I have no idea who took this photo. I have only a general idea about when and where the photo was taken. I have no clue as to the identities of the two kids in the photo, never mind the swine.
But first, let me say why I like the photo. The photographer clearly focused on the kid wrestling the pig; that was to be the center of whatever the photographer meant to convey. But in that grand old theatrical tradition of scene-stealing character actors, it is the obvious distress and anxiety of the spectating kid that really deserves your attention. Was he rooting for the boy who had maybe met his match? Was he perhaps thinking that this was a bit too much for any pig to experience? Or maybe he was thinking: I’m up next in the ring…
The pig is greased, you’ll notice. Wrestling greased pigs seems to have been something of a thing for rural county fairs and maybe still today. Why? I’m clueless though maybe it was regarded as a useful skill for future farmers in the Midwest. The photo dates from the 1960s and at that time some of the collar counties in the Chicago metropolitan area were still pretty rural.
I can tell you that the photo is from the 1960s because in 1968 or 1969 some friends of mine and I decided to run a pig as a candidate for student council president, just as Abbie Hoffman and the “Youth International Party” had run a pig for President of the United States. We never did much of anything about our student council candidate and I expect that almost no one outside our small circle even knew about it, but a callow note on the backside of the photo shows I was thinking of the photo as a nice propaganda item. I don’t even recall voting in that election. Or even who the other candidates may have been, never mind the victor. It doesn’t matter.
But I do wonder about that anxious boy watching from outside the ring.
I did make it to this year’s Haymarket memorial. It was a small event with few signs or banners, though there was an inflatable Mother Jones. There were other May Day events around the city, but this annual event has generally had the official blessing of organized labor in the city. This year was no exception.
In case you’re wondering what this is all about, I’ve written about the Haymarket Affair and May Day elsewhere on this blog but briefly: May Day is Labor Day in much of the world because of a general strike in the United States for the 8 hour work day. It took a violent turn here in Chicago when the police rioted to break up an open air meeting at the Haymarket… Right where there is now a statue memorialising the event. Look it up! It’s History and it’s Today.
Yes it was, though maybe mostly in memory; the company went belly-up around 1980. Artifacts still remain, however. For the next several years, you’ll still occasionally see freight cars (covered hoppers mostly, but a few boxcars too) left unrepainted for all the years since. They all are in the last paint scheme that touts the railroad as “The Rock”. Brave words even if “The Rock” turned out to be tuft not basalt. IIRC, there’s a 50 year age limit to such rolling stock so congratulate yourself if you see one.
And then there is this promotional ephemera that I rediscovered while cleaning out the hall closet. (Yes, it’s time for that again; I’ll be moving in the next few months as I’m being gentrified… again. Where, you ask? Don’t know yet. Not far I hope.) It’s an eight page booklet with plenty of space for notes on your railroad adventure.
This was given to me by my grandpa, Lawrence Dziekan, probably in the late 1960s though I have no memory of the occasion. Today I feel sad about that but I was remarkably oblivious to adults until I was well on my way to becoming one myself. There’s no changing the past even as it becomes ambiguous with distance.
But one of the things that I do remember about Grandpa is that he was very much into calligraphy. It was Parkinson’s Disease that eventually killed him. This was in the days before l-dopa as a treatment and I have the impression calligraphy was his effort at fighting back. So Grandpa filled a few of the pages with some of his lettering. It’s not his best work but not bad also; I thought it worth preserving and sharing, provided you forgive the one typo.
And there’s mystery as well! Who is “Mrs. Clairie Peiton”, the baby sitter? And those strange feel-good verses! I doubt that I’ll ever know the story nor will you ever know the story. We’ll just have to make one up.
And to end this post, here is “The Rock Island Line” from the Library of Congress’ “Treasury of Field Recordings” with Kelly Pace as the lead vocalist. Now arriving on track 2:
Monday, May 1, 4:30 PM
@the Free Speech Sculpture
175 N. DesPlaines St, Chicago
Every year since the memorial commemorating the Haymarket “riot” was erected, the Illinois Labor History Society has been observing May Day (International Labor Day) by holding a rally and adding a plaque from a union around the world. This year belongs to the California-based United Farm Workers and the “legacy of Cesar Chavez and the continuing work of Dolores Huerta and the UFW.”
