Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Story of Chicago's Dunning Asylum. A 'Tomb For The Living.'

For a long time, Chicagoans were scared of Dunning. The very name “Dunning” gave them chills. People were afraid they would end up in that place.

Today, the Chicago neighborhood, out on the city’s Far Northwest Side, looks like a middle-class suburb. “If peace and quiet are what you seek, look no further than Dunning,” the Chicago Tribune wrote in 2009. Some of the area’s younger residents have no idea what used to be there: an insane asylum, a home for the city’s poorest people, and cemeteries where the poor were buried.

“I grew up in this area,” says Michael Dotson, who is 29. “I’ve passed by this vicinity a hundred times, and never knew anything about it.” Dotson recently stumbled across a website that mentioned the old Dunning asylum. And then he saw a headline claiming that 38,000 bodies might be lying underneath the old Dunning grounds, their burial places unmarked.

That prompted Dotson to pose this question: 
What’s the history behind Cook County’s former Dunning Insane Asylum and the people buried near there?
It’s a long history with many dark chapters. Curious City can’t detail the entire history, so we focused on finding out who lived at Dunning — and who is still lying in Dunning’s unmarked graves. In both life and death, the people who ended up at Dunning were some of Chicago’s least fortunate residents.

Here’s how historian Perry Duis describes Dunning’s reputation in his 1998 book “Challenging Chicago”: 
For many generations of Chicago children, bad behavior came to a halt with a stern warning: “Be careful, or you’re going to Dunning.” The prospect sent shivers down the spines of youngsters, who regarded it as the most dreaded place imaginable.
Chicago resident Steven Hill, who is 60, recalls: “It was a term used in the ’50s and ’60s — ‘If you and your brothers and sisters don’t behave, we’ll send you to Dunning.’ And that used to scare kids, because they knew that it was a mental institution.”
The Cook County Insane Asylum at Dunning in the late 1800s.
Mundelein resident Ross Goodrich, who is 81, heard a similar expression growing up on the West Side in the 1930s and ’40s. “Whenever anyone would act a little nutsy, any of the kids, we’d say, ‘Oh, gotta send them to Dunning.’ It was a pretty common expression,” he says.
Hill and Goodrich are interested in the history of Dunning because both of them had great-grandparents who died in the institution in the early 1900s.

The complex occupied 320 acres of land between Irving Park Road and Montrose Avenue, stretching west from Naragansett Avenue to Oak Park Avenue.

It was never actually named Dunning. But the property just south of it was owned by the Dunning family — so when the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway extended a line to the area in 1882, the stop was named Dunning Station. And then people started calling the institution “Dunning.” (In its early years, people sometimes called it “Jefferson,” since it’s part of Jefferson Township.)

When it opened in 1854, it wasn’t an insane asylum. The Cook County Infirmary was a “poor farm” and almshouse. County officials opened its doors to people who had fallen on hard times and found themselves unable to earn a living.

“They didn’t provide very many services,” says Joseph J. Mehr, a Springfield clinical psychologist who wrote about Dunning in his 2002 book, “An Illustrated History of Illinois Public Mental Health Services.”

“What they really provided were a place to sleep and food,” he says. “And that was pretty much the extent of it.”

But from the very beginning, many of the poor people who were sent to live at the almshouse had mental illnesses. “In some ways, it’s almost similar to what we have today,” Mehr says, “in that we have a lot of people who are homeless and living on the streets, and a significant portion of them are people who are mentally ill.”

So the county added an “Insane Department” at the almshouse. And then, in 1870, it built a separate Cook County Insane Asylum on the grounds.

“The feeling was it’s better to isolate the population of the mentally handicapped, the indigent, and keep them far away from the city proper,” Chicago historian Richard C. Lindberg says.

But Mehr sees another motivation behind the asylum’s location, far from downtown Chicago. “The idea was to get people who were disturbed out of stress-inducing situations,” he says. “Asylums were built out in the country, and they were really pastoral, bucolic places where people could relax.”

That was the idea, anyway. In reality, Dunning was chronically overcrowded, and patients were neglected and abused.

“You could think of this place as the prototypical evil dark asylum of literature,” Mehr says. “There wasn’t much treatment. People … weren’t fed well. The food was terrible — weevil-filled. … People didn’t get the kind of medical care that they ought to get. … For many, many years, it was really a terrible place.”

Abuse and corruption 
In 1874, a Tribune reporter described Dunning’s poorhouse as “a shambling, helter-skelter series of wooden buildings” where dejected-looking people with matted hair and tattered clothing were “crowded and herded together like sheep in the shambles, or hogs in the slaughtering-pens.”

“The rooms swarm with vermin,” an attendant told the reporter. “The cots and bed-clothing are literally alive with them. We cannot keep the men clean, and we cannot drive the parasites away unless they are clean.”

The reporter couldn’t take the smell in the room, exclaiming: “For Heaven’s sake let us get out; this stench is unbearable.”

Political corruption was part of the problem at Dunning. County officials treated it as a patronage haven, hiring pals and cronies who had no expertise in handling mental patients. Employees got drunk on duty, partying and dancing late at night in the asylum. Some of the asylum’s top authorities used taxpayer money to decorate their offices and hold lavish parties while patients were suffering in squalor.

“Everybody was a political hiree,” says Al Opitz, a neighborhood historian. “So consequently, they had nobody to report to other than the political boss.”

In an 1889 court case, Cook County Judge Richard Prendergast described Dunning as “a tomb for the living.” He criticized the asylum for squeezing 1,000 patients into a space better suited for 500. “The presence of so many lunatics in a room irritates all,” Prendergast said. “Fighting among the patients at night is frequent.”

That same year, two attendants at the Dunning asylum were charged with murdering patient Robert Burns. They’d kicked him in the stomach and given him a gash on the head. A defense attorney claimed these “blows and kicks … were beneficial to the insane man, as they were a sort of stimulus or tonic,” according to the Tribune. Jurors acquitted the attendants, blaming Dunning’s overcrowding rather than the actions of individual employees.

