The South Shore Cultural Center

The South Shore Cultural Center at 7059 S. South Shore Dr. in Chicago started off as the South Shore Country Club. “In 1905, Lawrence Heyworth, president of the downtown Chicago Athletic Club, envisioned an exclusive club with a ‘country setting,’ ” the Chicago Park District says. “Heyworth selected unimproved south lakefront property, often used for fishing and duck hunting, for the new country club.

“The club’s directors hired architects Marshall and Fox, later known for designing many of Chicago’s most luxurious hotel and apartment buildings, including the Drake Hotel. For inspiration, Heyworth provided a photograph of an old private club in Mexico City, but asked the architects to exclude expensive embellishments…

“Enjoying immediate success and social importance, South Shore Country Club quickly outgrew its facilities. Marshall and Fox were hired to build a new clubhouse, incorporating the original ballroom. Constructed in 1916, the larger and more substantial reinforced concrete building, like the original, was designed in the Mediterranean Revival style.”

So it remains to this day. I have fond memories of the place, since I attended Wendy and Ted’s wedding there 20 years ago last month, but I hadn’t been back since. (The Obamas had their wedding reception there as well in 1992.) Since Oak Wood Cemetery isn’t far away, I decided to swing by and look around again.

This is the front. If you turn around at that point, you’ll see a long, lush garden planted on the narrow boulevard that serves as the driving entrance to the property.

South Shore Cultural Center, Chicago 2016The back. Or maybe that’s actually the front, since it faces Lake Michigan. Wendy and Ted stood just inside those large windows to take their vows, while the audience looked toward them and out toward the lake. A very nice setting.
South Shore Cultural Center, Chicago 2016Some deferred maintenance. It’s 100 years old and belongs to the city, after all.
South Shore Cultural Center, Chicago 2016But the inside still looks resplendent. According to the city, “the country club’s membership peaked in the late 1950s. Simultaneously, many African-Americans began settling in South Shore. Because the private club excluded black members, it went out of business in the 1970s. In 1974, the Chicago Park District purchased the property to expand its lakefront facilities.”

I walked all the way around the building and through it, also taking in a few views of the lake from the South Shore Cultural Center. From a rocky shore.
South Shore Cultural Center Chicago 2016 - Lake MichiganFrom the property’s small beach.
South Shore Cultural Center Chicago 2016 - Lake MichiganI sat for a while at a picnic table nearby, and the ambient sound was an audio parfait. The waves crashed against the shore; the wind blew; and the cicadas in the nearby tree made their buzz.

A warm Saturday, but almost no one else was there. Not sure why. It isn’t the best beach on Lake Michigan, but not the worst either. Maybe there were algae blooms in the water or something else noxious that I couldn’t see.

Confederate Mound

Something I didn’t know until I visited Oak Woods Cemetery on Saturday: Confederate Mound, which is within the bounds of the cemetery but on land owned by the federal government, is thought to be the largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere. Not only that, the memorial at the site is the largest one in the North dedicated to Confederate soldiers.

Oak Woods Cemetery, Confderate Mound“Near the southwest corner of Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood [sic] stands a monument dedicated to the thousands of Confederate soldiers who died as prisoners of war at Camp Douglas,” notes the National Park Service. “The monument marks a mass grave containing the remains of more than 4,000 Confederate prisoners, reinterred here from the grounds of the prison camp and the old Chicago City Cemetery.

“Confederate Mound is an elliptical plot, approximately 475 feet by 275 feet, located between Divisions 1 and 2 of Section K.  The most prominent feature of the plot is the Confederate Monument, a 30-foot granite column topped with a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier, a figure based on the painting ‘Appomattox’ by John A. Elder.” (The sculptor doesn’t seem to be known.)

As for Camp Douglas, it “opened in 1861 as a training site for newly recruited soldiers from this area, and part of it would remain so,” says the Chicago Tribune. “It was named for the man who donated its 60 acres of land: Stephen A. Douglas, the politician known as the ‘Little Giant,’ most famous for his 1858 debates for the U.S. Senate with Abraham Lincoln (Douglas won re-election).

“It became a prisoner-of-war camp in early 1862, as 5,000 Confederate soldiers moved in after being captured when Fort Donelson in Tennessee fell to Union troops led by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.”

From there, things at the camp went from bad to very, very bad in short order, as usual for 19th-century POW camps. The result was a mass grave in a corner of Chicago probably unknown to most 21st-century Chicagoans.

At least the Confederate dead are memorialized in a highly visible way, a result of sectional reconciliation late in the 19th century. “General John C. Underwood, a regional head of the United Confederate Veterans, designed the monument and was at its dedication on May 30, 1895, along with President Grover Cleveland and an estimated 100,000 on-lookers,” the NPS says.

