Studs Terkel's Chicago
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Chicago was home to the country’s first skyscraper (a ten-story building built in 1884) and marks the start of the famed "Route 66." It is also the birthplace of the remote control (Zenith), the car radio (Motorola) and the first major American city to elect a woman (Jane Byrne) and then an African American man (Harold Washington) as mayor. Its literary and journalistic history is just as dazzling, and includes Nelson Algren, Mike Royko and Sara Paretsky. From Al Capone to the street riots during the Democratic National Convention in 1968, Chicago, in the words of Terkel himself, “has—as they used to whisper of the town’s fast woman—a reputation.”
Chicago was of course also home to the Pulitzer Prize–winning oral historian Studs Terkel, who moved to Chicago in 1922 as an eight-year-old and who would make it his home until his death in 2008 at the age of 96. This book is a splendid evocation of Studs’ hometown in all its glory—and all its imperfection.
that bulldozer demolished Jessie Binford’s favorite elm, the one just under her window at Hull-House, Florence Scala remembers it as the only moment she saw Miss Binford weep. And when Florence asked the bulldozer operator, a guy from the neighborhood whom she’d known for years, why was he doing it, he didn’t quite know what she was talking about. “It’s my job, fer Chrissake, Florence.” All this fuss about the death of a little tree. It was a Saturday afternoon in 1962 and no birds sang.
America mighty,” I heard his Honor proclaim before sentencing the girl with a record for addiction. “A year and a day! Take her away!” Blinking out of the window of an Ogden Avenue trolley at the sunlight she hadn’t seen for almost a year, “I guess I was lucky I done that time,” the girl philosophized. “Chicago still looks pretty strong and America looks mighty mighty.” Still nobody seems to be laughing. What Algren observed twenty years ago applies today in trump. And in this prose poem put
Vachon, Alley, Downtown Chicago (1940) Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF33-001961-M5 Page 71 Clarence W. Hines, Jazz with Junk on Maxwell Street (1959) Chicago History Museum, ICHi-12834 Page 73 Lee, Russell, Children Playing in Vacant Lot in Negro Section of Chicago, Illinois (1941) Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-038895-D Page 74 Russell Lee, Abandoned Building, South Side of Chicago (1941)
homes because they’re better at hiding things. With the poor, black and white, doors are open, windows are open, hollering, screaming: a release from their frustrations. Naturally, the impression of a young police officer is that they aren’t really people—you know, get rid of them.” Perhaps Tom Kearney was thinking of Vincent Maher. Big Vince, when I last ran into him, was a disconsolate bartender. “Don’t ask me why I quit the force. One thing led to another.” He takes off on the “rotten pieces
of garbage” who gave him a hard time. He can’t get them off his mind: the young protesters at the ’68 Democratic convention in Chicago. I buy him a drink. He buys me one. “Each child has a dream. I had two. One was to be a marine and the other was to be a policeman. I’m trying other endeavors now, but I’m not cut out for it. I’m a policeman. It’s the most gratifying job in the world. Now—look at me . . .” Though Vince is a huge man, his face is a baby’s. His lower lip protrudes in the manner of