The New Mound Builders

A friend of mine and I went out to the Indiana Dunes National Park very recently. I had been to the Indiana Dunes State Park, several times though not recently, but this was my first visit to the national park. The national park is a sprawling territory. The part we were interested in was the Bailly homestead and cemetery.

The Bailly homestead was a trading post, established in 1822 by Joseph Aubert de Gaspé Bailly de Messein, directed at the local Native American tribes, Pottawatomies mostly. My friend’s interest in the site was related to its connection with the history of Monee, Illinois. The town is apparently named after one of Joseph Bailly’s wives.

I found the Bailly cemetery the most interesting part of the visit.

It is said that the site of the Bailly cemetery had previously been used as a burial site by Native Americans. Other European immigrants had begun burials at the site when Joseph Bailly buried his son there in 1827. Possibly because of land ownership issues, possibly because of class or ethnic or religious issues, possibly because of whatever, the Bailly family claimed the cemetery for their own. The surrounding community didn’t think much of this; by some accounts they continued burying and visiting their dead there. It was, after all, the Baillytown Cemetery, n’est pas? In 1885, the family erected a six foot wall around the site. In 1914 they went to the extreme of erecting a new concrete block wall around the site, evicting the non-family dead, and filling with sand the interior delimited by the wall.

Looking north and up at the Bailly Cemetery. Photo by Roman.

That’ll show ’em.

If you’re interested in getting into the weeds (begging your pardon) of this history, the Porter County Indiana site is an excellent source, of course there’s Wikipedia and Steve Shook’s Three Phases of Bailly Cemetery untangles more of the complicated history.

I’ve probably been watching too many Time Team episodes, a program devoted to U.K. archaeology, because I found all this too delicious.

For one thing, the European use of a Native American burial site would not be unusual in Britain where such serial use of burial sites by successive cultures happened quite often.

The choice of a high hill, where the dead can look down and the living can look up to be reminded, seems also quite typical.

While I’m sure that in 1914 the designers of the final cemetery were looking to Europe (Roman mausoleums, apparently) for inspiration, yet what is this but a mound? And in Britian and elsewhere, mounds were frequently the burial sites for important people and their hangers-on. And such sites were often delimited by a ditch. There’s a carriageway around the Bailly Cemetery that would do just fine as a boundary ditch.

The site is encircled by a sunken walkway… or is it a boundary ditch? Photo by Roman.
The pattern of light and shadow on this wall was quite delicious. Photo by Roman.
The top, or interior, of the Bailly Cemetery. Photo by Roman.

I’m sure the late Frances Rose Howe, granddaughter of Joseph Bailly, would be seriously pissed by my take on her history. She might say, as she did to one Henry Friday: “You are not my social equal, and you have no business to pretend that you know anything about a family so far above your own.”

The Bailly Homestead

The history here is about as complicated as that of the cemetery. If you’re interested, the National Park Service has a good thumbnail article as does Wikipedia. The Porter County Indiana site’s homepage gives a good account of the historical context of Bailly’s home and enterprise.

I begin with these links as I was far more interested in the interiors of the buildings than their exteriors; the interiors provide so much more fodder for the imagination about just what it must have been like to live and work in these buildings. So nearly all my photos are of the interiors. Note that all of them are views through windows. The main house is likely alarmed, in any case. I do believe I heard a motion detector beeping within.

I find it difficult to relate the histories with the out-buildings that stand today. One of the log buildings was described as a storage building that was repurposed as a chapel, including the addition of an apse. I totally did not see that. The brick house is nearly a mystery to me as none of the accounts I’ve seen really explain why it was build or, except that it included a kitchen, how it was used.

