Friday, April 3, 2020

The History of Chicago Boarding Houses.

Residential boarding arrangements in the Chicago area are at least as old as the taverns of the Fort Dearborn trading settlement. During Chicago's early boom years, when housing facilities lagged behind population growth, many visitors and newcomers found lodging and meals in the households of private citizens.

By the 1880s, boarding was an established way of life. Private boarding houses typically consisted of a married couple (with or without children) who kept several boarders, generally single, unrelated individuals. While married couples occasionally boarded, families with children rarely lived in boarding houses.

Women usually took primary responsibility for boarders. For many women, keeping boarders and lodgers was a readily available way to earn money that permitted a flexible schedule and was compatible with caring for children. A married woman's income from boarding was often more reliable than her husband's income, and could well be the primary income for the household. Keeping boarders was also a source of income for some widows and mature single women.
For many landlords and boarders, the household intimacy of boarding was part of its appeal. Boarders not only took their meals within the household but often participated in family activities. Boarding house residents met daily in the shared spaces of the dining room and the parlor. Late-nineteenth-century reformers approved of the family environment of boarding houses, which they felt acted as a welcome social restraint on boarders.

Native-born white and negro Americans often lived in boarding houses when they were single and new to the city. After the 1880s, more and more single young women and men were employed in clerical jobs in the new skyscrapers, and many of them lived in boarding houses.
H.H. Holmes Murder Castle (the arrow is front entrance), circa 1893.
Boarding was more prevalent among immigrants than among the native-born in early twentieth-century Chicago and other large cities. Boarding provided a cultural haven for homesick new immigrants who sought out households where they could speak their native tongues. Housing arrangements were often made through informal networks rather than public advertising.
The Transit House, 43th and Halsted, Chicago, (1868). This boarding house served the visitors and patrons of the Union Stock Yards.
Larger and more commercial boarding houses existed in outlying industrial areas, such as near suburban railroad stops. In some of the more crowded arrangements, workers shared bedding and slept in shifts in a “hotbed.” In some working-class boarding houses, each boarder's food was purchased and cooked separately. In other situations, residents themselves took turns cooking.
Notice the buildings main entrance has been moved to the second floor because Chicago raised the street level to improve drainage of water, raising the streets out of the mud in 1858.
Well before 1900, other arrangements began to replace boarding. Many tenants preferred to lodge without common meals or to live in larger, more anonymous rooming houses, where a “light housekeeping room” included a gas fixture for cooking on a single burner. In a rooming house, residents could keep their own hours, enjoy greater privacy, and perhaps entertain guests more easily.
Packingtown, (Back of the Yards Neighborhood), Chicago.
Landlords, too, could prefer lodgers to boarders for many of the same reasons. Boardinghouse families began to prefer their privacy to the affective ties of an extensive surrogate family. 

The decline of boarding could be seen as a parallel to the transformation of the semipublic “parlor” or front-room (frunchroom in Chicagoese) into the twentieth-century private “living room.”

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Pullman Building at Michigan and Adams Tip Top Inn and Black Cat Inn Restaurants, Chicago.


In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.

As the massively solid Pullman Building at 79 E. Adams Street, was under construction on Michigan Avenue in 1884, a young Adolph Hieronymus was traveling to Chicago from his native Germany. Within a few years, he would run a renowned restaurant on the building’s top floor.

The Pullman Palace Car Company (established in 1862), was first located in the Tremont House at 92 Lake Street in February of 1867. The firm moved in 1868 to offices at Randolph and the lake, a fortuitous move. Not only was the building close to the rail lines running along the lakefront, but a rail siding ran next to the building. 

The day after the Great Chicago Fire Pullman quickly moved, via the Illinois Central tracks, what he could save to stables at 18th Street where business presumably carried on. Between 1871 and 1884, Pullman's primary offices were located on the east side of Michigan Avenue south of 18th Street and later in the old Peoples Gas building at 122 S Michigan Avenue, the site which is still the site of the Peoples Gas building.

A new fire-proof building was built as the new headquarters of the Pullman Palace Car Company. It was completed in 1885 at the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street. 

After George Pullman's death in 1897, Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, became company president until 1911. The Pullman Company (renamed December 30, 1899, several years after the death of George Mortimore Pullman (1831-1897)) remained in the Pullman Building until 1948, after which offices were moved to the Merchandise Mart.

