Top Ten List:  Tom’s Best Moments at Billy Goat Tavern

– By Tom Schaffner

For more stories about Chicago’s fascinating history, take a look at what Chicago city tours we are currently running! L Stop Tours runs unique tours all across Chicago’s neighborhoods that are guided by lifelong Chicago residents. Discover the amazing architecture, tasty food, and interesting tidbits about the city in one of our Chicago walking tours!

 

A Brief Timeline

Billy Goat Tavern, one of Chicago’s most unique and best-known bars, has had a number of famous “moments” in its long and illustrious history.  Many are legendary

  • A goat falls off a passing livestock truck in 1934 and is adopted by near West Side tavern owner Bill Sianis, who decides to grow a goatee and change the name of his bar.  Billy Goat Tavern is born.
  • Sianis and his goat are denied admission to the 1945 World Series at Wrigley Field against the Detroit Tigers because the goat “smells.”  Sianis casts a curse on the Cubs and, when they promptly lose the series to the Tigers, sends a note to Cubs Owner P.K. Wrigley saying, “Who smells now?”
  • In 1964, Sianis moves his tavern to its present location, 430 N. Michigan Avenue, Lower Level.
  • A short sketch about a Greek diner resembling Billy Goat Tavern appears on NBC-TV’s Saturday Night Live on January 28, 1978.  Overnight, the tavern becomes a “must-see” destination for locals and tourists.
  • On April 29, 1997, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist and number one Billy Goat Tavern booster Mike Royko dies at age 64.

I didn’t happen to be at the bar when any of these illustrious moments occurred, however, I’ve frequented the pub enough over the years to be deemed a regular and, as such, have experienced a number of great moments of my own in that wonderful den of iniquity.

Why am I a regular?  The primary reason is because I have worked in the Streeterville neighborhood since 1974 and Billy Goat Tavern has always been a convenient but off-the-beaten-track bar where one could enjoy a couple of beers without being pestered (at least in the early years) by tourists.  The other reason I hung out at Billy Goat was because I was a journalist and we all know that journalists like to hang out with other journalists at bars and listen to each other’s stories about what it’s like to be an ink-stained wretch.  I was no exception.

 

Another Perspective

What are my greatest moments in Billy Goat’s over the years?  I’m glad you asked — I’ve listed them in reverse order below:

10) The “Back” Room

A group of us — “young Turks,” as our boss labeled us — worked in a skyscraper that towered over Billy Goat’s like Wilt Chamberlain standing next to Mini Me.  A quick elevator ride down to street level and few steps (maybe thirty?) put us in front of the famous “Butt in Any Time” sign at the entrance of the pub.  It was easily the closest bar to our office.  And because our office closed earlier than most, we were generally the first after-work revelers to descend on Billy Goat’s on Fridays for cocktails (4:01 p.m.).  Being early allowed us to commandeer the back room (now called the VIP Room) and have it mostly to ourselves for an hour or two.  Between 1980 and 1986, we solved all the world’s problems over cocktails in that location.  

Billy Goat Ext

9) My Farewell Party

In 1986, I announced that I was leaving my job as director of communications for a Michigan Ave. firm and starting my own consulting business.  Fellow employees put together a farewell party, replete with gag gifts and other paraphernalia.  I remember one of the gag gifts distinctly — an actual cow’s tongue that was wrapped in cellophane.  (The gag worked because a lot of us worked in the meat business at the time.)  I momentarily put the gift on top of the Billy Goat’s serving counter to remove another item from my briefcase.  At Billy Goat’s, the sight of a real cow’s tongue on a serving counter didn’t even register a blip among nearby patrons or employees.  As a matter of fact, I think one of the employees asked me, “You want cheeps with that?”

Billy Goat bar

8) Drinking With the Pressmen

Back in the day, Billy Goat’s was not just for journalists, it attracted second and third-shift newspaper employees who worked late into the night printing Chicago’s daily newspapers.  One night, a friend and I found ourselves downtown after midnight and we decided to go into the Goat for a quick one (or two).  Seated next to us at the bar were two pressmen from the Chicago Sun-Times who regaled us with printing stories and offered to give us a tour of the presses at some point in the future.  I don’t think I could have ever had that experience at any other Chicago bar.  Thank you, Billy Goat.

Billy Goat

7) Nanny & Billy

The Womens’ and Mens’ toilets at Billy Goat have always been labeled “Nanny” and “Billy.”  For some reason, this confuses tourists and other first-timers who don’t know which was the correct one to go in — so they’d ask us (when we were sitting nearby) and we’d tell them.  “Nanny is a young male goat and Billy is grown one.”  That was wrong, of course, but it was fun to look at the expressions on people’s faces as they sheepishly came out of the incorrect bathroom and scooted over to the correct one.

Billy goat bathroom signs

6) My First Legal Beer in Illinois

Like many other states at the time, Illinois lowered the legal age to purchase beer and wine to 19 in 1973.  I turned 19 in September of 1974 and when I returned home for Christmas break from college, I started an internship at a Streetervillle public relations firm (on Erie St.) that was only a short walk to the Goat.  Fortunately, my boss and several co-workers sensed the magnitude of my personal milestone and treated me to lunch where I washed down a double cheeseburger with a mug of Schlitz.  It was December 20, 1974 — I was legally an adult and a Goat “virgin” no more.

Taps

5) My Colleague Gets a Beer Dumped on Him

One of the guys I worked with at the Michigan Ave. firm had a penchant for saying wrong things to women he tried to flirt with.  One evening a group of us were in the back room when suddenly a woman from our group stood up, called this guy a “disgusting pig” and, with the flourish of a symphony conductor, dumped a full mug of Schlitz on the offender’s head.  Funny?  Yes.  A waste of a good beer?  You be the judge.

4) Consecutive Cheeseburgers Streak Comes to A Halt

It was about noon on a Wednesday in 1983 and I was feeling a little peckish, so I decided to pop down to the Goat for a beer and something to eat.  I don’t know what got into me.  I decided on the fly that for the first time in more than 10 years I was going to order something different to eat — no double cheeseburger for me today.  When the grill cook (who knew me) looked at me and asked, knowingly, “Dobla Cheez?”, I surprised him and said, No.  Give me a Grilled Ham and Cheese.”  He looked at me strangely for a second and then said, “OK.”  I enjoyed the sandwich but started a new cheeseburger streak two days later.

3) The Crack of Dawn

Her name wasn’t Dawn and I don’t even know what his name was — but neither of these tidbits matter.  What’s important (at least to this blurb) is that my companion and I were enjoying a cocktail when suddenly I notice her edging her cell phone camera into position for a photo.  I asked her what’s going on and she “shushes” me to be quiet with her index finger over her lips.  I look over my shoulder to see what is so picture-worthy and I see a man and woman sitting at the bar with their backs to us.  He is attempting to put his arm around her waist and she has a pair of shorts on with a plumber’s crack that is revealing a colorful tattoo and at least half a moon.  I consider telling the couple about the “Butt In Any Time” sign at the entrance to the tavern but decide it’s probably best to keep that information to myself.

Billy Goat Front Door

2) The French Chef Visits Billy Goat 

In 1979, a group of my colleagues convinced Julia Child to become a judge at the National Beef Cook-Off in Omaha.  While there, our group told Julia about the Billy Goat and how it was the closest bar (and grill) to our office.  She said that she would like to visit and would let us know when she planned to go there.  On June 1, 1981, she called our office and said she was going to visit Billy Goats the following day and did we want to join her?  Of course we did — it was kind of like the Queen of England slumming with a visit to White Castle.  It’s something you just have to witness in person.  Like everyone else, Julia loved Billy Goat’s and especially the cheeseburger.  “I could live on this forever,” she said.

