Urban Green: Nature, Recreation, and the Working Class in Industrial Chicago

By Colin Fisher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Where Chicagoans Found Nature
An Expedition with Leonard Dubkin, Urban Ranger

The common weeds, in spite of man’s militant opposition,
survive and flourish everywhere…. As an example of the hardy,
well-adjusted weed, take the dandelion. Through the years man
has fought this weed with every resource known to science, and
he has succeeded in keeping it out of cultivated areas only with
much effort and a great deal of expense. The dandelion grows
everywhere, in city lawns and parks and yards, in country fields
and meadows and swamps, on mountainsides and on the edge of
deserts. It is probably as perfect, as well-integrated, as sensitive
and as “intelligent” a plant as can be found anywhere in the
world…. A single dandelion flower is to me, not for what it is
in itself, or in competition with other, more lavish blooms, but
for what it represents, for the vitality, the toughness, and the
logical balance that went into its production, the most beautiful
of all flowers.

—LEONARD DUBKIN, Enchanted Streets: The Unlikely Adventures
of an Urban Nature Lover
, 1947

During their summer vacations, tens of thousands of turn-of-the-century Chicagoans left their “artificial” city and traveled into what William Cronon calls the recreational hinterland: scenic areas of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan; and national parks, such as Yellowstone. In such faraway places, many felt that they could escape the work, exhaustion, illness, and artifice they associated with Chicago and come into contact with the restorative power of nature.1

Marginalized Chicagoans—Germans, Irish, Poles, African Americans, groups of working-class neighborhood youth, and trade unionists—also made this leisure-time exodus out of the city and back to nature, especially as transportation costs fell during the early twentieth century. As we will see in the following chapters, Chicagoans traveled to wilderness parks, such as the Indiana Dunes, but also to ethnic and labor resorts, such as Camp Sokol, Illinois Turner Camp, Idlewild, Camp Pompeii, Camp Chi,

-7-

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