Roadside Wisconsin, Part 1: “The World’s Largest Penny”

Roadside America and I go back a ways, even before it was a web site. I bought an edition of it when it was a book, sometime in the 1990s at some remainder table. Now of course it’s a sprawling web site whose wisdom I occasionally consult.

I’m pretty sure that’s where I first heard about the “World’s Largest Penny.” That object can be found in Woodruff, Wisconsin. Traveling via US 51, we passed through Woodruff, a town in Oneida County, on the way to the UP and on the way home. On the way home, I watched for a sign pointing to the “World’s Largest Penny.” I wasn’t disappointed.

A block off US 51, at 3rd Ave. and Hemlock St., is the “penny.”
World's Largest Penny, Woodruff, WisconsinA sidewalk from the edge of the intersection leads up to the object, and behind it is senior housing. I’ll be nitpicky and insist that it’s a depiction of a penny, of which it might well be the largest anywhere. It’s made of painted concrete, for one thing. And even as a depiction, it’s only half there: expecting a wheat penny reserve, I went to the other side and found it blank. All you get is the Lincoln observe.

Still, the town’s heart is in the right place with its penny-depicting concrete object. The sign next to it (all sic) says:

THE MILLION PENNY PARADE

Dr. Kate NewComb had a dream — a hospital for the Lakeland area. Through contributions and volunteer help, the hospital was started. Because of the lack of funds the building was discontinued. Pennies would now help the compete the hospital.

The pupils of the geometry class of Arbor Vitae – Woodruff School wanted to see a million of something. Their teacher, Otto Burich, suggested that they collect pennies for the new hospital. The Million Penny Parade was launched.

In March of 1954, Dr. Kate went to a Doctors convention in California. She was a surprise guest on the T.V. program, “The is Your Life.” Because of her appearance people all over the country sent money for the hospital. With this money, amounting to $106,000 the hospital was completed and equipped.

As a result of this Penny Parade, the residents of this area had the beginning of the present Lakeland Memorial Hospital. This Penny is dedicated to the work of Dr. Kate and the people of the community who helped make the hospital a realty.

Donated by eighth grade class of 1969.

On a small plaque below the “penny” itself is a mention of the Woodruff-Arbor Vitae High School, as well as a Lions Club emblem. Perhaps the club had something to do with erecting “The World’s Largest Penny.”

A more detailed and somewhat different history of the fundraising efforts to build the hospital is at the web site of the Dr. Kate Museum, which isn’t far from the “penny.” Dr. Kate Newcomb (1886-1956) was apparently beloved in her time as a roving North Woods doctor. Remarkably, a clip of her on This is Your Life is posted on YouTube.

On Hemlock St. leading up to the “World’s Largest Penny,” Dr. Kate is also honored by painted images of snowshoe prints. Her nickname was “Angel on Snowshoes.”

Kate Newcomb Painted Snowshoe Prints, Woodruff, WisconsinThe small museum honoring Dr. Kate is off in that direction, but we didn’t spend any time at it. One more nit to pick: whoever painted the prints made it look like Dr. Kate hopped through the North Woods to see her patients.

Ironwood Public Art, Except For the World’s Tallest Indian

Yesterday, the Space Weather Prediction Center, a branch of NOAA, had this to say: “A watch has been issued for likely G2 (Moderate) geomagnetic storm conditions on 16 Jul and early on 17 Jul.” Thus the Aurora Borealis might thus just be visible at my latitude, according to the map. So at about 11:45 pm on July 16, I went outside and looked north. No dice.

But I’m glad the Space Weather Prediction Center is a real thing. It’s something we (humankind) should have in the 21st century.

Ironwood, pop. somewhat less than 6,000, is Michigan’s westernmost town, on the east bank of the Montreal River, which flows into Lake Superior not far away and is the border with Wisconsin. On the morning of Sunday, July 2, we stopped there to look for coffee for Yuriko.

We were unsuccessful in that, but we had a few moments to look around. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the World’s Tallest Indian. That’s what I get for not looking up what’s to see in a town before I go.