Even under the best of conditions, doctors didn’t have many effective treatments for people suffering from mental illness. The only drugs they had at their disposal were sedatives. “If a person was terribly agitated, they might dose them with chloral hydrate, which would pretty much knock them out,” Mehr says. “That’s the ingredient in what used to be called a Mickey Finn in a bar.”

According to an 1886 state investigation, one of the sedatives used at Dunning was a mixture containing chloral hydrate as well as cannabis, hops and potash. The investigation also found that Dunning was serving two kegs of beer a day; patients as well as employees were apparently drinking the beer.

The same state probe harshly criticized the food Dunning served to its inmates. A lack of fruit and fresh vegetables had caused an epidemic of scurvy, with about 200 patients suffering from the illness. “The cooking, we are convinced, was bad,” the investigators said.

In spite of all their appalling discoveries, the investigators quoted one doctor who said “there were some attendants who were most excellent, who were conscientious, and endeavored to mitigate the sufferings of the insane in every way possible.” But these employees were in the minority, and they felt intimidated by Dunning’s irresponsible workers.

The situation inside the Dunning poorhouse seemed somewhat better by 1892. A journalist who visited that year didn’t encounter the same horrors others had witnessed in earlier times. But she reported that many of the poorhouse residents were “too old and infirm to do anything except sit about in joyless groups.” The superintendent told her that many people ended up in the poorhouse as a result of alcoholism. “Whisky brings the most of them,” he said, adding, “They’re foreigners mostly.”

Insanity cases in the news 
In that era, Chicago newspapers often reported the stories of local people suffering from mental illness, openly describing their symptoms and sometimes publishing their names. In many of these stories, patients were taken first to the Cook County Detention Hospital (at the northwest corner of Polk and Wood streets), where judges ordered them committed at Dunning.

Here’s a sample of several cases reported in 1897: 
  • Frank Johnson was committed to Dunning after he cut off his right hand in a fit of religious mania. “I think he will grow again,” he told a judge.
  • John E.N., 28, believed he was Jesus Christ.
  • Timothy O’B. became “a raving maniac” after a policeman struck him in the head.
  • William Mitchell, 43, an extremely emaciated African-American man, said he was hearing “the voices of spirits” and believed that people were “after him for murderous purposes.”
  • Theresa K., 35, was sent to Dunning after she refused to eat, declaring that her food was poisoned.
  • Catherine T., 56, “was something like a wild cat.” Maggie Mc., who may have fractured her skull five years earlier, was described as “silly, helpless, Irish, very poor, and 28 years of age.”
  • Fredericka W., 35, who was unkempt with a weather-beaten complexion, was sent to Dunning after a policeman found her sitting in a park. She said she “was searching for a prince, who had promised her marriage.”
  • William L., 45, was arrested when a policeman found him “wandering about the boulevards ogling women and girls.” After hearing the details of the case, a judge declared, “Dunning.” As the bailiff quickly hustled William L. toward the door, the patient turned around and shouted, “It doesn’t take long to do up a man here!”

Patients like these were sent by train from the Cook County Detention Hospital to Dunning. “It was a hospital car, and they had a doctor aboard and a couple of nurses,” Opitz says. “The train was called the ‘crazy train.’ … There was a guard on both ends so people couldn’t get out.”

About half of Dunning’s patients suffered from “chronic mania,” according to the asylum’s annual report for 1890. Other patients had conditions described as melancholia, impulsive insanity, monomania and circular insanity. The doctors listed masturbation as one of the most common “exciting causes” of insanity among Dunning’s male patients. According to the report, other patients had become insane as a result of religious excitement, domestic trouble, spiritualism, sunstrokes, disappointment in love, alcohol, abortion, narcotics, puberty and overwork.

Dunning’s unmarked graves 
Throughout its early history, Dunning also included cemeteries — not only for poorhouse residents and asylum inmates who died, but also for anyone who died in Cook County and whose family couldn’t afford to pay for a burial. Some bodies were moved to Dunning from the Chicago City Cemetery, which was underneath what is now Lincoln Park. The people buried at Dunning include 117 victims of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and Civil War veterans — including Thomas Hamilton McCray, a Confederate brigadier general who moved to Chicago after the war and died in 1891.
One of the most notorious people buried at Dunning was Johann Hoch, a bigamist who was believed to have married 30 women and murdered at least 10 of them. After he was hanged at Cook County Jail in 1906, other cemeteries refused to accept his body. “In that little box that they had made at the jail, the remains of Hoch were buried anonymously somewhere on the grounds at Irving and Naragansett,” says Lindberg, who told the story in his 2011 book “Heartland Serial Killers.”

The same fate befell George Gorciak, a Hungarian immigrant who died penniless in 1895, succumbing to typhoid. His family took his body to Graceland Cemetery, apparently unaware that they needed to pay for a plot there. By the end of the day, they’d hauled his coffin out to Dunning, where burials were free in the potter’s field.

The burials at Dunning included many orphans and infants — and adults whose identities were a mystery. In 1912, an “Unknown Man” who’d apparently stabbed himself to death was placed in the ground at Dunning.

Scandals sometimes erupted over bodies being stolen from Dunning’s cemetery by people who wanted them for anatomy demonstrations. In one 1897 case, four bodies were taken as they were being prepared for burial. Henry Ullrich, a watchman who worked at Dunning, was convicted of selling the corpses to Dr. William Smith, a medical professor in Missouri.

The professor claimed that the watchman had offered to kill a “freak” and sell him the body. Smith recalled telling Ullrich, “I only want the dead ones.” Ullrich supposedly replied, “That’s all right, Doc … he’s in the ‘killer ward’ and they’d just think he’d wandered off. They’re always doing that, you know.”

County officials denied the existence of a “killer ward.”

