Category Archives: History

Gleanings from a Parish Register

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Part of the family lore I absorbed long ago was the emigration of my mother’s mother’s family — the O’Malleys and Morans — from a place called Clare Island. I’ll call it a speck of rock standing at the very edge of the Atlantic on Ireland’s western coast, but with the stipulation it’s a good-size speck, maybe three miles wide at its widest point by five miles at its longest. The terrain is dramatic. Cliffs dominate much of the island’s coastline, and on the northwestern quarter of the island, a mountain rears up 1,500 feet from the Atlantic Ocean.

I went to the island once, long ago, and it seems hardly a day passes that I don’t think of it. Maybe that journey was left unfinished in some way. That’s another story for another day.

I have accessed my family’s story there another way, though, one that has involved scores if not hundreds of hours of looking at census returns and other genealogical records online. It’s been sort of thrilling to find the family I grew up hearing my mother describe in the census registers and to seize a few kernels of the family’s story.

Just one example: In 1894, my great-grandfathers Martin O’Malley arrived in the United States and settled with his in-laws, John and Bridget Moran, in a neighborhood just east of Chicago’s Union Stockyards. I’ve got the date of his emigration from his 1910 naturalization papers; and the address comes from the Morans’ longtime domicile on West 47th Place. In 1897, Martin’s wife, Anne Moran O’Malley, brought their eight children to Chicago.

The family shows up in the 1900 census on West 47th Street, about half a block from the Morans. Under “Occupation,” Martin and his two eldest sons, Patrick and John, are listed as “labor at yards.” The third eldest son, Mike, was listed as a “messenger boy,” and I’m guessing he worked in the yards, too (he later became a butcher and owned his own shop a couple miles south of the yards). So, we have documentary proof of the family’s existence, with enough specificity about ages — someone went through the ages of the O’Malley kids and “corrected” them at some point — to make you feel like your looking at something precise.

Well, maybe.

One thing I noticed looking at the various records for the O’Malleys — and the Morans, too, though I won’t go into that here — is how much their ages move around. Take Martin O’Malley and Anne Moran, for instance: In the 1900 census, he’s listed as having been born in July 1854, which made him 45 as of the 2nd of June, 1900, the day the O’Malley household was enumerated by someone named John P. Hughes. Anne Moran is listed as having been born in July 1864, which made her 35.

All fine. The problems — no, not problems; discrepancies — start the moment you look at any other record concerning the family. I haven’t found the 1910 census record for Martin O’Malley and Anne Moran and their clan. But there is a 1910 naturalization record for Martin, witnessed by two of his brothers-in-law, Anne’s brothers Edward and John. What does it say about Martin’s age? That he was born Nov. 9, 1856, more than two years after the date recorded in the 1900 census.

But let’s not get hung up on one tiny little difference. Turn to the 1920 census record, taken at the O’Malley home on South Yale Avenue on Jan. 6 by a Mrs. Grace Cawley. The birth month and year for household members are not recorded, but ages are. Martin is listed as 60 years old — meaning he was born in 1859 or 1860, a five- or six-year jump from the date listed in the earlier census and three or four years from the date listed on his naturalization. Meantime, Anne’s age had advanced a full 20 years, and she was listed as 55.

Martin died in June 1929, so he wasn’t around for the 1930 census, taken April 9 by a Marion Baker. But Anne was. She’s 67 — meaning her birth year has now shifted backward a couple years, to 1863 or even 1862. Most of her children, all well into single Irish Catholic adulthood by now, were living with her on Yale Avenue. The one daughter born in Ireland, Mary O’Malley, is listed as having been 35 — or born in 1894 or 1895; the 1900 census, which may even be accurate, gives her birth year as 1887.

In 1940, census enumerator Katherine Johnson visited the 6500 block of South Yale on April 6. She recorded Anne’s age as 78, which moves her birth another year back, to 1861 or 1862. Let it be noted that the 1950 census has not yet been released, and won’t be until 2022, so we don’t know what Anne or her household informants said her age was that year. But that is one more historical/actuarial data point to consult moving into the 1950s — the headstone on her grave in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, the big Catholic marble orchard — my dad’s term — out on 111th Street at Austin Avenue. There, her dates are listed as 1865-1952.