1) Royko Gets His Comeuppance

A friend and I were enjoying beers at one of the front tables.  Sitting no more than two feet away (at the next table) was Mike Royko and a colleague.  My friend decides he must say something and interrupts Royko’s private conversation.  He tells Royko how much he loves his column, praises him for being great writer and for being a Billy Goat’s booster.  Royko, hearing my friend’s accent, says “You must be from New York.  I can hear it in your words.”  My friend denied being a New Yorker and threw him more flattery.  Royko asked again, “Aren’t you from New York?  Where are you from?”  My friend looks him right in the eye and says, “I’m not from New York.  I’m from Brooklyn.”  Knowing he’d been roped into a trap, Royko ceased all conversation, motioned to his friend and the two of them got up and left.  Even though he was a celebrated Pulitzer Prize winner, he should have known — a Brooklynite will never admit to being a New Yorker.

Royko signs

For more stories about Chicago’s fascinating history, take a look at what Chicago city tours we are currently running! L Stop Tours runs unique tours all across Chicago’s neighborhoods that are guided by lifelong Chicago residents. Discover the amazing architecture, tasty food, and interesting tidbits about the city in one of our Chicago walking tours!

As a civilization, the Roman Empire lasted for 1,000 years.  In 2022, Chicago will celebrate the 185th anniversary of its founding.

Like Rome, Chicago has created a number of important structures and monuments that not only have enjoyed tremendous success over the years but have survived and withstood the test of time.  They are stable and popular structures and institutions…none are likely to disappear any time soon.  Wrigley Field, the L, the Art Institute, O’Hare Field and McCormick Place are a few examples that come to mind.

On the other hand, Chicago also is home to a great number of municipal “dinosaurs” — well-known buildings, institutions and other local treasures that, thanks to a rapidly changing world, have suddenly become outdated, irrelevant and, possibly, unneeded in the future.  Like the dinosaurs of era past, these local treasures are endangered species and may soon become extinct.

L Stop Tours has put together a list of Chicago “dinosaurs” for your consideration:

U.S. Post Office Loop Station

211 S. Clark

In a day and age when wireless communication is omnipresent, do we really need an over-large U.S. Postal Service building to handle an ever-dwindling amount of U.S. mail?  The Old Chicago Main Post Office, a 2.5 million-foot behemoth on West Harrison Street, built in 1921 and decommissioned in the 1980s, was recently remodeled into new executive offices for such companies as Walgreens, Ferrara Candy Co., Pepsico, Cisco and Uber.  A few blocks to the east, the Loop Station Post Office, a beautiful structure designed by famed architect Mies van der Rohe and built in 1974, seems destined for a similar fate.  How long will this oversized postal snail mail facility occupy valuable Loop real estate that may be better suited for something else?  Stay tuned.

Loop Station Post Office

Chicago Board of Trade

141 W. Jackson Blvd.

Established in 1848, the Chicago Board of Trade is one of the world’s oldest, largest and most successful futures and options exchanges, dealing in a wide range of futures contracts for livestock, agricultural commodities, world currencies, energy products and much more.  For the first 150 years of its existence, the Board of Trade and its parent company, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME Group), traded futures and options via the “open outcry” system.  This methodology featured traders who stood in amphitheater-style “pits” and yelled their orders to others, thereby creating a “live” market for futures contracts.  This method required the Board to maintain huge trading floors with plenty of space for the pits, traders, runners, brokers, huge electronic “scoreboards” on the walls surrounding the trading floor, and much more.  In 1994, the Board of Trade began to convert its trading platforms from open outcry to electronic trading.  By 2015, the Board of Trade had closed most of its trading pits and ushered in the era of online trading.  With no need for huge trading floors or adjoining office space, the CME Group sold the building to a consortium of real estate companies and leased only a fraction of the building’s office space that it needed for operations.  With the pandemic slowing the return of office workers to the Loop, the building is emptier than ever before, an abandoned tower in the midst of Chicago’s busy financial district.  It begs the question — what is the future of futures trading at the Board of Trade?

Board of Trade

Harold Washington Library Center

400 S. State Street

Chicago needed a new main library and in 1991 it got one, the Harold Washington Library Center, a 10-story 750,000 square foot library facility with beautiful marble walls and floors, wood paneling throughout and a state-of-the-art lighting system.  In less than 10 years, however, the new, massive library already was beginning to look like a dinosaur.  Why go to the library when research could be conducted on a computer at home?  Why go to the bother of checking out a book and returning it at a preordained time when you can purchase it cheaply on a computer or smartphone and read it wherever you go on your favorite reading device?  Chicago has an excellent system of branch libraries serving neighborhoods throughout the city.  Do we still need a huge central library serving a downtown business district that, because of lingering effects from the pandemic, is still bereft of workers, tourists and residents?

Harold Washington Library

Macy’s

111 N. State Street

For well over 100 years, Marshall Field and Company and, later, Macy’s, operated a 14-story department store that occupies a full city block in the heart of the Loop.  A throwback to the big department stores of the 1930s and 40s that catered to every possible need of urbanites, Macy’s State Street Store is no longer the retail powerhouse that it once was.  In fact, the store is shrinking — in 2018 Macy’s sold the upper half of the building (floors 8-14) to an asset management company which, in turn, is leasing the space to corporate tenants.  The parent company of Macy’s also is downsizing and reducing the company’s presence in Chicago.  In 2021, Macy’s permanently closed its Water Tower Place store on the Magnificent Mile, a location it had occupied for 45 years.  The last of its kind — a massive, expensive-to-operate, downtown-anchored department store — Macy’s State Street store appears to be living on borrowed time.

Soldier Field

part of the Museum Campus

Opened in 1924, Soldier Field has hosted a wide variety of sports teams and events over the years, including the Chicago Bears of the National Football League, the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer, major college football games, heavyweight boxing matches and a variety of concerts and stage shows.  Soldier Field has a football capacity of 61,500 and is the oldest and smallest stadium in the National Football League.  This small size is one of the reasons its future is tenuous — the Bears recently announced that they might leave Soldier Field for a stadium they would build on a parcel of land that presently houses the former Arlington Park Race Course in Arlington Heights.  Such a departure would leave Soldier Field without its marquee tenant — and its future very much in doubt.

Soldier Field

Manually-Operated Elevators

Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave.

The elevator was invented in 1853 by Elisha Graves Otis and introduced at the Crystal Palace Convention in New York City.  For the next 90 years, most elevators in the U.S. had operators who opened the doors, guided the speed of the car between floors, leveled the car at each stop and announced destinations at each floor for riders.  By the mid-1960s, most elevators in the U.S. became automatic, riders pushed buttons to ascend or descend to their destinations, operators were no longer needed.  Today, there are approximately 22,000 elevators in the city of Chicago and only one set of manually-operated elevators — they are located in the 138-year-old Fine Arts Building on South Michigan Ave.  If you miss the human touch that once came with a simple elevator ride, or if you’ve never ridden a manually-operated elevator, head over to the Fine Arts Building — before something “automatic” takes its place.

Fine Arts elevator

South Shore Line

Millennium Station, 151 N. Michigan Ave.