When the imposing building was completed, the company occupied two and a one-half of its nine floors while the rest of the space was rented for 125 offices and 75 apartments, which were known as “bachelor apartments,” probably because it lacked anything but the most rudimentary cooking facilities.
George Pullman's office was located on the ninth floor, just below the flag-pole-topped corner turret. The offices for the company located elsewhere in the building.
For the first few years, the Pullman company ran its own restaurant, "The Albion," on the 9th floor. It was considered advanced at the time to locate restaurants on top floors so that cooking odors would not drift throughout the building. In addition, diners at The Albion, and later the Tip Top Inn restaurant, had excellent views of Lake Michigan.
The Corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street, Chicago.
During the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, Adolph Hieronymus left his job as the chef at the Palmer House and took over the Pullman building restaurant, renaming it to the Tip Top Inn. Under his management, it became one of Chicago’s best gourmet restaurants, hosting society figures and professional organizations. Until the Pullman company expanded its offices onto all eight floors below the restaurant, the men living in the 75 apartments on the upper floors were also steady customers of the Inn, often having meals sent down to them.

The space occupied by the Tip Top Inn was divided into a bewildering number of rooms, at least five and maybe more at once. Each had its own decorating scheme. Over the years – but surely not simultaneously — there were the Colonial Room, the Nursery, the Whist Room, the Charles Dickens Corner, the Flemish Room, the French Room, the Italian Room, the Garden Room, and the Grill Room. The Whist Room was decorated with enlarged playing cards and lanterns with spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. The lantern and suits also decorated the Inn’s china and menus.
The Colonial Room
The Whist Room
The French Room
Mr. Hieronymus employs negro waiters, and many people wonder how he gives such good service with negroes. In reply to this subject, Hieronymus said:
“I have tried to be a friend of the negro in this business. and have always employed them. It is in the Palmer House and The Tip Top Inn that the negro has held his position all these years in Chicago. I have their work systematized. Each waiter knows his station and what he has to do, arid each station has its captain, who is my representative, and I am always accessible. There is discipline, but no bad language. Every employee must be self-respecting and a credit to the establishment. The waiters appreciate the treatment and are loyal. It is the same way with the cooks; they are loyal, and have time and again given evidence of it. The policy here is to minimize waste. The high cost of living today is due in a large measure to waste, not alone in material, but in time."
Hieronymus was employee-centric and compensated his entire staff better than other local fine dining restaurants. The meals were expensive for the time period and the waiters made a very good living on tips.

A single tenant who had a meal sent down to his apartment might order; Tomato Crab Cumbo soup, Allice Salad, Fillet of Sea Bass, Peach a la Bellevue, and French Drip Coffee, would pay $2.95  in 1920, ($39.00 today).
Tip Top Inn Partial Menu - In 1920, $1 = $13 today.
Perhaps to attract new customers, Hieronymus created an associated restaurant on the 9th floor called "The Black Cat Inn," with somewhat lower prices than the Tip Top Inn and a menu featuring prix fixe meals (fixed price).

The Tip Top Inn and The Black Cat Inn occupy the entire top floor of the Pullman Building. The Black Cat Restaurant takes the west wing of the building and is operated with less overhead for service than The Tip Top Inn, consequently the bill-of-fare prices are lower. 

In the Black Cat Inn, there was a new departure in service, in that negro waitresses were employed. These young women had been carefully trained, serving a sort of apprenticeship as bus girls for some months before advanced to waiters. They are intelligent, respectful, clean and work side by side with the negro waiters. Hieronymus watched them work for half an hour and they gave satisfactory service. 
The Black Cat Inn. (c.1910)
Negro waitresses served in restaurants far less often than negro men. The Tip Top Inn, just like the Albion and the Pullman dining cars, had always been staffed with negro waiters, some of whom worked there for decades. It was said that anyone who worked at the Tip Top could find employment in any restaurant across the country. 

In the book “Black Bolshevik” author Harry Haywood (the son of former slaves who became a leading member of the Communist Party and a pioneering theoretician on the negro struggle. Originally published in 1978) wrote in his autobiography that he quickly worked his way up from Tip Top Inn busboy to a waiter and then landed jobs on the ultra-modern Twentieth-Century Limited train and with Chicago’s Sherman Hotel and Palmer House.

