Sunday, September 26, 2021

Barack Obama announces the groundbreaking ceremony for his presidential library in Chicago’s covenanted Jackson Park.

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Five years ago, then-President Barack Obama chose Chicago’s Jackson Park as the future site of his presidential center, stirring the South Side with the promise of long-overdue transformation and the distinction of being the place where the story of the nation’s first Black president and first lady is told.

On Tuesday, September 28, 2021, the Obamas will return to Chicago and at last kick off construction during a ceremonial groundbreaking with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, the Obama Foundation announced. The celebration follows a protracted journey that began in 2016 and, thanks to a confluence of obstacles, at times left supporters to wonder if dirt would ever be turned.

But with a date for the ceremony formally inked in, the Obama Presidential Center will take an important step toward its debut on the South Side, where Barack Obama was first elected to public office and Michelle Obama grew up.

“Michelle and I could not be more excited to break ground on the Obama Presidential Center in the community that we love,” Barack Obama said in a video posted Friday. “With your help, we can make the center a catalyst for economic opportunity, a new world-class destination on the South Side, and a platform for young people to drive change. So let’s celebrate Chicago.”

Obama Foundation President Valerie Jarrett agreed, saying next week’s ceremony also represents a milestone for the South Side.

“I spent my entire childhood and adulthood seeing the South Side overlooked,” Valerie Jarrett told the Tribune this past Monday. “For generations now, the South Side of Chicago hasn’t seen the kind of investment and attention that I think it deserves. So, long overdue, and I couldn’t be more proud that it is President and Mrs. Obama who decided to make this major investment in the South Side of Chicago.”

In pitching the vision of his presidential center, Obama sought to build a “living, breathing” campus that pays homage to the movement that made his historic presidency possible, Jarrett said — including in Chicago, where he served as a community organizer before finding his political star.

“This is not your parents’ or your grandparents’ presidential library,” Valerie Jarrett said. “This is a library of pointing really towards the future, that stands on the shoulders of our past.”

When Obama announced that historic Jackson Park, sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Woodlawn, would be the destination of his future presidential center, its opening day was scheduled for this year. But it would only be last month that shovels even hit the ground at the site, following a failed but lengthy legal effort to halt construction.

The hurdles to groundbreaking stemmed from Obama’s decision to place his presidential center at a park listed on the National Register of Historic Places and first mapped out in 1871 by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also co-designed New York’s, Central Park. The Jackson Park location, as well as the need to close and expand major adjacent streets, prompted a yearslong federal review that concluded this February.

However, that would not be the last the city and the Obama Foundation would hear from those who oppose the Jackson Park location. Protect Our Parks, a park preservationist nonprofit that unsuccessfully sued the city in 2018 to block the project, filed a second legal challenge the same day pre-construction roadwork began in April, this time regarding the legality of the federal review.

That lawsuit recently led to an emergency bid to block construction that was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in August. Bulldozers soon descended on the site, though the plaintiffs maintain they still have legal options in their arsenal.

Amid the twists and turns that the decision to locate the campus at Jackson Park sparked, Jarrett, said the Obamas never doubted their choice.

“Hard things are hard,” said Jarrett, who has deep roots in Chicago and worked in the Obama White House. “The challenges presented were challenges that we were prepared to overcome, and we have. And so, no, I never heard a single time where President Obama wavered in his commitment to deliver this world-class center on this site and in this location.”

The $700 million presidential center is mostly dirt mounds now, but in four years there is to be a 235-foot-tall tower with a quote from Barack Obama’s speech marking the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil-rights marches carved on the exterior. There will be a forum building and a plaza with public artwork open to members of the community to gather, as well as an athletic and recreation center.

A new branch of the Chicago Public Library will include on its roof a garden resembling Michelle Obama’s fruit and vegetable garden at the White House. And a playground, walking paths, and a sledding hill will adorn the park area surrounding the buildings.

