‘Birthday, Bro

Let’s see. There’s some news about brothers. One hundred and one years ago today — today being December 17, 2004 — Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first halting hops into the air at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. If you have a chance to go down there sometime, the approximate start and end points for the four flights they did that day are marked. Judging by the distance alone, the accomplishment seems so modest. Eventually, they flew again; eventually the skeptics accepted they could actually do it. And the next thing you know, we have people prancing on the moon and stealth bombers flying over Baghdad. But that’s another story.

There’s more December 17th news in my life. Forty-eight years ago today — not that I remember it, but the event was documented by senior family members, doctors, nurses, and Cook County — my brother Chris was born, the third Brekke baby to appear in two years, eight months, and 15 days. Back then, it was just a family; nowadays, it would be a reality show. The Amazing Baby Race or something.

Anyway: Happy birthday, Chris!

The Tribune on Max

The Chicago Tribune is running a nearly heroic-scale obit on Max. Here’s the lead:

“Australian-born Maxwell McCrohon was a journalistic visionary whose innovations in design, story-packaging and feature writing changed the face of the Chicago journalism and had a wide impact throughout the U.S. newspaper industry.”

And a fun detail recounting his early days at the Chicago American:

“He also was a fill-in movie reviewer. A sample lead from one of his reviews: ‘The Frenchmen who produced the film version of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” have spread the rather bitter bread of his play with a heavily spiced syrup of sex.’ ”

12/10/04: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is carrying Hearst’s more workaday version of the obit. The WLS site in Chicago is running the AP’s version at length. And the Washington Times has UPI’s take.

12/11/04: The New York Times has an obit, too, this morning.


One of our family’s oldest and greatest friends, Max McCrohon, died yesterday. He’d been sick a long time with emphysema (I remember him as an unregenerate smoker of unfiltered Camels) and, for the past three or four years, with lung cancer. There’s a lot I could say — that everyone in my family could say — about Max (and about all the McCrohons). For now, just this: He was the one who inspired me to become a journalist and who gave me my first opportunity to work in a newsroom. And he and his wife Nancy somehow were always welcoming to the Brekke kids; their home was always, always open to us. I honestly can’t imagine what my life would have been like without him, and them.

Mom’s Day

So, certain dates come to have a meaning of their own. For me (and for the rest of my family, I think), November 26 is Mom’s birthday. She would have been 75 today. Born in Chicago in 1929, just a month after the stock market crash. Knowing that, and knowing what happened in the world over the first 12 years of her life (the Depression, the New Deal, the rise of the fascists and Nazi Germany, the war in Europe, Pearl Harbor), I’ve always imagined that she was born into a world that must have seemed, to her parents, to be on the verge of chaos or calamity. But it probably just wasn’t that way. I’ve heard that her dad, who worked for the First National Bank in Chicago, was never out of a job. At some point in the ’30s after the last of her six kids was born, her mom went back to work as a grade-school teacher in Chicago. They never lost their home or anything like that, and in fact seemed to have been an anchor for relatives who weren’t doing as well. So all that stuff happening out there in the world someplace probably seemed remote from the day-to-day cares of raising a family. And when tragedy made an indelible mark on their lives, it had nothing to do with the wider world: one of Mom’s brothers and three other relatives drowned in Lake Michigan one summer day in August 1939, her father died on lung cancer in June 1941. By then, of course, the big troubles from outside were starting to squeeze in on everyone, though maybe the family story and the world story never really did twine together; I guess I imagine they did from having a rough outline of what was going on around the family in my head, on one hand, and having heard lots of stories from Mom (and Dad) about those years.

Anyway, Mom, happy birthday. Thanks for — among all the other things — giving us so much to remember and to think about.

Gathered ‘Round the Laptop

Cimg2031_1It’s a heartwarming scene that would inspire Currier & Ives or Norman Rockwell: Three generations of a Chicago clan, gathered ’round the laptop for some wholesome family entertainment. This unstaged scene, Friday night on the North Side, shows a multigenerational Brekke gathering watching JibJab’s “This Land Is Your Land” parody online. Seriously.

Disappointed Office-Seeker, redux

HarrisonAs I mentioned in today’s post on the James A. Garfield assassination, the stock phrase used to describe his killer is “disappointed office-seeker.” Google turns up a bit that comedian Robert Klein once did based on that cliche. But Garfield wasn’t the only elected official of his era done in by someone who expected an appointment that didn’t come through.

Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison was shot to death in October 1893, the day before the scheduled closing of the World’s Columbian Exposition in the city. The killer was an apparently mentally ill man named Prendergast who believed he he merited an appointment to a senior position for services rendered to Harrison. He didn’t get the job he fancied, general counsel for the city, so he went to Harrison’s home with a gun.

Harrison was a five-term mayor (though terms were just two years in his day). His death prompted an orgy of mourning. By one account, the day of his funeral, more than half a million people lined the route to the cemetery. Later, his son, Carter Harrison II, also won five mayoral elections (so the Richards Daley were not the first to pull off that feat).

The other day, when Dad and I went down to Randolph and Desplaines streets to take a look at the new Haymarket statue, he mentioned he thought the original Haymarket sculpture, which depicts a cop trying to calm the waters of unrest, might be over in a park a few blocks to the west. We drove by, and found Union Park. On one edge is Spaulding Elementary School, where my mom’s mom, Anne O’Malley Hogan, taught back in the 1920s. We could see driving by that there was a statue in the park, but it was obscured by trees and I couldn’t see whether it was the Haymarket cop.

Dad went back down there today and called from the statue to report his findings. It’s a statue of Carter Harrison, who it turns out lived nearby when he was assassinated. (And, to connect back to Haymarket, was on the scene of the bombing before it took place. The Chicago Historical Society has a great writeup of the event, and Harrison’s part in it, here.)

Blog West

Back in California. Yeah, it’s a commonplace observation, but it really is amazing how far and how fast we can and do travel here, and how much we take it for granted. We think nothing of traveling across the continent, and are apt to be cross about it if anything delays us (same with this as in everything else about our lives; impatience and entitlement rule the day). Beyond the implicit sermonizing, I’ll just say it was great to see Kate and Tom when I got back on the ground in Oakland; and it was wonderful to have spent the last 10 days with Dad, Ann, Dan, Chris, Patty, Liam, Soren, Max, Ingrid, and Madeleine — in no particular order!

No pictures from the air this time — I couldn’t get a window. But more later on my trip.

WiFi: A Romance

Well, not a romance, really. But I’m sitting in my dad’s car in Evanston. I decided to check to see if there was an open node on the street before I went into S_______’s to pay to get online. Oh, yes, Evanston likes WiFi. I can see five nodes from where I’m sitting. The very first one let me on/in. The ethical and security issues involved in curbside surfing — we’ll talk about those later.

As far as the date goes, I can never see “September 17” without thinking “Antietam.” It’s an amazing place to visit. One news item: An annual vigil at the battlefield has been canceled, apparently due to Ivan-related weather.



Saw in the Tribune on Wednesday morning that a new statue commemorating the Haymarket Riot (more politically correct designations, such as “Haymarket Affair,” have been adopted over the years) was unveiled the day before. It’s good to see that people in Chicago will still turn out to argue the disputes of 118 years ago:

At the dedication, angry calls of “Anarchists!” were heard as Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon read a list of men executed or sent to prison after the riot. And hecklers, some who waved anarchist flags, booed and uttered obscenities at (Fraternal Order of Police) President Mark Donahue.

Dad and I went down to Randolph and Desplaines streets — the first time I ever visited the spot. The statue’s interesting, I guess: It’s an attempt to interpret the history of the moment rather than represent it literally. (An earlier statue on the spot, of a police officer holding up his hand and saying, “In the name of the people of Illinois, I command peace,” was attacked so frequently that it has been relocated to the city’s police academy). But I’m not an art critic. More interesting to me: An older couple showed up while we were out there. After a few minutes, I asked them what had brought them out. It turned out they have retired to the city and live on Randolph, over by the lake. They had seen the story in the paper, too, and decided to investigate. Cimg2023_1“When I read about this, I asked my kids, ‘What world-famous historical incident took place nine blocks west of where we live,” the man said. “One said, ‘It’s got somethng to do with labor.’ That was pretty good. Another one said, ‘Stop torturing your children.’ ”

Dad and I visited just in time. Chicago’s late-summer warm-wave was about to break, and thunderstorms had started to move across the city; five minutes after we were back in the car, it started to rain.

Chicago Dispatch 09.10.04


Slow Friday. Beautiful end-of-summer weather here. Sitting outside at a non-Starbucks wirelessly endowed cafe on North Sheridan Road. Just about to shut things down here and walk back west to my sister’s place for dinner with her kids. Then perhaps tomorrow, Dad and I will take a little drive someplace for the weekend. Details still unsettled.

Yesterday, I went for a bike ride up along the north shore, then returned to my sister’s, then went out to the park to watch my nephew, Soren, at soccer practice. Here’s Dad and Ann, who are both taking in my niece Ingrid’s antics.