The front of the brick house. The brick work suggests that there may have been more windows. The sheltered cross makes me wonder if Rose Howe intended it to be used also for religious meetings. Photo by Roman.
Main house basement interior. Photo by Roman.
Log construction. Photo by Roman.
Stairs to the second floor. The log building is variously described as dairy, watchman’s quarters, servants’ quarters. It’s small. Photo by Roman.
First floor of the same. Photo by Roman.
East side first floor main house. Note ceiling beams, said to be ornamental, also fireplace. Photo by Roman.
Main house, first floor. Fancy woodwork! Photo by Roman.
This is the brick house, if I remember correctly. Photo by Roman.
The west end of the brick house. Photo by Roman.

UP 4014 Arrives

West Chicago is nowhere near the end of the Earth. You can’t even see it from there. But for the car-less, it is a bit of a trek from Rogers Park. What brought me to West Chicago on a beautiful Friday, July 26? It was the nearest stop on the 2019 grand excursion of Union Pacific 4014, a steam driven locomotive of brobdingnagian dimensions. Actually, most railway equipment is gigantic these days, but UP 4014 is among the few examples of equipment from before the 1960s that more than holds its own.

The Union Pacific is the only one of the half dozen or so (depending on how you count them) major North American railroads that has always had at least one active steam locomotive on its equipment roster. UP 4014 is a recent reacquisition, having been parked in static display at a California railway museum until 2013. Since then, Union Pacific restored it to operating condition. The locomotive was originally delivered to the Union Pacific in December, 1941. It was retired in December, 1961. While the Union Pacific’s two steam locomotives mostly serve a public relations function, they have occasionally moved revenue freight… which also serves a public relations purpose.

UP 4014 is also an example of a locomotive designed specifically for mountain railroading. The Union Pacific has a tradition of large, powerful locomotives intended to move freight over the continental divide. Some of them have been truly exotic, such as their experiment with gas turbine technology. UP 4014 is mostly unique because it is huge.

The locomotive’s visit to the Chicago area has got to be one of the most photographed events in the area this month. Here is my contribution to the flood:

UP 4014 approaching West Chicago. Photo by Roman.

At this point, UP 4014 was moving at a leisurely pace, no more than maybe 20 miles per hour. Yeah, it can do 60 easily, even though it was intended for long, slow, heavy trains up and down mountain grades. In fact, steam locomotives develop more power at higher speeds, exactly the opposite of diesel-electric locomotives, and that is one of the reasons steam became obsolete on U.S. railways.

The conduits in the foreground are for natural gas pipes. In freezing weather, they feed gas to fires that prevent the switches from freezing.

UP 4014 emerges from beneath an overpass just east of the West Chicago station. Photo by Roman.

These days, trains do not “chug,” but they did back in the day. Actually, steam locomotives make a variety of sounds. On this occasion, UP 4014 was making sounds more like a “chuff” and those were pretty quiet chuffs, especially when compared to the churning motor of a diesel – electric locomotive. I was surprised at just how quiet the machine was. Even the whistle was more musical than loud, and the engineer was leaning on the horn in a determined attempt to get folks to look up from the image on their cameras or phones.

But I’ve heard steam locomotives before, in person, on video, on live streaming. This was not too much out of the ordinary. What did surprise me was the wave of heat from the locomotive as it passed. I had never experienced anything like that before from a steam engine. It was rather like putting your face several inches from a 100 watt incandescent light, and this was from across two tracks. It was totally unexpected.

Well, I was downwind as it passed…

Looking west, UP 4014 approaches the West Chicago station. Photo by Roman.

UP 4014 was pulling a 10 car train, plus 3 tenders and a back-up diesel for “protection,” as U.S. railway jargon would put it. UP 4014 originally burned coal as fuel, but as restored, it now uses “No. 5” fuel oil. (Is this part of the war on coal? Just teasing, Trumpettes. Relax.) The two extra tenders, however, are for water not fuel oil. Steam locomotives use copious quantities of water and, back in the day, they would need to stop fairly often to replenish their supply. Some railroads designed special lengths of track where locomotives could scoop water from a pond between the rails without stopping.