By 1931 when the Tip Top Inn restaurant closed, it was regarded as an old-fashioned holdover from a previous era. Its extensive menu of specialties such as Stuffed Whitefish with Crabmeat, Suzettes Tip Top, and Alice Salad[1] some of the more than 100 dishes created by Hieronymus, was no longer in vogue. 

The outlawing of alcoholic beverages proved challenging to the Tip Top Inn, as it did to other leading Chicago restaurants of the pre-Prohibition era such as Rector’s, the Edelweiss, and the Hofbrau, all of which would go under before the ban on selling alcohol ended. 

Aside from Prohibition (1920-1933), Hieronymus attributed the restaurant’s demise to the death of gourmet dining. Hieronymus died in1932 but he and his restaurant were remembered by Chicagoans for decades. 

The Pullman Building was demolished in 1956.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


[1] Salade Alice (Alice Salad) Recipe:
Ingredients: 
  • Medium-sized red dessert (sweet) apples
  • Lemon juice
  • Apple balls cut with a very small vegetable ball-cutter
  • Redcurrants
  • Almonds or walnuts
  • Salt
  • Cream
  • Lettuce
Directions:
  • Cut the apples into 4 or 6 wedges and remove some of the fruit so it makes a bowl. 
  • Rub the inside of the apple with lemon juice to prevent it from discoloring. 
  • Mix the apple balls, redcurrants, and chopped nuts. 
  • Sprinkle with salt and lemon juice and bind with the cream. 
  • Fill the apple bowls and serve on bibb lettuce.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Lake View Cycling Club of Chicago in the 1890s.

CLICK PICTURE TO ENLARGE
The Lake View Cycling Club in front of its clubhouse at 401-403 N Orchard Street, Chicago (today, 2224-2226 N Orchard Street) in the 1890s.
I personally spoke with Mary, the owner of the 2-flat at 2222 N. Orchard that was next to the Lake View Cycling Clubhouse. Mary and her husband ran a book business out of their 2-flat called Orchard Books, Inc. They have a framed copy of the Lake View Cycling Club hanging in the foyer.

Mary told me that the new condo building was built in 1998. The 2-story Mary owns was originally built-in 1890. It's the building on the right, the 3-story condominium, was the location of the Lake View Cycling Clubhouse, which of course, was demolished. 

Mary's 2-story building was razed between August of 2018 and July of 2019.

Copyright © 2016, Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The History of the Pittsfield Building in Chicago.

The Pittsfield Building is a 38-story skyscraper located at 55 E. Washington Street and a secondary Wabash Avenue lobby entrance, in downtown Chicago. 
The Pittsfield Building, Chicago
The Pittsfield Building on Wabash under the 'L' Elevated Loop
It was the city's tallest building at the time of its completion in 1927. Fourteen passenger elevators served the building.

The property, in "Jewelers' Row" (now a landmark district), was developed by the Estate of Marshall Field constructed the Pittsfield Building. It was named after Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where Marshall Field obtained his first job as a clerk in the dry goods store of "Davis & Grant" at the age of 17.
The Pittsfield Building Entranceway Plaque
The Pittsfield Building Entranceway
Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst, & White, the structure combines both art deco and Gothic detailing, while complying with a 1923 zoning ordinance which mandated skyscrapers setbacks. The interior of the building features a five-story atrium, lined by balconies and shops, that is detailed with glowing marbles, gleaming brass, and Spanish Gothic style carvings.
The Pittsfield Building Atrium
The Pittsfield Building Atrium
The Pittsfield Building Atrium
The architecture of the Pittsfield Building was designed with two different commercial spaces. The upper floors, from 5 to 37, were professional offices for lawyers, dentists, and doctors. The lower levels, from the basement to the 5th, were for small retailers such as jewelers, restaurants, tobacco stores, and newsstands.

The lower levels were decorated in a “Spanish Gothic Revival” style with some Art Deco touches. The architectural style unmistakably recalls the 1920’s, which gives you a taste of history. When you step inside, the coffered gilt elevator lobby ceilings thrum with a maze-like hexagonal pattern. The central atrium soars five floors above, crowned with a gigantic chandelier. Marble covers seemingly every spare surface in the lobby and atrium. The beauty of this space makes the Pittsfield a rental for the occasional wedding.

The first of three basement levels was a part of the arcade and housed several shops, a wonderful restaurant, and a barbershop. The barber shop's owner was at one time the "Royal Family Barber" in London England and had several photographs hanging in the shop to prove it. Mike Royko, Chicago newspaper columnist (winner of the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for commentary), was a regular for a weekly trim. I talked with Royko many times. My Dad was Royko's Optometrist. 

