Chicago Theater Tour


It’s Theater Week in Chicago, which means discounts for theater events. I took advantage of the discounts and went on a tour of the Chicago Theater. I’d never been inside before and wasn’t prepared for it to be so palatial. Designed by the Rapp brothers and opened in 1921, the French Baroque theater awes.


Our guide was informative and upbeat making for a fun experience. He clearly loves this landmark. We learned all about the building, which was run by the Balaban & Katz group (who started in show biz by showing films for a nickel in the back of their parents’ grocery store). The Balaban & Katz group spent $4 million on construction. When it opened, a nickel got you the right to stay all day — from 10 am to 10 pm and to watch the show consisting of two films, a concert and vaudeville, over and over again. Originally, there was no food available in the theater and restrooms were hidden, not for patrons’ use. If you left the theater, you’d have to buy another ticket to get back in. Evening tickets cost 25¢. This theater was pioneered the use of air conditioning, which the owners falsely claimed brought purified mountain air into the theater, which would benefit patrons’ health.

In the 50s, theater attendance slid and the new owners decide to modernize the theater. Essentially, they got rid of all the elegance and panache. That didn’t get the desired increase in ticket sales. The owners let the theater to go pot and by the 1970s there were rats scurrying through the lower seats. The theater was sold and scheduled to be demolished and replaced by another office building. People protested and the mayor canceled the building permits. Thankfully, rather than getting demolished, a committee formed and with the city had it restored to its original glory. The Chicago Theater reopened in 1986 with a Frank Sinatra concert.

I won’t share each fact I learned during the hour tour, but I will share some of the celebrity scuttlebutt. Different celebrities request different amenities when they perform and some won’t go on if their requests (demands?) weren’t met. For example, Jerry Seinfeld requires a bowl of green M&M’s and has years before you could order specialized M & M’s. The reason for the bowl of green M & M’s was that, Jerry could arrive, see the green M & M’s and know that the theater had read the contract and did everything he stipulated.

Katy Perry insists upon 10 white couches, Beyouncé specifies black carpeting back stage and Mariah Carey asked for a kitten to play with. (After her concert, the Humane Society got the kitten back and sold it as “Mariah’s kitten.”)

Since John Mellencamp’s crew was setting up we couldn’t go on the stage or take photos of it, but we did get to see them setting up.

All in all, the Chicago Theater tour is well worth taking, especially on days when the weather’s bad and an architecture tour isn’t appealing.


Sepia Saturday


Source: Flickr Commons, Univ. of Illinois

Source: Flickr Commons, Univ. of Illinois

Source: Flickr Commons, Library of Congress, 1893

Source: Flickr Commons, Library of Congress, 1893

Source: Flickr Commons, National Library of Ireland

Source: Flickr Commons, National Library of Ireland

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt made me think of pottery, one of my great loves. The top two images I’ve chosen have illustrations, which I think connect them with their eras in a particular way.

If you want to see more Sepia Saturday interpretations, click here .

Sepia Saturday


This week’s prompt is court-related. Judges, lawyers, and trials come to mind. Here’s what I found from Flickr Commons.


John Marshall portrait, National Gallery

John Marshall was the fourth and longest serving Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Under the 34-year leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court of the United States transformed itself from a minor court of legal issues into a powerful third branch of government. Marshall infused his court with the power to declare laws of the federal government unconstitutional and to declare that state laws violated the federal constitution. Further, Marshall provided the Supreme Court and the new republic a vision of the nature of the Union–a nation powerful enough to act but not so powerful as to smother the states. Marshall’s “judicial nationalism” became a beacon of unity in the United States before the Civil War. Most important, John Marshall defended and fulfilled the constitutional goals of a strong federal judiciary and a Supreme Court equal to the president and Congress in prestige, influence, and power ” (Historic  World Leaders, 1994).

Below are two very serious judicious photos from Canadian Archives found in Flickr Commons:
Judges - First Appellate Division



“John Marshall.” Historic World Leaders. Gale, 1994. Biography in Context. Web. 17 Jan. 2015.

Sepia Saturday


This week’s prompt inspired me to look for vintage Macy’s Thanksgiving’s Day Parade photos. The parade began in 1924 and features lots of huge balloons of popular characters. Here’s some from the 1930’s.


Vintage Macys Parade 13

macy's old


1937 macys

super man

Which one is your favorite?

eBook: Ragged Dick

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 10.57.22 AM

I’ve adapted the Horatio Alger, Jr. novel, Ragged Dick for English language learners. You can get it for just 99¢ on The story’s got humor, history and adventure.

Sepia Saturday


The photo of two men goofing around in front of a stagecoach is this week’s prompt for Sepia Saturday. I went to the Library of Congress and found a series of staged photos of a stage coach robbery. I envision a good movie sparked by them. The photos were taken in 1911 by Ed Tangen.