State takes control 
In 1910, Dunning’s poorhouse residents were moved to a new infirmary in Oak Forest. And in 1912, the state took over the Dunning asylum from Cook County, changing the official name to Chicago State Hospital.

Conditions had already been improving at Dunning over the previous decade, Mehr says. One reason was the construction of smaller buildings to house patients. And a civil service law passed in 1895 had decreased the problems with patronage. After the state took control, Mehr says, “It ended the scandals around the issue of graft and corruption.” But incidents of patients being abused still made news from time to time, he says.

Ross Goodrich says his great-grandmother, an immigrant from Prague named Fannie Hrdlicka (pronounced Herliska), was placed in Dunning when she became depressed after one her children died.
This February 1947 photo, taken inside the Chicago State Hospital, shows the poorly ventilated, narrow and congested hallways where some patients slept. (Chicago Daily News)
According to the family story, he says, “When the baby died, my great-grandmother rocked the baby for a couple of days, and wouldn’t let it out of her arms. And then she was placed in Dunning because they thought she was a little crazy. But we suspect it could have been a case of postpartum depression. … If she was having mental difficulties of any kind, I’m not sure that there were any other places available in those days for her to go.”
Hrdlicka was released from Dunning and then readmitted. She died there in 1918.

Steven Hill says he doesn’t know why his great-grandfather, John Ohlenbusch, was living at Dunning when he died in 1910. But the death certificate says he had dementia, so Hill suspects Ohlenbusch may have had what later became known as Alzheimer’s disease. Hill says his grandmother never discussed her father’s death at Dunning.

“People did not talk about the rough lifestyles they had and how poor they were,” Hill says. “But I do know they had a very, very tough life.”

Goodrich and Hill would like to find out more about what happened to their ancestors at Dunning, but documents are not easy to find. The Illinois State Archives in Springfield has Chicago State Hospital’s admission and discharge records from 1920 to 1951, but you need a court order to see them. Some early Cook County records, showing patients who were sent to Dunning between 1877 and 1887, are available for anyone to see in the state archives branch at Northeastern Illinois University.

Changing mental health treatments 
In the first half of the 20th century, Chicago State Hospital used several different treatments for mental illness. Hydrotherapy used hot or cold water to soothe people who were depressed or agitated. Fever treatments induced high temperatures to kill off bacteria in the brains of patients with syphilis.

Lobotomies were not performed at Chicago State Hospital, but Mehr says the hospital did send some of its patients elsewhere for the treatment, which cuts the brain’s frontal lobe. “That’s like shooting someone in the head with a shotgun,” he says.

For a time, some patients at Dunning and other Illinois hospitals were given electroshock therapy “once a day, every day for years, which is just an absolute abomination,” Mehr says. “That was a terrible thing to do.”

A new era of psychiatric treatment began in 1954, with the discovery Thorazine, the first in a new wave of drugs that directly affected the symptoms of mental illness.

Mehr, 71, worked for a year at Chicago State Hospital, during an internship from 1964 to 1965. He says the conditions he witnessed were vastly superior to the travesties of Dunning’s early history. “My impressions weren’t all that bad,” he says. And yet, he adds, “The problem … was that these state hospitals were overcrowded.”

Chicago State Hospital’s buildings closed after it merged in 1970 with the nearby Charles F. Read Zone Center, which had opened on the west side of Oak Park Avenue in 1965. Since 1970, it has been known as Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. Today, for better or worse, fewer people with mental illnesses stay for prolonged periods of time in hospitals.

Bodies discovered in 1989 
In the years after Chicago State Hospital closed, the state sold much of the property. Today, the land includes the Dunning Square shopping center, which is anchored by a Jewel store; the campus of Wright College; the Maryville Center for Children; and houses and condominiums.

State officials apparently didn’t realize that human bodies were buried underneath a section of the Dunning land when they sold it to Pontarelli Builders, which began work putting up houses. In 1989, a backhoe operator working on the project found a corpse. The state had recently passed a law requiring archaeological assessments before construction is allowed on any property where human remains have been found, so archaeologist David Keene was hired to examine the site. Keene was on the faculty at Loyola University at the time, and now he runs his own company, Archaeological Research.
“The area was just littered with human remains, with human bone all over the place, where they had disturbed things,” he says.

Keene has a vivid recollection of that corpse found by the backhoe. It appeared to be a Civil War veteran. Much of the body was still intact, probably because it had been embalmed with arsenic, a common treatment at the time, which would kill any organisms that would try to consume the flesh.

“He was cut in half at the waist by the backhoe,” Keene says. “His skin was in relatively good condition … I mean, you could see his face. But there was considerable deterioration on the face. You could see the mustache. You could see his hair. He had red hair, but it was patchy. The other distinguishing features of the face were no longer there. And he had a jacket on … it was obviously a military jacket. We only saw it briefly. We didn’t spend a lot of time with it — mostly because the odor was unbelievable, to say the least.”

Keene guided a careful excavation of the land around this gruesome discovery — stopping the digging whenever a coffin or human remains were revealed. He determined that a five-acre cemetery was hidden, just northwest of the current-day corner of Belle Plaine and Neenah avenues. As a result of Keene’s findings, that property was set aside as the Read-Dunning Memorial Park, which was dedicated in 2002. Construction was allowed on the land south of it.

This was just the second-oldest of three cemeteries on the Dunning grounds. The earliest cemetery was near the original poorhouse, just west of Naragansett Avenue and north of Belle Plaine. County officials had supposedly moved the bodies out of that cemetery into the second graveyard, but Keene says bodies did turn up there during another construction project. “We found a little over 30 individuals there, and we were able to remove them so (the developer) could build his building there,” Keene says.

And when Wright College was under construction on the former asylum grounds in the early 1990s, scattered human remains surfaced there, too, Keene says.