In 1915, interurban railroads were an extremely popular mode of city-to-city transportation with more than 15,000 miles of track connecting urban areas across the country.  Essentially beefed-up streetcars that ran long-haul routes through suburbs and rural areas on their way to other urban areas, interurbans were so popular that they had grown to become the fifth largest industry in the United States.  But interurbans didn’t last.  Paved roads and interstate highways made cars and trucks more popular than trains and the interurbans began to fold and go out of business.  By 1930 most of the interurban railroads had vanished; by 1960 only four remained in the entire country.  Today there is only one remaining interurban railroad operating in the United States, the South Shore Line, which has been operating electric trains between downtown Chicago (Millennium Station) and South Bend, Ind. (86 miles) since 1905.  The only Chicago area commuter railroad not a part of Metra (the Chicago area’s commuter rail agency), the South Shore Line continues to go it alone and, at least for now, continues to survive as the last of its kind.

South Shore

Greektown

Halsted and Jackson

There was a time when Chicago had two separate Greektowns, the original in the West Loop (Halsted St. and Jackson Blvd.) which dates to the late 1940s and “New Greektown” on the North Side (Lawrence Ave. and Western Ave.) which was popular from 1975 to 2000.  New Greektown didn’t stand the test of time.  Greeks who moved there to start businesses, night clubs and restaurants decided to move to the suburbs when rents in the neighborhood no longer were affordable.  That left the original Greektown as the sole surviving Hellenic community in Chicago.  But Chicago’s original Greektown also has steadily shrunk in size over the past two decades.  Explosive growth of Fulton Market and West Randolph Street restaurant and entertainment district has led to urban renewal and gentrification of the entire West Loop.  Huge apartment and condominium towers now stand where Santorini, Rodity’s, Parthenon, Pegasus and other stalwart Greek restaurants once plied their trade.  Greek grocery stores and retail businesses have vanished as have many Greek residents, most of whom have long since moved to other neighborhoods in the city and suburbs.  While a speck of the old neighborhood remains — the Greek Islands restaurant still is in business and the National Hellenic Museum continues to celebrate the history and culture of the neighborhood — most of Chicago’s original Greek neighborhood has fizzled out faster than the flames on an order of saganaki.  Why is the neighborhood disappearing?  It’s Greek to us.

Greektown

16-inch Softball

Softball was invented in Chicago at the Farragut Boat Club in 1874 when a wadded-up boxing glove was hurled at a “batter” who swung at it with a stick.  The result was a new sport — 16-inch softball, a game played without a fielder’s glove.  Over the years, 16-inch softball grew to be the summertime recreational sport of choice for adults throughout the Chicago area.  Every city and suburban park or park district sponsored leagues that had waiting lists of teams waiting to play.  Today, the popularity of 16-inch softball has faded considerably.  Millennials view it as an old man’s sport, women prefer 12-inch softball (with gloves) and softball is no longer the only summertime league in town (today there are many other sports and recreational activities that compete with softball).  Yes, you can still watch or play 16-inch softball in Chicagoland, but with each passing year, it is getting more difficult to do so.

 

Chicago Beaches

Because the water level of Lake Michigan has been increasing for a number of years, Chicago’s beaches have been getting noticeably smaller, thanks to erosion and sediment displacement.  In fact, some of Chicago’s beaches have disappeared completely.  Juneway and Fargo beaches on the North Side (in Rogers Park) are submerged underwater and a steady drumbeat of crashing waves have collapsed revetment projects that were designed to protect the shoreline.  Other popular beaches — Oak Street, 12th Street, 57th Street, North Avenue — are only a fraction of the size they used to be —thin strips of sand with barely enough space for a row or two of beachgoers.  A crashing meteor may have brought an end to dinosaurs on earth; climate change may be doing the same thing to today’s Chicago’s beaches.

Juneway Beach

Non-Multiplex Movie Theaters

There’s only a handful of historic, non-multiplex movie theaters remaining in Chicago — Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.), Music Box (3733 N. Southport Ave.), Davis Theater (4614 N. Lincoln Ave.) and a few others.  These old-time movie palaces generally have only one or two screens (unlike the multiplexes) and often book old, seldom-screened movies or smaller concerts or live staged events.  With the rise of streaming services and other at-home entertainment options, the lingering effect of the pandemic on social activities (like seeing a movie) and the high cost of maintaining older, historic facilities, the continued survival of these institutions appears as though it will be a limited engagement.

Logan Theatre

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

– By Tom Schaffner

For more stories about Chicago’s fascinating history, take a look at what Chicago city tours we are currently running! L Stop Tours runs unique tours all across Chicago’s neighborhoods that are guided by lifelong Chicago residents. Discover the amazing architecture, tasty food, and interesting tidbits about the city in one of our Chicago walking tours!

Although Chicago is commonly known as the “Second City,” it’s equally known as a city of “firsts.”

Unfortunately, we’re not referring to the success of local sports franchises.  The “firsts” that we’re talking about are things that were invented in Chicago or the metropolitan area.  Many of these inventions are celebrated widely in the media  — the Ferris Wheel (1893 World’s Fair), deep dish pizza (Pizzeria Uno in 1943), the brownie (Bertha Palmer and the Palmer House, 1893), the world’s first modern skyscraper (Home Insurance Building, 1888) and Playboy magazine (Hugh Hefner, 1953).

Many of Chicago’s other firsts, however, are not as well known.  So, in our never-ending quest to shed a spotlight on all things Chicago, we’ve compiled a list of lesser-known Chicago inventions or “firsts.”  Here they are in no particular order:

Blood Bank

After observing the difficulties experienced by World War I soldiers who needed a certain blood type for a transfusion, Bernard Fantus, a Chicago physician came up with a better idea.  He developed a method of blood preservation and storage that allowed patients to access blood without waiting for a donor.  The nation’s first blood bank opened at Cook County Hospital in 1937.

Spray Paint

Although aerosol cans had been around for years, no one ever thought to fill the can with paint.  In 1947, suburban Chicago resident Edward Seymour, at the suggestion of his wife, Bonnie, filled an aerosol can with aluminum-colored paint and pressed the button.  The result was not only a smooth, evenly-coated painted surface, Seymour realized that he had now made painting easier and portable.  Spray paint was an instant commercial success. In 1992, the Chicago City Council banned the sale of spray paint in an effort to crack down on graffiti. 

Sleeping Cars on Trains

After a long, restless night on a train in 1862, George Pullman, a Chicago mechanical engineer, had the idea to create a luxury sleeping car for trains.  The “Pioneer,” as he called it, had rubberized springs that reduced shaking, its walls consisted of dark walnut and the seats were covered with plush velvet.  Silk window shades, crystal chandeliers and brass fixtures added to the overall feeling of luxury.  At night, the seats unfolded into lower sleeping berths and an upper berth dropped down from a cabinet in the ceiling.  To mass produce the railcars, Pullman created the Pullman Palace Car Company (on Chicago’s far South Side), which was responsible for other rail innovations like the dining car, the lounge car and the covered vestibule between passenger rail cars.

Car Radio

The first commercially successful car radio was designed and built in 1930 by Chicago’s Galvin Manufacturing Company.  When the stock market crashed in 1929, Paul Galvin noticed that radios sales were down but car sales remained steady— owning a vehicle was still important to consumers, even in a poor economy.  Galvin found a way to mount a radio in his Studebaker and drove it 815 miles to Atlantic City where the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association Convention was being held.  Upon arrival, he parked the car at the base of the pier and turned up the volume.  The radio was a big hit, so Galvin returned to Chicago to begin manufacturing his product.  On the way home he decided to give his product and company a new name — Motorola — a combination of “motor car” and “Victrola.”

