass in a mixture of fear and of amazement. Next to her is a sleek, well-groomed man who may be from the East — from an Atlantic seaport city, but do not be too sure of that, for he may have his home over on Michigan avenue and think that " New York is a pretty town but not in it with Chicago." You never can tell in the most American and most cosmopolitan of American cities. At a third window is a man who has come from South Dakota. He has a big ranch up in that wonderful state. You know that because last night he sat beside you on a bench in the dingy, busy office of the old Palmer House and told you of Chicago as he saw it.

" I've a farm up in the South Dakota," he told you, in brief. " This is my first time East." You started in a bit of surprise at that, for it had always occurred to you that Chicago was West, that you, born New Yorker, were reaching into the real West whenever you crossed to the far side of Main street, in Buffalo. You looked at the ranchman, feeling that he was joking, and then you took a second look into his tired eyes and knew that you were talking to no humorist.

" The first real big town that I ever ran into," he said, in his simple way, " was Sioux City, and I set up and took a little notice on it. It seemed mighty big, but that was five years ago, and four years ago I took my stock down to Cudahy in Omaha and there was a town. You could walk half a day in Omaha and never come to cattle country. Just houses and houses and houses — an' you begin to wonder where they find the folks to fill them. This year I come here with the beef for the first time an' you could put Omaha in this town and never know the difference."

After that you confessed, with much pride, that you lived in New York city, and you began. You knew the number of miles of subway from the Bronx over to Brooklyn, and the number of stories in the Woolworth building, all those things, and when you caught your breath, the stockman asked you if Tom Sharkey really had a saloon in your town, and was Steve Brodie still alive, and did New York folks like to go down to the Statue of Liberty on pleasant Sunday afternoons. You answered those questions, and then you told the stockman more of London, made of dozens of Omahas, where the United States was but a pleasant and withal a somewhat uncertain dream, of Paris the beautiful, and of Berlin the awfully clean. When you were done, you went with the stockman to eat in a basement that is the Chicago idea of distinction in restaurants and he took you to a lively show afterwards.

Now you never would have wandered into a Broad-way hotel lobby and made the acquaintance of a perfect stranger, dined with him and spent the evening with him no, not even if you were a Chicagoan and fearfully lonely in New York. It is the Chicago that gets into a New Yorker's veins when he comes within her expanded limits, it is the unseen aura of the West that creeps as far east as the south tip of Lake Michigan. It made you acknowledge with hearty appreciation the "good mornings " of each man as he filed into the wash-room of the sleeping car in the early morning. You never say " good morning" to strangers in the sleeping cars going from New York over to Boston. For that is the East and that is different.

A Chicago man sits back in the regal comfort of a leather padded office chair and tells you between hurried bites of the lunch that has been placed upon his desk, of the real town that is sprawled along the Lake Michigan shore.

" Don't know as you particularly care for horse-food," he apologizes, between mouthfuls, "but that's the cult in this neck-o'-woods nowadays."

" The cult?" you inquire, as he plunges more deeply in his bran-mash.

" Precisely," he nods. " We're living in cults out here now. We've got Boston beaten to culture."

He shoves back the remnant of his "health food" luncheon with an expression that surely says that he wishes it was steak, smothered with onions and flanked by an ample-girthed staff of vegetables, and faces you, you New Yorker with determination to set your path straight.

" Along in the prehistoric ages which in Chicago means about the time of the World's Fair we were trying to live up to anything and everything, but particularly the ambition to be the overwhelmingest biggest town in creation, and to make your old New York look like an annexed seaport. We had no cults, no woman's societies, nothing except a lot of men making money hand over fist, killing hogs, and building cars and selling stuff at retail by catalogues. We were not aesthetic and we didn't particularly care. We liked plain shows as long as the girls in them weren't plain, and we had a motto that a big lady carried around on a shield. The motto was ` I will,' and translated it meant to the bottom of the sea with New York or St. Louis or any other upstart town that tried to live on the same side of the earth as Chicago. We were going to have two million population inside of two years and —"