The effect of all the architectural ornamentation is stunning in its opulence and aesthetic appeal. Of course, that fits right into the flashy architectural approach that Marshall Field pioneered at his store.
The Pittsfield Building Brass Elevator Doors
The Pittsfield Building Ground Floor Elevator Floor Indicator
The Pittsfield Building Brass Restaurant Sign at the Staircase to the Lower Level.
Marshall Field III presented the property as a gift to the Field Museum of Natural History in honor of the museum's 50th anniversary. The museum held the property until September 1960 when the museum sold it. The building was designated as a Chicago Landmark on November 6, 2002.
The Pittsfield Building Sign to Lower Level Atrium
The Pittsfield Building Atrium Chandelier
The Pittsfield Building Elevator Foyer
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Henry C. Grebe & Co. Inc. Shipyard was on the Chicago River at Belmont Avenue Building U.S. Navy Ships.

In 1926 the former "Great Lakes Boat Building Corporation" of Milwaukee became the "Henry C. Grebe & Co. Inc. Shipyard" and moved to Chicago. The shipyard was over eight acres on the north branch of the Chicago River at 3250 North Washtenaw Avenue, across the river from the famous Riverview Park

Before World War II, Grebe (Gree-be) produced sail yachts and powerboats for exclusive clientele.
During WWII Grebe built various wood and steel vessels for the Navy. The yard had cranes with capacities to 50 tons and a complete inter-yard rail system throughout. There was storage for 400 yachts.
During the war, the shipyard built over 56 ships, wood, and steel, for the U.S. Navy including 21 tugboats, 4 tankers, and 28 minesweepers (aka: auxiliary motor minesweepers). These vessels were used in detecting mines laid by enemy submarines. Their wooden hulls helped prevent the explosion of nearby magnetic triggered mines. 
This is a 1943 panorama of the Grebe Shipyard which operated from 1926 to 1994. The former Riverview Park is visible in the background of this photograph. In the foreground, several U.S. Navy vessels are under construction.
Rumor has it that Grebe built PT boats (small patrol boats, the most famous, PT-109, was commanded by Lieutenant John F. Kennedy), but according to the Chicago Maritime Museum which holds the Grebe archives, they never built any PT boats.
The shipyard’s existence was the reason that moveable bridges were kept in place on the north branch of the Chicago River because the bridges needed to open to let the Grebe-built craft to lake Michigan.
Grebe shipyard looking east across Chicago River. Note Riverview Park's rides, Shoot the Chutes and The Bobs roller coaster in the background, circa 1928.
After the war was over, Grebe returned his business to mostly building pleasure craft for such Chicago luminaries as Philip Wrigley and Sterling Morton of Morton Salt. They also built some powerboats for the Chicago Police Department.

When Grebe passed away in 1952, his widow Marguerite took over operations, which was unusual enough at the time to merit a couple of newspaper articles about her. As time went on the interest in these high-end yachts waned. She ran the company until they completed their last boat in 1972. The company continued to operate at the site until 1994 providing boat maintenance and storage. The land was worth more than the business.
Today the site is occupied by the Belmont River Club townhomes.

ADDITIONAL READING: Houseboats on the Chicago River; The history of living on the river.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

The City of Bunker Hill in Southern Illinois was Leveled by the 1948 Tornado.

Bunker Hill is in Macoupin County in southern Illinois, about 20 miles south of the county's largest town, Carlinville, and 10 miles west of Interstate 55 highway. The community of about 1,800 has seen its share of high wind in the last century.

The town was spared devastation during the tornado of 1925, which killed 540 people in southern Illinois. Bunker Hill was hit in 1928, but only a few buildings lost roofs. Then in 1958, five of the town’s half-dozen churches were either demolished or damaged by a tornado that did an estimated $250,000 ($2,241,000 today) in damages.

Then came the tornado on Friday, March 19, 1948. It killed 19 people and injured 126. Almost every structure in Bunker Hill was destroyed. Only two buildings were left standing by the tornado that arrived at 6:50 pm. With so many men recently home from World War II, comparisons to bombed-flat European cities were understandable.
Local farmers brought bulldozers and tractors to Bunker Hill to assist in the cleanup.
The storm destroyed most of the center of Bunker Hill, including all five of the town’s churches. Most of the business district was reduced to rubble, while the bandstand, a town landmark, was leveled. Another central feature of the town, a statue of Abraham Lincoln dedicated in 1904, was knocked off its pedestal.