Automatic Dishwasher

Josephine Garis Cochran did not like having to hand wash dishes after entertaining friends and relatives at her home.  She is claimed to have said, “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself.”  She partnered with a mechanic, George Butters, and created a machine that she showed at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago (1893).  In addition to winning an award for its mechanical prowess and durability, it attracted considerable interest from restaurants and hotels, both of which saw the machine as a great way to become more efficient.  Cochran’s Crescent Washing Machine Company became part of KitchenAid in 1913 through an acquisition by Hobart Manufacturing Company.

Soap Opera

After working as a staff writer at WGN in Chicago, former teacher Irna Phillips created a serialized daily program geared toward women, “Painted Dreams,” which was about a widowed matriarch of a large Irish-American family.  The year was 1930, the medium was radio and the program aired for two years on WGN.  Because her show often was sponsored by soap manufacturers, it became known as a soap opera.  Prolific in her writing, Phillips also created other soap operas that aired on radio and television, including “Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns,” “Another World” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”

Roller Derby

Though roller skates were first introduced in London in 1735, the sport of Roller Derby was invented in 1935 by a Chicagoan, Leo Seltzer, an entrepreneur who was responsible for booking events at the old Chicago Coliseum just south of the Loop.  For two years, the Coliseum hosted the “Transcontinental Roller Derby,” a multi-week event in which teams of skaters raced against one another on “trips” (miles that were tracked and plotted daily on maps) between large American cities, like Chicago to San Diego or New York to Salt Lake City.  In 1937, Seltzer changed the rules to make the sport more exciting.  Instead of long-distance races, teams scored points by breaking through and passing players on the opposing team.  At 10 cents per ticket, Roller Derby was by far the cheapest sports ticket in town, an important consideration for those looking for an escape from the hardships of the Great Depression and a main driver of the sport’s rapid growth.

Vacuum Cleaner

Although a carpet-sweeping device was introduced a few years earlier, the first manually-powered vacuum cleaner was invented in 1869 by Chicago inventor Ives W. McGaffey.  Though it required a certain amount of athleticism to operate (you had to turn a hand crank while pushing the device across the floor), the machines were commercially successful and sold for $25 apiece.  The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed McGaffey’s inventory, however, one of his original models currently resides at the Hoover Historical Center in North Canton, Ohio.

Farm Silo

In ancient Greece, farmers stored grain in huge pits in the ground.  In fact, the word silo is derived from Greek meaning, “pit for holding grain.”  In 1873, Fred Hatch of McHenry County, Illinois thought there had to be a better way.  He built an above-ground “pit” with round walls made of wood — a structure that generally is acknowledged as the first modern silo.  It was successful, too.  The new silo on his farm was filled with green corn fodder, so much so that Hatch’s cows stayed fatter and gave more milk than they ever had before.

Chicken Vesuvio

No one is quite sure about the origin of this popular dish but many have suggested that it first appeared on the menu of Vesuvio Restaurant, 15 E. Wacker Drive, Chicago, in the early 1930s.  Served with potato wedges, this dish features a half chicken that is sautéed with garlic, oregano, white wine, lemon juice and olive oil.  Though the restaurant has long since faded into the darkness, the recipe lives on in a number of Italian restaurants throughout the Chicago area.

Chicken Vesuvio

Mobile Phone

Building on his company’s earlier success with the car radio, color television and two-way walkie-talkies, Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola, produced the world’s first handheld mobile phone in April 1973 in Schaumburg, Illinois.  In 1983, the company launched its first retail mobile phone — the DynaTAC 8,000X.  The handset (a phone only, not a smartphone!) offered 30 minutes of talk time, six hours of standby and could store 30 phone numbers.  Its price, $3,995, was a little prohibitive by today’s standards.

The Wienermobile

In 1936, when Oscar Mayer Company was headquartered in Chicago, Carl Mayer, nephew of company founder Oscar, had an idea — a 13-foot-long hotdog mounted on a car that would travel the streets of Chicago promoting the company’s iconic brand.  General Body Company of Chicago designed the first Wienermobile, which featured open cockpits in the center and rear of the vehicle.  Today, a number of vehicles comprise the Wienermobile “fleet,” all of which can serve fully prepared Oscar Mayer hotdogs on location. The fleet consists of the full-size Wienermobile, a Mini Wienermobile (a hotdog on the body of a Mini Cooper), a motorcycle with a hot dog sidecar, and the Wiener Rover and the Wiener Drone, two remote-controlled hotdog delivery vehicles.

Twinkies

Twinkies were invented in Schiller Park, Illinois on April 6, 1930 by James Dewar, a baker at Continental Baking Company.  When Dewar saw machines used to make filling for strawberry shortcakes idled when strawberries were out of season, he came up with the idea to develop a snack cake filled with banana cream to increase the machines’ utilization.  A co-worker called the product a “Twinkie” after having seen a nearby billboard advertising “Twinkle Toe Shoes.”  When World War II caused bananas to be rationed, the company switched the filling to vanilla, which proved to be even more popular than the original.

Zipper

A Chicagoan, Whitcomb Judson, is generally credited with inventing the first clothing fastener in 1891.  Used mainly on shoes and boots, the device utilized a chain-lock mechanism that held leather together without separating.  In 1893, Judson exhibited his invention at the Chicago World’s Fair.  The device enthralled fairgoers, leading him to launch the Universal Fastener Company in Chicago to manufacture his product.  The chain-lock device never achieved commercial success, however, the clasping device was used by Judson and other inventors as a springboard to create new and improved fasteners that closely resemble the “zipper” that is commonly used today.

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

– By Tom Schaffner

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I spend a lot of time on the L.

Our tour company, L Stop Tours, utilizes Chicago’s elevated transit system to visit unique, culturally-diverse neighborhoods throughout the city.  On every tour, we tell our guests as much as we can about the L — how it came to be, the size and reach of the system, how it has evolved over time, and so on — but our guests always seem to have more questions.  Like many people, they are fascinated by the L and want to know more.

Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions we receive about the L:

How big is Chicago’s rapid transit system?

With 1,492 rail cars operating on eight routes, 224 miles of track, and nearly 230 million passengers transported per year (pre-pandemic), Chicago’s rapid transit system is the second-largest and second busiest system in the U.S.  The most heavily-traveled route on the system is the Red Line, which carries 252,000 passengers on an average weekday (pre-pandemic).  Another interesting fact, Chicago is the only major U.S. city to have an elevated system serving its downtown area.

How old is Chicago’s L?

The city’s first elevated rail line, constructed by the privately-owned Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad, began transporting passengers on June 6, 1892, on a four-mile stretch of track between Congress Avenue just south of downtown and 39th St.  The service, a small steam locomotive that pulled four wooden nuecoaches, was an immediate hit with locals and was extended another four miles the following year to accommodate visitors attending the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Jackson Park.  Three other privately-owned elevated transit lines were built in the next three years — the Lake Street Elevated Railroad, the Metropolitan West Side Railroad and the Northwestern Elevated Railroad.  

Historic L on Lake Street 1983

Photo from Chicago Architecture Center

When did the L system go electric?

In 1895, the Metropolitan West Side elevated line was the third L company to begin rapid transit operations in Chicago but the first to use electricity to power its trains.  Two years later, the South Side L introduced multiple-unit control in which the operator can control all motorized cars in a train, not just the lead car.  Shortly thereafter, the remainder of the lines switched to electric service.  Interestingly, electricity and multiple-unit control remain standard features on most of the world’s current rapid transit systems.

