Monday, August 9, 2010

A Second Life

Magnet # 314:  Chicago Nighttime Skyline

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Eric

Here's to Chicago, which celebrates the anniversary of its incorporation by the state of Illinois in 1833 tomorrow. Back then, it was a village of just about 200 people, and boy, has it grown! The city is now home to about 2.8 million residents, making it the third most populous in the nation, behind New York City and Los Angeles.

In the 1770s, John Baptiste Point du Sable, who had been born in Haiti, became the first non-indigenous person to live in what would become Chicago when he established a fur trading post there. Before long, the United States was acquiring land there and set up Fort Dearborn in 1803, although it wouldn't last long. Within a decade of its 1833 incorporation, it had grown to over 4,000 residents and it was incorporated again as the City of Chicago on March 4, 1837. Just a year later, the creation of railroads and the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal helped to bring more commerce and people to the area, particularly immigrants from overseas. The city grew rapidly as a manufacturing and retail center, but hard times hit when the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 broke out and destroyed nearly a third of it. Undaunted, Chicago began to rebuild, and its first skyscraper was created. By 1893, it was able to host the World's Colombian Exposition, an event that brought in nearly 30 million attendants and proved to be the most influential world's fair ever. But in the 1920's, the character of the city began to be tarnished as a rise of gangsters, most notably Al Capone and John Dillinger, fought each other and the police for control of the city. With its big banks and large population, it was an attractive place to commit crimes before heading off to nearby remote locations in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana to hide out. And even though the authorities eventually brought down these mobsters, they left a stain of crime that has continued to haunt the city, even as modern-day scandals break out there. The perceived machine politics of the city are what now bring it corruption, and some might argue that these elected officials aren't much better than the gangsters. Regardless, Chicago has risen to become one of its nations greatest cities, yet one of its nicknames is the unfortunate Second City. This began in part because the city was second in population rank to New York City for decades, but when a New Yorker writer used the term for the title of a book about the city he published in 1952, it stuck on permanently. This has helped create a bit of a rivalry between Chicago and New York City, which is only compounded when pizza is added to the mix - these two metropolises like their pizza, and they like it their way!

I know I've mentioned on here before that I've been to the Chicago area a couple of times when I was growing up. My Dad's sister and her family lived there at that time, in the suburbs of Homewood, but we ventured into the city to see all it has to offer. I remember one of the first activities we did was travel in a tourboat on Chicago Harbor. We also headed to the top of the Sears (yes, Sears) Tower, where the view was pretty amazing. My aunt took us to Chicago Institute of Science and Technology specifically so I could see Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle there. She was a silent film star with a passion for creating dollhouses and this was her masterpiece. It's eight feet tall, three stories in all, features murals painted by artists such as Walt Disney, houses her collection of antique miniatures, including tiny bearskin rugs, and even has electricity and running water. There's also a garden with Cinderella's silver coach and a weeping willow that, well, weeps. This is a great exhibit for children of all ages and it's placed in a dark room with the castle lit up to make it even more impressive. Unfortunately, I don't remember much of what we had to eat on my trips to the Windy City, so I guess if I ever go back, I'd make a point to try the local deep dish pizza, perhaps at Pizzeria Uno. And I've also mentioned my desire to try a gourmet sausage at Hot Doug's on here. I think I'd have a fun time revisiting Chicago as an adult - hope I get the chance sometime.

Some have said that the Second City title actually refers to the new Chicago that was built after the fire in 1871 destroyed so much of the city, and it's an explanation that makes sense. It's hard to know where the city would be if that disaster had never occurred, but it transformed a city built mostly by wood to one of steel. Clearly, Chicago is doing very well these days and is poised for a prosperous future, even if it doesn't beat the population size of New York City.

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