Well, the 1952 part is pretty reliable. But the 1865 part?

Anne was buried right next to Martin, and his dates are given as 1851-1929. Again, the later date is pretty well fixed. But remember that his explicit or implied birth year moved from 1854 to 1856 to 1860 in the census and naturalization documents. Where the heck did 1851 come from? And was he really 14 years older than his wife?

Now enter a parish baptismal register for Clare Island digitized sometime in the last few years by the National Library of Ireland. It’s hard to know how complete it is, but it does appear to contain birth and/or baptism information for Martin O’Malley — or Malley, as virtually all of the O’Malleys are listed in the book — and for Anne Moran and eight of her siblings.

Martin’s parents were said to be Patrick O’Malley and Alice O’Malley, and the book lists just one Martin with those parents. He was born, almost certainly, on June 20, 1852. So if you’re keeping track at home, I think we have five different dates for him from five different sources. Me, I’m inclined to go with the earliest dates, especially since there’s something like a contemporary record of his birth.

Now let’s look at Anne, whose birth has been hovering in the early 1860s. She was the first child recorded for John Moran and Bridget Prendergast. The parish register gives her date of birth and baptism as July 19, 1860. Again, virtually every later record gives a different actual or implied birth year for her.

I grew up with the notion that chronology was something that was definite, fixed and objective, or at least could be. I grew up with a web of family dates in my head — birth dates and anniversaries and dates of death, dates we moved from one place to the other — and I’ve always been the pain in the ass who remembers what date Lincoln was shot (April 14, 1865) and reams of other key historical moments. I can tell you that I was born one April morning at 9:21 a.m. — or at least that’s what the records say — and 9:21 a.m. therefore bears some significance for me.

So the floating dates with these not-so-distant ancestors throw me a little and make me wonder how it all happened. It must have been a combination of things: perhaps a lack of specific records; census interviews in which the informant had only a vague idea of everyone’s age, census enumerators and immigration clerks who were inattentive and sloppy or rushed, and interviewees who might have been a little vain or reluctant to give up personal information or just not too concerned with exactitude.

More gleanings to come.

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A July Surprise: Actual Rain

The fact it’s July notwithstanding, the National Weather Service forecast rain for Thursday. Our seasonal but only faintly known monsoon — it occasionally brings heavy rain to the Sierra and other ranges but rarely visits the lowlands with rain — has been potent this year. Despite that, it was a surprise when rain began pattering on the roof early this afternoon. And just as surprising when showers started up again about nightfall.

How much did it add up to? Our rain gauge, which has gotten very little use since we set it up in the spring, recorded .05 of an inch. Other weather stations around town — I find it hard to find the “official” reading here — recorded up to about .10.

Checking the Western Regional Climate Center records for Berkeley, it appears the official record for the date here was .10, in 1974. The average monthly July rainfall for Berkeley, in records that go back (though with some gaps) to 1893, is .03 of an inch.

And the wettest July day ever recorded in Berkeley is actually kind of surprising: 1.40 inches, on July 8, 1974. That was part of a storm that swept the region and yes, made headlines. Here’s the front-page portion of a story from the Marin Independent Journal (and below that, the PDF of the entire front page, which features a six-column picture of a flooded U.S. 101 in Corte Madera as well as some better-known history):

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Along the Road: Leonidas Taylor and the Steamer Belle

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Again, from our recent trip to Woodland: Headed from Woodland toward Sacramento, Old River Road is a levee highway, generally keeping to the top of the embankment separating the Sacramento River from the flood plain to the west and south. If you like seeing the river, the surviving remnant of riparian landscape and the adjacent farms — orchards interspersed with fields ready for row crops — it’s a beautiful drive.