He dives again into his cultish lunch and after a moment resumes :

" The big lady has lost her job and we've thrown the shield motto and all into the lake. We're trying to forget the motto and that's why we've got the cult habit. We're class and we're close on the heels of you New Yorkers only last winter they began to pass the French pastry around on a tray at my club. We learn quickly and then go you one better. We've finally given Jane Addams the recognition and the support that she should have had a dozen years ago. We're strong and we're sincere for culture the university to the south of us has had some funny cracks but that is all history. Together with the one to the north of us, they are finally institutions — and Chicago respects them as such.

" Take opera. We used to think it was a fad to hear good music, and only the society folks went to hear it — so that the opera fairly starved to death when it came out here. Now they are falling over one another to get into the Auditorium, and our opera company is not only an institution but you New Yorkers would give your very hearts to have it in your own big opera house."

" You'll build an opera house out here then," you venture, " the biggest —"

He interrupts.

" Not necessarily the biggest," he corrects, " but as fine as the very best."

The talk changes. You are frankly interested in the cults. You have heard of how one is working in the public schools, how the school children of Chicago work in classrooms with the windows wide open, and you ask him about it.

" It must be fine for the children?" you finally venture.

"It is," he says. "My daughter teaches in a school down Englewood way, and she says that it is fine for the children but hell on the teachers. They weren't trained to it in the beginning."

You are beginning to understand Chicago. A half an hour ago you could not have understood how a man like this head of a giant corporation employing half a hundred thousand workmen, a man with three or four big houses, a stable full of automobiles, a man of vast resources and influences would have his daughter teaching in a public school. You are beginning to understand the man the man who is typical of Chicago. You come to know him the more clearly as he tells you of the city that he really loves. He tells you how Sorolla "caught on" over at the Institute — although more recently the Cubists rather dimmed the brilliance of the Spaniard's reception and how the people who go to the Chicago libraries are reading less fiction and more solid literature all the while. Then of a sudden, for he realizes that he must be back again into the grind and the routine of his work he turns to you and says:

"And yesterday we had the big girl and the motto. It was hardly more than yesterday that we thought that population counted, that acreage was a factor in the consummation of a great city."

So you see that Chicago is only America, not boastful, not arrogant, but strong in her convictions, strong in her sincerity, strong in her poise between right and power together, and not merely power without right. A city set in the heart of America must certainly take strong American tone, no matter how many foreigners New York's great gateway may pour into her ample lap in the course of a single twelvemonth. Chicago has taken that dominating tone upon herself.

She is a great city. Her policemen wear star-shaped badges after the fashion of country constables in rural drama, and her citizens call the trolleys that run after midnight " owl cars," but she is a great city none the less for these things. Her small shops along Michigan avenue have the smartness of Paris or of Vienna, the greatest of her department stores is one of the greatest department stores in all the land, which means in the whole world. It is softly carpeted, floor upon floor, and the best of Chicago delights to lunch upon one of its upper floors. Chicago likes to go high for its meals or else, as we have already intimated, down into basements. The reason for this last may be that one of the world's greatest restauranteurs, who had his start in the city by Lake Michigan, has always had his place below sidewalk level on a busy corner of the city.

The city is fearfully busy at all of its downtown corners. New Yorkers shudder at Thirty-fourth street and Broadway. Inside the Chicago loop are several dozen Thirty-fourth streets and Broadways. There you have it — the Chicago loop, designed to afford magnificent relief to the town and in effect having tightly drawn a belt about its waist. The loop is a belt-line terminal, slightly less than a mile in diameter, designed to serve the elevated railroads that stretch their caterpillar-like structures over three directions of the wide-spread town. Within it are the theaters, the hotels, the department stores, the retail district, and the wholesale and the railroad terminals. Just without it is an arid belt and them somewhere to the north, the west and the south, the great residential districts. So it is a mistake. For, with the exception of a little way along Michigan avenue to the south, the loop has acted against the growth of the city, has kept it tightly girdled within itself.