“A femur would pop up,” he says. “And it wasn’t associated with a grave of any sort. It was just mixed in with the soil from previous construction and removal of buildings in the past. In this area, you can walk into any one of these yards and dig in the flowerbeds and come up with human remains. They’re part of the scattered remains from construction activity that took place in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Every time they built a building, human remains would go flying.”

As Keene explains, state officials constructed hospital buildings between 1912 and the 1960s on this land without any regard to whether people had been buried there.

“The state came in and — as far as we can tell, from the archaeological evidence — removed any surface evidence of burials in the entire area,” Keene says. “They actually built right on top of graves.”

The third Dunning cemetery was located farther west — underneath what is now Oak Park Avenue near Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. While Keene was conducting his investigation in 1989, some workers walked over and told him they’d found human remains while they were working on a broken water main at Chicago-Read’s entrance.

“So we just walked over there,” Keene recalls. “And sure enough, there were human remains everywhere. And so we began doing some research there to figure out what the boundaries were.”

Keene says it’s obvious that someone must have known about the existence of those graves when the road was put on top of them. “It’s pretty clear,” he says. “When we were there — and this is just the plumbers trying to get to the leak — they were cutting right through coffins. So somebody had to cut through some of those coffins in order to put the original lines in.”

In 1989, genealogist B. Fleig studied the available records about Dunning and documented that more than 15,000 people had been buried in the graveyards there. But the records are incomplete, and Fleig extrapolated that the total is closer to 38,000.

Opitz says the county’s record keeping was slipshod. “So consequently, the number of cadavers or people that were buried here is somewhat nebulous,” he says.

The exact figure is unknown, but Keene says 38,000 is a reasonable estimate. For Keene, the lesson of the Dunning graveyards is that burial places are not as permanent as many people think they will be.

Neighborhood resident Silvija Klavins-Barshney, 50, says she was shocked when she found out about Dunning’s graveyards a couple of years ago. She serves as the vice president of the church board of the Latvian Lutheran Zion Church, which is located inside a building that was part of Chicago State Hospital.

The Illinois Department of Central Management Services owns and maintains the park.

“The more research I did, the more I felt that the story needs to get out,” she says, “because most of the people … who were buried here are people that were forgotten in life. They were just left. Or disposed of. Or hidden. And if that’s how they lived their lives, how dare we allow them to live their afterlife like that? How can 38,000 people be buried and then forgotten?”

by Robert Loerzel / WBEZ
Editing by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Views looking north, west and south from top of the 333 North Michigan Avenue building, Chicago. (1954)

333 North Michigan is an Art Deco skyscraper located in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois. It was constructed in 1927 on the site of Fort Dearbon. Architecturally, it is noted for its dramatic upper-level setbacks that were inspired by the 1923 skyscraper zoning laws. Geographically, it is known as one of the four 1920s flanks of the Michigan Avenue Bridge (along with the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower and the London Guarantee Building) that are contributing properties to the Michigan–Wacker Historic District, which is a U.S. Registered Historic District.

It was designated a Chicago Landmark on February 7, 1997. The building is embellished by a polished marble base, ornamental bands, and reliefs depicting frontiersmen and Native Americans at Fort Dearborn, which partially occupied the site.

Albright Family Log House, Hubbard Woods, 1258 Scott Avenue, Winnetka, Illinois including Artist Ivan Albright's History.

The Albright family log house and studio was located in Hubbard Woods, 1258 Scott Avenue, Winnetka, Illinois. 
Albright Family Log House, 1910.
Albright Family Log House, 1910.
Albright Family Log House, 1910.
Artist Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, a painter who magnified decrepitude, whos canvases depict men and women overworn by the world. Their flesh is heavy and mottled; stubble sticks out on their chins or kneecaps. Their foreheads are furrowed and eyes encircled.

Albright combined his messages of decay and regret in several titles of his paintings, such as "The Farmer's Kitchen" and "Fleeting Time, Thou Hast Left Me Old."
"The Farmer's Kitchen" by Ivan Albright.
"Fleeting Time, Thou Hast Left Me Old" by Ivan Albright.
The darkness evident in his work seems incongruous with Albright’s background. Even within his family—his father and twin brother were artists—he stands apart.

Twins Ivan Le Lorraine and Malvin Marr were born in 1897 to Clara and Adam Emory Albright in North Harvey, Illinois. Their father, who specialized in impressionistic, sunny paintings of children, designed their log house in Hubbard Woods. The family moved into “Log Studio” in 1910. (The house was demolished in the late 1970s.)
Adam Emory Allbright Oil Painting.
The boys attended New Trier High School. In the 1915 yearbook their photographs are captioned, “The Albright Twins: Two heads are better than one.”

After two years of floundering in college, the twins enlisted in the Army during World War I. Ivan worked as a medical draftsman, documenting soldiers’ wounds.

After returning to the United States the twins enrolled at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. In 1923 Malvin received a degree in sculpture and Ivan one in drawing, painting, and illustration. They both studied for another year in Philadelphia and New York.

Back in Illinois Ivan’s art soon began to move in the direction that would distinguish him. He started to use non-professional models for his portraits. He entered hundreds of juried exhibitions and won numerous awards.

In 1943 Ivan received the commission that put him briefly into the national spotlight. He contracted with MGM to paint the Picture of Dorian Gray for the movie of the same name. Albright’s macabre rendering brought him great media publicity.

A bachelor until the age of 49, Albright married Josephine Medill Patterson Reeve, a newspaper heiress, in 1946. They had four children—two from her previous marriage and two of their own. The marriage ensured Albright’s financial stability. He continued to paint and travel extensively throughout his life. He made a final etching, a self-portrait, just a few days before his death in 1983 at his home in Woodstock, Vermont.

From February to May of this year, The Art Institute of Chicago sponsored an Ivan Albright exhibition. The retrospective displayed more than 120 of his works. It reinforced the opinion that Albright sought not to beautify but to communicate the ravages of life on body and spirit.

