Guardian Lions

Guarding the entrance to a courtyard building in Rogers Park are two winged lions… I think, though they have distinctly dog-like features and teeth that are quite frankly herbivorous. They also somehow look vaguely British in style and so maybe evoking the idea, at least, of St. Mark, who is associated with winged lions for some reason. His feast day is April 25.

You’ll note that, feline or canine, these concrete moldings were intended to feature a light of some sort mounted in the mouth. It looks like they may have been working until fairly recently; in one there are wires with one still capped with an insulator and in the other is the broken base of a bulb of some sort. I can’t see that these would have been directed downward so it would have been more of a decorative feature than light to reassure nervous tenants. It looks like LED lights have replaced them.

It’s quite possible you could find these in some catalogue archived online, but my 15 minutes of noodling about didn’t turn up much that resembled these items. My guess is they date from the 1930s.

Photo by Roman.
Photo by Roman.


It was the play of light and reflected surroundings that drew my attention. Unfortunately, I was a bit quick with the camera and the image was motion blurred. What to do? Maybe motion blurring it more and calling it “Bug’s End”? Didn’t really work. Playing around with other filters brought me to GIMP’s neon edge-detect filter and… voilĂ ! This version, though, brought to mind the stereotypical conservative’s delusion of Chicago… dark with bullet holes… thus the title “Car-cass.”

You’ve heard, perhaps, that some right-wing lunatic state legislator from around Decatur wants to chop off the Chicago metro area into a state separate from Illinois? Apparently they’ve exhausted Illinois State Speaker of the House Michael Madigan as a hate-object so they’re hoping Chicago will better serve, rather like the way conservatives in Arizona and Idaho have begun holding migrant Californians up as a hate object. All I have to say is: Be careful what you wish for.

The original photo is below:

“Bug’s End”? What is the last thing to go through a bug’s mind as it hits the wind shield? If you don’t know the riddle’s answer, be glad. Photo by Roman.

The Bridge to Goose Island

These two photos were taken in 2003 and scanned in 2017. Several years after 2003, Chicago replaced the North Avenue bridge over the Chicago River and as part of the project also replaced the deck of this rail bridge to Goose Island so that it could be used by both trains and pedestrians. People had been using it as a short cut anyway. There was even a year in the 1990s when a homeless fellow built a shack on the span. It eventually burned, as I recall. Lately, I do believe these tracks have been abandoned. The last customer on Goose Island, a lumber yard, closed and the other remaining customer (scrap metal) moved. For a while, some of the trackage was used to store idle freight cars, but I believe the line is now inactive.

This was the last of what had been once a fairly dense network of railroads that complimented the Chicago River as a means of transporting freight. A number of railroad companies actually operated car-float services on the river, delivering railroad cars to isolated customers along the river by barge. These days the river is residential, mostly.

Looking south from North Avenue toward Goose Island in 2003. The one regular customer even then was a lumber yard just south of Division. Photo by Roman.
Looking south at the bridge to Goose Island and the Chicago skyline. The bridge in the picture was an active railroad bridge in 2004 but there are no longer any customers on Goose Island in 2018. Photo by Roman.

The last operator of the tracks around Goose Island was a switching railroad called Chicago Terminal. Aside from being a picturesque item for railroad geeks (street running and gritty industrial landscapes), the operation could be an excellent case study for how to extract every penny from a doomed operation.

During the final days of government micromanagement under the Interstate Commerce Commission,* it wasn’t unusual for railroads to be looted by management and shareholders, regardless of whether the operation was losing money or showing a meager profit. Generally the money was diverted from maintenance to be invested in new, unrelated businesses (as happened with the Chicago & North Western and the Illinois Central) or into dividends (as with the Rock Island). That is not what happened with the Chicago Terminal. Rather, the company inherited property easements on branch trackage that had no customers nor any apparent prospect for customers in the future. If you don’t use the easements, you stand to lose them, one way or another. What to do? Run trains on the track (including one truly epic “inspection” trip with a single passenger car). Park surplus freight cars on the sidings.

For the property speculators and entertainment venue business owners and retail businesses and home owners, this was a serious irritation, something you would likely complain about to the Alderman, and in Chicago, an Alderman is a serious player in negotiating land usage in the ward. If there had been any prospect of new rail customers on those branches, it would have been really foolish to step on these toes. On the other hand, as a “pay me to go away” maneuver, it was really rather clever.

For fellow geeks and foamers out there, this 15 minute 2017 video by “boxcarFrank” of the Chicago Terminal retrieving a dozen or so stored freight cars is an excellent last look at the railroad in operation. I’m not sure, but this video may document one of the last moves on that trackage, though the Chicago Terminal did have another switching operation in suburban Elk Grove Village.


* I phrase it this way deliberately. Usually, the abolition of the Interstate Commerce Commission is referred to as “deregulation.” This has ideological overtones and in any case is untrue. In point of fact, railroads are still regulated, but the Surface Transportation Board that replaced the Commission has far less authority over how the railroads are run.