I did see the Ironwood Area Historical Society and the Historic Depot Museum. Being Sunday morning, it was closed, but it looked like a fine old depot, dating from the 1890s.
Ironwood, Michigan DepotThe Ironwood Area Historical Society says, “Its architecture is true to its Richardson Romaneque origins. The exterior is baked-red brick above and a heavy base of Lake Superior sandstone from the brownstone quarries located on the mainland and Apostle Islands near Bayfield in Northern Wisconsin. The Ironwood depot is a stunning structure with three tapering roof lines, including an unusual hipped, cross dormer and a signature finial cupola reflecting flanged rail wheels crowning the pinnacle.”

On the grounds is a statue — a carving, really, made from a tree trunk — of what appear to be three workingmen from the Ironwood past, one a miner, another a lumberman. Not sure about the third, but certainly some kind of hard 19th-century job.

Ironwood Depot Park tree carving

Ironwood Depot Park tree carvingI didn’t see any information about who carved the thing, or whether it has a title. It wasn’t created from an old tree that grew on the site, even though it looks like that. I know because if you check Google StreetView for that short stretch of S. Suffolk St., there’s no tree at all there, nor a carving. Google came by in September 2008. Guess even information behemoths can’t be everywhere on a regular basis.

At the intersection of S. Suffolk and E. McLeod Ave., a few blocks from the depot and the wooden workers, there’s a small building. According to Google’s nine-year-old information, its wall facing McLeod is long and painted white.

Not any more.
Miners Mural, Ironwood, MichiganA remarkable mural. I was thoughtless not to take a longer look at it. A mural of Ironwood miners, back when Ironwood miners dug into the earth looking for iron. A detail:
Miners Mural, Ironwood, MichiganRoadside America says: “Artists Kelly Meredith and Sue Martinsen spent over four years researching and painting the mural, which depicts over 100 real miners. It was unveiled on June 16, 2012, and proved so popular as a photo-op that in 2013 the city created a car-free zone in front of the mural. A booklet available in Ironwood provides biographies of each of the miners.”

Sixth St., Calumet, Michigan

From Houghton-Hancock and the Quincy Mine, the town of Calumet isn’t far north on the Keweenaw Peninsula. I was half-expecting something like Houghton, mainly because I didn’t do much research beforehand. None, really. But I’ve owned a postcard depicting the Calumet Theater for a long time, and I knew I wanted to see that.

So we did. It’s a fine old building. Wish it had been open for a look-see inside.

Calumet Theater, Michigan

Copper fortunes built the Calumet. A local architect named Charles K. Shand designed it. The historical marker next to it says, in part: “One of the first municipal theaters in America, the Calumet opened on March 20, 1900, ‘the greatest social event ever known in copperdom’s metropolis.’ The theater contained a magnificent stage and elegant interior decorations, including an electrified copper chandelier.”

The theater’s web site says: “The Theatre opened… with a touring Broadway production of Reginald DeKoven’s The Highwaymen. In the ensuing years, the Theatre’s marquee read like a Who’s Who of American Theatre: Madame Helena Modjeska, Lillian Russell, John Phillip Sousa, Sarah Bernhardt, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Lon Chaney, Sr., Jason Robards, Sr., James O’Neill, William S. Hart, Frank Morgan, Wallace and Noah Beery.

“With the decline of copper mining and the local economy, and the advent of motion pictures, stage productions became less common in the late 1920s. From the depression through the late 1950s, it was almost exclusively a movie theatre…

“The auditorium was renovated for the village’s centennial in 1975, and the exterior was restored in 1988-89. The technical and code improvements and backstage reconstruction have just been completed.” These days, the theater holds 50 to 60 events a year, including plays, movies and concerts.

The theater is on Sixth St. in Calumet. The street hasn’t evolved into a day-trippers shopping district, but it does have some other interesting buildings, dating from copper times, from the looks of them.

Calumet, MichiganCalumet, Michigan Sixth StreetCalumet, Michigan Sixth Street

The buildings of Sixth St. also sport a few ghost signs.Ghost Sign, Calumet MichiganVertin’s Department Store (since 1885, headquarters for Lee overalls, union made). The store turns out to have been located in the building pictured above, between the Sixth St. streetscape and the Michigan House Cafe & Red Jacket Brewing Co. This is an example of the kind of thing I learn from a trip after I’ve gotten home. I didn’t know what I was looking at when I stood across the street from the former Vertin’s on the afternoon of July 1. Now I do.