NOTE: Ivan Albright was the father-in-law of former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

By Barbara Joyce
Editing by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Illinois Central (IC) Railroad Station [Springfield Union Station] in Springfield, Illinois History.

Springfield Union Station at 5th & Madison was designed in the Richardson Romanesque style in 1896 as a combined passenger terminal for several railroads serving Springfield, including the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis Railroad, Illinois Central Railroad, and the St. Louis, Peoria and Northern Railway.
Illinois Central (IC) Railroad Station [Springfield Union Station], 500 East Madison Street, Springfield, Illinois. (1901)
Although the structure was intended to be used jointly by these railroads, the Illinois Central was the predominant carrier. The architect was Illinois Central chief architect Francis T. Bacon. The station was built in 1897-1898 at a cost of $75,000, and opened for business on January 2, 1898. During its 73 years of active service, the station carried substantial passenger train traffic to and from Chicago, St. Louis, and other cities.

After passenger train service ended, Union Station housed several private businesses before being used for Illinois state offices until September, 2004.
Springfield Union Station is now part of the complex of buildings that together form the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building was extensively restored as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library visitor center, which reopened in March 2007. As part of the $12.5 million restoration project, the clock tower was rebuilt, substantially returning the station to its pre-1936 appearance.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kolze's Electric Park, Chicago, Illinois

Kolze’s Electric Park was located along the south side of Irving Park Boulevard just east of Northwest 64th Street (now Narragansett Avenue) in the sparsely developed Dunning neighborhood of Chicago.
Looking east on Irving Park Boulevard at 64th Street (now Narragansett) in the Dunning neighborhood of Chicago. (circa 1905). The structure with the arches was the entrance to Kolze's Electric Park which dates back to 1896, when hotel, restaurant and tavern (seen in foreground) owner Henry James Kolze decided to create an attraction for riders of newly-reaching streetcar lines. Purchasing wooded land near his inn, Kolze strung large gas lamps to offer a nightly orchestra. It was one of the first parks in Chicago to be illuminated by electric lighting.
Newspaper Advertisement from Sept. 10, 1904
It was operated by Henry James Kolze, who owned a two-story roadside Inn, Restaurant and Tavern on the site to serve visitors to nearby cemeteries and the Cook County Mental Hospital. The extension of streetcar service to the area in 1896 boosted traffic along Irving Park Boulevard and enhanced the commercial possibilities of the site.

Kolze responded by developing a picnic grove in the wooded area behind his restaurant. By 1905, the park featured a dancing pavilion, a shooting gallery, various concession stands, and bright night-time illumination, hence the name "Electric Park." 
Attendance at the park steadily increased during the 1910s and 1920s, leading Kolze to undertake additional expansion of the park. 
Grand  Picnic Newspaper Advertisement from 1918.
By 1924, several new booths and refreshment stands had been added. Records also indicate that Kolze acquired additional property to the south of the original park, pushing its southern boundary to present Byron Avenue. The picnic grove remained in operation until the late 1940s. 

In 1950, the Chicago Park District acquired the property and announced plans to convert the picnic grove into a public park. In subsequent years, the park district demolished 19 of 20 buildings on the site, the only one left standing was the original clapboard tavern as the park's new field house until a new brick facility was erected in 1969. These structure were replaced with athletic fields, tennis courts, and a children’s playground. The new park became known as Merrimac Park.

ONE MILLION READERS - from 11/6/2016 to 10/17/2017 (345 days)

Knights Templar Conclave arch built over Michigan Avenue, Chicago. 1910

The arch and columns were erected to commemorate the 1910 Knights Templar Conclave.
The arch built over Michigan Avenue between 9th and 11th Streets, in Chicago (1910).
Note Grant Park’s Logan Monument in the lower right corner. 
Looking north on State from Van Buren, Chicago (1910).

Monday, October 16, 2017

Looking north on Wabash Avenue from Congress Parkway, Chicago. (1889)

Looking north on Wabash Avenue from Congress Parkway, Chicago. (1889). The Auditorium Building had only been completed one year before. The "L" would be added in 1896.  [Colorized Photograph]

The First Air Conditioned Theater in the U.S. was the Central Park Theater in Chicago.

The Central Park Theater opened in October of 1917 at 3535 W. Roosevelt Road in Chicago changing the movie going experience in America forever.
A.J. Balaban and Barney Balaban along with business partner Sam Katz had big plans to present movies in a magnificence theater, which gave birth to an architectural genre, the “movie palace.”

Central Park Theater was the very first air conditioned movie house in the country. There were seats for 1758 people. B&K pioneering efforts were truly ground breaking. Named for the cross street, the Central Park Theater was the beginning of B&K’s long reign in providing the public with a retreat from the hot, humid days that Chicago is notoriously known for during the summer.

In the beginning, the air conditioning was provided by huge blocks of ice that would be delivered in the early morning hours. Fans would blow the cool, moist air into the theater auditorium. While crude by today’s standards, this feature was a major draw for people looking to escape the heat if even for just a few hours.

Doctors often prescribed a day or two at the theater for those who were suffering from a long list of ailments including heat exhaustion. Nurses were on staff at the larger B&K theaters to address any medical emergencies.

These long gone movie palaces would open around noon and stay open until 11pm. For most people, this was their social activity for the week and one way to escape the heat.

The Theater closed in 1970. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

B&K’s theaters were designed by George & Cornelius Rapp. The brothers went on to design theaters around the country and Canada.

Chicago Balaban & Katz built theaters included: Oriental Theater, Central Park Theatre, Chicago Theatre, Nortown Theater, Gateway Theatre, Riviera Theatre, Tivoli Theater, Norshore Theater, Regal Theater, Southtown Theater, Paradise Theater, Senate Theater, Harding Theater, Gateway Theater, Maryland Theater, and Uptown Theatre.

NOTE: These are the Chicago movie theaters that Balaban & Katz purchased; United Artist; Roosevelt; Tower; Varsity (Evanston); Pantheon; Granada; Marbro; Riviera; Covent; Congress; Belmont; Century; Alamo; Belpark; Berwyn; Biltmore; Crystal; LaGrange; Manor; State; and the Alba.