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I’m guessing about halfway between Woodland and Sacramento, you pass the obelisk above. It’s along a stretch of 55 mph highway, meaning much of the traffic is faster, and the pullout is minuscule. We ran past it heading south toward Sacramento, then turned around and pulled in heading the wrong way up the road.

The obelisk is a memorial to a young Philadelphia native named Leonidas Taylor, one of the many victims of steamboat disasters/mishaps in mid-19th century America. He was clerk aboard the steamer Belle, which, according to newspaper accounts from the time, left Sacramento at at a little after 7 a.m. on February 5, 1856, and headed up the foggy river bound for Red Bluffs (today, it’s Red Bluff, singular). That’s roughly 120 miles in a straight line, and one would guess about 150 river miles. About 40 people were aboard.

About an hour later, 10 miles above Sacramento, the Belle’s boiler blew. The explosion obliterated the front half of the 75-ton sternwheeler, flinging passengers, cargo and wreckage into the Sacramento. The Belle sank quickly. The papers reported about half those aboard were killed in the blast or drowned. Here’s how the Sacramento Union described the toll:

From the most reliable information obtainable, we cannot learn that there were over forty souls on board. Of this number, however, we fear that a great proportion are no longer in the land of the living, and there is little probability that their names will all be recorded, save in the registry of Heaven. This deplorable tragedy, as well it might, has cast a deep gloom over our city.

Among those whose name was known was Taylor — referred to in the early press accounts as Alonzo Taylor. His family reportedly offered a $500 reward for recovery of his body. Today he is unique among the Belle casualties in having a permanent roadside monument that passers-by snap pictures of and blog about.

The obelisk, said to be of Italian marble, was put in place about eight months after the Belle blew up. Here’s the item from the October, 7, 1856, number of the Union:

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And yes, that’s precisely the inscription we read when we stopped on Old River Road a few weeks back — weathered but clearly visible. The monument itself is a little different from what the Union describes. The base is neither 5 feet square nor 5 feet high, and the shaft is about 10 feet, not 13. I’m guessing that the needs of various road makers and levee builders over the intervening 159 years have probably led to some alteration in size and location. Still — pretty surprising to me that it has survived for so long. I’m tempted to go out to the spot next February 5 to see if there’s some little ceremony out there.

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Portrait of the Drought: Lake McClure

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Over the weekend, I went on a quick jaunt up to what I’d call the central Sierra foothills to take a look at a couple of the drought-drained reservoirs up there: Lake Don Pedro, on the Tuolumne River, owned by the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, is the fifth-largest reservoir in California at just over 2 million acre-feet (enough water, by a popular rule of thumb, for about 4 million households); and Lake McClure, on the Merced River, which is one of the 10 biggest reservoirs at 1 million acre-feet or so.

As usual, I was running late, made more stops along the highway up to the lakes than was prudent, and got up to Don Pedro as the light was getting pretty long. Lake McClure was just a few miles away, though, and I got there when sunset colors were still in the sky. Still, not ideal reservoir portrait conditions.

Here’s a little history to go with the images: A month ago, February 3, Lake McClure fell to its lowest level since it was filled in the 1960s. Per statistics from the state Department of Water Resources, Its volume shrank to 63,489 acre-feet (remember, capacity is 1 million) and its surface was at 585.99 feet above sea level. That broke a record set during the six-year drought of 1986-1992, when the lake fell to 66,228 acre-feet, 588.48 surface elevation.

The Lake McClure nadir during the terrible drought of 1976-77 — the drought that saw Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, among others, fall to their record lows, was 72,200 acre-feet, 594 surface elevation.

Tomorrow, perhaps: some pictures of the Lake Don Pedro. The pictures here are from one of the boat ramps at the Barrett Cove area of Lake McClure.

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All the News That’s Fit to Print

I work in a public media newsroom that doesn’t have unlimited resources. We need to be somewhat selective in what we cover, and we often discuss whether this or that story rises to the level of assigning a reporter to cover it or giving it some air time.

