Although I’ve been living in Boston since 1994, this city is not my first love when it comes to pro sports devotion. I grew up in northwest Indiana, a short drive away from Chicago. The Chicago Bears (football), Cubs (baseball), and Bulls (basketball) have been and always will remain my favorite teams.
Nevertheless, the past two decades have been a remarkable period for Boston’s professional sports teams. The once-cursed Red Sox have won four World Series baseball titles, most recently last fall. The Celtics (basketball) and Bruins (hockey) have each won their league titles during this stretch. And the most successful franchise of all has been the New England Patriots of the National Football League, who on Sunday won their sixth Super Bowl championship during the current century.
The Pats faced a lot of challenges this season, and even fervent fans wondered if they could mount a serious threat in the playoffs. But they pulled it together at just the right time and prevailed over three playoff opponents, including Sunday night’s prey, the Los Angeles Rams.
Watching the local post-game television coverage of the Pats win was an interesting experience. It was festive, like dropping in on a bunch of parties celebrating the win — whether it was the players and coaches talking about the game and how it felt to win, or the sports analysts breaking down the individual and team performances, or the fans sharing their total exuberance over this latest, very hard-won championship.
Today, the city will host a championship parade for the Pats, and so the celebration will continue. The “rolling rally,” as it is called, will pass by the building in which I work and teach(see photo above). The expected crowd size is such that university administrators canceled classes that overlap with the parade and its aftermath, figuring (correctly, I believe) that it may be nearly impossible for students, faculty, and staff to get to classes and meetings amid thousands of fans lined up on the sidewalks that connect our downtown campus buildings.
Impact on the city
All of this sporting success has had a salutary effect on the city’s self-image. Boston has long been a town with a chip on its shoulder and an inferiority complex. Mounting numbers of bad seasons mixed with some heartbreaking near misses for its beloved pro sports teams contributed to that dynamic — especially when they involved losses to teams from hated New York City. During the 21st century, however, the numbers alone establish Boston as the nation’s most winning sports town.
We can and should debate whether so much civic pride should be invested in professional sports franchises. In the case of Boston, sports should not alone define the culture of a city that also can be rightly proud of its importance in American history and its many contributions to the arts, education, high technology, medicine, and the sciences. And frankly, some of that diehard fandom here can get loud and obnoxious — especially when stoked by too many beers.
That said, given a choice between bad teams and losing seasons vs. winning teams and championships, I’ll take the latter, thank you. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the wins will continue, but for now it’s great fun to be a sports fan here.
Although Christopher Columbus isn’t on my list of favorite historical figures — click here and here for reasons — the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that bore his name was a sight to behold. The “Columbian Exposition,” named to recognize the 400th anniversary of his arrival in the Americas, attracted a global audience to the brawny, growing metropolis of Chicago.
The 1893 Fair was a celebration of the world, its past, present, and future. This awesome little picture book, a gift from my long-time friends the Driscoll Family, presents a collection of photographs that capture some of that fascination. I’m delighted to share a sampling:
The Palace of Fine Arts was a chief showpiece building of the Fair. It is now Chicago’s famous Museum of Science and Industry.
This panoramic shot of the Fair helps to explain why it was called “The White City.”
While striving for an Old World look, the Fair celebrated scientific invention and manufacturing capacity.
Disney’s Epcot Center doesn’t hold a candle to the small scale re-creation of other nations at the 1893 Fair.
The Fair offered looks at exotic parts of the world. Check out the expressions of these ladies.
You could do some simulated exploring as well…maybe this inspired a future Indiana Jones?!
Refreshment stands dotted the Fair. I’m sure they were especially welcomed during hot Chicago summer days.
Guys who were bored with all of the cultural exhibits and displays could line up for this distraction. (This photo contains one of the longest lines of any exhibit in the book!)
America’s emerging role in international affairs and growing military strength were exemplified by the U.S.S. Illinois, a full-scale mock-up of a modern battleship that presaged even larger warships to appear at the turn of the century.
For more foreshadowing of events to come in the next century, the Krupp company, a major German gunmaker, had its own building.
But we shouldn’t finish our photo tour with ominous signs for the future. Rather, let us close with a reminder of the Fair’s beauty, via this wonderful night shot.
Could we ever have another World’s Fair? Probably not. The last genuine Fair was in 1964, in New York City. Subsequent efforts to stage such expositions haven’t generated the same levels of interest and attendance. In an age where the Internet, television, and international travel combine to shrink the globe, it’s hard to foresee anything like the 1893 Fair occurring anytime soon.