Photograph exaggerates the apparent length of the train, but it was still generous. Photo by Roman.
UP 4014 and train parked at the West Chicago station. It will leave on Monday after being on display in West Chicago over the weekend. Photo by Roman.
Passenger car trucks are something of a marvel. Photo by Roman.
Here comes my ride home. Photo by Roman.

Here are some additional photos from my visit to West Chicago that day. Click on any thumbnail to enlarge it.


Here’s the latest video from cyriak:

Aside from cyriak’s trade mark surrealism, the informational film short that cyriak used as raw material is what caught my attention. It’s basically a “how to be a pedestrian in the automobile age” educational film, this one done by a Richard Massingham, apparently in the 1940s. I would have dated it earlier as, here in the States at least, the first three decades of the 20th Century were something like open season on pedestrians. The streets, after all, belong to everyone. It’s an attitude that works well enough with horses, but when you add trolleys and autos, it’s something of a disaster. Initially, the laws were directed more at those newfangled contraptions, but if you ever wondered why “jay-walking” became a crime, well…

The Chicago DSA Office

These are some photos of minor historical interest, mostly for those preoccupied with left history or with Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.

My inspiration for posting them is this: Some days ago, I received an email notification of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America’s annual membership convention on June 8. If that sounds at all interesting, check out their web site; you need not be a member to sit in. While I’ve been a member since the organization was formed from a merger in 1982-1983, and a day-to-day activist from 1989 to 2017, I had only a transitory impulse to attend. There’s not much political about my decision; in fact, if you’re a Chicago lefty but not a marxist-leninist, I think you really ought to be there.

My decision is mostly personal. After almost 30 years, it’s time to spend my time on other things, even if I continue keeping an eye on politics as a spectator… mostly. But that transitory thought brought to mind a few photos I had taken of Chicago DSA’s old office at 1608 N. Milwaukee Avenue. These are from 2003 and 2004.

Chicago DSA’s very first office was in a building owned by In These Times at 1300 W. Belmont. It was a generous suite of offices that we shared with a regional DSA office run by the national organization. Along about 1985, it became clear that the money wasn’t there to maintain regional offices, never mind staffing them, so Chicago DSA had to look for smaller, cheaper space. We found the Northwest Tower Building. (Also see chicago.designslinger.) Our first office there may have been on the 5th floor or the 7th; I forget. We spent some time on both. By 1987, we were in a tiny space on the 12th floor. Sometime early in 1988, we moved to a somewhat larger space on the 4th floor, where we stayed until 2014. Around the turn of the century, we knocked down the wall to a tiny office next door to create a comfortable meeting area.

For most of the time we were in the Northwest Tower, the building was a commercial slum. I strongly suspect the owner for much of that period used the property as an ATM machine. The windows were the original 1929 installation, rarely cleaned and in precarious condition. On the other hand, they also opened from the top, making the office temperate for all but the very hottest days of the summer. When we expanded the office, we finally bought an air conditioner, mostly because of the intolerable roar of passing CTA trains and the dust and diesel exhaust from North Avenue.

That’s not snow! On average, the windows were cleaned once every 4 or 5 years. Photo by Roman.

The building was also notable for being one of the three remaining buildings (at the time, that I know of) in Chicago with public elevators run by human operators. The operators were all real characters and I fondly remember them all, especially the two mainstays of the operation, two Polish immigrants: “Grandpa” and Victor. The building would have been a disaster without either of them.

Looking westward at the original 4th floor office. It included the two windows visible. Photo by Roman.
Another look at the original Room 403. Photo by Roman.
Looking east at the meeting area and what was once Room 404. We did dust before meetings! Photo by Roman.
Sticking my head out the window, this is a look westward on North Avenue. The CTA trains were incredibly loud but so was North Avenue.
People watching was always entertaining. By 2004, Wicker Park was well on its way to being hip. Photo by Roman.