That guy arrested in an arson case that was worrying a couple San Francisco neighborhoods? Yeah, we’ll do that one, as well as the six-alarm wild land fire in Pacifica — emblematic of the continuing drought, maybe — and Klay Thompson’s historic 37-point quarter the other night for the Golden State Warriors. The latest report of homicides in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. No, we’re probably not going to report on that unless we have something to add to the mere report of the crime.

One only has to peruse news organs of the past, though, to enter a world in which editors were not and perhaps didn’t need to be so choosy. Their ad departments gave them X number of pages to fill with tidings of world and community affairs, and they’d be damned if they didn’t fill them some way.

Here’s an example uncovered while browsing the Dec. 31, 1890, number of the San Francisco Morning Call for a work project:

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I’m just wondering how the affray at the ferry landing came to the attention of the Morning Call’s editors. Was it an anecdote overheard at a bar? Did an ambitious copyboy bring this item in after witnessing the near-altercation? Was it a tale told at the police precinct house and passed on as a tidbit to a reporter? Or is it entirely fabricated?

I don’t believe we’ll ever know, but it reminds me of the sort of episodes millions of us send out in 140-character messages every day.

For the record, the ferry landing item is followed by this nugget, three sentences dripping with irony and pathos.

Blind and Friendless

John Miller, a negro, 30 years of age, was recently brought from Victoria, B.C., on the city of Puebla. He had no friends in Victoria, and the charitable people of that city having grown tired of supporting him paid his passage to this city. He is being taken care of by a generous policeman, but neither the Collector of the Port nor the Commissioner of Immigration know what to do with him.

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King Day: ‘I Come Not to Bring Peace, But a Sword’

Well, I’m posting past midnight, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is just past. But in doing some reading on the Montgomery bus boycott, I came across a sermon he gave in March 1956. His point of departure was a recent court decision that ordered the University of Alabama to admit black students and the violence that met the first enrollee. King reacted angrily to the university’s decision to ask the student to leave school to restore peace to the campus.

It’s hard to choose an excerpt because the entire text is full of truth and fire. But here’s where he gets to the heart of his subject:

Yes, things are quiet in Tuscaloosa. Yes, there was peace on the campus, but it was peace at a great price: it was peace that had been purchased at the exorbitant price of an inept trustee board succumbing to the whims and caprices of a vicious mob. It was peace that had been purchased at the price of allowing mobocracy to reign supreme over democracy. It was peace that had been purchased at the price of capitulating to the force of darkness. This is the type of peace that all men of goodwill hate. It is the type of peace that is obnoxious. It is the type of peace that stinks in the nostrils of the Almighty God. …

In a very profound passage which has been often misunderstood, Jesus utters this: He says, “Think not that I am come to bring peace. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.”

Certainly, He is not saying that He comes not to bring peace in the higher sense. What He is saying is: “I come not to bring this peace of escapism, this peace that fails to confront the real issues of life, the peace that makes for stagnant complacency.”

Then He says, “I come to bring a sword” — not a physical sword. Whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated between the old and the new, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. I come to declare war over injustice. I come to declare war on evil. Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force–war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force–justice, goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God.

I had a long talk with a man the other day about this bus situation. He discussed the peace being destroyed in the community, the destroying of good race relations. I agree that it is more tension now. But peace is not merely the absence of this tension, but the presence of justice. And even if we didn’t have this tension, we still wouldn’t have positive peace. Yes, it is true that if the Negro accepts his place, accepts exploitation and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be a peace boiled down to stagnant complacency, deadening passivity, and if peace means this, I don’t want peace.

If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don’t want it.
If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.
If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace.
If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.

So in a passive, non-violent manner, we must revolt against this peace.

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San Francisco Real Estate Angst, 1855 Style

I’ve been doing some reading on Gold Rush history for a work project — looking specifically at some of the Bay Area’s economic ups and downs. I came across this piece in the June 20, 1855, edition of the Daily Alta California, one of the state’s oldest papers (and one that continued to publish into the 1890s, I think). I picked up the text from a machine transcription of a digital image from the California Digital Newspaper Collection. Apparently, the CDNC is having a hardware issue and the digital image itself is not displayed at that link. So I’ve cleaned up the machine text as best I could, though there are a couple places I couldn’t divine what the original said.