But that shouldn’t stop us from imagining the sense of fascination and wonder that drew visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair experienced back then. The Old World was making way for the New one, and these photographs make it clear that the Fair captured that moment in time.
If you want to learn more about the Chicago World’s Fair, check out its Wikipedia entry. Here’s a snippet:
The layout of the Chicago Columbian Exposition was, in large part, designed by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted. It was the prototype of what Burnham and his colleagues thought a city should be. It was designed to follow Beaux Arts principles of design, namely French neoclassical architecture principles based on symmetry, balance, and splendor. Many prominent architects designed its 14 “great buildings”. Artists and musicians were featured in exhibits and many also made depictions and works of art inspired of the exposition.
The exposition covered more than 600 acres (2.4 km2), featuring nearly 200 new (but purposely temporary) buildings of predominantly neoclassical architecture, canals and lagoons, and people and cultures from 46 countries. . . . More than 27 million people attended the exposition during its six-month run. Its scale and grandeur far exceeded the other world’s fairs, and it became a symbol of the emerging American Exceptionalism, much in the same way that the Great Exhibition became a symbol of the Victorian era United Kingdom.
Dedication ceremonies for the fair were held on October 21, 1892, but the fairgrounds were not actually opened to the public until May 1, 1893. The fair continued until October 30, 1893. In addition to recognizing the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World by Europeans, the fair also served to show the world that Chicago had risen from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire, which had destroyed much of the city in 1871.
Also, the Chicago Historical Society has an excellent online feature about the Fair.
Finally, Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (2003), interweaves the story of the Fair with the gruesome tale of serial killer H.H. Holmes, whose private torture chamber was located a close west of the city’s fairgrounds. It’s a riveting book.
Not too long ago, a popular Sunday tradition was spending a good chunk of the day reading through the Sunday editions of the daily newspapers. Millions experienced the tactile delight of opening up a big Sunday paper, wondering what interesting stuff waited to be discovered. Even the advertising flyers were fun to page through, especially around holiday season.
The hefty Sunday newspaper has been a journalistic tradition for well over a century. One of my favorite coffee table books is Nicholson Baker & Margaret Brentano, The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer’s Newspaper (1898-1911) (2005), which celebrates Sunday newspapers published during the turn of the last century.
The World on Sunday and the tradition of Sunday newspaper reading represent an aspect of pre-digital culture that may be hard to understand for those weaned on an online world where wishes for news and commentary are instantly gratified. Fortunately, some of the major newspapers still land on doorsteps with a healthy thud on Sundays, containing some of their best in-depth reporting, feature articles, and opinion pieces.
Growing up in Chicagoland
My Sunday newspaper habit goes back to growing up in Northwest Indiana, where local papers and the Chicago dailies were readily available. Among the Sunday editions that regularly got my attention were the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Hammond Times, and Gary Post-Tribune. The Tribune excelled at covering my beloved Chicago sports teams, and the Post-Tribune did a very good job with local news.
These papers deserve credit for turning me into a Sunday paper junkie. The Chicago influence was especially strong. The Windy City was a great, great newspaper town back in the day, fueled by the city’s colorful politicians, sports figures, and crime bosses. Beyond the headliners, however, the reporters and columnists who toiled for Chicago’s daily papers also had a knack for digging out the stories of everyday people. The human interest story had a regular place in the city’s newspapers.
Sundays in New York
When I lived in New York City (1982-1994), the Sunday papers were a special treat. The Sunday New York Times was an especially heavy load, a multi-pound door stopper packed with goodies and advertising circulars. The early edition of the Sunday Times would come out on late Saturday evening (and still does), and many a weekend night out included picking up a copy on the way home.
My personal favorite, however, was New York Newsday, the now gone NYC edition of the venerable Long Island daily. New York Newsday wasn’t as worldly as the Times, but it spoke more closely to the city’s middle class and did a superb job of covering local politics and sports. Its thick Sunday edition was chock full of extended features and commentaries. To this day, New York Newsday remains my favorite-ever newspaper.
And now in Boston
My Sunday paper of choice remains the New York Times. The Times has not abandoned the idea that the Sunday edition of a newspaper should be something special. I especially look forward to its Week in Review and Book Review sections.
The major daily here is the Boston Globe, and I have an online subscription. I have an on again, off again relationship with the Globe, and for now we are on digital terms only. In fact, despite a surfeit of subscriptions to printed periodicals, I increasingly get much of my news and commentary online.
And to be honest, I wouldn’t trade the remarkable world of information and news available online for the days of waiting for the paper to be delivered. I, too, have been spoiled by point and click access to news coverage from around the nation and the world. However, at a time when we can use more civilized, enjoyable, and affordable rituals in our lives, reading the Sunday newspaper remains a pretty good choice.
