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Windy City Connections -- 01/16/03

Recently I watched the KPBS Presentation, Chicago: City of the Century. I was born and raised on the South side of Chicago and that documentary series inspired me to write about my roots and related connections to the presentation.

Growing up in Chicago was a great experience. One learns to get tough and survivalist in just the first few years of life. With winters that are frigid and snowy to summers when it is hot, humid, and filled with mosquitos, I learned to deal with the adversity of nature itself. Of course, Chicago was around long before I was and the KPBS show mentioned a number of things and places that I am familiar with. I'll speak to those matters below.

The Pullman neighborhood on the far south side has two connections for me: 1) My wife, Sherry, was born and lived for many years in one of those Pullman homes. 2) I worked at the Pullman plant in that same neighborhood for two months during the summer of 1976.

Between 1974 and 1981, I also worked as a machinist for International Harvester (the company derived from McCormick Reaper and now named Navistar).

It is surprising to to discover that during those years I worked for two companies that defined the last decades of the 19th century. The Pullman company in the 1880's tried to build a utopian town for workers and the McCormick Works company that fostered the animosity towards its workers leading to the Haymarket Square Riot and propelled labor unions into the spotlight in the following years. When I worked for those companies I was a proud union member and derived a great number of benefits and income. That period of time in my life is looked back upon fondly and was a time when my work output could be measured and communicated in tangible ways.

My mother's ancestors had lived in Chicago for several generations. My Great-great-Uncle had been a fireman during the Chicago Fire of 1871. My late maternal Grandmother (shown below) once told me she had donated items he found on the North side of Chicago after the fire was extinguished. Some of the items were fine China that was burned on one side but not the other. I've searched the Chicago Historical Society site for any information on those donations, but the details of the donation to that organization were lost to history with the death of Grandma Wilson in 1969 and such searches are impeded at best.

My maternal grandmother, Edna Wilson 1888-1969

However, Grandma Wilson has some of her own history to mention. While alive she had a collection of antiques from the 1893 Columbian Exposition she inherited from her father and mother. She also had her own recollections of that First World's Fair she attended at age five. She was one of the women who marched in the Suffrage Movement in the 1910's and helping give women the right to vote leading to the Nineteenth Amendment officially added to the United States Constitution on August 26, 1920. She was also given the honor of Grandmother of the Year by the Chicago City Council in 1964 for all the social work she did in the Woodlawn Organization during the decades she lived there. She was a fantastically energetic women even to the end of her life. My daughter was born on the same month and day she was and that is pretty cool to me.

I moved from Chicago proper in 1972 and returned to the southern suburbs in 1974 and then moving to the western suburbs in 1978. I worked in the Chicago area until 1996 when I left to come here to the North County of San Diego. I love California and feel it is the place I was always meant to live as an adult. In many ways I feel I am a Californian, yet, still, I am a Chicagoan at heart and my midwestern ethics instilled in my youth continue to motivate and inspire me.

I will see Chicago and surrounding area some time this year and I plan on taking many pictures of most of the important places in my life there. I'll have plenty of pictures to publish and a lot to write about afterwards. This article is just a start; just a warmup to stir my Spirit in the meantime.

Don


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