Christiana and John Tillson, Illinois Pioneers of the Seventeenth Century.

On Saturday, September 14, 1823, John and Christiana Holmes Tillson, residents of Montgomery County in central Illinois, supervised the baking of bricks for the new chimney in their crude log cabin. While the bricks were cooling, he returned to his desk in the cabin and attended to the never-ending series of letters that were a part of his real estate business. She went to work in the kitchen and soon made enough cakes and pies to keep her "family" of six that included the brickmakers and the bricklayers satisfied for the coming week. As the day wore on, she served tea and supper to the family and to four guests; and then she climbed into the cabin's loft to make beds for her company. Finally, after their visitors were comfortably tucked in, Mr. and Mrs. Tillson prepared to go to bed themselves.

Christiana and John Tillson - Oil Paintings.
Just as they were about to lie down to enjoy a peaceful night's sleep, a loud thumping noise occurred at the kitchen door. A neighbor, Joel Wright, had come with a sick horse and asked to use the Tillson's kitchen to boil some herbs so that he might nurse the suffering animal back to health. Too tired to sleep anyway, Mrs. Tillson watched throughout the night as her husband and Wright dirtied most of her pots and pans and, incidentally, saved the horse. At dawn, Mrs. Tillson cleaned the kitchen and prepared breakfast for the crowded household. After the meal, the workers went off to spend the Sabbath with their own kinfolk, and the visitors began to leave the Tillson homestead; Judge Pascal Enos and his clerk, William Porter, went north to Springfield where they had business; W. H. Brown went south with Mr. Tillson to Bond County where they planned to catch the last of a three-day camp meeting of a group of Presbyterian ministers. Mrs. Tillson was left only with Mrs. Brown, happy to be relieved of the responsibility of caring for her husband and the endless stream of company. At last, with a nearly empty house, she could turn to those household tasks that had piled up but that had not demanded her immediate attention, what with so many guests and a busy husband to feed and make comfortable. That evening, Christiana Holmes Tillson, well-rested and satisfied with the course of her full day's work, bore her first child, Charles.

When she first gave birth, Christiana Holmes Tillson was twenty-five years old. She would go on to have three more children, presumably with the same matter-of-factness with which she bore her first, squeezing their arrivals into a daily schedule that included nearly constant physical labor. The Tillsons' only daughter, Christiana, was born in 1838 while the couple was visiting family in Massachusetts; it was the younger Christiana who persuaded her mother to write of her early Illinois experiences. By the time she finally had the time to write about her pioneer days forty-eight years later, in 1870 Christiana Holmes Tillson had come almost to the end of a long and fruitful life. She was born to Charles and Rebecca Briggs Holmes in Kingston, Massachusetts, on October 11, 1798. Her husband John was born to John and Desire Tillson in nearby Halifax, Massachusetts, on March 13, 1796.

Immediately following their marriage in 1822, the young couple set off for new lives in Illinois where John had earlier journeyed as a land agent for Dr. Benjamin Shurtleff of Boston. Accompanied by Shurtleff's son, Milton, and Joel Wright (who would later take his sick horse to the Tillson kitchen), John had traveled in 1819 to the Edwardsville, Illinois branch of the United States Land Office to survey and record the deed for a piece of land that Shurtleff had purchased from a War of 1812 veteran. Upon his arrival in Edwardsville, Tillson secured a job as a clerk at the land recorder's office. In that capacity, he was privy to information about the condition of government land that was available both in and outside of the Illinois Military Tract between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. While working at the land office, he bought 160 acres of arable land for himself on a tract northeast of Edwardsville on Shoal Creek (in what would become, in 1821, Montgomery County) and continued to record deeds for land speculators in the East. By 1832, Tillson had increased his land holdings to 844 acres in Montgomery County and was the proud owner and operator of a prosperous land office business. When he brought his bride to Illinois in 1822, John Tillson moved her into the log cabin that he had built on his first tract of land and where he had lived in a "Bachelor's Hall" with the younger Shurtleff and with Wright from 1819 until 1821. It is clear from her description of it in her memoir that Christiana Tillson did not find the cabin initially inviting to her eastern sensibilities; however, she made the best of the situation and lived the next five years in the cabin as the obedient wife of a prospering businessman. With few complaints about her tiring duties, she bore and cared for her children and she cooked and cleaned for the various combinations of people who composed the Tillson household including the female servants who worked for the family over the years. In her spare time, Christiana Tillson also helped her husband to keep up with his business correspondence and kept his general store when he was away from the homestead. In 1823, while his family remained in the cabin, John Tillson built another log structure in the new village of Hillsboro, where he also opened a brickyard. He was appointed the first village postmaster, an office for which he was especially suited since he had been serving as Montgomery County postmaster since 1821. In 1824, the Tillsons began construction of a brick home in Hillsboro and they planned to move into it in the spring of 1826 but construction delays did not permit occupancy until 1827.

The Tillsons lived in Montgomery County for three decades. Over the years the family prospered and grew to become one of the most influential in Hillsboro. John Tillson's business, the New York and Boston Illinois Land Company, was so successful by the 1830s that he took on a partner and opened a branch office in Quincy. With an increasing amount of his business being handled out of his Adams County office, Tillson began to spend more and more time in Quincy. In 1837, he built the Quincy Hotel and gave nine thousand dollars to support Illinois College in Jacksonville. In 1843, the Tillson family moved to Quincy where the children grew to maturity and formed families of their own. John Tillson died suddenly of "apoplexy" on May 11, 1853, while on a business trip to Peoria. Christiana Tillson lived for two more decades; she died in New York City on May 29, 1872.