This is a revised version of a piece I wrote for another blog three years ago.
During my recent visit to Northwest Indiana, I made a quick side trip to the Hyde Park section of Chicago, largely to browse through some of the bookstores near the University of Chicago.
As venerable universities go, U of C isn’t that old, having first appeared on the scene in 1892. However, its founders wanted to create an immediate impression that this was a place for serious study and research. That goal was partially expressed in buildings that, according to the University’s online history page, “copied the English Gothic style of architecture, complete with towers, spires, cloisters, and gargoyles.”
In other words, Chicago wanted to look more like Cambridge and Oxford, not Harvard and Yale.
And you know something, they pulled it off. Hyde Park has some of the most awesome architecture of any American university neighborhood. While the U of C has some edifice flops from the 60s and 70s (as do Cambridge and Oxford), the overall look and feel of the area is learned, old, and quiet — a sharp contrast to many other parts of brawny Chicago.
The previous site of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, since moved to roomier digs, is a perfect example. A few years ago I met up with my long-time friends the Driscoll family for a Hyde Park visit, and the bookstore was a primary reason for our gathering there. Sharon Driscoll, who is quite the amateur photographer, took the photo of me above in the Co-op building. It looks like I traveled back in time — and fortunately, my backpack made it there with me!
As for the University of Chicago, even in this era of growing vocationalism in higher education, it has managed to maintain its serious devotion to ideas. I’m sure it has made compromises to incorporate more career preparation, but it still remains a place where learning and scholarship are valued for their own sake. That is an increasing luxury in higher ed today.
In my not-so-humble opinion, what separates a truly iconic city from many other fine places is that the great 20th century lyricists and composers wrote songs and music about them. They are the stuff of the Great American Songbook (and that of London and Paris, too).
Here are some of my favorite songs about New York, San Francisco, Chicago, London, and Paris. Sinatra versions predominate; he knew how to croon tunes about great cities.
Click, listen, watch, and enjoy.
When I decided to go to law school at NYU in New York City in 1982, I did so sight unseen. I didn’t have much money, so I evaluated law schools by studying their catalogs and consulting write-ups about them in published guidebooks. (This was pre-Internet, of course!) I finally saved up enough cash to visit New York for the first time, during the summer before starting law school. I came back knowing that I had made the right decision. Sinatra’s “New York, New York” quickly became my personal anthem, and it still gives me goosebumps to listen to it.
“Take Me Back to Manhattan” is a Cole Porter number often included in productions of Anything Goes. This version was performed by Judy Kaye for a 1980s collection, Songs of New York (pictured above).
True, “Rhapsody in Blue” is a musical composition, not a song. But as this video set to George Gershwin’s masterpiece will attest, it is a perfect ode to New York City. I can listen to it over and again.
The “Lullaby of Broadway” was written in 1935 and is now part of stage versions of 42nd Street. This is a great video of the 1980s Broadway production, starring Jerry Orbach (later of Law & Order) in the lead role, which I saw in 1984.
When I opted for law school in New York, it marked one of my early forks in the road. Before deciding to go east, I had looked very, very hard at schools in California and, especially, in the Bay Area. On occasion, but without regrets, I’ll wonder what if. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett gets me nostalgic for a city I’ve only visited.
I grew up in northwest Indiana, right across the state border near Chicago. I took Chicago for granted back then, but today I appreciate it as a big, brawny, quintessential American city. “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” is my favorite song about the Windy City, and no one does it better than Sinatra.
“My Kind of Town” is Sinatra’s other tribute to Chicago, and it’s a great song too.
“A Foggy Day (in London Town)” is part of the George and Ira Gershwin songbook, and it sounds especially fine with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong doing the honors.
“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is a wonderfully evocative song about London during the Second World War era, here performed by the incomparable Vera Lynn. It’s one of my favorites, one that I sing often in my weekly voice class and at open mic nights.
“I Love Paris” is another Cole Porter standard from the early 50s, just years after the end of the war. Sinatra captures the city’s beauty in this rendition.
What? No song about Boston, the city in which I’ve lived for over 20 years? Sadly, no. Boston has its attractions, but there’s no classic standard to mark it. I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.
Over the years I have come to especially enjoy short trips to visit friends and family. These brief sojourns often turn out to be pauses that refresh, wonderful little mini-vacations. Such was the case over the weekend with a quick trip to Chicago.