" Within the loop," is a meaningful phrase in Chicago. It means congestion in every form and the very worst forms to the fore. It means that what was originally intended to be an adequate terminal to the various elevated railroads has become a transportation abomination and a matter of local contempt. For you cannot exaggerate the condition that it has created. It is fearful on ordinary days, and when you come to extraordinary days, like the memorable summer when the Knights Templar held their triennial conclave there, the news-papers print " boxed " summaries of the persons killed and injured by congestion conditions " within the loop." That takes it out of being a mere laughing matter.

It is no laughing matter to folks who have to thread it. Trolley cars, automobiles, taxicabs, the long lumbering 'buses that remind one of the photographs of Broadway, New York, a quarter of a century ago or more, entangle themselves with one another and with unfortunate pedestrians and still no one comes forward with practical relief. The 'buses are peculiarly Chicago institutions. For long years they have been taking passengers from one railroad station to another. A considerable part of Western America has been ferried across the city by Lake Michigan, in these institutions. For Chicago, with the wisdom of nearly seventy-five years of growth, has steadily refused to accept the union station idea. St. Louis has a union station — and bitterly regrets it. Modern big towns are scorning the idea of a union station ; in fact, Buffalo has just rejected the scheme for herself. For a union station, no matter how big or how pretentious it may be architecturally, will reduce a city to way-station dimensions. St. Louis is a big town, a town with personality, the great trunk lines of east and south and west have terminals there ; but the many thousands of travelers who pass through there in the course of a twelvemonth, see nothing of her. They file from one train into the waiting-room of her glorious station one of the few really great railroad stations of the world and in a little while take an outbound train — without ever having stepped out into the streets of the town.

In Chicago as it is almost a form of lese majeste to discuss St. Louis in a chapter devoted to Chicago we herewith submit our full apologies — four-fifths of the through passengers have to be carried in the omnibuses from one of the big railroad stations to another. They know that in advance, and they generally arrange to stop over there for at least a night. This means business for the hotels, large and small. It also means business for the retail stores and the theaters. And it is one of the ways that Chicago preserves her metropolitanism.

And yet with all of that metropolitanism there is a spirit in Chicago that distinctly breathes the smaller town, a spirit that might seem foreign to the most important city that we have between the two oceans. It is the spirit of Madison, or Ottumwa, or Jackson, perhaps a little flavor still surviving of the not long-distant days when Chicago was merely a town. You may or you may not know that in the days before her terrific fire she was called " the Garden City." The catalpa trees that shaded her chief business streets had a wide fame, and older prints show the Cook County Court House standing in lawn-plats. In those days Chicago folk knew one another and, to a decent extent, one another's business. In these days, much of that town feeling remains. You sit in the great tomb-like halls of the Union League, or in the more modern University Club, perhaps up in that wonderful bungalow which the Cliff-dwellers have erected upon the roof of Orchestra Hall, and you hear all of the small talk of the town. Smith has finally got that franchise, although he will pay mighty well for it; Jones is going to put another fourteen-story addition on his store. Wilkins has bought a yacht that is going to clean up everything on the lake, and then head straight for laurels on the Atlantic seaboard. You would have the same thing in a smaller western town, expressed in proportionate dimensions. After all, the circle of men who accomplish the real things in the real Chicago is wonderfully small. But the things that they accomplish are very large, indeed.

They will take you out to see some of these big things — that department store, without an equal outside of New York or Philadelphia at least, and where Chicago dearly loves to lunch ; a mail-order house which actually boasts that six acres of forest timber are cleared each day to furnish the paper for its catalogue, of which a mere six million copies are issued annually ; they will point out in the distance the stacks and smoke clouds of South Chicago and will tell you in tens of thousands of dollars, the details of the steel industry ; take you, of course, to the stock-yards and there tell you of the horrible slaughter that goes forward there at all hours of the day and far into the night. Perhaps they will show you some of the Chicago things that are great in an-other sense — Hull House and the McCormick Open Air School, for instance. And they will be sure to show you the park system.