I first became active in politics back in 1969 and the Grape Boycott by the United Farm Workers was a major priority for the Young Peoples Socialist League in Chicago. We walked a lot of picket lines that were also attended by Chicago Police who generally had a pretty bad attitude to begin with, made worse in the wake of the 1968 Democratic Convention… I even got to meet Chavez once at a rally held at the old Chicago Coliseum. This isn’t the only May Day event happening in Chicago, but for me this will be a special event and I hope to be there. Mayhap I’ll see you there.
Seeing as I have no musical chops to speak of, I’m not big on live performances and not much better on live performance videos. But these can be good, even for me, and this performance of “Herr Mannelig” by Camilla M. Ferrari is a great example. The videography gives even a non-musician a sense of what is involved in playing each instrument, and every part of the arrangement is played by Ferrari:
Camilla Ferrari is also the proprietor of Ebanisteria Musicale, a musical instrument workshop in Italy. That the stringed instrument (a tagelharpa) was new to me made the fingering all the more interesting. I had the illusion of almost understanding…
This is an instrumental arrangement of a traditional Swedish song. An English translation was posted as a comment on the video’s YouTube page. It seems to have been intended as pop propaganda warning newly Christianized Swedes against marriage with pagans. You can find a modern performance of the original Swedish (with subtitles) HERE.
FIPADOC is an international documentary film festival based in France. A History of the World According to Getty Images makes the point that even though an intellectual property is in the “public domain” that does not mean that said property is available to the public at no charge. The filmmaker, Richard Misek, follows this insight by licensing some classic film clips of U.S. history then making them available without charge.
Intellectual property might seem like a subject both tedious and irritating: tedious because it is a complicated subject and irritating because the game is rigged. But this documentary keeps its focus narrow then takes it further by telling the story (as best as anyone knows) of each clip.
This is what got my attention to view the video: a street scene filmed from the front of a San Francisco cable car in 1906, a day or two before the disastrous earthquake. No, it’s not the morbidity of the clip but the chaos of the traffic on the street: horse, auto, cable car sharing a busy street without anything more than an ephemeral agreement on right-of-way and process.
Trust me. This is not uniquely San Francisco traffic for the time. I’ve seen similar films from Chicago and New York from the same general time period and they were every bit as anarchic.
This is why we have jaywalking laws, people! The casualty rate must have been as bad as traffic injury in the 1950s. But we’ve become educated in the pedestrian dance and habitual in its moves, so maybe we’ve outgrown jaywalking laws, mostly?
All of which has nothing to do with Richard Misek’s point with the documentary, but it is one of my pet obsessions and it is why I ended up watching this wonderful little documentary.
And maybe I do. There it is above, I think. That photo is from my last visit to Lincoln Park Zoo in 2018. Lincoln Park Zoo, whatever your feeling about zoos generally, is a photogenic place, but most of the photos that I took back then were not especially interesting or successful. But I do remember that Oak, and I’m quite happy to have made its acquaintance.
The Block Club Chicago article notes that the tree today is mostly dead. My experience has been that trees tend to become forgetful and careless with dead parts (some trees deliberately?) so passers-by are at risk especially during or immediately after windy weather. The article also has some interesting factoids about other tree elders in Chicago and Illinois.
It seems an apt title for the photo, if perhaps a bit portentously sentimental.
It’s also the title of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s first novel, published in 1953. It was a classmate, Vicky Brown, who gave me a copy of the book in 8th grade or maybe it was high school. It is likely that I stammered out some thank you at the moment, but I’m certain I never told her just how bedazzled I was by the book.
Against the Fall of Night, as a book, is mildly unusual in that Clarke, a few years later, rewrote the book as The City and the Stars. The first version had been in the works since the late 1930s, but since then advances in science had
“…opened up vistas and possibilities quite unimagined when the book was originally planned. In particular, certain developments in information theory suggested revolutions in the human way of life even more profound than those which atomic energy is already introducing, and I wished to incorporate these in the book I had attempted, but so far failed, to write.” [preface to The City and the Stars]
I’ve become considerably less enthralled by Clarke in the decades since. Some of it is political. The techno-optimism of the 1950s has become rather less plausible over the years but consider also Clarke’s not-too-subtle endorsement of colonialism in the novel Childhood’s End. Then too, while Clarke had a real talent for sentimentality, when you find yourself expected to be all weepy over a lump of uranium, well that raises an eyebrow, at least for me.
But thank you for the book, Vicky, where ever you be, and in return to you and to everyone else: a lamp in the evening light.