I found this essay, which is a critique of ongoing property speculation in San Francisco, to be interesting in its condemnation of out-of-control speculation as ruinous to the public good. “In a word, it has vitiated the morals of the whole community,” it says. Even if the moral focus of that statement is coming from a Victorian concern about the deleterious effects of speculation — gambling, in effect — it resonates in a present where social justice activists are fighting gentrification taking place amid crazy-seeming spikes in property prices.

Here’s the Alta California piece in full:

One of the greatest evils which has ever overtaken the city of San Francisco — the greatest because the parent of many other evils — has been the overvaluation of property. It has not been properly confined to the city, but has manifested itself ail over the State, and its results are to be noted throughout the length and breadth of the land.

Now that Real Estate is “down,” it may not be improper to say a few words concerning a subject which is of unusual interest to every permanent resident of California. The available area of the pueblo of Yerba Buena for business purposes was very small. It extended only from about Pacific to California and from Montgomery to Dupont streets. We indicate the boundaries by streets which were laid out after the pueblo became the city of San Francisco. This space, although ample to accommodate the limited trade of 1846-7, proved wholly insufficient to meet the requirements of the wholesale immigration incited by the gold discovery.

By a natural law, the working of which never deviates, the price of lots within the available area of the town, after those discoveries, rose enormously. Thousands of people were rushing into the State, the most of whom landed in this city. Thousands of tons of merchandise were poured in upon us, which had to find storage in town, and had to be disposed of here. Rents naturally rose to the most extravagant rate, and the price of land advanced with equal rapidity, although not in a proportionate degree. There was no telling where the thing would stop, particularly as money was most abundant, and there appeared to be no end to the immigration. So far the speculation was a legitimate one. Afterwards it assumed another character.

It was evident from the first that this state of things could not last forever. The capital which had been introduced into the country in the shape of merchandise was quickly turned to enlarging the limits of the city proper. Wharves were extended, and the water invaded on the one side, while hills were cut down and streets graded on the other. All this time rents still kept up, if not to their original point, at least to one which proved highly remunerative, and the immigration still continued larger. It still appeared that there was more room wanted, until at last San Francisco attained her present size. But the tide had turned, and rates at last, after a long period — unexampled, indeed, for duration in California — began to decline. They have been declining ever since.

The city of San Francisco is to-day out of all proportion to the State. Where we originally did not have enough room, we have now a superabundance, not merely for today or this year, but for years to come. The Real Estate speculation, which was originally a [legitimate?] one, has for the last two or three years [become?] merely a bubble, liable to burst at any time, and kept [abreast?] of inflation merely by the activity of those interested in it.

There is no reason why, with the present population and prospective increase of our State, fifty-vara* lots two miles from the Plaza should command thousands of dollars, particularly when they are so situated as not to be available for purposes of agriculture. They should have a value, of course, and a vary considerable one. They may and do furnish legitimate objects of permanent investment for those who look forward to a return for their capital years hence; but their intrinsic value is not to be rated by thousands. We have been going too fast. We have followed out the speculative [?] to its full extent, and now we must stop.

It is an indisputable fact that nearly all the prominent operators of 1852-3 are now bankrupt, and the mass of smaller men are utterly ruined. A year or two ago they thought themselves rich — they lived extravagantly, kept their horses and carriages, furnished their houses magnificently, and now — they have nothing. Some few still hold out, and, with retrenched expenses, are waiting impatiently for a “rise.” They will probably be sick at heart before it is realized.

But this system of overvaluation has not merely ruined those engaged in Real Estate operations: It has to a certain degree debauched the whole community. Parties who saw futures in land have neglected their legitimate callings to squat on fifty-vara lots, and drag out unprofitable years waiting for a settlement of titles. A recklessness of human life has been engendered, which has told very badly on the interests of the State at large, preventing many who would have made excellent citizens from coming to these shores. It has kept rates of interest extravagantly high, thereby eating out the vitality of the republic. A disposition to speculate desperately — in other words, to gamble — not merely in land, but in everything else, has been fostered by it, and manifests itself in the frantic effort to “get whole” which have led men of high social standing to the commission of the most debasing Crimes. In a word, it has vitiated the morals of the whole community.