“In 1911, the Commission for Marking the Graves of Confederate Dead paid to have the monument lifted up and set upon a base of red granite; affixed to the four sides of the base were bronze plaques inscribed with the names of Confederate soldiers known to be buried in the mass grave.”

Near the Confederate memorial are the graves of 12 guards at the prison who probably were carried off by the same diseases that beleaguered their prisoners. Their stones are all marked Unknown.

Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago, Confederate Mound, Guards GravesThere are also four well-preserved cannons at the site as well.
Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago, Confederate MoundElsewhere at Oak Woods Cemetery are a smaller number of Union graves — as far as possible from Confederate Mound, our guide pointed out (sectional reconciliation only went so far).
Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago - Union gravesIf I remember correctly, they were residents of a Chicago old soldier’s home, and so their burials were a good bit later than the Confederates’ (as at the Texas State Cemetery). A weather-worn soldier watches over them.
OLYMPOak Woods Cemetery Chicago - Union gravesUS DIGITAL CAMERASo does Lincoln, in an unusual posture for depictions of the 16th president.
Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago - Union graves - Lincoln Statue Post 91 of the Department of Illinois GAR put up the statue, which is a copy of a statue erected in 1903 near Pana, Ill. The sculptor was Charles Mulligan, who also did “Lincoln, The Railsplitter” in Garfield Park.

One more stone at Oak Woods, though it has nothing to do with the Civil War. It’s a memorial to railroad engineer Cale Cramer.
Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago - Cale Cramer memorialSacred to the memory of
who lost his life by saving
the train at York, Indiana
July 27 1887.
Aged 37 years, 1 month
and 11 days.

Oak Wood Cemetery Chicago - Cale Cramer memorialIt was a story I’d never heard before. tells us that “Cale Cramer’s monument resembles a pile of disassembled locomotive parts. Cramer was an engineer for New York Central. On July 27, 1887, Cramer stayed at his post as another train approached. Attempting to prevent a head-on collision, he activated the brakes and shut off the steam. Cramer was killed in the crash, but had reduced speed enough that his passengers escaped without injury. The passengers raised funds to provide this monument.”

Oak Woods Cemetery

Large thunderstorm during the mid-afternoon today following a clear morning. That wasn’t so odd, but when I checked the radar maps it looked like only the northwestern suburbs were getting any rain at all. The storm also decided to linger here, and pour and pour, rather than race to the southeast as usual.

Oak Woods Cemetery occupies about 183 acres on the South Side of Chicago, only a short distance southwest of Jackson Park and about a mile west of Lake Michigan. On Saturday morning, I got up earlier than usual, drove down to Oak Woods and joined a Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of the cemetery. No one else in my house was interested, so I went by myself.

Skies were overcast, but at least the rains had stopped. Oak Woods, founded in 1853 south of the city — I believe it wasn’t in the city proper until the great annexation of 1889 — was part of the 19th-century vogue for park-like cemeteries. Which it remains to this day, green and leafy in late summer.

Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago 2016Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago 2016 To design the place, the founders of the cemetery tapped one Adolph Strauch, a Prussian landscape architect who did parks and park-like cemeteries in the United States (Ve vill haf Ordnung, he was known to mutter). He was especially active in Cincinnati, but in Chicago, Strauch also did the highly picturesque Graceland Cemetery, the North Side equivalent of Oak Woods.

Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago 2016Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago 2016There are also a number of water features that add to the overall aesthetic.
Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago 2016The tour was partly concerned with the burial sites of well-known people. Oak Woods has quite a few, such as a number of Chicago mayors. Here’s Big Bill Thompson’s obelisk, for instance.
Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago 2016 - Big Bill ThompsonHere’s Harold Washington.

Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago 2016 - Harold WashingtonOther notable markers we saw included baseball player Cap Anson; Bishop Louis Henry Ford, head of the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ; John H. Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet magazines; Rep. James R. Mann, who lent his name to the Mann Act; Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, star of the Negro League; and activist Ida B. Wells.

Along with Jesse Owens.
Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago - Jesse OwensAs well as Illinois politico Roland Burris. Former Sen. Burris, it should be noted, is still alive. He’s planning ahead with a sizable tomb detailing some of his career in stone, in a way that earned him a fair amount of ridicule. It did seem like a pompous exercise. Perhaps he doesn’t understand that Death doesn’t care about your CV.

Interesting stones I didn’t get to see included Enrico Fermi, Nancy Green, Chicago Mayor Monroe Heath, and pre-Capone Outfit boss Big Jim Colosimo, who was rubbed out in 1920. Or the monument and flag for the 16 firefighters and workers who died fighting the blaze at the Cold Storage Building at the World’s Fair on July 10, 1893.