Meanwhile, Obama Presidential Center Museum Director Louise Bernard, who also helped design the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, said the team has been searching across the nation for the thousands of objects that will go into the artifact collection. But Bernard emphasized the artifacts are not a “time capsule” but a way to inspire future generations, including the young South Side visitors who might come to see themselves as a future president of the U.S.

“It’s not simply that the history is this thing that happened in the past to other people, or that the objects all live behind glass … but rather that the visitor feels themselves to be a social actor in the making of history,” Bernard said in a recent interview.

In newly revealed details, Bernard shared that the four floors of the museum will start with the first level portraying Obama’s childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia as well as his seminal years in Chicago with Michelle Obama and his first presidential campaign. The second floor will frame his administration’s tenure, beginning with its inheritance of an economic meltdown and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the third floor will be a homage to the diversity of the different groups of people who worked at the Obama White House, and a full-scale replica of the Oval Office will be open for visitors to walk through. And finally, the last floor will symbolize Obama’s “passing of the baton” to the next generation of leaders in his farewell address in Chicago, Bernard said.

“It’s a story that’s connected, obviously, to Chicago,” Bernard said. “It’s really rooted in the South Side of Chicago broadly. … As much as the kind of central narrative arc is about the Obama presidency, it is also about all of the people who made his journey possible.”

By Alice Yin, Chicago Tribune, Sept 24, 2021
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Lost Towns of Illinois - Forrestville, Illinois.

Forrestville was a Hamlet (a small human settlement), founded in the 1850s, that had a somewhat indefinite boundary, like many other suburban villages. It is in today's Grand Boulevard community. 

It may be said at first to have been bounded as follows: Forty-third Street, Cottage Grove Avenue, Fortyseventh Street and Indiana Avenue.

Forrestville was in what was known as District № 7, which was taken from District № 2, in May 1873. 

A school of thirty-seven pupils was organized on May 19, 1873, in Miss Alice J. Quiner's house on Forty-fifth Street. In September 1873, Miss Alice Draper became principal, and Miss Quiner remained as the assistant. Nearly fifty children were in attendance within less than a year. 
Forestville School in Chicago.

The Springer school, built in 1873, became an important educational institution. In 1874 the school was moved to Cottage Grove Avenue, between forty-fourth and forty-fifth Streets. In 1875 the school was moved once again to the corner of forty-fifth Street and St. Lawrence Avenue. The Oak Ridge school was in the vicinity of Forty-seventh Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, but children attended from as far south as Sixty-third Street and as far west as Indiana Avenue.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Stark Truth About Chicago in the 1890s.

The World's Columbian Exposition tried to show the world — and the rest of America — the best Chicago had to offer. But outside the fair's gates, many Chicagoans lived a much darker existence.

Much of Chicago's industry centered on the Union Stock Yards and meat-processing plants. The smoke, stench, and filth surrounding the packing operations drove many well-off residences to other Chicago communities and some to the cleaner suburbs. Those who labored in the yards continued to live nearby in what was known as Packingtown.

Thousands of immigrants lived in crowded tenement buildings and worked long hours, six days a week; the average wage for a meat-packer was less than 20¢ an hour ($7.60/hr today), and many laborers made far less.
Packingtown just outside of the Union Stock Yards.

Many Chicago neighborhoods that were not directly affected by the stockyards were also dirty, smelly, and unsafe. Garbage was dumped in the streets, and corpses of animals were left to rot. The water supply was notoriously unhealthy; hundreds of people, particularly children, died of cholera and other preventable diseases every year. 