After another change in ownership and another bankruptcy, the building was sold to a developer who would gut the structure to convert it into a boutique hotel as it is today. Right before we moved, I wrote this for New Ground 151:

“After something like 28 years in the same building, Chicago DSA is moving. Chicago DSA staffer Mark Davidson found the Northwest Tower Building when it was a nearly empty shell in the process of being rehabbed. The neighborhood was neglected, sometimes dangerous, and gritty. The landlord was politically friendly. The rent was cheap. We moved in.

“It hasn’t been all 28 years in the same office. The first few years we moved just about every year, dodging the rising drywall. But we have been in 403 since 1988. Come the 21st century, we took over the office next door so we could have meetings in the office, and we added an air conditioner, mostly to cut down on the noise and dirt from outside.

“Built in 1929, the Northwest Tower (sometimes called the “Coyote Tower”) is a gently art deco 12 story (190′) masonry clad structure (architect: Perkins, Chatten, & Hammond). Its construction was financed by the long defunct Noel State Bank whose gorgeous headquarters still stands (as a Walgreens today) right across the street. The capital, it is said, came from the alternative pharmaceutical trade.

“Even after having been rehabbed, the Northwest Tower building was not in the greatest of shape. And the quarter century since has not been kind to the structure. The neighborhood, however, has become an expensive part of Chicago’s party district. Judging by the number of bars, bistros and restaurants, it’s not clear that anyone actually cooks at home in Wicker Park / Bucktown except to entertain and maybe not even then. Or that they go home sober on a weekend evening.

“The property has gone through two bankruptcies in the years we’ve been here. This last was rumored to be a saga of fiscal chicanery that involved ten different banks. But now that’s all settled. The building (and the “fireproof” warehouse next door) is to become a boutique hotel.”

I wish I had taken more photos of the rest of the building: the elevators, the doors, the stairwells. But with a film camera, I was overly parsimonious with my shots.

Chicago DSA ended up at 3411 W. Diversey Avenue, right at the northern border of the Logan Square neighborhood. It is a smaller and less expensive space with a different set of advantages and disadvantages. But like the Northwest Tower Building, it’s also an art deco structure, dating from 1939.

Before & After

The Heartland Café building came down around the end of April, 2019. All that remains is rubble and palleted bricks for recycling.

At present, there is talk of constructing a 60 unit apartment building. I don’t recall if these would be condos or rentals, but it would require a zoning change. Parking might be an issue also except that it is immediate to the Morse Avenue Red Line station.

Heartland Cafe: May 6, 2019. Photo by Roman.
Restaurant room at the Heartland Cafe, mid-December, 2018. This room was originally the general store. Photo by Roman.
This was the Heartland Cafe’s grocery, mid-December, 2018. Originally this was the restaurant and “Buffalo Bar”. Photo by Roman.
A final look at the rubble remaining from the Heartland Cafe. Photo by Roman.

May Day in the Haymarket 2019

May 1st — May Day — is Labor’s holiday around most of the world, a notable exception being the United States, even though the holiday commemorates the Haymarket Affair (aka Haymarket massacre, aka Haymarket Square riot) here in Chicago that happened on May 4, 1886, as part of a nationwide strike demanding an 8 hour work day. As a result of the police riot, 8 activists were tried in a show trial. 7 were sentenced to death. Of the 7, 2 had their sentence commuted, 1 committed suicide (probably), and 4 were hung.

Why we celebrate the labor movement in September instead of May is another story, though you wouldn’t be far off simply assuming that it is an ideological statement. After all, May 1 is officially Law Day in the United States.

Even so, union activists and lefties have insisted on observing May 1 with rallies, demonstrations and educational programs. In Chicago, the Illinois Labor History Society served as the point organization for most years since the 1970s. Some years have been bigger than others.

While there is monument to the Haymarket martyrs in the Waldheim Cemetery in suburban Forest Park (administered by the Illinois Labor History Society), in recent years most of the Illinois Labor History Society commemorations have been taking place at what was the old Haymarket. Chicago has erected its own monument to the event. Strictly speaking, its subject is freedom of speech and assembly, so it covers “Law Day” as well.

