Close enough

When reality gives way to art: somewhat fanciful behavior is pictured in a splendid poster (ca. 1926) by Oscar Rabe Hanson promoting commuter rail service in Chicago, part of a long article by J. J. Sedelmaier. The ducklings following the adult Wood Duck would more likely be single file, and more closely bunched. More critically, the little ones would be following a hen, not a drake.

Ellroy decoded

James Ellroy’s editors let him down a few times in the early chapters of American Tabloid. HUAC refers to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, not the “House Committee on Un-American Activists” (ch. 4, p. 42). Chapter 8 is set on 11 December 1958, a couple years before Interstate 95 saw any traffic in Florida, and yet Kemper Boyd drives I-95 out of Miami. And Lenny Sands drives north out of Chicago in chapter 12 (on Sheridan Road? on a yet-to-be-built freeway?) “past Glencoe, Evanston, and Wilmette” (p. 100) on the way to Winnetka. The correct south-to-north ordering of these north shore suburbs (with a few others in between) is Evanston, Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe.

Ellroy does use an interesting slang term (twice) whose meaning is not immediately obvious from context.

Pete saw the Chevy’s taillights. Fulo floored the gas and rammed them. The car swerved off the road, clipped some trees and stalled dead.

Fulo brodied in close. His headlights strafed Kirpaski—stumbling through a clearing thick with marsh grass. (ch. 7, p. 64)

Brody (n.) is glossed as “intentionally spinning in circles and sliding in an automobile” with related words doughnut and 360. Unfortunately, it’s a common surname so an online search for other appearances is difficult.

Ferber decoded: 4

I came across the following turn of phrase in Chapter 13 of So Big. Dirk has matriculated at Midwest University (one of the few Chicago places that Ferber fictionalizes in the novel, it being an amalgam of Northwestern and the U of Chicago), and has befriended an Unclassified student, a woman in her thirties. The U catalogue describes them:

Persons at least twenty-one years of age, not seeking a degree, may be admitted through the office of the University Examiner to the courses of instruction offered by the University, as unclassified students. They shall present evidence of successful experience as a teacher or other valuable educative experience in practical life… They are ineligible for public appearance… [emphasis in original]

Aha, an early reference to what we would now call academic eligibility. But we’re not necessarily talking about playing football. A number of the Chicago Alumni Magazine from 1907 describes what a public appearance can entail:

Public appearance is defined as any inter-collegiate contest, or participation (1), in an oratorical, dramatic or musical exhibition; (2), in the official management of any other exhibition; or (3), in official service on any publication under the University name, in connection with which any admission or subscription fees are charged.

In another passage, we witness the evolution of pronunciation. Goethe Street in Chicago is pronounced in any number of ways by the locals (including something approximating the original German), GOE-thee being popular, but I’ve never heard this one:

Mrs. Emery was interested in the correct pronunciation of Chicago street names.

“It’s terrible,” she said. “I think there ought to be a Movement for the proper pronunciation. The people ought to be taught; and the children in the schools. They call Goethe Street ‘Gerty’; and pronounce all the s’s in Des Plaines. Even Illinois they call ‘Illinoise.'” (ch. 15)

Nathan and Richard and Bobby

An archive of material on the 1924 Leopold and Loeb case, part of the compendious store of records at Northwestern University’s Chicago Historical Homicide Project. The project began with

…the discovery of the availability of a rich log of more than 11,000 homicides maintained consistently and without interruption by the Chicago Police Department over the course of 60 years, from 1870 to 1930.