Off in a corner of the property is a small, separate Jewish cemetery, fenced off probably to discourage vandals from disturbing the stones.
Jewish cemetery near Oak Woods ChicagoReminded me a bit of the old Jewish cemetery in Krakow, though that’s had a few more centuries to age.

Penn Station 1956

On their return from Europe in the summer of ’56, my family passed through New York. I have some of my father’s slides from that moment, including one he took of Penn Station — the lost, lamented Penn Station — less than a decade before it was destroyed.

PennStation56To think what it might look like had it survived. Probably it would have been restored at some point, just like at Grand Central, as I saw it in 2014.

Grand Central Station 2014Not much to say in a case like that except sic transit gloria termini.

Medal Counts and Other Distractions

Just got around to looking at the final Olympic medal totals today, because what’s the hurry? Also, I was intrigued by a headline in The Sporting News — something I rarely look at — that said, “The biggest lie of the Rio Olympics? The medal standings, as usual.”

I started reading that article, but the page started playing a damned video ad that had no mute function. I could have shut it up by muting all the volume on my machine, but I object on principle to videos that play on web sites without being asked, especially those you can’t shut up. So I quieted the thing down by closing the page.

In any case, I’m less interested in the top nations than those who won few or zero medals. Eighty-seven teams won something, a bronze at least, out of 207 participating. Thus the clear majority of teams won nothing to hang around their necks. So it goes.

As for nations that got exactly one bronze, they’re a divers lot: Austria, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, Morocco, Moldova, Nigeria, Portugal, Trinidad & Tobago, and the UAE. Countries that won one silver and nothing else included Burundi, Grenada, Niger, the Philippines and Qatar, and there were even a few countries that won a gold and nothing else: Fiji, Jordan, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Singapore, and Tajikistan.

The Telegraph did some interesting comparisons: medals per capita and medals compared with GDP.

“Grenada is top when it comes to total medals per capita,” The Telegraph noted. “The country has only won one silver, but its small population means that it has won 9.4 medals per million population… Great Britain has achieved one medal per million people, while the USA won 0.4 medals per million and China — the world’s largest country in population — gained 0.05 medals per million.”

Compared to GDP, another small island nation comes out on top: “With its silver medal, the Bahamas comes top for medals compared to its GDP. It has won a rate of 102 medals a per $100bn GDP — despite just winning just one overall. The United States and China perform poorly when comparing their medal count to GDP, with 0.7 and 0.6 medals per $100bn of GDP respectively.”

The Telegraph is distracting. Soon I found myself not reading about the Olympics — a little of that goes a long way — and turned to the obits. Forrest Mars Jr. died this month; I’m surprised there’s enough public information about him to publish a full obit, but here it is.

Also passing this month, David Huddleston, better known as the Big Lebowski. He was definitely not the Dude.

Spotted in the Suburbs Lately

A lot of stealth rain recently, including last night. By that, I mean when I woke up in the morning, the grass and the sidewalks and streets were wet and puddled. At no point in the night did thunder, or even heavy rain, wake me up.

While walking the dog recently, I saw a fellow riding a recumbent bicycle down a wide sidewalk next to one of the larger streets. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those. Not here in the suburbs; probably along Lake Shore Drive’s bicycle trail. He was going down a slope, so it looked fun. Not sure how much fun it would be going uphill.

Also on a suburban sidewalk: a old black banana peel. Does anyone actually slip on them? I might have, if I hadn’t seen it. But it stood out against the light-colored walk.

Not long ago, I went to buy gas at a station I sometimes go to, only because it’s close, since its prices are mysteriously higher than most other stations in the area. Occasionally you see those yellow signs letting you know that one pump is out of order. At the station I saw one, and then another and another and another. All of the pumps were labeled out of order. That was a first for that place. The old Soviet approach to gas stations, or maybe the more recent Venezuelan approach.

Postcards from politicos are arriving in numbers now. Large ones, 8.5 by 11 inches. It took me a moment to realize why that might be a good size. As standard letter size, cheaper to print. Also, more space to say (about your opponent) that you could carve a better man out of a banana.

Departures and Arrivals

Been reading Departures and Arrivals by Eric Newby (1999) lately. It was his last book, and gives the impression that Newby and his publisher had a conversation something like this:

Publisher: Newby, old man, have you got anything new for us?

Newby: I’m afraid not. As you know, Wanda and I are getting on.

Publisher: Nothing at all?

Newby: Well, there’s always something. I’ve a few files of unpublished pieces.

Publisher: Places you’ve written about before?

Newby: Some of them yes, some no.

Publisher: Let’s see what we can do with that.

