Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Chicago Vignettes

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Chicago Vignettes

Article excerpt

Chicago vignettes Stories of Chicago by George Ade 2003, University of Illinois Press 300 pages, 126 line drawings Cloth $29.95; Paper $15.95

Readers who want to grasp the mood of Chicago in the late Nineteenth-century should reach for this hook. George Ade captures the city's beat and pulse, its fabric and nature, and the diverse atmospheres across the wide spectrums of society and ethnicity. Originally published as Srories of the Streets and Town by the Craxton Club in 1941, the book is a collection of fifty-four short stories, culled from over a thousand, which Hrst appeared as a regular feature in The Chicago Record from 1893 to 1900.

During those years the newspaper also carried Finley Peter Dunne's famous philosophizing bartender, Mr. Dooley. While Dunne s topics were often national in nature, Ade's were of a local quality. Still, the two had similar characteristics and reflect the taste of Chicago's reading audience during the Gay '90s. Chicago Stories is well illustrated with many sketches by John T. McCuthcheon, who appears to have been well known in Chicago during that era and likewise provided drawings for Dunnes Mr. Dooley articles.

Ade uses a variety of writing tactics to capture the scene. Many stories leature fictional characters while others simply describe a scene or atmosphere. In one story, "Small Shops of the City," he gives a vivid description of tiny and narrow shops squeezed between larger buildings, "...tunnels plugged at both ends...." A bakery, a laundry, and other businesses are described. One can almost detect the odors emanating from the tiny industries. Vehicles Out of the Ordinary describes some unusual venders and their wagons. Included are a waffle man, a cobbler, and even a portable church, replete with organist, "in Sidewalk Merchants and their Wares" we get a glimpse of the travails and hardships street hawkers endured. While some garner tidy profits (oft-times selling horribly shabby products), many compel Ade to wonder how they manage to exist at all. And the pretty little dancing and singing "ragamuffins," who once were attractive novelties, are now "as bold and bothersome as English sparrows."

Social class is a repeating theme throughout the book. In "Some of the Unfailing Signs," Ade details how to determine the social rank and vocation of any man. …

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