How did Chicago’s Loop get its name?

When Chicago’s first elevated lines went into operation, none were allowed to provide service in the downtown area — property owners felt the system was ugly and that it would reduce property values.  A wealthy financier, Charles Tyson Yerkes, thought otherwise and was able to convince property owners that an elevated transit system would bring more people downtown and would be good for business.  Finally, the property owners agreed and Yerkes built what he called the “Union Loop,” a 1.79-mile closed circle that connected all of the city’s privately-owned elevated railroads into a common system.  Over the years, the term “Loop” has come to refer to Chicago’s original downtown area, or more precisely, any property that is located inside the Loop elevated structure (an area bounded by Lake Street on the north, Wabash Avenue on the east, Van Buren Street on the south and Wells Street on the west).

Why did Chicago decide to elevate its transit system while other cities used subways?

Chicago’s resolve to rebuild itself after the Great Chicago Fire resulted in an unprecedented period of growth and expansion for the city — between 1872 and 1900, Chicago was one of the fastest growing cities in the world.  As a result, pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages and streetcars converged to create gridlock on downtown streets — city fathers knew that a new transit system was badly needed.  Although subways were the choice in other growing cities like New York and London, Chicago selected elevated railways because they were cheaper to construct and did not require much digging (there were concerns at the time that the city’s swampy soil might not tolerate a subway system).

When and why did the Chicago Transit Authority come into existence?

In 1924, all of Chicago’s original L companies were combined into a new private entity, the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, in order to facilitate better cooperation among the lines.  Following World War II, Chicago and Illinois officials decided that all bus, streetcar and rapid transit lines should become publicly-owned.  In 1947, the newly established Chicago Transit Authority assumed control of all transportation systems within the City of Chicago.

Chicago built two subways, not elevated lines, many years after the elevated system was well established.  Why? 

The State Street subway, a 5-mile segment in the middle of today’s Red Line, went into operation in 1943 and the Dearborn Street subway, serving the Blue Line downtown, was completed in 1951 Both of these service expansions were built as subways in order to minimize train traffic on the Loop tracks and to speed passenger travel through the downtown area.  To this day, trains on the Red and Blue lines descend from elevated tracks just outside the Loop into the subways in the downtown area (35 feet below ground), make several stops, and ascend to elevated tracks after emerging from the downtown subway.

Clark and Lake

Why are there no public restrooms at CTA stations? 

The CTA used to have public restrooms at most stations but closed them in the 1970s.  (These restrooms are now locked and available only to CTA employees and/or passengers with an emergency  medical condition.)  The reason?  According to the CTA, public restrooms require significant resources to maintain and keep secure — and the CTA does not have the resources to maintain these facilities or keep them secure at a high enough level for the general public.

Does the CTA ever use old rail cars for regular service? 

Not for daily or regular service, however, the CTA maintains a small fleet of vintage rail cars, the Heritage Fleet, that is used for charters or special events in which the public is invited.  Additionally, Chicago L car number one — the very first car used on the L tracks (1892) — is on permanent display at the Chicago History Museum. Visitors to the museum are invited to step aboard the car and look around.

Is it the “L” or “el?” 

Both the CTA and the four original privately-owned transit companies always referred to their trains as the “L,” meaning that the nickname (short for elevated railway) dates back nearly 130 years.  It is thought that rapid transit operators in Chicago preferred “L” because it was different from elevated service in New York City. which went by the nickname “the el.”

Why are Chicago’s rapid transit cars shorter than those in other cities?

Chicago’s transit vehicles are shorter in order to better navigate the sharp turns in the Loop, such as Adams and Wabash and Wells and Van Buren.  And while Chicago’s rapid transit system is the second busiest in the United States, its shorter cars (48 feet versus New York’s 51 feet) comfortably handle its ridership loads on a daily basis.  In short, there is not a need for longer cars.

How much is a single ride on the L?

A single-ride train ticket — three rides within two hours of purchase — costs $3 (or $5 if purchased at O’Hare Airport).  Riders can also utilize the CTA’s electronic fare program, Ventra, which offers a number of different fare and pass options that can be loaded onto the reusable card, as well as a cash balance or electronic payment options.

Are there any express trains on the CTA system?

The only scheduled express train service on today’s CTA system is the Purple Line, which skips a few stops on its way to and from Howard Street and the Merchandise Mart, cutting about 15 minutes off the normal 45-minute all-stop service one would encounter by taking Red and Brown Lines to either of these destinations.  Years ago, the CTA utilized a skip-stop service on all of its routes (“A” and “B” trains that stopped at alternate “A” and “B” stops in order to speed transit times), but that service was eliminated in 1995.

Any expansion of the system planned for the future? 

The Chicago Transit Authority is proposing to extend the Red Line from the existing terminal at 95th/Dan Ryan to 130th Street, subject to the availability of funding. The proposed 5.6-mile extension would include four new stations near 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue, and 130th Street.


Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

– By Tom Schaffner

What’s your preferred mode of transportation for moving about Chicago?

Bus?  Scooter?  Divvy bike?  Cab?  Shared ride?  Walking?  Your car?  Pedicab?  Horse-drawn carriage?  But you better hurry — horse-drawn carriages become illegal in Chicago on January 1, 2021.

For many years — more than I can remember — I’ve used the CTA’s rapid transit system (the “L”) as my primary conveyance throughout the metropolitan area.  The Chicago transit system is convenient, affordable, punctual (usually), offers unique and scenic views, takes you to interesting neighborhoods and, frankly, is just plain fun to ride.  Chicago’s L is iconic — when you ride the rails here, you’re taking a trip on a Chicago transit system that’s 128 years old (and counting).  It’s a one-of-a-kind experience — something that is unduplicated in the world of transportation.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, I’ve gone more than three months without taking the Chicago transit system anywhere.  Not because I was afraid, I didn’t want to occupy a space that otherwise could have been used by an essential worker that needed to get to their job with as little disruption from outsiders as possible.

Reopening

Now that summer has arrived and the pandemic in Chicago and throughout Illinois seems to be a bit more under control (declining cases and hospitalizations, lower overall positivity rate from tests), the city and state are in the process of reopening, which means that offices, restaurants, retail stores, cultural institutions, parks and the lakefront are now emerging from their multi-month lockdown (albeit with reduced capacity levels and plenty of social distancing).  Nevertheless, they are open and as progress continues to be made locally with respect to the pandemic, things are beginning to return to normal.

The Chicago transit system is undergoing a similar transformation.  During the early days of the pandemic, ridership on the L was down almost 90 percent (from normal operations).  The trains were virtually empty, often no one riding them at all.  But as Chicago and Illinois began to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 cases throughout the region, the CTA turned its efforts toward sanitizing, disinfection and ways to restructure the Chicago transit system so that crowds could be minimized and there would be plenty of room for social distancing.  In other words, they began the process of making the Chicago transit system safer to ride while we’re still in the pandemic.

They’ve done a tremendous job.  On one of my recent L trips, everything was clean, the train wasn’t crowded and social distancing wasn’t a problem.  I sat in a row of seats in the middle of the car by myself, the nearest other passengers were evenly spread throughout the car.  All passengers were wearing masks and the car was marked with decals indicating safe places to stand or sit.