So the book reads mostly like a series of diary entries. Mind you, these are Eric Newby’s, so they’re really good diary entries, including items about traveling to places that no sane person would now visit, such as Syria. Also, many of the items were about trips he took in the 1980s and ’90s — times and a few places (England, China) I have first-hand experience with, unlike the Hindu Kush in the 1950s. Somehow it feels different when you read about a more familiar time, even if the place is unfamiliar.

Speaking of reading material, I’ve been receiving AARP’s magazine lately. It’s well edited, of course, since the organization probably devotes more resources to its production than most magazines get. But it also has the same irritating tendency as many other mags to focus on celebrities. I can’t say that I care much what Cyndi Lauper (for example) thinks about life, now that she’s pushing 65 pretty hard.

Even so, AARP is a lobbying group I can get behind as I get older.

Buses on I-57

Cool over the weekend, at least for August, so actually fairly pleasant. Last week I started noticing peewee football players practicing in the park. Summer’s dwindling.

Last Thursday I needed to be back home by early evening after driving to Champaign, so I didn’t spend quite as much time looking around there as I wanted. For instance, very near campus is the Mount Hope Cemetery, which was a burying ground before Illinois established any kind of higher education in the area. I drove by it, but didn’t stop. This time.

On the way back, I noticed two buses of interest. Here’s the Mark Kirk campaign bus.

Mark Kirk bus 2016Kirk is in a tight race against Tammy Duckworth to retain his U.S. Senate seat. That’s the important race in Illinois this year, since the next race for governor won’t be for two years, and there’s no doubt that the state will vote for Clinton for president. I checked, and the Kirk campaign bus had been in Champaign that day.

At the rest stop north of Kankakee, I took note of a parked bus, the likes of which I’d seen only a few months ago.

Another Megabus. Been a long time since I’ve ridden an intercity bus, but maybe I will again sometime, just to see how Megabus compares with the Greyhounds I used to take sometimes.

Monterrey 1947

Sixty-nine years ago this month, seated in a beer garden in Monterrey, Mexico: my great-aunt Claudia, grandfather, aunt Sue, a friend of theirs, my mother and my grandmother. At that particular moment, my mother was newly graduated from college.

Aug1947I don’t know much about their visit to Monterrey. I don’t remember my mother ever mentioning the trip, or expressing any desire to visit Mexico again, though just to judge by this single picture, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I can’t even remember when I first heard about the trip, but it wasn’t until well after I was grown. Just goes to show you that you can’t really know that much, except maybe in outline, about your parents’ lives before you were born.

Lilly Goes to College

Lilly’s now a student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. From now on, August 18, 2016 will be the day she went to college. My own such day, August 25, 1979, is a little hazy, since it was long enough ago that I flew Braniff to Nashville get there.

A little more recently, on August 18, 2003, I wrote, “More importantly this morning, I dropped by Lilly’s soon-to-be elementary school to register her for kindergarten. A brick edifice probably built at about the same time as the neighborhood in mid- to late-1960s, the school had that elementary school feel to it, as if it were too small for you, an adult, even though you had no trouble walking in the door.”

UIUC isn’t that far away. I drove her down in the early morning and came back in the late afternoon, covering about 350 miles all together. It was a hot day in Champaign — her dorm is on the Champaign side of campus — for moving stuff into rooms.
UIUCSaw some odd things going in, such as four 36-bottle cases of drinking water, and some decadent items no dorm room should have, such as a large-screen TV. But on the whole, the process went smoothly.

This is her dorm.

UIUCIt has that 1960s vibe, not in any countercultural sense, but in that it looks like it was built then. So it was, in about 1960.

Here’s a detail I like, on top of the roof.

UICUI told Lilly the speaker was to wake up the dorm at 5 a.m. for morning exercises on the parade ground and a few minutes of revering Fearless Leader. She’s heard ideas like that all her life.

It occurred to me that going away to school isn’t quite what it used to be, besides big TVs. There seem to be fewer surprises now, for one thing. Lilly had already met her roommate, another girl from the Chicago suburbs. When I got to my room, I opened the door and there was another lad in the room — I didn’t even know his name before I met him. Maybe I could have asked beforehand by mail, but it never would have occurred to me to do that.

There’s also more connectivity these days. It’s easy for these students to connect to their past, either family or friends. Less so in 1979. I can’t remember how often I called home. Once a month? I wrote a letter or two a month as well, and I’m certain some (most) kids didn’t even do that. But I told Lilly there was no need for constant updates. This is no time to start helicoptering.

Lilly in her room. Note the walls of the room are cinderblock.

Lilly I was glad to see that. A mark of austerity. That’s the way a dorm should be.