“Our house was the only one on our street that wasn’t destroyed,” said Herman Landreth, of Bunker Hill. “Two of my sisters-in-law died in that storm. My brother, Albert, and all three of his sons had broken legs, and they had to amputate my brother’s leg.” His brother’s home and grocery store were also lost.

Wayne Heal, then a senior in high school, remembers racing into town with his father from the family farm five miles away. They were worried about Heal’s grandparents. They couldn’t get past the edge of town, because of all the bricks in the streets. “An average of three feet deep,” Heal said. “We went through about three blocks of that, altogether.” The roof of his grandparents’ home was gone. So was the entire north side of the house, Heal said. But his grandmother and grandfather were fine.

That was largely a matter of luck. Nothing fell on them, and a 2-by-6 board that went through a kitchen window and embedded itself in a wall missed everyone. “It went in deep enough that it was suspended there, like you’d driven a nail,” Heal recalled. “If that had caught anybody, it would have taken their head off.”
The military, Red Cross, and Salvation Army were reportedly serving 1,000 people a day in Bunker Hill.
Outside of town, twenty-one-year-old Lester Lawson heard the approach of the storm and tried to look out for his young family. “The windows were rattling, and my wife and I were worried about our little daughter, in the next room,” recalled Lawson. “It was a bad windstorm, but we didn’t lose that much. Nothing was blown over, where we were at.” But the alarm sounded quickly. “We had one of those old phones that I called a ‘hoof-and-holler’ phone, the ones with a hand crank,” said Lawson. “It was a party line, with six or seven other people on it with you. 

“It rang ten times, which I’d never heard before,” recalled Lawson. “It meant there was an emergency. I answered, and was told that Bunker Hill had been blown apart by a tornado, and they needed all the help they could get.” Lawson, who operated a trucking business, and a friend drove into town in a two-ton truck to help out. “We got as far as the old railroad crossing at the north side of town, and the road was blocked,” he said. “So we walked up to town, about two blocks or so. “We started looking for people that needed help, and we found one person who needed a hospital,” he continued. “We made a stretcher out of two-by-fours, and carried him up to Main Street, which runs east-west out of town, where an ambulance could get to him.”
The Meissner School stands in contrast to its surroundings, one of the few buildings that survived relatively unharmed after the tornado that ripped through Bunker Hill.
Carolyn Scroggins was working as a clerk in St. Louis when she heard the news and jumped on a bus. “On the way home, the traffic was just car after car after car, going very slowly all the way to Bunker Hill,” Scroggins said. “People were going there for sightseeing. It took us nearly all day before we finally got home to Bunker Hill.” Her future husband, Glenn, had already started helping with cleanup, despite a piece of glass in his eye. “He got his clothes on, he says in about three seconds, then started uptown,” Scroggins said. “As he went uptown, there was a lady lying in the middle of the street without any clothes on, so he covered her with his raincoat.” The woman was dead, Scroggins said. But others were more fortunate.

North of town, there was this group of Amish people from the Arthur area, who set up camp. Each day, they’d come into town and bring meals and worked to help in the cleanup. They were there every day for at least a month.

On Palm Sunday, March 21, sightseers in Bunker Hill were so numerous that bumper-to-bumper traffic was reported for ten miles.
In the disaster’s wake, the townfolk began wondering about an infant girl found alive in the debris of a demolished house. Her mother, father, brother, and sister were all dead, leaving her alone in the world at just 6 months old. The family had lived in Bunker Hill for fewer than five years and wasn’t well known.

“I bet you that’s been one of the most-asked questions: Whatever happened to her?” Scroggins said. Scroggins got her answer when someone from the local library called her: "There’s a woman here who says she was a baby when the tornado hit, and she wants to see pictures." Scroggins, who was president of the Bunker Hill Historical Society, knew exactly who the librarian was talking about.

“Oh my goodness!’” Scroggins said. We ran to the museum. The woman had been taken in by an aunt and raised in southern Illinois. “She was a delightful person,” Scroggins said. “She was like a ray of sunshine.”

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The History of 16-inch Softball in Chicago, Illinois.