The CTA has been working on a number of improvements to its system during the pandemic:

  • The CTA has adopted a new cleaning regimen that is among the most rigorous of any transit system in the nation.  All Chicago transit system cars are thoroughly cleaned before entering service and high touch surfaces in railcars and stations are cleaned several times a day.
  • New technologies, including electrostatic sprayers and antimicrobial coatings, are also being used to further enhance cleaning and disinfection.
  • All Chicago transit system passengers are required to wear face masks while riding trains.
  • Cars on trains are now limited to no more than 22 passengers to achieve proper social distancing standards.  This is accomplished with staggered seating and marked places to stand on each train.  
  • When conditions dictate, the CTA runs longer and more frequent trains to keep passenger counts lower and at more manageable levels.
  • Decals have been placed on station floors and platforms to guide passengers where to stand and how to keep distanced from one another.  All Chicago transit system rail stations are cleaned daily and are regularly power-washed.
  • The CTA has been working with the business community to encourage companies and organizations to stagger employee starting and ending times in order to help minimize crowding on trains. 

Positive Reviews

Early reviews on the CTA’s efforts to re-attract customers to its system have been very positive.  A recent article in the Chicago Tribune gushed about the transit agency’s efforts.  “Spacious!  Clean!  Is this the CTA?  Even better, everyone is wearing a mask, not just the crazy people.”

Seems like the time is right to get out and enjoy Chicago.

For more information on the CTA’s efforts to clean, disinfect and socially distance its system, go to transitchicago.com/coronavirus.

And if you’re interested in using the CTA line to explore Chicago, consider going on one of L Stop’s Chicago walking tours!

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

– By Tom Schaffner

Could there ever be two better-timed national “appreciation” weeks?

This year, Teacher Appreciation Week is May 4-8, 2020 and National Nurses Week takes place May 6-12, 2020.  Given the front-and-center roles that these workers have played during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important that everyone take a few moments to recognize, celebrate and thank them for the vital services they have performed during this global crisis.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Sponsored since 1984 by the National Parent Teacher Association, Teacher Appreciation Week is a special time to honor the men and women who lend their passion and skills to educating our children.  This year, given the extra time and effort put in by teachers to restructure teaching plans and implement a wide variety of at-home and online educational programs, teachers deserve special recognition.  Show a teacher that you and your children care, let them know how much appreciate their efforts in the coming weeks and months.

National Nurses Week

National Nurses Week, sponsored by the American Nurses Association, runs for full week every year and concludes on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 12.  This year, health care workers in general — and nurses in particular — need to be recognized as the heroes they are, dedicated workers who put their lives on the line every day to help the sick and infirm among us get through these challenging and difficult times.  There simply is no better time to celebrate these brave and courageous individuals.

At L Stop Tours, both of these professions hold special meaning.  My wife, a lifetime nurse and hospital administrator, succumbed to ovarian cancer long before the pandemic but I know she would have put herself on the front lines immediately, doing whatever she could to help others through the crisis, just as she had done during other crises throughout her career.  My daughter (and co-owner of L Stop Tours) spent most of her career as a middle school teacher.  Like most teachers, she worked many long hours finding ways to keep her students informed, inspired and engaged.

Important Jobs

As long as I can remember, teachers and nurses have been minimized and under-appreciated.  They have important jobs and work long hours — but they continually rank near the bottom of the pay scale as compared to other professionals.  This year, however, teachers and nurses have emerged as heroes, they have put students and patients first and in the process, have shown all of us what caring and compassion are all about.

It’s time for the rest of us to step up.  Let teachers know you appreciate all they’ve done to educate our children; let nurses know that you appreciate their dedication, commitment and passion during the health care crisis of our time.

Do it.  It’ll make their day — and it will make you feel better about yourself, as well.

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

– By Tom Schaffner

Seven Weird Chicago Laws That Are Truly Unique 

If you Google “weird Chicago laws,” you’ll get a number of hits that list blue laws that were enacted in another era — laws that were designed to restrict certain activities on Sundays for religious reasons, such as gambling or the sale or consumption of alcohol.

Some of the weird Chicago laws that are still on the books border on the bizarre: it is illegal for a Chicagoan to dine in a restaurant that is on fire; it’s illegal for dogs to drink whiskey; it’s illegal for your pet to have poor hygiene; you might be picked up as a vagrant if you have less than $1 on you.

While strange laws aren’t unique to Chicago — many U.S. cities still have them on the books — our Town has always taken a certain amount of pride in doing things differently than other U.S. cities. From innovative legislation to bold new ideas, Chicago has always done things its own way — right or wrong.

Check out our list of weird Chicago laws:

  1. Can’t buy a car on a Sunday
  2. The movies you used to watch were censored
  3. Later Saturday night tavern hours
  4. No meat after 6 p.m. or on weekends
  5. Lack of food trucks
  6. The evils of Foie Gras
  7. No pick-up trucks on Lake Shore Drive

Can’t Buy a Car on a Sunday

In 1984, at the behest of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, the Illinois legislature passed a weird Chicago law that forbade auto dealers in the state from opening for business on Sundays.  Why? The dealers say they wanted a day for their employees to be with families and not have to worry about stolen sales from other dealers that decided to stay open on that day. The ban on car sales on Sundays is still in effect throughout Illinois.  Because many other retailers are now open seven days a week, one can only wonder why auto dealers need to be singularly protected.

The Movies You Watched Were Censored

From 1907-1984, every movie that played in a Chicago movie theatre had to receive an “OK” from the Chicago Film Review Board.  The Film Review Board was operated by the Chicago Police Department and its board members generally consisted of widows and orphans of Chicago police officers.  Sometimes the Board recommended edits to films, sometimes films were banned entirely, like the original version of “Scarface.” It opened in theaters nationwide in early 1932 but didn’t play in a Chicago theatre until late in 1942.  It seems the film Board didn’t like the way Chicago was portrayed. The Board was disbanded in 1984 because it had become irrelevant in the face of rigorous film industry self-regulation (a rating system).

A focused shot of a seat in a movie theater

Small movie theater

Later Saturday Night Tavern Hours

Except for gambling towns like Las Vegas and Atlantic City where casinos serve alcohol 24 hours a day, Chicago has the latest Saturday night closing time for a tavern — 5 a.m. — than any other city in the nation.  (Many cities match Chicago’s 4 a.m. closing time during the week, however.) Approximately 150 taverns in Chicago have 4 a.m./5 a.m. liquor licenses, a number that has held steady for the past few decades.

No Meat After 6 p.m. or on Weekends

Between 1952 and 1977, the sale of meat was banned at supermarkets throughout the Chicago metropolitan area after 6 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.  To ensure that customers didn’t try to purchase product, retailers threw a tarp over the meat case; customers who wanted to enjoy a barbecue over the weekend had to remember to “stock up” during the week or go without.  Why the weird Chicago law? The local Meat Cutters union wielded enormous power over the local retailers with their labor contracts — and the Meat Cutters didn’t want their butchers working late hours or on weekends when they could (in theory) be home with their families.  Eventually, the ban was lifted when the union realized that its members’ jobs were in jeopardy if the store couldn’t sell meat products during the store’s business hours.

A butcher pulling raw meat from a meat display

Lack of Food Trucks 

The City of Chicago has long had a love/hate relationship with street food vendors — both of the Daley mayoral administrations (1955-1976 and 1989-2011) made it difficult for operators of food carts to peddle their wares on street corners or at public events.  When food trucks became all the rage in New York and Los Angeles in 2010, Chicago again took a cautious approach toward licensing them. Initially, the city didn’t allow any food preparation on board the trucks, only products that had been prepared and packed in a commercial kitchen were allowed.  Two years later, the city relented on the preparation rule but then issued an edict that no truck could locate within 200 feet of an existing brick and mortar restaurant and when they did park it was for a limited time. Why? The city wanted to protect the turf of existing restaurants, not wanting upstart food trucks to steal their business.  Today there has been an accommodation of sorts — the city limits the number of food truck licenses but lets them park in pre-established zones throughout the city.