Source: Library of Congress

Source: Library of Congress

“Hands up!”

Source: Library of Congress

Source: Library of Congress

Source: Library of Congress

Source: Library of Congress

The Jungle

Friday I saw a marvelous play adapted from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Staged by the Oracle Theater, a cast of about a dozen actors brought the meat packing industry and Chicago slums to life. While The Jungle’s most known for exposing the terrors of the food industry, the book and the play both reveal how immigrants were swindled through bad real estate brokers and others trying to make a quick buck.

How on earth would you depict the slaughter of cows in a tiny theater? Or a big one for that matter. The Oracle did this with amazing creativity using large rolls of butcher paper, ink and woodblocks to imprint the cows before the audience. The paper also served as a screen to project the waves of Lake Michigan or a canvas for painting the bars of a prison.

The show offers much more than ingenious stagecraft. Every performer gave a compelling performance which featured lots of singing.

As if a good play isn’t enough, the price is outstanding. The play was free. The Oracle Theater models its finance on public radio where subscribers donate what they can on a monthly basis. If you can’t pay, that’s fine as The Oracle wants everyone to be able to see a good play.

I do hope they succeed and are around for years to come.

Tickets are available at Street parking is readily available.

Sepia Saturday


This week’s prompt led me to the National Library of Scotland’s digital archive which had these photos of WWI soldiers writing letters. All are circa 1918. What a war! It’s centennial has given us more opportunities to read and watch to learn about its devastation. I’m sure these letters home were such a relief and reassurance.



    Ragged Dick: Street Life in New York

    Cover of Ragged Dick by Horatio Alger

    I’d heard of rags to riches stories a.k.a. Horatio Alger stories, but I’d never actually read a book by Horation Alger — till now. I raced through Ragged Dick in two days, not just because it’s short, but because it’s funny. Alger reminds me of Dickens or Twain as he has jokes on every page.

    Ragged Dick is a 14 year old orphan, a shoe shine boy who must sleep on the streets in a box of straw or old wagon if he can find one. He’s got wit and pluck and amuses and impresses his well-to-do customers. Time and again he shows his hilariously funny, honest, kind and brave. Yes, it’s a morality tale and the ending is happy, but it wasn’t as pat as I’d expected.

    Spoiler Alert: Dick doesn’t wind up as a millionaire by the stories end. He does start out in actual rags which he explains he would get rid of but since George Washington and Louis Napolean (sic) gave him those close he felt he couldn’t.

    While Dick’s a good lad, he’s not an angel with a dirty face (though he does have a dirty face). The narrator and Dick tell us that he smokes cigars, goes to the Bowery Theater a lot, doesn’t save money and gambles. Yet he corrals his vices in due time.

    Much of the story consists of Dick showing Frank, a country boy who’s uncle is busy with business all day around the streets of New York, where there’s a con artist around every corner. Frank and the uncle get Dick a new suit for the day and suddenly Dick’s treated with great respect wherever he goes (well, almost) and a lot of folks don’t recognize him. Through Frank we learn that Dick’s in a jam. Because he’s so good and diligent about getting business, he makes $3 a day. If he worked at a counting house or store he’d just get $3 a week. He doesn’t pursue other work because that would mean a short term loss. Also, these clerk jobs tend to go to boys from in tact families. The book then is more than just a series of funny adventures, it does show aspects of 19th century urban America.

    Like Dickens Ragged Dick will appeal to readers of all ages.

    Giants Gone

    Giants Gone: The Men Who Made Chicago by Ernest Poole, who won me over with The Harbor, is a delightful read. Published in 1943, Giants Gone introduces readers to the people (Jane Addams was the only woman included) who built Chicago.

    Till I read this, I had no idea why Ogden Avenue got its name, or why Astor, Harrison or Kinzie Streets got theirs. Poole illuminated these names by acquainting me with fur trader John Jacob Astor and “Indian trader” (sic) John Kinzie. I learned that William Ogden came to Chicago to get rid of what he thought was a stupid investment his brother-in-law had made. His brother had purchased $80,000 in land and Ogden planned an auction to cut his losses quickly. Well, Ogden had made back all the money after selling just a third of the property. Then he decided there was more to this muddy city than he first thought. He stopped the auction, went back East to settle his affairs before returning to Chicago to make a fortune. Ogden did make and lose money. He also became the city’s first mayor. So of course a street and school should be named after him.

    Poole was born in Chicago and his father worked for P.D. Armour, the meat tycoon (pre-“The Jungle” era, we’re assured). Poole knew Leiter’s son and Jane Addams. His family socialized with many of the important families of the late 19th century. So the book contains personal anecdotes in addition to researched information. Best of all the book reads like a novel. It’s lively, smart and sometimes funny.

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