The game of softball started in Chicago on Thanksgiving 1887 at the "Farragut Boat Club" when Yale and Harvard Alumni wrapped up a boxing glove and started to hit the “ball” with a broomstick. Those men formalized the indoor game, and eventually, the game was played outdoors. In Chicago, the parks and school grounds were small, so the ball had to be larger to stay in the park.
Indoor Baseball (softball), 1905.
Note the 2 to 2½ inch thick wooden dowel that's about 35" long for a bat.
The 16″ ball became the size of choice and game of choice during the Great Depression since only a bat and a ball were needed. No-glove 16" softball has also been famous in Chicago alone since the 1920s.

Chicago is well known for many reasons  its architecture, museums, beautiful open lakefront, rich social and political history, blues music, a storied professional sports history, and its diverse ethnic mix. There is a unique sport, though, one that’s been played by thousands of men and women of for generations for both fun and glory for over eight decades, a game that is truly unique to Chicago — 16-inch softball.
A 1920s Official 16-inch League Softball.
1920s Manufacturer Stamp.
Chicago softball is played barehanded with gnarled fingers and knuckles that tell stories of errors and victories in games long past. It’s safe to say that most Chicagoans have played the game in school, at a picnic, and Sunday pick-up games in Chicagoland parks, or in league play. 

16-inch was a perfect game for Chicago’s small neighborhood ball fields and cinder covered school playgrounds. The ball didn’t travel as far as the smaller 12" and 14" softballs. And the absence of gloves benefited everyone in the tough economic times of the 1930s. Teams had only to chip in 10¢ a man for a new ball, and women took to the sport because it was less dangerous than a regular baseball. The sport was all-the-more appealing due to its being organized by families, community and ethnic background at first. Then teams were sponsored by the companies its players worked for — a tradition that is still largely followed today.

The game of softball is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. This sport, for all ages, is played with different size diameter balls and with and without gloves. In Chicago, the most prevalent game played is slow pitch 16″ softball with no gloves. Many who have played different brands of softball feel 16″ is the best game of softball because it demands that every fielder must play defense (anyone can catch a ball with a glove) well or become a team liability. Offense play is like baseball; few runs are due to home runs and it’s basically hit’em where they ain’t and moving runners is a normal strategy. It’s a great game with a unique history.

The first national championship was played at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago thanks to the sponsorship of William Randolph Hearst. Due to the fact most teams that entered the tournament all played with different rules and size balls, they finally agreed to play with 14″ ball. Future City titles would be played at Wrigley Field.

Because of the game’s popularity shown at that event, 16″ no glove softball took on a professional level when Harry Hanin started the "Windy City League" the next year in 1934 and lasted into the 1950s. Teams had their own stadiums and charged admission. They attracted thousands of people each night. Remember there was no TV and only two racetracks. Not only were these teams and players infamous representing their areas, but also gambling was the real game outside the lines. Many times, they attracted over 10,000 each night and had more attendance than at the Cubs and/or Sox games that day. 

During the Chicago softball craze, teams played in these neighborhood baseball and softball (12" & 16") parks:
  • Admiral Stadium at River Road between Rand & Golf Roads in Des Plaines.
  • American Giants Park at 39th and Wentworth in Chicago.
  • Bidwell Stadium at 1975 E 75th St. in Chicago.
  • Gill Stadium at 1107 E 87th St. in Chicago.
  • Hilburn Stadium 5500 N Wolcott in Chicago.
  • Lane Stadium next to Riverview Park was at Western and Addison in Chicago.
  • Mills Stadium at 4600 W. Lake Street in Chicago.
  • Parichy Memorial Stadium at Harrison and Harlem in Forest Park.
  • Rock-Ola Stadium at 4200 N Central Ave in Chicago.
  • Shewbridge Field at 74th St and Aberdeen St. in Chicago.
  • Sparta Stadium at Kostner and 21st Street in Chicago.
  • Spencer Coals Park at 4200 N. Central Avenue in Chicago.
  • Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. (Originally named Marshall Field)
  • North Town Currency Stadium (Thillens Stadium) at Devon and Kedzie in Chicago.
Pre-Thillens Stadium; North Town Stadium, Devon and Kedzie, Chicago
Click picture to read my story about Ray Rayner and Thillens Stadium.
The Cubs had invested money in the Little League park at the corner of Devon and Kedzie, in West Rogers Park. Since they contributed to a $2 million renovation in 2006, the scoreboard reads “Cubs Field.”
Parichy Memorial Stadium, Forest Park, IL.
Most all the semi-professional parks were lighted for night play, and a considerable portion of the attendance was reported on evenings during the week and were frequently doubleheaders. The usual Saturday and Sunday games were frequently tripleheaders.