Click on any image to enlarge it.

This year’s event was not the smallest I’ve been to but it was nowhere near the largest — try a half million people in the streets. My guess is the crowd at its largest was around 200. If you were much further than two dozen feet or so, the speakers were nearly impossible to hear. Consequently, I can’t tell you much about the program.

Click on any image to enlarge it.

This wasn’t the only May Day related event in Chicago. There was a labor march of some sort in Hyde Park. There was also a celebration of Mother Jones’ birthday. But I’m sure there were other events as well.



I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…

a memory for May Day

… a Trotskyist, Surrealist Poet.

And what, pray tell, would ever cause someone – anyone! – to identify me as such an odd chimera? I’m frequently mistaken for someone else but the answer to this misidentification is found back in the mists of… well, back in the roiling fumes of grass in the past.

Way back in the early 1970s, I had ambitions, or at least aspirations, to be a poet. How and why and when I jettisoned that goal is another story, but part of the project of becoming a poet involved attending poetry readings. The really big Chicago event at that time was a weekly reading organized by Richard Friedman’s Yellow Press at a local theatre on Chicago’s north side.

For all that the Yellow Press readings were really the place to be for poets and readers thereof, the audiences were usually no more than a few dozen. And for me, the readings were almost always excruciatingly boring, no matter the quality of the verse. There was one memorable exception.

Friedman had scored a big fish. Robert Bly was to read. Given the vagaries of the Chicago Transit Authority, I arrived early that day and found the event in a larger than usual venue. It was already well populated by representatives of probably every English Department in the city. With my long hair and ragged Army field jacket, I didn’t exactly fit in, but neither was I unique. Most of the empty seating was in front. I took a seat in the first row.

Show time! Robert Bly came down the aisle to the stage. But then he stopped and sat next to me. Looking very intense and pointing to a utility table on stage, he hissed, “I’m going to sit on that table and read from there.”

I was thoroughly confused but managed a shrug and said something like: “Cool.”

Bly hadn’t gotten far into his first poem when suddenly a handful of long haired characters – a few in pristine Army field jackets – rushed the stage, scattering leaflets and shouting: “Bourgeois Pig!”, “Assassin!”, “M_____ F_____!” and other assorted obscenities. One threw a pie in Bly’s face. They didn’t pause but skedaddled out the exit with Friedman and a few friends in close pursuit. They may have gotten away.

As Bly wiped the pie from his face, he explained that he had published a book of his own translations of work by the great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. When Bly announced his reading tour, a local collective of Trotskyist Surrealist poets threatened to “get him” if Bly dared to read in Chicago. Their beef was not only that Neruda was a Stalinist Communist (I can recall at least one embarrassing poetic homage to Stalin by Neruda.) but in 1940 while serving as a member of Chile’s diplomatic staff in Mexico, Neruda helped a suspect in an assassination attempt on Leon Trotsky get out of jail and out of Mexico. As Wikipedia put it:

“In 1940, after the failure of an assassination attempt against Leon Trotsky, Neruda arranged a Chilean visa for the Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros, who was accused of having been one of the conspirators in the assassination. Neruda later said that he did it at the request of the Mexican President, Manuel Ávila Camacho. This enabled Siqueiros, then jailed, to leave Mexico for Chile, where he stayed in Neruda’s private residence. In exchange for Neruda’s assistance, Siqueiros spent over a year painting a mural in a school in Chillán. Neruda’s relationship with Siqueiros attracted criticism, but Neruda dismissed the allegation that his intent had been to help an assassin as “sensationalist politico-literary harassment”.”

I don’t remember any more of Bly’s reading that evening. I do remember Friedman glaring at me as I left and again every week after.

Really, Richard, I was not then nor have I ever been…

But damn! That was the best poetry reading I ever attended.