The Vertins were Slovenian immigrants to copper country in the 1870s, and rather than mine themselves, they enterprisingly sold goods to miners and their families. Remarkably, the store endured until the 1980s. More about them is in this article in Copper Country Explorer.

This ghost sign has advertised, through many UP summers and hard winters, for a widely available product: Pillsbury Best flour.

Calumet, Michigan Ghost Sign Pillsbury

Slute’s Saloon has been a saloon, though not under that name, and as the sign says, since 1890. Curiously enough, a descendant of the Vertins is one of the partners in the business, at least according to this 2010 article. A look inside is here.

After I got home, I learned that George Gipp was from nearby Larium, Mich. — where you can find the George Gipp Recreation Area & Ice Arena — and is buried in Calumet. Dang. That would have been something to know beforehand, but you can never really prepare for going somewhere new. Still, I’d have looked for the Gipper’s grave had I known. It isn’t everyone who can inspire motivational speeches down the decades.

Millennium Carillon, Naperville

Near Riverwalk Park in Naperville is the Millennium Carillon, which is in a 160-foot structure called Moser Tower. Though the tower wasn’t completed until 2007, work began in 1999 and it must have been partially finished soon after, because I’m pretty sure we listened to its bells as part of the city’s Independence Day celebration in 2001, or maybe 2002.
Millennium Carillon, NapervilleIt’s possible to pay $3 and take a tour of the tower, but I didn’t have time for it on Friday. It’s 253 steps up to its observation deck, so we better visit before we get much older. Also, before the tower gets much older. It’s possible the tower will be gone in a few years.

“Cracks and deterioration of its concrete walls could cause pieces to fall ‘without notice,’ and corrosion of structural steel connections could decrease the building’s stability, a consultant found in a two-year, $50,000 study of the tower’s condition,” Marie Wilson writes in the Daily Herald.

“Options include fixing the structure and maintaining it as-is, fixing it and improving the base to help prevent future corrosion, or maintaining it for a while and then tearing it down.”

Such problems after only 10 years. Luckily, nothing fell without notice when I visited (though shouldn’t that be “without warning”?). I’m not a structural engineer, but it sounds like corners were cut during the original building. Of course, it was a money problem.

“The most expensive options would involve upgrading the bottom of the tower to match original designs by Charles Vincent George Architects, which called for the lower 72 feet and 9 inches to be enclosed in glass and temperature-controlled, Novack said.

“Enclosure plans were scrapped when the Millennium Carillon Foundation, which conducted the first phase of work in 1999 to 2001, ran of out of money.”

According to the Naperville Park District, the Millennium Carillon is the fourth largest in North America and one of the “grand” carillons of the world, featuring 72 bells spanning six octaves. Didn’t hear the bells during this visit. Concerts are inconveniently on weekday evenings. Inconvenient for non-residents, that is.

Near the tower is a bronze of Harold and Margaret Moser, who ponied up $1 million for the tower’s construction.
Harold & Margaret Moser statueBeginning after WWII — and that was the time to subdivide in earnest out in the suburbs — Harold Moser was a major residential developer in Naperville, credited with building at least 10,000 houses in the area. His nickname was Mr. Naperville, and a plaque on the back of the statue calls them Mr. and Mrs. Naperville.

They both died in 2001. The statue, by Barton Gunderson, dates from 2009.

Mr. & Mrs. Naperville

It’s fitting to honor the Mosers in bronze, but their smiles are a little unnerving.

Bremen, West Germany, 1983

Around this time of the year 34 years ago, I spent a couple of days in the north German city of Bremen. City-state, actually: Freie Hansestadt Bremen, the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. Once a state in the German Confederation, then a component state of the German Empire, it was merely a city according to the Nazis. Since 1947, it’s been a state again, the smallest in area of the Federal Republic.

Odd, Bremen and Hamburg got to be states again, but not poor old Lübeck. Such are the vagaries of history.

I had a fine time. How could I not? I was a young man with exactly nothing else to do at that moment but see a new city in an interesting old country. I was a free man in Bremen/I felt unfettered and alive… Well, that lyric wouldn’t have quite the same vibe, but that’s not too far off. Anyway, my tourist impulse was in full flower.

This is David and me. He was the brother of a New Yorker friend of mine in Germany, Debbie. Mostly I was by myself in Bremen, but I met up with them toward the end of my visit. The background is the Schnoor, more about which later.
BremenJuly2.83The following is an edited version of what I wrote at the time.

