20 inches and still snowing

A brief peek out of the window tells me Chicago is closed.

The internet confirms it–school closings, road closings, and the usual hyperbole from the usual bunch of lightweights who freak out and run away at the first sign of a snowflake.  Yes, Lake Shore Drive is closed, but the other expressways are open.  Yes, there is snow, but it’s 19 degrees above zero, not 40 below like where I grew up. Yes, cars are getting stuck, and the side streets have not been plowed, but when I was a kid we walked to school through the snowbanks.  And we were told how soft we had it by our teachers and parents who could tell us exactly how many miles they walked to school through the snow when they were kids.

So now the dance begins.


Riding the storm out

The weather outside is frightful: Blizzard Warning, Lakeshore Flood Warning, US Severe Weather Warning, and Active Notice Local Storm Report.

A couple of hours ago, the wind started gusting strong enough to shake the windows and create a draft through the double panes. Usually I’m very toasty in my front room overlooking the street, but tonight the wind has changed from its usual westerly direction, and is coming from the northeast.

My landlady went shopping earlier today, so we have plenty of Provisions in anticipation of the storm. It’s a Polish neighborhood (except for the Mexicans, Greeks, Arabs, blacks, and me) so she was able to get some nice Polish Krakus ham. Unfortunately I’m out of Australian port and have also sipped the last of the Courvoisier, so I will either have to concoct something with spiced rum or just drink milk.

There’s no moon, but you can see by the street light the snow is coming down heavier and heavier as the evening wears on.

Above the kitchen sink, the snow clings to the window.

No cheery fireplace, but for appointments I have adopted the black leather upholstery and overflowing books that made my undergraduate mentor’s place so comfortable, thrown in the textiles and lamps of Inara’s shuttlecraft on the Serenity (Arabic style instead of Chinese), and scrounged a large pillowy thing to prop up my broken foot.

All I need now is a little Vanhal music, and I’ll be ready to say “Let it snow”.

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No Little Plans II

We dream of an economically vibrant and environmentally healthy region; one whose concentrated areas of activity enable people of complementary talents to achieve high levels of creativity and productivity; a region where all persons have ready access to jobs; to housing near their jobs, and to good schools and job training; a region in which people are enabled and encouraged to find nourishment in a diversity and complexity of persons, interests, and tastes, and to enjoy an exciting array of cultural, recreational, and intellectual opportunities; and, most important, a region that undergirds strong neighborhoods, communities, and families so that they are enabled to nurture the intellectual, moral, and social development of children.
Chicago Metropolis 2020

Chicago Metropolis 2020 is the successor to Daniel Burnham’s 1906 Plan of Chicago.  (see No Little Plans I) Both were sponsored by the Commercial Club of Chicago. But contrast the above statement to Burnham’s famous “Make no little plans, they have no power to stir men’s blood,” and you will start to understand how they are different—and how they are similar.

The above quotation sounds like it was written by committee. It was. Six committees actually, within the club, informed by innumerable other committees, companies, policy groups, etc, that take three more pages to list in the acknowledgments. Such is our diverse urban life these days. (BTW, there is an online version of the document as well, quite different.)

Burnham, in his day only had to worry about stirring the blood of men, and you can bet they were all white men as well, property owners and from western Europe. I doubt that the hoards of immigrants pouring in from Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, and a dozen other countries that fueled the engines of industry were asked what they thought, although they were very much supposed to be the beneficiaries of Burnham’s concern about green space and slums.

And who is supposed to be stirred by our contemporary committees?  Leafing through the book gives a quick impression.

Lots of cute little kids. The study addresses the issues of “public education and child care, transportation, land use and housing, governance and taxation, and economic well-being”, but it’s pretty clear the intended audience is a diverse one.

Here’s an idea of the type of graphics used.  Quite different from the uniform pastels of the Burnham Plan.

And what about Burnham’s encircling parks and green spaces? In the back of the book, almost as an afterthought, is a five page description of how an “intermodal village center” might work in the Chicago suburbs, based on the protected “green heart” area in the middle of four major Dutch cities. I always like these conceptual drawings in the back of urban planning books, they seem like they might spur much creative thought.

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Stopping by woods

…on snowy morning.

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Tucked up warm

Sooner or later I will have to go outside, but for now I am content to view the aftermath of the midwest snowstorm from my toasty aerie.

Borrowing a little bandwidth from the nearby elementary school, I glean from Google all I need to know about the weather. The temperature is 22 °F. There is no wind. So far, in December we have had 0.45in of snow, although areas in nearby Indiana have had as much as 6 inches.

I have always thought Chicagoans to be a bit wimpish about weather. Here, -17°F is a record cold, but where I grew up, it has to get down to 30 or 40 below before anyone is impressed.  And the snowbanks have to be above the cars.  Also, it may be a local cliche, but I did walk a mile to school through blizzards.
Two squirrels, one on the wire and one on a branch, frolic in the sunshine.

The downstairs neighbor cleans the windshield of her van.  Perhaps she is wondering why she ever left Mexico.

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Not just any port in a storm

Australian port. Reminds me of apple orchards.

I tried Portuguese port once when I couldn’t find Australian. Never again.

But which is better, the Willowglen or the Whiskers Blake? Must taste further…

Inappropriate Content

From time to time I run my computer from the unsecured router at the local school. The advantage is that it is cheap and I don’t have to go outdoors or spend money on transportation to get to a place that has free WIFI. The disadvantage is that the nannyware censors nearly everything—YouTube, Facebook, Urban Dictionary. Sometimes even the ads on Yahoo will set off a piercing siren.