The Real Estate market is at present in a curious position. The asking and offering prices for land show no approximation whatever to each other. Outside lots are unsaleable except at a ruinous discount from cost prices, while in some parts of the original plat of the city rates still keep up. The lot at the corner of Washington and Montgomery streets on which Burgoyne’s building stands sold, a few days since, at auction, for $39,000, or about $1,000 a front foot. At the same time, fifty-vara lots on the hill, which were valued eighteen months ago at $15,000 to $16,000, to-day only command about $2500. It is a singular fact, that a person owning a lot in the business part of the city, on which a brick building has been erected, can to-day borrow more money on it than it would sell for!

It is time that we began to awaken to the real value of property here. San Francisco is not New York, a city of half a million of inhabitants, with an immense population behind it; it is a small place — an important one, it is true, and destined one day to be the central point of the Pacific, but nevertheless a small one — the entrepot for a population of less than four hundred thousand people. There is no reason why property in it should rule at New York rates, and any attempt to force them up to such prices can only be a purely speculative movement which must, like all gambling — be it with dice, or cards, or Peter Smith titles — redound to the injury of the community at large.

*A vara was a Spanish unit of measure widely employed in parts of the Southwest that had been part of Mexico. According to sources I find, the vara in San Francisco was equivalent to 2.75 feet, or 33 inches. Fifty varas would have measured to 137.5 feet, and a 50-vara lot would have been 50 varas square, or 137.5 feet by 137.5 feet. That’s 18,906,25 square feet, just a bit over four-tenths of an acre. What would that land go for today? Well, here’s a listing in the city’s rough Tenderloin neighborhood, about one-third the size of a 50-vara lot, going for about $3.2 million.

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Road Blog: Chicago City Hall; Woman in the Waves

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Gamboling about downtown Chicago last Sunday night after the conclusion of the Third Coast audio festival, I walked up LaSalle Street past Chicago City Hall. I think I was inside once, back in the early 1970s, tracking down a copy of my birth certificate so I could get a passport. I don’t know the building well.

So I was struck, looking across LaSalle, at a series of four bas reliefs on the wall of the building. They are heroic renderings interpreting the life of the great city as it was understood a century ago, when City Hall was built. I found one of the panels arresting: It depicts what I saw as a woman in the waves, with a lighthouse nearby. Something about the sweep of the waves, the woman’s expression, the figure’s apparent passiveness in the midst of (what I see as) peril, the presence of the lighthouse, made me think this was about near-drowning and rescue — maybe depicting the city’s role as guardian of the shores. Or something.

Delving into the history of the City Hall figures a little, here’s what I can readily establish: The bas reliefs were designed (if not executed) by a well-known American sculptor and medalist named John Flanagan. Most Americans know one piece of Flanagan’s work: George Washington’s head on the quarter.

What are the bas reliefs meant to depict? Here’s some research by way of the April 25, 1956, editions of the Chicago Tribune. The piece was written to mark the beginning of sandblasting at City Hall to remove nearly a half-century’s accumulated grit and coal-smoke residue. The story makes it sound like that before sandblasting, it wasn’t even apparent that the “woman in the waves” relief was there. The writer takes up the figure shown in the waves:

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When the writer of this piece looked at the same bas relief I was viewing the other night, he saw it as an “Adonis like figure with long, wavy hair, and he is bathing in some extremely high surf.” He, not she.

Huh. If you look at the other three reliefs — here, here and here — the male figures are all, to my eye, unmistakably male. The few female figures are clearly female. So I’m wondering what the sculptor’s intent, as executed by construction workers, actually was.

But here’s something that I’m sure colors my viewing of the piece: When our mom was nine years old, she survived a near-drowning out at the Indiana Dunes. Four others in her family — a brother, an aunt, a cousin, and an uncle — all died. So that image, to me, is anything but abstract. When I look at it, I see tragedy and loss.