“Rode a morning train from Lüneburg to Hamburg-Harburg. Some punkish fellows sat across from me: colorful pants & leather jackets with steel studs & short, almost crewcut hair with a mandatory earring each. One wore a digital watch.

“At Hamburg-Harburg, I had 40 minutes to wait. I met a fellow, more conventionally dressed and only a little older than I am, who spoke British English so well I wasn’t sure whether he was British or German for a few minutes. Turned out he was from near Lübeck. His book for the ride was an English-language edition of The Lord of the Rings. The German translation, he told me, ‘is rubbish.’ We talked about a number of other things as well. He told me he didn’t like the prospect of Pershing IIs stationed in West Germany, but he thought they were necessary.

“At Bremen I exited the station, got a map, and experienced the first-time rush of a new place. You aren’t tired, you feel open to the world, you want to look at everything you pass by. I crossed downtown Bremen’s large fussgangerplatz, walked by shops and goods and people, and enjoyed the sights and sounds. That kind of rush doesn’t last long, but it’s great while it does.

“I found the Judenherberger, an ugly squarish building between downtown and the industrial Weser riverside. Check-in wasn’t until 1:30, so I sat under a bridge near St. Stephen’s and ate the bread and wurst I brought. The brot was a little dry and the wurst something like raw hamburger, but I needed the sustenance.

“Then I checked in and began wandering. I found the Rathaus first, then the famous 1404 statue of Roland. I spent a good while in Bremen Cathedral (St. Petri Dom zu Bremen), marveling at its intricate, aesthetic wonders, such as the painted pillars and the statues illustrating the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Went to the crypt, thought to be the oldest room in Bremen, dedicated in 1066.

“Sometimes I mulled a bit gloomily that time will sooner or later reduce the cathedral to dust — via nuclear attack in August or 10,000 years of erosion or something. But it’s here, now, and so am I. Before I left, I bought a little book about the cathedral.
Bremen Cathedral“Not long after I left, I spotted a series of white dots painted on the sidewalk, with the words Zum Schnoor –> every 30 or 40 feet to go with them. I followed them to the Schnoor. I’d heard that the Schnoor was the oldest surviving section of the city, and so it seems. The Schnoor is focused on a narrow street of that name, lined with aged shops and other buildings. Some of the side streets are even narrower, barely wide enough for two people to pass.

“En route to a church I never got into because it was always locked, I came across Böttcherstraße. Every ten feet or so is another work by one Bernhard Hoetger, some interesting stuff dating from pre-you-know-who Weimar years. Apparently the Nazis didn’t much like the works, but they survived them and the war. [Brick Expressionism, I’ve read, is the term, at least for some of the buildings.] There was also a small cinema tucked away in the area. Showing that evening: Death in Venice. An Italian movie with German subtitles, probably, or dubbed in German. I decided not to go.

“I walked further afield, near some small city lakes, and then to the Übersee Museum Bremen, near the main train station. It’s an ethnographic museum, complete with huts from New Guinea, a Japanese shrine with a manicured garden and a pond with goldfish, and a elegant Burmese temple. All of the labels were in German, but that didn’t matter much [I experienced something similar some years later at the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka.]

“There was a special exhibit of schoolchildren’s paintings: ‘Japanese kids see us and German kids see Japan.’ A funny mix of cultural and political images, mostly, tending toward the stereotypical. My favorite was a Japanese drawing of a German with a grinning Volkswagen for a head, eating sausage and drinking beer. Hitler’s face and swastikas were common, as was Beethoven’s face, and some drawings showed Germany torn between the Stars & Stripes and the Hammer & Sickle.

“After the museum I had dinner at the Restaurant Belgrade. For DM 16, I had an excellent Hungarian goulash, potatoes, salad, bread and beer. Returned to the hostel at about 10, very tired, and went to sleep almost at once.

“At breakfast at the hostel I talked with a Japanese girl who’d been to the Bremen Geothe Institut and who was about to go home. She was pleasant, and showed me postcards of Japan. After checking out, I wandered the streets on the other side of the Weser a while, then at 10 took a harbor cruise.

