Waveland and Sheffield


I dropped Eamon and Thom off at the airport at 6 a.m.–they had 7 a.m. flights–and driving back in on the Kennedy it felt like I had the city more or less to myself. One thing led to another. I stopped at a Starbucks at Roscoe and Seeley where they always have some local art displayed. I drove by Dinkel’s bakery on Lincoln Avenue, but they appear to be respecting the holiday and were closed. Soon I found myself at Steve Goodman’s “ivy-covered burial ground,” pictured above. It was just after sunrise, and I loved the way the “Win” flag was fluttering from the scoreboard (to be honest, an “L” flag would have been equally picturesque and arguably more representative of this year’s Cubs. But why ruin a beautiful morning with that sort of speculation?) I parked on a street where parking would be impossible during normal business hours. A cop sat in her SUV cruiser and watched me take a couple of pictures. Then I headed back north.

Road Blog: Chicago Afternoon

One more of the Statue of the Republic in Chicago

An afternoon driving around the South Side, enjoying the sudden end of summer and onset of what feels tonight like fall. Quick stops at:

–Jackson Park, site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (featured in “The Devil in the White City”) home of the work above, “Statue of the Republic,” a scale model of the statue that was a centerpiece at that long-ago fair. (Photo by Thom Brekke.)
Oakwoods Cemetery. Saw a great blue heron alight in a tree, then noticed that some big raptor was hanging out nearby.
–6500 block of Yale Avenue, where my great-grandparents (O’Malley/Moran) once lived. There’s a vacant lot where the house once stood.
–Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, where my brother and mom and many of her kin are buried.
–Als’s Italian Beef. The Ontario Street outlet. Tasty, if not historic.

Good night Chicago. Good night, all.

Birthday Night


It’s late on my dad’s day, his ninetieth birthday. He’s getting ready to pack it in, and so are the rest of us. There’s much more to say about this day and where he and the rest of us are in our lives, but for now, I’ll just offer up some links to some past observations on Dad’s birthday. And a few pictures, too, of course.

2004: Happy Birthday, Pop

2005: September 3, 1921

2008: Gratulerer Med Dagen

Birthday Eve


My sister Ann (in fact my only sister) made an appointment for my dad to get a haircut Friday just up Western Avenue at a barber shop called Jack’s House. Since it was pushing into the 90s, it was a driving trip. I circled the block once looking for close parking before deciding the hell with it and double-parking to drop Dad off. Jack–Jack O’Kane, of the Prairie du Chien O’Kanes–saw us and came out to help.

It was a fun hour. Jack is a golfer, a Green Bay Packers fan, a son of Ireland (father’s side from Antrim, mother’s from Mayo or Sligo), and 35 years in the barber business. He did a nice job with Pop, too.

Chicagoland Cemetery Report


On the eve of Dadfest (his ninetieth birthday, tomorrow), I took him to a local barber for some tonsorial attention. With that seen to, we stopped at the Steak ‘n’ Shake drive-through, then headed north to intercept Sheridan Road on the North Shore. We wound up in Lake Forest, where I happened to notice a sign for a beachfront park: “Parking Entrance for Lake Forest Residents.” OK–I wanted to see what being a Lake Forest resident gets you.

I wound down a steep drive to a beautiful little beach and well-kept park and parking lot that was guarded by a young guy lounging in a lawn chair. I signaled to him we were just going to turn around and did that. I stopped and asked the guy about beach parking access. Yes, it was for residents, who could park for free. Could non-residents park there? Well, only if they have a season permit. How much is that? About $900 (and looking into things a little further, a season parking permit at the southern end of the park is $1,400). The city’s brochure on all this explains that non-residents are welcome to park at the train station in downtown Lake Forest, a mile west as the crow flies (and they’re welcome to use the beach, too, but need to pay ten bucks a head on weekends and holiday). And one last welcoming touch: Anyone who parks along any street east of Sheridan Road–close to the beach, in other words–will be ticketed and fined $125.

My beach curiosity satisfied, we continued on. Down a street marked with a “No Outlet” sign, I saw a massive gate and decided we needed to investigate that, too. It was the Lake Forest Cemetery. It’s well-tended, and many of the graves–for instance, that of 19th century wholesaling titan J.V. Farwell–are lavish.

The site above grabbed my attention. It’s the resting place of Frederick Glade Wacker, son of the man for whom Chicago’s Wacker Drive is named, and his wife, Grace Jennings Wacker–the latter once a Brooklyn Heights debutante. Their marriage in 1912 got some serious New York attention–both in The New York Times (here: New York Times wedding announcement) and in more detail in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (here: Brooklyn Daily Eagle). Mr. Wacker didn’t reach 60. Mrs. Wacker died in the 1980s at the great age of 95, if her headstone is to be believed.

The Wackers did have children. There was a Frederick Jr., a businessman and motor sports enthusiast who died in 1998. HIs obituary in the Chicago Tribune lists three children and a grandson as survivors. Not mentioned is a brother, Charles Wacker III, who happened to be out of the country when Frederick Jr. died. Perhaps he went unlisted because of the circumstances of his absence.