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Road Blog: Chicagoland

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Chicagoland. Where did that name come from, anyway? I just submitted that question to WBEZ’s Curious City, which is a really interesting project if you haven’t heard it or seen it, so maybe they’ll investigate. I can tell from a brief scan of Google Books that my main assumption about the history — that it was the post-World War II brainchild of some advertising or marketing ace, is apparently incorrect. The name Chicagoland shows up at least as far back as the late 1920s. The favorite title I’ve found listed so far is 1938’s “Chicagoland Household Pests and How to Get Rid of Them.”

Fast forward to Tuesday, and here were my day’s activities in Chicagoland: I breakfasted with my sister Ann’s family on the North Side. I watched it rain. I drove down to the South Side (and a little beyond) to meet my brother Chris and visit the various Brekke, Hogan, O’Malley and Morans graves at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. We went to lunch (Smashburger on 95th Street in Oak Lawn). Then I made a slow northward trek to Mount Olive Cemetery, where much of my dad’s family was buried.

I rounded out the excursion with a drive down Irving Park Road to the Dairy Queen near Central Avenue. I had a chocolate malted and actually said aloud, “Here’s to you, Pop.” He was a longtime DQ customer, and he and I visited that location many times in the last few years before he died.

It was cold out, in the 30s and windy, and after dark, but I wanted to check out a taxidermy place across the street from the Dairy Queen to see if I could get a decent shot of specimens in the windows. I don’t think I did. Then I walked west a couple blocks, cross Irving Park, then walk back east, just looking at what was happening in he storefronts along the way.

Dr. Charlemagne Guerrero, M.D. A music store advertising lessons in guitar and music theory. A dance studio with a kids’ ballet class going on. Several bars — Pub OK and The Martini Club and a couple I didn’t get the names of. A Polish antique store. Dr. M.A. Starsiak, general dentistry. A barber shop. A door bearing a sign reading “Emperor’s Headquarters.” Then I was back across the street from the taxidermy shop.

The warm car afterward was nice.

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‘Living a Quiet Life’

Desultory Twitter browsing led me to the following obituary from Lake County. The county is home to Clear Lake, California’s largest wholly contained freshwater lake — Lake Tahoe is much bigger, but is split with Nevada– and is oddly isolated. Its seat, Lakeport, is less than 100 miles as the crow flies north of downtown San Francisco and about 40 miles from the northern end of the tourist-overrun Napa Valley. But the county occupies rough, highland country bypassed by the main north-south routes to the west and east, so it’s a little bit of a job to get there. Despite the lake, tourism hasn’t taken off; one recent report says it ranks among the lowest of California’s 58 counties for visitor-generated tax receipts. And according to the Census Bureau, it’s significantly poorer and whiter than the surrounding clutch of agricultural counties and the state as a whole.

Anyway, the obit, from the Lake County News, for one Bessie Wilds, who has passed at the age of 85. She was born on a ranch and grew up in Lakeport. The notice picks up the story there, and I would never have thought twice about it except for the mention of the police scanner:

During her high school years she helped her father operate a Shell Oil Gas Station located at 11th and Main streets in Lakeport.

She was devoted to her mother, who did not drive and had difficulty walking.

Bessie graduated high school in 1948 and married Junior C. Wilds. They made their home outside of Kelseyville and raised their son and daughter on a walnut ranch.

Bessie was a member of the Kelseyville Women’s Club and also active in the local Lions Club.

During the 1970s and 1980s she was a waitress at Anne Card’s Coffee Shop in Kelseyville.

In 1986 Bessie and Junior sold their walnut ranch to Beringer Winery and downsized to a small parcel near the vineyard. They watched the transformation from trees to vines.

After the loss of Junior in 2002, Bessie became a solitary person, preferring to live a quiet life.

She loved to sit at her kitchen table listening to KNBR or KGO and the police scanner, and watch the traffic. Her cats and the hummingbirds gave her great pleasure.

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