Here is a typical warning message in Google Reader:

But my blog is not censored…yet. Hmmm, I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. Oh, well, at least I’m censored in Turkey.

You can see the school here, in this photo taken from the window of my aerie. It’s the red brick building in the background. (The fire–not a serious one–was not at my place.) The amazing machine that is capable of connecting at that distance is a 10 inch Asus Eee PC netbook. I bought it as a toy, but it has turned out to be a workhorse.

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First Snow

Sleepless. I worked last night, and should be exhausted. What woke me up? I look outside. Snow blankets the world. There is a dull hush over everything.

A quick check of the laptop shows it’s 5:30, still a half hour before dawn. Pulling on sneakers, sweaters, and a down jacket, I slip down to the the lake. The snow is damp, it squeaks under my feet. At the industrial corridor, the high voltage wires sizzle with the damp. Snow continues to fall.

This isn’t just snow, though, it’s a milestone, a change in the season. Snow signals Christmas, and all the other festivals of light.

It was like this when I was getting ready to leave Jordan. For two months I was in despair, not wanting to leave. Then came Ramadan, the street vendors frying qadieff in the alleyways, a shift in the seasons. Suddenly it was all right, I could leave.

And so to work.

Still looking for Bobby Franks

The Wolf Lake 1924 murder mystery continues…

Reader Margie Black has kindly sent me some photographs of the crime scene where Bobby Franks’ body was found:

A closer view of the first photograph reveals writing across the bottom, but in reverse. It is easy enough to mark photographs with something hot, for instance a soldering iron, but it takes practice and one has to write quickly.

But is the photo actually reversed, or did someone notice the original was reversed and correct it in subsequent prints? If the photo is actually reversed, then all the photos are reversed, and the pole was to the right of the culvert, not the left. Two of the other photos do have reversed writing, so that’s not out of the question.

Here is the first photo reversed, to read the writing on the bottom:

Darkening the caption makes it easier to read. It says “121 ST. PENN RR WHERE BOY WAS FOUND”.

For comparison, here is where Indian Creek flows out of Wolf Lake today. More about Indian Creek here including some links to maps. A satellite view of the area superimposed with likely location of lakes from a 1903 survey map is here

Wolf Lake previously emptied east into Lake Michigan.  The photo looks east to the refineries on the Indiana shore. There is a small spillway over the whole of the creek, some sort of device for spawning salmon, and a decorative pedestrian bridge at the end.

So where was the culvert? Not anyplace that is recognizable today, although there are plenty of clues for further research, for those with the time and energy.

Clue #1-the writing on the first photograph above shows the location of the culvert as 121 ST. (a street that would be east-west if it existed) and PENN RR (a north-south line) if someone can find out where the Pennsylvania line was in 1924.

I searched for the location of the Pennsylvania railroad once with no immediate success, although there are surely old railroad maps available online somewhere. There are only two possibilities for the railroad tracks–the tracks that run through the middle of the lake, and the old railroad right-of-way on the west side of the lake that has been made into a bike/pedestrian trail, where the deer in the previous post were found.

Although 121st Street doesn’t exist, 118th  street (as the Wiki calls the location of the culvert) does, at least today, and there should be plenty of old maps to show whether it existed around 1924. Today there is a small shopping center on the location off of O Street, anchored by the grocery chain store Pete’s Fresh Market Supermercado.  The east end of 118th ends at the old railroad right-of-way, but a path continues east into the park, and eventually leads to the high ground that was once the Nike missile site. This is all public land, connecting to Egger’s Park on the north, and part of a continuous foot trail system that is maintained by various entities.  121st St. would probably be about at the northern shore of the lake, although it is said the lakes are much lower than they were years ago, maybe as much as 15 feet, before the steel mills and the draining of the wetlands.

Identifying the railroad should be enough by itself to determine the location of the culvert.

Clue#2– the inflow to the lake.  The body was said to have been discovered after a rain, when the water flow washed it out of its hiding place.  Presumably the water flowed downhill and the body appeared at the outflow of the culvert.  So which way did the creek flow in those days and where was the lake’s inlet?  It looks to me like Indian Creek was quite a bit south of where it is now, on the southwest side, and certainly not the north side of the lake where 121st Street would be, so what flowed where?  Again, there are maps that might reveal this, the whole of Chicago being well surveyed and excellent tract by tract records kept by fire insurance companies.

Clue#3–the body of water in the first photo above.  If the photo is not reversed, it looks like Wolf Lake taken from the west, somewhere in the direction of Avenue O, and means the railroad was also near Avenue O and west of the lake.  Or was the photo taken looking east towards the now defunct Hyde Lake from the spot the locals now regard as the culvert’s location?

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This week, on a wild goose chase to find a document I need (it took me two more days to find the right office), I found myself on the South Side near Pershing Road and State Street. I don’t know if there is a name for this neighborhood, Douglas, I suppose, north of Bronzeville. When I first moved to Chicago, this was the sort of neighborhood where you could find syringes in the gutters, if you dared come here at all.

Now it is a curious mixture of stately Victorian in need of major repairs,

the Projects, many now demolished,

a colorful, if poor surrounding neighborhood,

and New Urbanism.

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