“It was a busy place, with ships from all over, and vast industrial areas along the banks, including a huge drydock belonging to Krupp, and a Kellogg’s factory with enormous murals of Tony the Tiger and Snap, Crackle & Pop on its side. I couldn’t catch a lot of the narration, but it seemed mostly about ship sizes and carrying capacities, so I didn’t mind.

“Back on land, I visited the church opposite the Dom, Unser Lieben Frauen Kirche, the second-oldest church in the city, and not as ornate as the cathedral. I took a tour of the Rathaus, and as Steve promised, the place has remarkable woodwork. For example, the puti-like faces on some of the chairs managed to have lustful and leering expressions. The Rathaus also has a fine collection of model ships, mostly the 17th-century Bremen fleet, and an assortment of portraits of Holy Roman Emperors.

“As if that wasn’t enough, I then went to the Ludwig Roselius Museum, which houses paintings & furniture & gold & maps from the 17th and 18th centuries. Saw the original black painting of Martin Luther that I’ve seen reproduced a number of other places [Lucas Cranach].

“My energy was low by this time, but I walked some more, returning to the Böttcherstraße at 3 and hearing the chimes of the Glockenspiel House and seeing the rotating woodcarvings of explorers and airmen. Met Debbie and David soon after, and we repaired to a nearby cafe for beer. They’d been there the day. Returned to Lüneburg soon after on a faster direct train, and had dinner together at another Yugoslav restaurant. For DM 14, got Serbian combo of meat, rice and beans, along with beer.”

One more thing. In Bremen, near the Schnoor, I found a memorial I didn’t expect. I made notes about it in my Bremen Cathedral book, which is what I had at hand.
Bremen CathedralUnsere Jüdischen mitbürger

Martha Goldberg
Dr. Adolf Goldberg
Heinrich Rosenblum
Leopold Sinasohn
Selma Swinitzki

Wurden in dieser Stadt in der Nacht vom 9. zum 10.11.1938 ermordet.

Murdered during Kristallnacht, in other words. This is what the plaque looks like. Remarkably, Adolf Goldberg has a Wiki page, which also tells me that the memorial was erected in 1982, only a short time before I saw it.

The Last Gasp of the Federal Works Agency

Not something you see everyday: a plaque marking a project by the Federal Works Agency. But there it was last weekend for me to see, at the Chicago subway station of the CTA Blue Line (O’Hare-Forest Park).

Federal Works Agency plaque, Chicago StationThe Federal Works Agency only lasted until 1949, but it’s a safe assumption that the subway construction project started under its aegis in the late ’40s, so it was thought fitting to use the name even in 1950. The agency had been created as a part of a major federal government reorganization in 1939, authorized by Congress and overseen by the executive branch.

To quote President Roosevelt, in his message to Congress on the Reorganization Act of 1939: “[The FWA will include] the Bureau of Public Roads, now in the Department of Agriculture; the Public Buildings Branch of the Procurement Division, now in the Treasury Department, and the Branch of Buildings Management of the National Park Service… now in the Department of the Interior; the United States Housing Authority, now in the Department of the Interior; the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works; and the Works Progress Administration, except the functions of the National Youth Administration.”

Various additions and subtractions were made to that list until 1949, when the FWA’s remaining functions were parceled out to other agencies, as well as the newly created General Services Administration. As federal bureaucracies go, the FWA had a fruit-fly lifespan.

With a 10-year run, there couldn’t be that many FWA plaques. Certainly not as many as the GSA — nearly 70 years now — or even the WPA or the CCC, which also had short runs, but were really busy in their heydays. So maybe in the hobby of plaque-spotting the FWA is a nice find.

If there is such a hobby. Surely someone looks for plaques in a more enthusiastic or systematic way than I do. And is Blue Plaque-spotting a thing in the UK, or does this Spectator article merely refer to casually walking by them?

The Driehaus Museum

A fine Solstice. Clear and not particularly hot, followed by a short cool night.

The least plutocrats can do for posterity is build lavish, highly aesthetic houses that, decades or even centuries later, are restored and open to the public in one way or another. I suspect modern magnates, business tycoons, and captains of industry are mostly failing in this regard.

Late 19th-century and early 20th-century plutocrats, on the other hand, did not shrink from their duty along these lines. They might have imagined they were celebrating their worldly success in a highly visible way, and maybe they were, but sic transit gloria mundi. Beyond their own time and concerns, they were leaving something for later hoi polloi to ogle.