The Evils of Foie Gras 

In April, 2006, the Chicago City Council barred restaurants from serving foie gras — fatty duck or goose liver — because the animals were mistreated and abused while they were being raised.  The City became a laughing stock worldwide and a displeased Mayor Richard M. Daley called it ‘the silliest law they’ve (the Council) ever passed.” Thanks to intense lobbying by the restaurant industry, the ban was overturned two years later and customers were once again allowed to consume the gastronomic delight.  Interestingly, New York City recently approved legislation that will ban foie gras in restaurants beginning in 2022. Who’s the laughing stock now?

No Pick-Up Trucks on Lake Shore Drive

Before automobiles, the city had a number of ordinances prohibiting certain activities near the lakefront.  One of them banned commercial vehicles (anything that carried freight) from using streets adjacent to the lake, such as Lake Shore Drive.  In 2020, the ban on trucks is still in effect for Lake Shore Drive and, yes, that includes pick-up trucks — even those that are not carrying freight or those that are not even considered to be commercial.  Although this weird Chicago law isn’t closely monitored, Chicago Police still issue citations whenever they see pickups headed down the Drive and unknowing drivers are shocked to learn that they have broken a weird Chicago law that no one knows exists.

The Chicago skyline from a highway

If you want to learn some more interesting facts and stories about Chicago, consider taking a Chicago city tour with L Stop Tours!


Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

– By Tom Schaffner

Speak Like a Local — 17 Street Names Pronounced the Chicago Way

Long before the existence of cell phones, the Internet or even an on-board public address system, Chicago’s suburban commuter railroads used a decidedly low-tech way of announcing each train’s next stop.  Conductors walked through every car and, in their own inimitable style, bellowed out towns and Chicago street names that didn’t sound like any that I knew. “Next stop…BROOT’-feel. BROOT’-feel is next” (instead of Brookfield).  Or “We’re coming up on LAV’-earn Avenue” instead of the correct pronunciation — Luh-VERN’ (accent on the second syllable). And that was just on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Line. 

Other locations throughout the metropolitan area were often mispronounced by folks, as well.  Soldier Field often became Soldiers Field, Comiskey Park became Cominskey Park and the name of our state often became ILLI’-noise instead of Ill-ANNOY’.”

Does it matter if a person mispronounces the Chicago street names and other locations throughout the area? Usually, no. Most people understand what you’re referring to and nod accordingly for clarity. Occasionally, however, mispronouncing some Chicago street names can be downright embarrassing — it clearly marks you as a rube from out of town, perhaps someone that can be taken advantage of.

A much better solution is to learn to pronounce Chicago street names and other important locations the way Chicagoans pronounce them — and sound like a local.  That way you’ll look and sound like you fit in. To help you in this noble quest, we have prepared a Chicago street name pronunciation guide to assist you in your travels throughout the metropolitan area.

For those of you that are more verbal learners over readers, consider taking one of our Chicago city tours, and we’ll teach how to pronounce dozen of Chicago street names.

1. Armitage Ave.

The Chicago pronunciation of this North Side thoroughfare is AR’-mi-tidge, not AR’-mi-taj’.  This slight mispronunciation not only gives the street a “Chicago” sound, it makes the French cringe, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

2. Berenice Ave.

 If you don’t look carefully at the spelling of this North Side Chicago street name, you’re likely to say Burr-NIECE’.  But that’s wrong, the correct pronunciation is BARE’-uh-niece. 

One of the trickiest Chicago street names to pronounce is Bryn Mawr

3. Bryn Mawr Ave.

This North Side Chicago street name that cuts through the Edgewater neighborhood is named after a railroad stop near Philadelphia.  To pronounce it correctly, ignore the “y” and the “w” and say BRIN’-mar.

4. Clybourn Ave. 

Archibald Clybourn built the city’s first slaughtering plant in the early 1800s and out of towners have been butchering the pronunciation of his last name ever since.  It’s CLY’-born, not CLEE’-burn.

5. Cuyler Ave. 

Edward Cuyler built a railroad between Chicago and Janesville, Wis. and for this accomplishment had a street named after him.  In Chicago, we pronounce it KAI’-ler.

6. Desplaines St.

The name is derived from plane trees in the area that French explorers thought resembled a similar species in Europe.  Like most French-origin words that have found their way into the local vernacular, Chicagoans prefer to pronounce it without any silent letters and say it exactly the way it is spelled, Des-PLANES’.  The same is true for the suburb, Des Plaines, which is just north of O’Hare and which also has a lot of planes.

7. Devon Ave. 

Originally known as Church Road, it was changed to Devon in the 1880s by a developer who named it after Devon Station on the Main Line north of Philadelphia.  Never say DEV’-in, the correct pronunciation is De-VAUGHN’.

8. Goethe St.

German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s last name is pronounced GUR’-tuh, but not in Chicago.  We defiantly say GO’-thee and, are proud of it.

One of the trickiest Chicago street names to pronounce Goethe

9. Honore St.

Henry Hamilton Honore was a real estate magnate successful enough to have this West Side street named after him.  It’s not Hoe-NORE’, locals pronounce it HONOR’-ray.

10. Leavitt St.

A north-south Chicago street name on the West Side of the city, Leavitt looks as though it should be pronounced LEAVE’-it, but it isn’t.  The correct local pronunciation is LEV’-it. Take it or leave it.

11. Melvina Ave.

Named after a Wisconsin summer resort, the Chicago street name is pronounced with a long “i” sound, as in Mel-VINE’-uh, where nothing could be fine-uh.

12. Nina Ave.

The history books say this street was named after one of Christopher Columbus’ boats, but Chicagoans pronounce it differently than Columbus did.  For some odd reason, we say NINE’-uh, not NEEN’-uh.

One of the trickiest Chicago street names to pronounce is Paulina

13. Paulina Ave.

The wife of an early Chicago real estate developer, locals pronounce this Chicago street name Paw-LINE’-uh, not Paw-LEEN’-uh.  Take that, Ms. Porizkova! 

14. Racine Ave.

This one is not definitive — it’s split about 50/50.  South Siders tend to say RAY’-seen and North Siders say Ruh-SEEN’.  In France (Racine is a French name), they say RAH’-seen. Go figure.

15. Throop St.

Amos G. Throop, a Chicago real estate developer, pronounced his surname TROOP, totally ignoring the “h.”  Chicagoans believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and do the same.

16. Vincennes Ave.

Named after an explorer, the French pronounce it Vaugh-SEN’.  In Chicago, no one knows what you’re talking about when you say it this way.  Butcher it like the rest of us and say Vin-SENZ’.  

17. Wabansia Ave.

There are many ways to say it wrong, only one way to say it like a local.  It’s Wuh-BAHN’-see-uh. 

If you want to learn more facts about Chicago that will make you seem like a local, consider going on one of our Chicago city tours. All of our guides are native to Chicago and love to answer any and all questions you have about the city! We hope to see you soon.


Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

– By Tom Schaffner

The invention of baseball is murky.  Was it created by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York, or, was it Alexander Cartwright, a volunteer firefighter and bank clerk in New York City who codified a set of rules that would form the basis for modern baseball?  Adding to the controversy is evidence that early forms of baseball were played in the years just following the American Revolution, several decades before Doubleday or Cartwright were even on the scene. 

