Chapter IV: Chicago

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My mother had a sister named Rose who married Peter Jordan. The Jordans lived at 1148 Sedgwick St., Chicago, about a block south of Division Street and about three blocks west of the elevated. The Jordans had no children. Peter Jordan, who worked as a carpenter for the city, died shortly after their marriage. He left Rose, my aunt, three old frame residences, each with three flats, one in the basement. Two of the buildings adjoined each other on Sedgwick Street. The third one was in the rear. They consisted of a living room, a dining room, two bedrooms, a kitchen and toilet. Very small rooms. Stove heat. My Aunt Rose lived on the second floor and rented the others to struggling tenants.

After my mother died in the summer of 1917, I visited my Aunt Rose in the summer and in vacations during the school year. She was a happy, wonderful person, ready to take us everywhere, to the Loop, or the Riverview Amusement Park. Riverview Park was a fun place. Admittance to the park was free most of the time, or ten cents to get in. We rode the merry-go-round, the roller coaster, and the “Bobs.” We also visited the Fun House and, House of Mirrors; saw the fat lady, the human skeleton, and the world’s tallest man; and all the rest.

To get there, we took the Clyburn streetcar at Division to Western Avenue. The streetcar would go past the Fruit and Vegetable Market at South Water Street. (It is no longer there: it moved some time ago to W. Randolph St.). The horse and wagons would be standing in the front from early in the morning to late afternoon. The streetcar would pass within inches of the horse’s head but he would never move. On a summer afternoon, you’d be treated with a variety of smells: of overripe fruits, vegetables, and some horse manure. A little air pollution was no cause for alarm.

There were fine stores on Division Street in those days, including a coffee and tea store where my Aunt Rose worked for a while. Lane Technical High School was a block or so east on Division, right next to the elevated station. There was a very old movie theater on Clybourn Street, a block or so north from division. A man would go through the aisles selling ice cream and candy.

In those days there were mostly Italian immigrants living in the area. Little English was spoken. You could always hear the shouts and yells in Italian. The shouts of an Italian fruit peddler was hard to decipher as he called “Peaches, Bananas, Apples” from his horse and wagon. Ice and coal were also sold from the horse and wagon. If you wanted some ice delivered, you put a sign in the window: “twenty-five on fifty” meant the size of the chunk of ice the man would bring to your icebox.

Irish immigrants had first lived in the area, followed by Germans and then Italians. Today it is all black. Mother Cabrini’s public housing project occupies the area around 1100 Sedgwick St.

Aunt Rose was a religious person. She attended Mass at St. Dominick’s a few blocks south on Sedgwick Street. She was also a very generous landlord: If people were sick, out of work, or whatnot, she would let them stay on, even when they were months behind.

As the buildings ran down (they were probably built before the Chicago Fire) they became harder to rent, especially during the Depression. The old buildings, along with Riverview Park, have long since gone—but they are not forgotten. High-rise public buildings have replaced Aunt Rose’s three flats, but the area is a jungle now. If you value your life, stay away. Is this progress?

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