Christiana Holmes Tillson had been in poor health for the four years preceding her death but, in 1870, her daughter had convinced her to write the story of the family's early years in Illinois. The result was Reminiscences of Early Life in Illinois, by our Mother, privately published in 1872 (or 1873) in Amherst, Massachusetts. The memoir is one of only a few sources that document the role that women played in the settlement of Illinois. The Reminiscences would have remained obscure-very few copies were printed and less than ten exist today-had it not been for the efforts of editor Milo Milton Quaife and the R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company of Chicago, who printed it in 1919 as "A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois." Christiana Holmes Tillson's memoir of pioneer Illinois was Quaife's fourth work for Donnelley and the seventeenth of the Lakeside Classics series. A Woman's Story was recently republished by Southern Illinois University Press.

Readers of the memoir should remember that Christiana and John Tillson were typical Illinois pioneers; they were certainly wealthier than many, but so were most of the people who moved to the frontier during the nineteenth century since such a journey was always an expensive proposition. Just like millions of other Americans, they were born in the eastern part of the United States and migrated, as young adults, to the West. Just like many other people of their time, the Tillsons worked very hard to build better lives for themselves and for their children. Just like countless other Americans, they struggled with the political and moral issues of their day, and it does not appear from her memoir that Christiana Tillson thought of her life or her experiences as unusual. In fact, her honest manner and her exceedingly low-key delivery give the book its charm.

The book, though, is remarkable in the way that it illustrates the drama of everyday life in the early nineteenth century and in the way that it depicts a time when the lives of typical Americans were so different from our own. It is also remarkable in that it intimately reveals, to the modern reader, an era in which ordinary people lived through extraordinary times. Whether she realized it or not, Christiana Tillson wrote of an age in which the United States was on the verge of tremendous economic, social, and political change. In 1820, the people of the United States viewed their surroundings through a very narrow lens, but by 1870, America would become a country in which citizens could appreciate the possibilities and the opportunities of a modern world. So, although "A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois" appears to be a simple story of one family's experience of frontier Illinois, it is really a book about a nation that was about to come of age. Christiana Tillson did not give much information about her husband's business ventures. She wrote about his extensive travel in Illinois and mentioned that she helped him with his correspondence, but she told little else about how he made his living. In fact, she is so circumspect that the reader might wonder whether Christiana Tillson sought to hide the details of her husband's profession. In actuality, John Tillson did not conduct his business in secrecy and his career was fairly representative of many men who dealt with real estate in the first half of the nineteenth century. He rode the crest of the speculative land wave for nearly twenty years and made a small fortune in the process, but, when the wave broke in the late 1830s, John Tillson nearly drowned.

His career mirrored the development of the land business in Illinois. In the early 1820s, he represented individual eastern investors. He traveled throughout eastern Missouri and western Illinois to find the best land deals for his clients in Massachusetts. From June of 1820 until November of 1821 he made a series of jaunts into the bounty lands of Missouri and Illinois, keeping a journal along the way. It describes the land over which he rode and records his impressions of the people he encountered. On November 22, 1821, he and Joel Smith (who Tillson claimed he took with him "on account of his company and the advantage he would be to me with his gun by killing game so as to prevent starvation") met a band of Kickapoo near the Illinois River. He wrote that "they treated us very civilly, and asked us to eat with them." Two days later, the two travelers stayed near Lewistown with Osian M. Ross, whom Tillson described as a quiet, industrious, entertaining man; he also noted that Ross was a Yankee, "or a New Yorker which is nearly the same thing."

The entries in Tillson's pocket diary record various land holdings owned by eastern investors. The pages shown here record the property in Fulton and Knox Counties belonging to S. and M. Allen. The map shows Township 14 North Range 7 East and the property owned by Peter H. Schenck. If this notation is correct, the land is in present-day Osceola Township in Stark County.
Tillson was hired as the agent for the New York and Boston Illinois Land Company in 1836 and, in that capacity, represented a group of stockholders in New York and Philadelphia. As its agent, Tillson handled huge sums of cash sometimes as much as twenty thousand dollars for the company, which was worth two million. He spent many days in Vandalia, the state capital until 1839, paying the company's taxes and lobbying for the Illinois legislature to give land grants to railroad companies; the railroads, he reasoned, would increase the value of the land company's holdings by attracting settlers and by providing cheap transportation for agricultural goods. Tillson urged the officials of the company to invest five hundred thousand dollars in government land along the route of a prospective railroad between the Wabash River and the Mississippi River. Hoping to profit personally, he convinced the legislature to charter the Alton, Wabash & Erie Rail Road Co. to run through Hillsboro, and was named a commissioner of the railroad.

During the next year, however, John Tillson's world began to come apart. He was caught, like so many other investors and agents who profited from the great land boom of the 1830s, in the great Panic of 1837. The panic, in its turn, caused a nationwide depression that ruined businessmen across the country. In October 1836, President Andrew Jackson declared that after September 1 only specie would be received in payment for the sale of public lands on the frontier. This Specie Circular was issued in response to the increasing number of bank and personal notes that the federal government was acquiring in payment for land. The banks, many of which had very easy lending policies, did not control the number of notes that were issued to borrowers and did not keep cash on hand to back them. The President's actions caused an even larger rush but only in the short run. The eastern capitalists eventually felt the pinch of scarce money and pulled back their investments. By the middle of 1837, land sales had declined across the Midwest; in a letter to Robert Rankin, the secretary of the land company in New York, Tillson rationalized that sales had fallen off in his two offices because "sales in the summer months will always be small, [because] at that period of time farmers have but little money on hand." It soon became clear that he was only fooling himself. Sales continued to plummet.