In 1993, Charles Wacker III, who had made a name for himself as an owner and breeder of thoroughbred racehorses, was indicted on 16 counts related to an alleged tax-evasion scheme. Here’s how the Trib summarized the case:

“In its 50-plus-page indictment, the government alleged that the 72-year-old Wacker spent a decade creating a network of dummy corporations and hidden bank accounts from North Chicago to Hong Kong to shield himself from the IRS. Federal officials also alleged that Wacker defrauded his mother, Grace Jennings Wacker, and her estate of more than $500,000.

The story notes that the government accused Wacker of running his shell game to dodge $5 million in federal taxes and–how times have changed–says that it was the most massive personal tax evasion case in the history of the federal Northern District of Illinois. Other news accounts noted that he didn’t show for his first court appearance in Chicago. He was in England, where he ran his horse operation. His lawyer told the judge he was too ill to travel.

You see something sensational like that, and you want to know more. Whatever happened to CWIII? Is he languishing in a federal penitentiary somewhere, a la Bernie Madoff? Did he beat the rap?

Well, I couldn’t find a single news source that reported the denouement of the Charles Wacker III tax-fraud saga after the accounts of that first hearing. But I did dig up something from an online federal court file.

In 2002, the U.S. attorney for the district went to court to dismiss all charges. Why? Well, Charles was a fugitive, and prosecutors said he couldn’t be found. Also, the witnesses–Wacker’s accountant and Frederick Jr.–were deceased. And at the time the charges were dismissed. Wacker was 80. The Department of Justice motion (here: Wacker dismissal) doesn’t expand on that last fact except to imply, “What’s the point of going after him now?”

Charles Wacker III will be 90 on October 21, if he’s still living. I can’t find an obit for him. But I do find mentions as late as 2007, when he would have been 85 or 86, that he was still active in the horse-racing world.


From the Air: Green River, Dinosaur National Monument


On Thursday’s flight from San Francisco to Chicago. Above: Just east of Vernal, Utah. The view is to the northeast, across Dinosaur National Monument. Brush Creek flows down from the left (northwest to southeast). The Green River is the main stream snaking through the center of the picture. It flows from the upper right to the lower left in this picture. At left center, the river goes through Split Mountain Canyon. At the top of the image, you can see we’re looking through a dirty window.

Below: View is to the north. The Green River flows from right to left (east to west) through Split Mountain Canyon. Split Mountain is the high, cleft behemoth on the far (north) side of the river. I can’t find the name of the dramatic ridge in the foreground; the river is just visible flowing around its left (western) end. There’s a campground right there where Kate and I had a sandwich dinner we picked up in Vernal while driving across the country in 2007.

For reference’s sake: The river at this point is at about 4,800 feet above sea level. The peaks of Split Mountain are in the 7,300-7.400 foot range, and the unnamed foreground ridge tops 7,000 feet. The portion of the ridge in the closeup is about three miles long.


Heat Blog: Hot in Chicago

When we were in Chicago a few weeks ago, it was hot and humid virtually the entire week or so we were here. Temperatures up to the mid-90s and some real sweaty 80 to 90 percent humidity days that persisted after the heat eased a bit. At the tail end of our stay, the weather broke and highs fell into the 70s. I’m told they stayed that way until my return today, when the high downtown hit 97. Right now, it’s getting close to 1 a.m. in Chicago. The temperature: 86 degrees at O’Hare, 87 at Midway. That’s extraordinary for the middle of the night. Tomorrow’s forecast: the upper 90s again.

(Yes: I’m aware that people in Texas and the southern Plains have been going through about three months of this without a break. And yes: I enjoy our effete fog-bank summers in the Bay Area, which sometimes seem cool enough to keep your viognier nicely chilled without benefit of a fridge.)

Chicago meteorologist Tom Skilling breaks down the late-season heat wave in a post on the Chicago Weather Center super-blog:

The heat is on;Chicago is headed into the hottest opening two days of any September in 58 years!

(That exclamation point lends a certain “War of the Worlds” air to the proceedings, I think. And 58 years seems like ancient history, harking back to the days of Demosthenes or Davy Crockett. But then I remembered my mom was about two months and counting into her pregnancy with your humble blogger.)

Tom says:

It’s not at all “typical” to see temperatures here this late in the season as hot as those being predicted over the next few days. Highs are to reach 94-degrees Thursday and 98-degrees Friday. A few of Friday’s hottest temperatures could reach or exceed 100-degrees.

Back-to-back 90-degree or higher temperatures last occurred on September’s two opening days three years ago in 2008. But you have to go back 58 years—to 1953—-to find readings on September 1 and 2 warmer than those in coming days. That’s the year September opened with two 101-degree highs on the 1st and 2nd.

Birthday Trip

One last summer trip: Off today to Chicago for my dad’s ninetieth birthday. We’ll have a party Saturday to usher him into the Brekke-Sieverson Nonagenarian Hall of Fame (you’re forgiven if you hadn’t been aware that such an august institution existed.) Looking forward to a great weekend with both my sons and my nephew Max coming into town for the occasion.