On Friday, however, it appeared that this particular visit might never get off the ground. An unhappy worker allegedly set fire to the Air Traffic Control Center near O’Hare Airport, crippling the nation’s passenger aviation system. After my flight was cancelled, I was able to grab the last seat on the only JetBlue flight going from Boston to Chicago that day, arriving late at night.
By Saturday morning I was at my friends Don and Sharon’s condo in downtown Chicago, enjoying breakfast with them, their youngest son Thomas (a newly minted Eagle Scout — congrats Thomas!), and long-time friends Kathy and Rachelle. Don, Kathy, Rachelle, and I went to college together, including a memorable semester abroad in England, and Sharon has patiently endured our reminiscences for decades.
Properly fortified, we explored the downtown area, starting with a terrific boat tour on the Chicago River, replete with a very knowledgeable docent who shared stories about the city’s remarkable architecture.
The tour featured lots of memorable vistas. Chicago has long been famous for its architectural history and variety, and over the past few decades its skyline has become truly spectacular.
After more sightseeing, some shopping, and a lot of healthy walking, we finished our day with a fine dinner at a downtown restaurant.
Sunday started with a short walk around Chicago’s Millennium Park, including a pitstop at the very cool bean sculpture.
Our socializing concluded with a visit to a favorite childhood destination, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. I was delighted to see that its famous model train display — my absolute favorite exhibit as a kid — had undergone a thorough upgrade.
And speaking of trains, here’s the real deal, the famous Pioneer Zephyr, which during the 1930s epitomized modern train travel.
The history geek in me loved checking out the U-505, a German submarine captured by the Americans during the Second World War. There’s an exciting story behind its capture, which you can read about here. The WWII theme of our visit also included a very well done OmniMax film about D-Day.
A side benefit of our museum visit was that I missed the Chicago Bears blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers at nearly Soldier Field. However, later that afternoon, a lot of Bears fans, dressed in their team jerseys, milled about the streets, looking understandably morose.
For dinner, I met up with my brother Jeff, who lives in nearby Glen Ellyn, Illinois, for a deep dish pizza at Medici’s, a popular eatery in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Jeff also happens to be a wizard at computers, and he gave me some good advice on how to upgrade my Internet security practices. The pizza was pretty excellent too.
In addition to greatly enjoying the company of my friends and brother, what struck me was the way in which Chicago has become a world-class city, in its very own big and brawny sort of way. When I spent a summer there working for a large law firm in 1984 (here’s the story of that time!), Chicago seemed old and tired. Today, although the city certainly faces its share of challenges, its downtown feels vibrant and alive.
Among American cities, Frank Sinatra performed signature anthems about only two of them, New York and Chicago. Here’s his “Chicago,” as no one else can sing it:
Over the weekend I made an extended pitstop at the Brattle Book Shop in downtown Boston. I was reminded once again how used bookstores have been a place of happy sanctuary to me, going back to my early adult years.
The Brattle, pictured above, is one of America’s oldest bookstores, and it’s one of my favorites. Inside, you’ll find two floors of used books and review copies, plus a top floor of rare books. Outside, at least when the weather is okay, you’ll find shelves and carts of discounted used books, marked at $5, $3, and $1. Lots of the $5 books are quality volumes that would be a boon to many a personal library, and there are plenty of great bargains among the $3 and $1 offerings as well.
The discounted books outside draw me in. The weekend stop, for example, started with a discovery from one of the $3 carts, The World of Charles Dickens (1997), a colorful, illustrated guide to Dickens’ works and times, by London popular historian and Victorian crime expert Martin Fido.
But then I went inside. Uh oh. Let’s just say that the books I found on adult education and on psychology ran up the bill to considerably beyond three dollars. They may have been real “bargains” as measured by their original prices, but they lightened my wallet nevertheless.
Especially with the decline of brick & mortar bookshops, I’m delighted and appreciative that Greater Boston still supports used bookstores. In addition to Brattle, Commonwealth Books, Raven Used Books, and the basement level of Harvard Book Store are among the stores that offer plenty of used book treasures.
Elsewhere in the U.S., the Strand in Manhattan, Powell’s in Chicago, and Moe’s in Berkeley are favorite haunts. (Not surprisingly, all are within close proximity of one or more major universities.) During a recent trip to New Orleans, I was delighted to find several used bookstores in the French Quarter. And on those fortunate occasions when I’ve traveled to England, I’ve always been on the lookout for used bookstores.