But Who Invented Softball?

There is no debate about who invented softball, however.  The game was invented in 1887 on Thanksgiving Day in Chicago.

How it all Started

The story of its invention is compelling.  A group of men gathered at Chicago’s Farragut Boat Club to learn the result of that day’s Harvard versus Yale college football game.  When Yale was announced as the winner, a Yale alumnus wadded up a boxing glove with the string ties and playfully threw it at a Harvard supporter.  The Harvard supporter swung at the glove with a broom handle and the rest of the group looked on with interest. George Hancock, a reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade jokingly called out, “Play ball,” and the first game of “softball” began in earnest.  According to reports, 80 runs were scored during that initial match and the final score was 41-40.  

Who Invented Softball? You Won't Believe It

Yellow softball on pitchers mound

By 1895, the game had moved outdoors, a complete rulebook had been issued and players had developed new names for the sport — “kitten ball,” “diamond ball,” “mush ball,” and “pumpkin ball.”  It wasn’t until 1926 that the term softball was first used. Prior to this date, the size of the ball had varied considerably, depending mainly on where the game was played. Most of the world adopted a 12-inch ball and played the game with gloves.  In Chicago, where the sport was born, the game moved forward with a 16-inch ball — and no gloves were allowed. The reason for the popularity of the sport in Chicago was because a bigger, softer ball meant that it could be played on smaller city “fields,” such as a cramped playground, someone’s back yard and even inside a gymnasium, if necessary.

The 16-inch game became incredibly popular nationwide when the first-ever national amateur softball tournament was held in conjunction with Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933.

The Strategy of Softball

In addition to no playing with gloves, the 16-inch game is different from other versions of softball in several respects.  As the game progresses, the 16-inch ball gets softer, making it more difficult to hit great distances. Teams and batters must alter their offensive strategies as the game moves into the late innings.  Throwing and catching the ball also requires players to utilize different techniques. Fielders will often bounce the ball to their throwing target to make it easier to complete the play. Others who are looking to catch the ball will often let the ball hit their chest first before trapping the ball with their hands and fingers. 

Like golf, the sport of softball has seen a precipitous decline in participation during the last several decades.  Youth have gravitated to other sports and Baby Boomers — one-time stalwarts of the sport — are aging and playing less.  And while it is rare indeed to see a pick-up softball game being played in fields or open spaces around the city (as there used to be), there are still a number of city and suburban leagues where those who are interested can get involved.

So whether you play 12-inch, 16-inch or women’s fast pitch, remember that the game was invented here by a group of football fans who improvised a “ball” with a boxing glove.

Only in Chicago.

If you thought Chicago’s history with softball is interesting, then considering booking one of L Stop’s Chicago tours. Our tours are filled with interesting Chicago history facts that you won’t get from other tours.

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

– By Tom Schaffner

With 78 neighborhoods stretched over 234 square miles, Chicago needs an efficient and reliable transportation system to move people from one destination to another.  That’s where our city’s extensive rapid transit system (the various CTA train lines) comes in.

Over the past 125 years, Chicago’s elevated railway has grown from a single line — the “Alley L” which transported passengers from Congress Street to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition on the South Side — to eight lines that fan out across the metropolitan area like spokes on a bicycle wheel.  The 102–mile system, which is the second largest and second busiest in the United States, boards approximately 720,00 riders every weekday morning and provides transportation services to more than 235 million riders annually,

The system that exists today, however, is not the system of days gone by.  Over the years, the Chicago Transit Authority has abandoned and ultimately demolished seven entire lines and branches since it took control of the system in 1947.  These CTA train lines were eliminated because they were underutilized or were redundant to other forms of transportation, such as bus routes, streetcars or newly-constructed expressways.

CTA train lines that are discontinued and demolished since 1947

Logan Square Line

Before the construction of the Milwaukee-Dearborn Street subway (1951), an elevated line headed west from the Loop to Paulina then jogged north to Milwaukee Ave. The line then traveled north to Logan Square where it terminated above a newsstand near Kedzie and Logan Blvd.  The line opened for business on May 6, 1895. Years later, after the subway was built, it provided the Logan Square Line with a more direct route to the Loop. Once this connection was made, it rendered the Paulina portion of the line obsolete and unnecessary. It was abandoned and demolished in 1964.

Humboldt Park Branch

From 1895 until 1954, an elevated line connected Wicker Park and the north side of Humboldt Park.  Consisting of only six stations, the branch proceeded west on a right of way that paralleled North Avenue and terminated at Lawndale Avenue.  A huge decline in ridership was the primary reason for ceasing operation — in 1910 the lined averaged 12,550 passengers per day but by 1951 it only carried 1,250 passengers per day.  The branch was abandoned on May 4, 1952.

CTA Train Line HIstory

Stock Yards Branch 

Built in 1908, this elevated branch ran west from the main South Side Line (Green Line) at Indiana and continued for 2.9 miles, serving eight stations along the way.  When it reached the Union Stock Yards, it made a counterclockwise loop, stopping at three huge meatpacking plants— Morris & Company, Swift & Company and Armour & Company.  When the Stock Yards began to decline in importance in the 1930s, the line lost ridership and, ultimately, was abandoned on October 6, 1957. The CTA replaced the L with the #43 bus line, which followed the exact same route into the Yards.  The move to close the line was precipitous — the Stock Yards itself closed in 1971.

Kenwood Branch

This line, six stations and 1.25 miles in length went into service September 20, 1907.  It separated from the main South Line (Green Line) at Indiana Ave. and proceeded eastbound to 42nd Place (near Lake Shore Drive).  When ridership on the nearby Stock Yards Line began to decline in the 1930s, the Kenwood line began to decline, as well.  The Kenwood line also was costly to maintain and had equipment and infrastructure (stations) that were in poor condition. The CTA shut the branch down on Nov. 30, 1957.

Oldest CTA Train LineWestchester Branch

Serving nine stations in Chicago’s western suburbs, the Westchester Branch was 5.5 miles in length and opened with great fanfare on September, 30, 1926.  It ran north from Mannheim and 22nd (Westchester) to Roosevelt Road where it then turned east (passing through Bellwood and Maywood) and continued all the way to Desplaines Ave. (Oak Park).  Built to capitalize on the future growth of Westchester as a suburb, the line was a little ahead of its time. It closed in 1951 due to a lack of riders. Ironically, Westchester began to experience significant growth only a few years after the line was abandoned by the CTA.

Normal Park Branch

Less than a mile long, the Normal Park Branch ran from the main South Line (Green Line) in Englewood at Harvard St. south to 69th St, serving four stations along the way.  It opened on May 25, 1907 but it never attracted many passengers.  By late 1953 it was generating less than 100 fares a day, barely enough for a bus line but not for rapid transit service.  The CTA shut down the line on Jan. 29, 1954.

Garfield Park Line

Opened in 1895, the Garfield Park Line ran from the Wells Street Terminal in the Loop (Wells and Quincy) paralleling Van Buren and Congress all the way to the western edge of the city (Cicero Ave.) and, eventually, to the near west suburbs (Oak Park, Bellwood, Maywood).  When the Congress Expressway (Eisenhower) was under construction in the mid 1950s, the 50-plus year Garfield Park Line was demolished in favor of a new rail line (Blue Line) that would occupy the median of the new expressway.

 

For a fun CTA train experience and to see what remains of the old lines, consider booking a Chicago walking tour with L Stop Tours!

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.