I will give Richard Dreihaus his due, however. I’m not sure he counts as a plutocrat, but he is a wealthy fund manager of our time. He might not have built a lavish house — or maybe it’s still private — but in any case, he managed to restore the Samuel M. Nickerson House at 40 E. Erie St. on the Near North Side of Chicago to its Gilded Age glory.

Now it stands, stocked with fine art and objets d’art, for the hoi polloi to see (for a fee). Hoi polloi such as Yuriko and I on Sunday afternoon, when we visited the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, which occupies the Nickerson House.

Richard H. Driehaus Museum

Chicago magazine in 2007 on the philanthropist: “Driehaus, the founder of Driehaus Capital Management… is no ordinary preservationist. He is a man who can afford to indulge his passions — for art, for parties, but mainly for restoring historic architecture — on a boundless scale, as anyone who has visited his many residences and offices around the world can attest.

“In the past two decades, Driehaus has emerged as one of Chicago’s most prominent advocates for historic preservation. He has also taken a leading role in encouraging the city and public institutions and groups to adopt a more design-centered approach to civic projects.”

Driehaus bought the building at 40 E. Erie St. in the early 2000s, when it was being used as an art gallery, and spent a good deal restoring it, including cleaning the exterior, which I’ve read was black from a century-plus of pollution. Considering its location on Erie, I’m sure that I walked and rode by the building any number of times in the 1980s and ’90s — and took exactly no note of it.

Since 2011, it’s been open to the public as the Driehaus Museum. I still took no note of it until last year, when I was walking by and saw its sign. Museum? This is a museum? Since when? Even in the Internet age, it’s hard to keep track of things.

Samuel M. Nickerson was a successful banker in early Chicago who tasked Edward J. Burling of the firm of Burling and Whitehouse to build him a mansion, which was completed in 1883. Burling had a long career in Chicago, with many of his buildings destroyed by the Fire.

The Nickerson House rooms feature 17 types of marble, along with onyx, alabaster, carved and inlaid wood, glazed and patterned tiles, mosaics, and Lincrusta, which was brand-new to the United States at the time. During Nickerson’s time, the place was replete with his and his wife Mathilda’s artwork, later donated to the Art Institute. Driehaus not only restored the house to its Gilded Age look, after years as office space and other uses, but made it into museum space for his collection of art from the period.

The museum says: “When the Driehaus Collection was formed during the early 1970s, acquisitions focused primarily on Art Nouveau posters by Alphonse Mucha and his contemporaries. From that essential core, the collection has grown to include master works of design by such Belle Epoque luminaries as Louis Majorelle, the Herter Brothers, Édouard Colonna, John La Farge, Emile Gallé, and Josef Hoffmann. In addition to these important holdings, the Driehaus Collection is one of the country’s leading private collections of works by preeminent American decorative designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.”

The lighting was good for looking, less so for non-flash photography. I got a few half-decent images, mostly of some of the artwork or room details, but not the rooms.

Richard H. Driehaus MuseumRichard H. Driehaus MuseumRichard H. Driehaus MuseumThat statue is in the Gallery Room. Always good to have a reminder of the Psyche and Eros story around. I especially liked the fireplace behind it.

Richard H. Driehaus MuseumThe fireplace was put in by the second owner of the house, paper baron Lucius Fisher. He also had the distinction of commissioning Daniel Burnham to do the excellent Fisher Building, which still stands in the South Loop.

The fire surround, dating from 1901, was by Giannini & Hilgart, done in lacquered cherry and iridescent glass. Remarkably, traces of that operation remain on line. The studio also did the striking glass dome in the same room as the fireplace. Looks like Tiffany, but no.

Whatever else you can say about the Gilded Age, its aesthetics were first-rate, if you had the scratch for that kind of thing. A better look at the interior is this WTTW production, but even so it’s a pale substitute for being there.

Wicker Park, The Neighborhood & Wicker Park, The Park

Juneteenth has come around again. We need more holidays in the summer, and that would be a good one, celebrating human freedom.

We went to the city on Sunday, giving me an opportunity to wander around Wicker Park on a warm but not too hot day. I visited both places of that name. Wicker Park’s both a fashionable area — which it was not 30 years ago, when I first lived in Chicago — and the name of a smallish triangular park within the neighborhood.