Bubbly Creek was originally a wetland; during the 19th century, channels were dredged to increase the rate of flow into the Chicago River and dry out the area to increase the amount of habitable land in the fast-growing city. The South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River became an open sewer for the local stockyards, especially the Union Stock Yards, and the packing houses. Meatpackers dumped waste, such as blood and entrails, into the river. The creek received so much blood and offal (decomposing animal flesh) that it began to bubble methane and hydrogen sulfide gas from the products of decomposition.
Bubbly Creek, circa 1915

In 1906, author Upton Sinclair wrote "The Jungle," (in pdf) an unflattering portrait of America's meatpacking industry. In it, he reported on the state of Bubbly Creek, writing that:

"Bubbly Creek is an arm of the Chicago River, and forms the southern boundary of the Union Stock Yards; all the drainage of the square mile of packing houses empties into it so that it is really a great open sewer a hundred or two feet wide. One long arm of it is blind, and the filth stays there forever and a day. The grease and chemicals that are poured into it undergo all sorts of strange transformations, which are the cause of its name; it is constantly in motion as if huge fish were feeding in it, or great leviathans disporting themselves in its depths. Bubbles of carbonic gas will rise to the surface and burst, and make rings two or three feet wide. Here and there the grease and filth have caked solid, and the creek looks like a bed of lava; chickens walk about on it, feeding, and many times an unwary stranger has started to stroll across and vanished temporarily. The packers used to leave the creek that way, till every now and then the surface would catch on fire and burn furiously, and the fire department would have to come and put it out. Once, however, an ingenious stranger came and started to gather this filth in scows (a large flat-bottomed boat for transporting bulk material and dredging), to make lard out of; then the packers took the cue, and got out an injunction to stop him, and afterward gathered it themselves. The banks of Bubbly Creek are plastered thick with hairs, and this also the packers gather and clean."
Bubbly Creek Today.

The World's Fair organizers were so afraid of a cholera outbreak among fair visitors that they built a pipeline to bring in clean water from Waukesha, Wisconsin, about 115 miles to the north. The city was characterized by overcrowded schools, filth, rampant crime, and hundreds of brothels in several red-light districts. 

English politician John Burns, who visited Chicago in 1895, called Chicago a "pocket edition of hell." Later he added, "On second thought, I think hell is a pocket edition of Chicago."

How dirty was Chicago? In the late 1890s, Chicago had about 83,000 horses living and working in the city. On average, one horse creates between 40 to 50 pounds of manure a day. At 40 pounds per day, which equals 3,320,000 pounds, or 1,660 tons of horse manure to dispose of per day. "Manure Mongers" (street sweepers) would swept-up the horse manure. By 1900 there were only 377 automobiles registered with the Board of Examiners of Operators of Automobiles. What happened to all that manure? 
1890s Chicago Traffic

Many of the poor probably didn't see the White City except from a distance. Although the fair's organizers were pressed to provide a "Waif's Day (Waif: a homeless, neglected, or abandoned child)." But Harlow Niles Higinbotham, World's Fair President, said peremptorily (subject to no further debate or dispute), "NO!"

The United States as a whole was struggling during the year of the fair. The Panic of 1893 was a serious depression that bankrupted railroads and triggered runs on banks. Even the wealthy struggled, and many middle-class families who might have traveled to the fair stayed home. The poor were even less likely to experience the wonders of the exposition. 

That being said, Fair revenues from gate admission, concessions, and exhibitors reached $35 million ($1.1 billion today). After all the expenses were paid, the net profit was about $2 million ($61 million today), which was split amongst shareholders. 

NOTE: The Observation 'Ferris' Wheel, opened 52 days late on June 21, 1893, earning $733,086 ($22,237,000 today) at 50¢ ($15 today; same as the cost to enter the fair) per a 2-rotation ride (one rotation to load/unload passengers, six cars at a time, and one complete rotation). Receipts were second to the "Street in Cairo" exhibit at $787,826 ($23,898,000 today).
Amazing one-minute footage of the Ferris Wheel
running in 1896 at Ferris Wheel Park at Clark and
Wrightwood in  Lincoln Park, Chicago.
The vantage point here is looking from the southwest
corner of Wrightwood, northeast across Clark Street.
Filmed by the Lumiere Brothers and is one
of the first films ever shot in Chicago.

In 1893 Chicago, the entertainment that was more attainable for the poor was the "Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World" show at 50¢ ($15 today) entry fee, which was across the street from the World's Fair. Most of the exhibits and entertainments at the World's Fair charged an additional entry fee.

Racism at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.