A good many folk, Eastern and Western, do not give Chicago credit for the remarkable park system that she has builded up within recent years. These larger parks, with their connecting boulevards, make an entire circuit around the back of the town, and the city is making a distinct effort to wrest the control of the waterfront from the railroad that has skirted it for many years, so that she may make all this park land, too — in connection with her ambitious city plan. She has accomplished a distinct start already in the water-front plan along her retail shop and hotel district— from Twelfth street north to the river. The railroad tracks formerly ran along the edge of the lake all that distance. Now they are almost a third of a mile inland ; the city has re-claimed some hundreds of acres from the more shallow part of Lake Michigan and has in Grant Park a pleasure-ground quite as centrally located as Boston's famous Common. It is still far from complete. While the broad strip between Michigan avenue and the depressed railroad tracks is wonderfully trim and green, and the Art Institute standing within it so grimy that one might easily mistake it for old age, the " made ground " to the east of the tracks is still barren. But Chicago is making good use of it. The boys and young men come out of the office-buildings in the noon recess to play baseball there, the police drill and parade upon it to their heart's content, it is gaining fame as a site for military encampments and aviation meets.

Chicago makes good use of all her parks. You look a long way within them before you find the " Keep off the Grass " signs. And on Saturday afternoons in mid-summer you will find the park lawns thronged with picnic parties — hundreds and even thousands of them —bringing their lunches out from the tighter sections of the town and eating them in shade and comfort and the cooling breezes off Lake Michigan. For Chicago regards the lake as hardly more than an annex to her park system, even today when the question of lake-front rights is not entirely settled with the railroad. On pleas-ant summer days, her residents go bathing in the lake by the thousands, and if they live within half a dozen blocks of the shore they will go and come in their bathing suits, with perhaps a light coat or bath-robe thrown over them. A man from New York might be shocked to see a Chicago man in a bathing suit riding a motorcycle down an important residence street without the semblance of coat or robe; but that is Chicago, and Chicago seems to think nothing of it. She wonders if a man from Boston might not be embarrassed to see a coatless, vestless, collarless, suspendered man driving a four-thousand-dollar electric car through Michigan avenue.

Chicago is fast changing, however, in these respects. She is growing more truly metropolitan each twelvemonth less like an overgrown country town. It was only a moment ago that we sat in the office of the manufacturer, and he told us of the Chicago of yesterday, of the big girl who had " I will" emblazoned upon her shield. There is a Chicago of tomorrow, and a hint of its glory has been spread upon the walls of a single great gallery of the Art Institute, in the concrete form of splendid plans and perspectives. The Chicago of to-morrow is to be different; it is to forget the disadvantages of a lack of contour and reap those of a magnificent shore front. In the Chicago of tomorrow the railroads will not hold mile after mile of lake-edge for themselves, the elevated trains will cease to have a merry-go-round on the loop, the arid belt between downtown and uptown will have disappeared, great railroad terminal stations and public buildings built in architectural plan and relation to one another are to arise, her splendid park and boulevard system is to be vastly multiplied.

Chicago looks hungrily forward to her tomorrow. She is never discouraged with her today, but with true American spirit, she anticipates the future. The present generation cares little for itself, it can tolerate the loop and its abominations, the hodge-podge of the queer and the nouveau that distinguishes the city' by the lake in this present year of grace. But the oncoming generations ! There is the rub. The oncoming generations are to have all that the wisdom and the wealth of today can possibly dedicate to them. There, then, is your Chicago spirit, the dominating inspiration that rises above the housetops of rows of monotonous, dun-colored houses and surveys the sprawling, disorderly town, and proclaims it triumphant over its outer self.

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