Then in January 1838 Tillson and the company were hit with another crippling blow. The Illinois legislature declared that land titles would no longer be issued when proof of ownership was determined through tax payments (tax titles). Owners would now have to present deeds to show that they owned their land before they could obtain titles. And since the New York and Boston Illinois Land Company had not usually acquired deeds from sellers, Tillson could no longer sell much of its land. The company was stuck with thousands of acres for which taxes had to be paid but for which it had no titles. Finally, in March 1839, the Illinois General Assembly passed a special bill that would decrease the company's tax liability by half and would buy it out for six hundred thousand dollars. Tillson had convinced the legislators to pass the law by promising to include the Quincy House Hotel as part of the deal, even though he was the sole owner of the establishment. Afterward, his life would no longer be as fast-paced, and he would never again cut the same figure in the community. He continued as agent for a much smaller Illinois Land Company until his death in 1853 at the age of fifty-seven.

John Tillson was a typical, albeit tragic, example of a middle-class man of the early nineteenth century. And Christiana Tillson was a typical woman of the same period. However, in many ways, the life that she portrays does not fit the pattern that present-day readers might expect of a middle-class woman of the nineteenth century. She was, after all, a contemporary of Queen Victoria of England, and one might think that she and women like her would have been a little more ladylike. However, history shows us that while many women lived in the Victorian age, they were not "Victorian women." When, in 1870, Tillson wrote of her early days in Illinois, she described a life of comparative isolation and of constant physical labor. In this respect, she was speaking for most women of her time. Since the overwhelming majority of American women (and men) lived on farms throughout the nineteenth century, their lives were filled with work about which most, like Tillson, rarely complained.

The Tillsons were a bit unusual, however, in at least one respect; they had only four children. It is true that birth rates were falling in the nineteenth century as the American population grew more urban, but the Tillson family, completed in 1838, was even below the average of five and one-half children in 1860. It is impossible to tell whether Christiana Tillson suffered any miscarriages during the years of her fertility. There appears to have been sufficient space in between the births of her children for her to have become pregnant many more times; she bore her children in 1823, 1825, 1831,and 1838. However, there is another possible explanation that, if correct, would put John and Christiana right back into their roles as typical Americans of their time. They might have been practicing some sort of birth control to limit the size of their family. That part of their personal lives, however, will have to remain a mystery to us; and rightly so.

Whatever explains the small size of their brood, it remains clear that the Tillsons were people of their time. However, in her memoir, Christiana Tillson leaves the impression that she wished she was not so typical in one area of her pioneer life. Writing in 1870, just five years after the nation had gone through the agony of the Civil War, she was clearly not comfortable with the family's personal history with African-Americans and slavery. Her story about the lives and legal fate of two people named Lucy and Caleb (who might have been held by the Tillsons in slavery) smacks of both rationalization and racism. But it is difficult to distinguish her ambiguous views about slavery that she expressed in her twilight years from those she might have possessed in the 1820s.

It is not surprising that the Tillsons would be ambiguous about slavery since the people of Illinois continuously dealt with and debated the issue during the first half of the nineteenth century. As a part of the old Northwest Territory that was carved out by the Confederation Congress in 1787, Illinois was, theoretically, to be free of slavery when it became a state in 1818.

However, because many of the early European settlers in the state were French and owned slaves, the Illinois Constitution of 1818 called for the protection of existing slavery and allowed the introduction of new slaves for specific purposes and for short periods of time. As a result, people were held in legal bondage in Illinois until the Constitution of 1848 finally made it illegal. Until then, a slaveowner in a southern state was permitted to take slaves into Illinois and continue to hold them in bondage. The Tillsons may have purchased Lucy and Caleb from such a slaveowner.

Christiana and John Tillson were from Massachusetts, and one might suppose that they would have a totally different attitude about slavery and African-Americans than that of their southern neighbors. In A Woman's Story, Christiana Tillson wrote of southerners in a way that was, to say the least, grudgingly respectful. She referred to them as "white folks," drew amazingly detailed and amusing character portraits of them, and contrasted their habits with those of "Yankees." It is clear that she did not consider herself or her husband to be in the same class as their southern neighbors, even though they socialized, worshipped, and did business with them. It is difficult, however, to distinguish her prejudices and attitudes of the 1820s from those of 1870 when she wrote about them. Perhaps it is good enough to say that they were probably not the same.

By writing her Reminiscences of Early Life in Illinois, by our Mother, Christiana Holmes Tillson hoped her children and grandchildren might better remember their family's story. She must have sensed that she and other pioneers had lived through a time in which the traditional American way-of-life had irreversibly changed. She did not, however, realize that with the republication of her remarkable story as "A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois," the twists and turns of history have allowed all of us to remember, too.

Illinois Heritage - by Kay J. Carr


John Tillson - Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General. Served in the Civil War first as a Captain in the United States Regular Army, then was Colonel and commander of the 10th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He was brevetted Brigadier General, US Volunteers on March 10, 1865. After the war he served briefly in the Regular Army (resigning in 1866 with the rank of Captain), and served in the Illinois State Legislature. General John Tillson wrote an important early history of Quincy entitled, History of the City of Quincy, Illinois.

Christiana Holmes Tillson - In her book, "A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois," left a rare and rich narrative of her family's early years in Illinois. Her commentary has unintentionally left us with a significant historical document that reflects a microcosm of Illinois in 1822-1827. As a well-educated New England woman, born in Massachusetts on October 11, 1798, she married John Tillson in October, 1822, and immediately set out with him for her new life in the small log cabin he had built in Montgomery County located in southern Illinois. The focus of her writing is in detailing her trip to the frontier and the first few years of her life here.

She wrote her memoirs late in life (1870) to depict for her daughter the dramatic changes in society since her pioneer experiences. The manuscript she left provides a unique glimpse into her struggles as a pioneer housewife. Abundant anecdotal stories enliven the portrayal of life as she encountered it and enrich the reader with another dimension of frontier history from a woman's viewpoint.

The Tillsons are buried in their family plot on the south ridge of Woodland Cemetery in Quincy, Illinois.

Read Christiana Holmes Tillson's memoirs, "A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois." It's in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History®. Published 1919

Read General John Tillson's book, "History of the City of Quincy, Illinois." It's in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History®. Published 1880