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

By Colin Fisher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Turf
Working-Class Ethnic Youth and Green Space

Studs Lonigan walked north along Indiana Avenue. His cap was
on crooked, a cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth, and
his hands were jammed into the pockets of his long jeans ….
Warm sun sifted dozily through an April wind, making him
feel good. He liked spring and summer. There were things in
winter that were all right—ice skating, plopping derbies with
snowballs—but spring and summer, that was the ticket. Soon
now, there would be long afternoons ahead, at the beach and
over at Washington Park, where they would all drowse in the
shade, gassing, telling jokes, goofing the punks, flirting with the
chickens and nursemaids, fooling around and having swell times.
Like last summer, only this one was going to be even better.

—JAMES T. FARRELL, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, 1934

Studs Lonigan, the young Irish American protagonist of James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy, spends his leisure in a variety of South Side locations. He and his friends in the Fifty-eighth Street Gang visit Bathcellar’s Billard Parlor and Barber Shop, the Palm Theater (where Studs saw Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and Mary Pickford), and Joseph’s Ice Cream Parlor. The gang gathers around the fireplug in front of the drug store on the corner of Fifty-eighth Street and Prairie. And once the boys are older, they visit speakeasies such as the Cannonball Inn, jazz clubs such as the Sunrise Café in the Black Belt, various brothels or “can houses,” and interethnic dance halls, such as Midway Gardens, the Trianon, the Bourbon Palace.1

At the same time, Studs and the Fifty-eighth Street gang also regularly venture to green spaces. As a boy, Studs and his friends play in vacant lots or “prairies,” such as the one at Fifty-eighth Street and Indiana, where they dig trenches and re create the battles of World War I. Throughout the summer, they also go to the beaches that served as an urban-wild interface between South Side neighborhoods and Chicago’s great inland sea. Here is where Studs, as an adolescent, floats, looks up at clouds, and

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