The intersection of North, Damen and Milwaukee is part of the neighborhood, but I didn’t hang around there much this time. Instead, I walked along some of the side streets. Much of the residential North Side of Chicago looks like this in June.
Wicker Park June 2017The handsome Wicker Park Lutheran Church is at 1502 N. Hoyne Ave.
Wicker Park Lutheran ChurchIt was already closed by the time I got there, but the interior looks like this.

The building dates from 1906, though the congregation goes back to 1879. “It boasts a basilica design, with double colonnades and an apse, a style used in ancient Rome for courts of law or places of public assembly,” notes the church web site. “The two towers are based on those of Abbey of Sainte-Trinité (the Holy Trinity), also known as Abbaye aux Dames, in Caen, France, which was built in the 11th century.”

A few blocks to the east is Wicker Park, the park. It isn’t one of Chicago’s great parks, but it is pleasant on a warm summer Sunday, well stocked with people and their dogs enjoying the warm summer Sunday. The park has some trees, a lush garden sporting flowers and bushes, a field house, a modest water fountain, and some open lawn.

There’s also a statue of Charles Gustavus Wicker (1820-1889), complete with stovepipe hat, heavy coat and broom. It’s been in the park since 2006.
Charles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoCharles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoThere’s a plaque at the feet of Wicker that asserts that he was an important figure in the development of this part of Chicago. In fact, it’s a lot like a press release in bronze, this plaque. A sample: “The broom symbolizes his initiative and readiness to take personal responsibility. He, and people like him, established Chicago, where all who truly do their best will continue to make this unique community a place of opportunity with justice, freedom, and equality for everyone.”

About Charles and his brother Joel Wicker, the Chicago Park District says: “In 1870, when businessmen and developers Charles G. and Joel H. Wicker began constructing drainage ditches and laying out streets in their subdivision, they donated a four-acre parcel of land to the city to be used as a public park.

“Fencing the triangular site to keep cows out, the city created an artificial lake in the center of the park, surrounding it with lawn and trees. As the Wickers had hoped, the area developed into a fashionable middle- and upper-class neighborhood.”

Further discussion of Wicker and his brother is at the Chicagoist. A few years ago, the statue fell down — was knocked down — tumbled down somehow, and there’s a story about that as well. The statue was restored, of course. Oddly enough, the sculptor who created the statue of Wicker, and pushed for it to be in the park, was a great-granddaughter of his, one Nancy Wicker, who died just last year at over 90.

In one corner of the park, a troupe called Theatre-Hikes was doing a low-budget version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No sets, just costumes. I sat down for a few minutes to watch. I’m no expert on the play — in fact, this is the only live performance I’ve seen of any of it — put I was able (later) to pin down that I’d arrived during Act 3, Scene 1.

Here’s Bottom.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park

Titania and Bottom. Both actors were good, and able to ham it up when the play called for it, to the amusement of all.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park 2017

Titania:
Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes.
Feed him with apricoks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.
The honey bags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night tapers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glowworms’ eyes
To have my love to bed and to arise.

Flag Day, Such As It Is

It occurred to me today, before I went out on some errands and for no particular reason, that it was Flag Day. So I decided to take note driving along whether there seemed to be more American flags than usual flying in my slice of the northwestern suburbs. The answer: not that I could tell.

Adam Goodheart, writing in 2011 in the former NYT blog Disunion, wrote about the origin of the day, which falls on the anniversary of the adoption of the flag by the Second Continental Congress: “It was destined, eventually, to become the runty stepchild among American national holidays. One hundred and fifty years after its original creation, no one ever hosts a Flag Day cookout or sends a Flag Day greeting card. Nobody gets to take a long weekend from the office. Even the most customer-hungry car dealers don’t advertise Flag Day sales.

“…exactly 150 years ago after it was first celebrated [in Hartford, Conn.], almost no one seems to have noticed the anniversary. Google searches for ‘sesquicentennial of Flag Day’ and similar phrases yield exactly zero hits.”

The day might not have endured as much more than text on calendars, but reverence for the flag has very much endured. I didn’t see no U.S. flags during my drive today, just flags where they usually are, which is a lot of places.