New York City’s used bookstores hold a special place in my heart. By the time I moved there, its famous “Book Row” on 4th Avenue was no more. But during my years in New York (1982-94), the Strand was a classic, creaky, and vast used bookshop. I visited regularly as a law student, and during my stretch as a perpetually broke Legal Aid lawyer, I would make pilgrimages there on paydays when I felt (very temporarily) flush. The Strand has done some upscale remodeling in recent years and now sells a lot of new titles along with its storehouse of used books. Nonetheless, it remains a standard stop during my New York visits.
Another favorite was the Barnes & Noble Annex on 5th Ave. and 18th Street, across the street from the original B&N flagship store (which recently closed). The Annex was a multi-floored wonder, full of remaindered and heavily discounted new titles and used books. B&N would shutter the Annex sometime after I moved to Boston. I recall that when I discovered it had closed, I felt like a small piece of my New York life was gone too.
Book sale in a tent
The origins of my enjoyment of rummaging through piles of used books trace back to the summer after my first year of college. I was spending the summer at home in northwest Indiana, and my mom had clipped from the Chicago Tribune a small notice about a big used book sale in Wilmette, Illinois.
Later I would learn that the book sale was an annual, week-long fundraising event organized by the Chicagoland chapter of the Brandeis University women’s committee. It was legendary among many bibliophiles across the country, some of whom would rent camping vehicles to drive there and load up on good books for the year.
Anyway, I did the 90-minute drive to check it out. When I arrived, I could scarcely believe my eyes. The sale — offering some 250,000 used books(!) — was held in a huge tent that covered a big stretch of a mall parking lot. I spent just about every bit of spare change I had to my name. I filled several bags of books, and a few days later I would return to buy even more. Though I felt too silly to call it as such, this marked for me the beginning of a personal library.
Apparently some form of this book sale survives to this day. Hopefully others are deriving the same pleasure of visiting it and loading up on great discoveries. Maybe, like me, it will fuel a lifelong devotion.
So the Chicago Bears are playing the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football tonight. This inevitably means that I’ll have at least one or two memories about my favorite sports team of all time, the 1985 Chicago Bears. And today, those memories come with an acknowledgement of their cost.
Across the nation, but especially in the Chicagoland area, a large cohort of middle aged men (and some women, too!) carry with them a fierce, nostalgic devotion to a football team that has etched a permanent place in their hearts and minds. That devotion can be activated in a millisecond, whenever names like “Payton,” “McMahon,” “Ditka,” “Singletary,” “Danimal,” “Mongo,” or “The Fridge” are uttered, or when a sports broadcast plays a snippet of a very bad rap video, “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”
The 1985 Chicago Bears are regarded as one of the top two or three teams in National Football League history. They dominated the regular season with a 15-1 record. They then trounced the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants in the playoffs, before thoroughly, utterly flattening the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. It’s not just their won-loss record that matters; it’s how they won, with a tightly controlled offense and the most dramatic, overpowering, fun-to-watch defense the game has ever seen.
It’s a team that gave back to the Windy City its swagger, years before Michael Jordan would lead the Bulls to six NBA championships. It’s a team full of memorable characters and stories.
A memorable year for me, too
Memories good and bad rarely stand in isolation. I have no doubt that my devotion to this team connects to where I was at that time in my life. I had just graduated from NYU Law School, and I was fulfilling my wish of working as a public interest attorney, practicing at the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan.
I shared an apartment in Brooklyn, earned a little over $20,000 (not much even by 1985 standards, especially in New York), and was absolutely smitten with the wonders of New York City. It was a rougher town during those days, and the decade was marked by a high crime rate and the arrival of crack cocaine. But one could still enjoy city life on a meager budget.
In the meantime, my longstanding affinity for Chicago sports teams — having grown up in Northwest Indiana — had not disappeared. By following the newspapers and Sports Illustrated, and by watching the Bears games that were televised on the East Coast (via a foil-enhanced black & white TV set), I watched that magical season unfold.
In addition to collecting the stuff pictured above, somewhere in a storage trunk I’ve saved the Chicago Tribune edition from the day after the Super Bowl victory. One of the headlines is etched in my mind: “Bears Bring It Home.”
Nowadays, however, I wrestle with my love of that team and the fates of many of the players who were part of the dream season. For example:
- Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton died at an early age, and it is very likely that the way he punished his body throughout a long career had something to do with it.
- Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson started to suffer the effects of concussion-related brain degeneration. He committed suicide, with a request that his brain be autopsied to help determine the effects of football-related injuries.
- Star quarterback Jim McMahon is a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the NFL concerning concussions and cognitive impairment.
It’s not easy, is it? In return for gridiron glory and an NFL paycheck, these players are paying with their lives. They gave us memories to last a lifetime, but the tradeoff has become increasingly disturbing.