To inject color into the game many of the visiting men's teams feature unusual costumes such as clown uniforms, grass skirts, and natural beards. In addition, such novelties as playing the game on mules are introduced occasionally. 

Many weekend games began with the women's teams. "Bloomer Girls" baseball teams barnstormed the United States from the 1890s to 1934, playing local town, semi-pro, and minor league men's teams. They traveled across the country, across states, and town-to-town by rail, bringing with them their own fences, tents, and grandstands, and their schedules were grueling. In 1903, the Boston Bloomer Girls played, and won, 28 games in 26 days. Over the July Fourth weekend of that year alone they played six games in five different towns in Oklahoma.

Then came the "All-American Girls Professional Baseball League" (AAGPBL) which was a professional women's baseball league founded by Philip K. Wrigley which existed from 1943 to 1954. The women's initial tryouts were held at Chicago's Wrigley Field. In the first season, the league played a hybrid game of baseball and softball using a 12-inch ball. The AAGPBL was the forerunner of women's professional league sports in the United States. Over 600 women played in the league, which consisted of eventually 10 teams located in the American Midwest. In 1948, league attendance peaked at over 900,000 spectators. The most successful team, the Rockford Peaches, won a league-best four championships. The 1992 motion picture "A League of Their Own" is a mostly fictionalized account of the early days of the league and its stars.
Lane Stadium, (Lane Tech College Prep H.S.), Western and Addison, Chicago.
In 1973 the local 16-inch ASA Commissioner felt that out of state teams could not compete with Illinois because they were used to playing with gloves in 12″ and 14″ play. He was right. He attracted 13 out of state teams for a new league. The gloves never made a difference in the score and Chicago teams still dominated the national tournaments. Because of that fewer out of states teams played the game seriously other than in the Midwest. The one state with an excellent program was Iowa and their patience paid off in 1995 when the "Carpet Country Rollers" won the only title in ASA history by a team, not from Chicago. They did it in the last inning scoring 3 runs with two outs and winning by one run. What an upset!

No glove softball is still played by all Chicagoans and the best of the best have played Forest Park’s No Glove Nationals in front of thousands of fans for 5 decades, without a doubt the premier event each year. The few of the best leagues have been played at Clarendon Park, Portage Park, James Park in Evanston, and Mt.Prospect Park in the Northside and Washington Park, Clyde, Oak Lawn and Kelly Park on the Southside.

When former President Jimmy Carter, a softball enthusiast, was presented with a 16-inch softball during a 1998 Chicago visit, the unfamiliar object fascinated him. It's not surprising that he had never seen one before because although thousands of games of 16-inch softball fill Chicago's parks every summer Sunday, President Cater only knew about 12" softballs.

Many ASA Nationals have been played out of Illinois, usually in Iowa. In 2004 both the Major and ASA Nationals were played in Arizona and attracted the most states to compete in 20 years. In fact, in Phoenix, they have held the "Avnet Business to Business Classic" since 2003 reaching 30 plus teams and even getting some title games on television for both the co-ed and men’s divisions.
The sport has traveled to different cities due to Chicagoans moving, but the reality is when men and women play 16-inch ball, they realize it takes more skill, is safer, less time to play, and is more fun than 12-inch softball. Critics of the 12-inch game say that “anyone can catch a ball with a glove." Those games take too long because the scores are too high, and people are getting hurt.

An alternative version of who and where 'softball' was invented:
A lieutenant with the Minneapolis, Minnisota Fire Department, Lewis Rober was pushing 40 and perhaps getting a little flabby. So in 1895, he devised a sporting alternative to keep himself and his fellow firefighters fit between runs. Rober is widely considered the founding father of softball — at least the outdoor version of the game now enjoyed by 40 million people. He took the basics of baseball, shrank the field and used a cushy ball pitched underhand. With no gloves needed and less time required, the recreational version of baseball took off.
This photo was taken around 1995 outside the "16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame" was this stone and brass "Farragut Boathouse Monument," which commemorates the birth of softball in Chicago in 1887. It was originally placed at 31st Street and Lake Park Avenue in Chicago but currently is in storage with the city. A new 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame opened in Forest Park in 2009.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.