“Before 1861, the American flag had served mostly as a military ensign or a convenient marking of American territory, flown from forts, embassies and ships, and displayed on special occasions like the Fourth of July,” wrote Goodheart. “But after the Southern states began to secede — and the Union garrison at Fort Sumter took its stand as a lone bastion of resistance — the Stars and Stripes began to fly, as it still does today, from houses, from storefronts, from churches; above village greens and college quadrangles.”

(And at Ft. Sumter to this day.)

Ft Sumter 2017“The adulation of the national banner hardly diminished during the years that followed… As for Flag Day, it seems to have remained a largely local observance during the Civil War and Reconstruction years, despite occasional efforts in Congress… to have it declared a national holiday. Official federal recognition came only in 1916.

“The holiday’s popularity seems to have crested in the period of the two world wars and the early cold war. Then, for the 1960s generation, it became more or less the epitome of square: a vaguely embarrassing grade-school memory to be filed alongside duck-and-cover drills and mandatory prayers.

“Flag Day never regained much of its former cachet in the decades that followed. And yet, holiday or no holiday, this June 14 — as on all other days of the year — the American flag remains as ubiquitous and as venerated as the most pious citizen of Hartford could have wished in 1861.”

Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, St. Louis

You might call Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum in St. Louis a Mount Auburn-class cemetery, since it dates from the 19th century as a solid example of the rural cemetery movement. Mount Auburn in Boston is the first of the class, dating from 1831. Others are Green-Wood in Brooklyn, Laurel Hill in Philadelphia and Woodland in Dayton, all of which are now surrounded by their respective cities, as Bellefontaine is.

It is a good class. More people ought to visit these places. But as usual, when we were at Bellefontaine on May 26, the only other living souls around were groundskeepers.

The good people of St. Louis got around to founding Bellefontaine in 1849, well outside the existing city, spurred in part by a severe cholera epidemic that year. The further away those bodies were, the better, since the dead helped create the miasma that vexed the living with the likes of cholera. Sure, that wasn’t true, but it must have made intuitive sense in the days before germ theory, and it gave us a roundly beautiful public space.

Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum

Bellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumBellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumBellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumBellefontaine’s web site has a well-written short history of the place, including its founding, the splashy dedication event in 1850, the work of long-time grounds superintendent Almerin Hotchkiss (1816-1903; he still resides at Bellefontaine), and a paragraph about post-Victorian cemetery aesthetics, something I didn’t realize.

“Nearly 50 years after its founding, Bellefontaine was inspired to modernize. Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati and the burgeoning landscape-lawn cemetery design movement ushered in a new aesthetic that replaced ornate and elaborate Victorian fences and hedges with open, cross-lawn views.

“Bellefontaine followed suit by removing hedges, fences, elaborate plantings, and stone copings. Open, cross-lawn views became the more common aesthetic of the cemetery, bringing Bellefontaine in line with modern ideas about cemetery design. The changes also made Bellefontaine appear more open and park-like, creating a more integrated landscape composition than the earlier delineation of individual lots with distinctly defined spaces.”

The cemetery sports a fair amount of funerary art, such as the Hilts memorial, whose angel has spent many years out in the elements.
Bellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumThis memorial says it remembers the “nobelest, dearest, gentlest and most unselfish of women, Ottilie Stephan, wife of Henry Hiemenz Jr.” (1858-1897). Well, let’s hope so.
Bellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumBellefontaine is also known for its mausoleums. Such as one for Ellis Wainwright and family.
Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, Ellis Wainwright“In 1891, St. Louis millionaire and brewer Ellis Wainwright commissioned architect Louis Sullivan to design a tomb for his wife who had died suddenly of peritonitis,” the cemetery tells us. “Sullivan had recently completed the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, which is considered to be the beginning of modern skyscraper design. The mausoleum is a domed cube with simple carved decorations in Sullivan’s signature stylized plant patterns. The mausoleum’s double doors are bronze grills framed by delicate stone carvings. Sullivan’s draftsman for the project was Frank Lloyd Wright.”

The Tate mausoleum is a little different.
Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, Tate tomb“This Egyptian Revival mausoleum, designed by Eames and Young, was built in 1907 by Frank N. Tate, who at the time controlled most of the theater property in St. Louis. He also owned theaters in Chicago and Buffalo, New York…. The mausoleum has an entry flanked by columns with palm capitals. An Egyptian winged disc is flanked by serpents above the entry, and a pair of granite sphinxes guard the front.”