More prose gems from Chicago by Day and Night | Bleader

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

More prose gems from Chicago by Day and Night

Posted By on 05.29.13 at 04:54 PM

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Previously we only briefly touched on the writing in Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker's Guide to the Paris of America (Northwestern University Press), a guidebook published for the benefit of visitors to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, but it would be a shame not to use the infinite space here on the Bleader to post a sampling of the fascinating passages therein. As editors Paul Durica and Bill Savage note in their introduction, "The writer or writers brag about Chicago's legitimate cultural attractions beyond the Fair with that superlative overconfidence that secretly insecure Chicagoans specialize in." This guidebook would make an 1892 Rachel Shteir's head explode.

On the city's theaters: "The Chicago Opera House is situated on the South side of Washington Street, between Clark and La Salle Streets, and is invariably thronged throughout the hot weather. Mr. Henderson [director of the Opera House David Henderson] manages to group upon his stage as choice a galaxy of feminine loveliness as is to be found in any climate, and the costuming (or rather the lack of it) is doubtless as gratifying to the performance as it is to the spectators, being constructed on the hot weather plan; light and airy. It is no uncommon sight to see a party of honest country folks appearing, grip sacks in hand at the doors of the Chicago Opera House, having come straight from the train to the theater to witness the show, the fame of which had penetrated to their homes in the country; and which, after their return, they would rather die than let their families and the church folks know they had seen."

On the city's "free and easy shows": "At any of these places an evening may be spent without serious prejudice to one's morals and without contamination of any sort. If the jokes are a little 'rocky' and the antics of the actors and actresses just a shade off color when viewed from the standpoint of strict propriety, there is no reason why the spectator should go home convulsed with a sense of the depravity of the city that can suffer such things to be. The pleasure of the entertainment at these places is enhanced to a greater or less extent, according to the taste of the attendant, by the latter's ability to solace himself with such liquid refreshments as his system may crave during the progress of the show. He may also smoke like a chimney if he so desires."

On the city's "adventuresses": "Suppose, for instance, that Mr. John Smith, who is a merchant in comfortable circumstances at home and quite a great man in his town, is taking a stroll down State Street in the bright afternoon sunshine. He has just gotten outside after a good dinner at his hotel, prior to which he had a good shave and a cocktail . . . Suppose then, as John passes Marshall Field's, he observes a magnificent creature, a royal blonde, mayhap, or a plump brunette (either will do for the sake of illustration), peeping shyly at him from beneath long silken lashes and smiling ever so slightly. Now John may be a deacon in the church at home; he may even be the father of a large family, but if he is human, and animated by the latent vanity that is the paramount trait of his sex, he will instantly experience a sensation of pleasure and attribute the strange beauty's attention to his long dormant power to fascinate." [John Smith would be wrong about that.]

On the city's "masquerades and similar entertainments": "After midnight, when the musicians as well as the maskers found themselves vinously fortified to sufficient extent, all formality was dispensed with and care thrown to the winds. Frolicsome gentlemen turned somersaults and handsprings, landing not infrequently with their feet in the stomachs of their friends, and equally frolicsome ladies indulged in high-kicking contests and other acrobatic feats that materially added to the spirit of the occasion. And fights? Well, fights were quite numerous but not very deadly."

On the city's Turkish baths: "Chicago is nothing if not metropolitan. The Turkish bath is a feature of metropolitan life which should not be deprived of its proper share of attention. Ever taken a Turkish bath? No? Then remedy the deficiency in your education at once and at the same time taste one of the sublimest sensations that falls to the lot of man in this prosaic world of ours!"

On the city's parks: "Chicago's boast that it possesses the finest parks of any city in the world will be found on investigation to be borne out by the facts. The area of territory under care and cultivation, the artistic manner in which the grounds are laid out and the general excellence of the tout ensemble so provided cannot be rivaled by any of the cities in the Old World."

On a gentleman taking a buggy ride on an "ideal afternoon": "It may even happen that he has secured a lady companion for the trip, and if so, the lucky dog is to be envied, eh? Who does not know how much more pleasure is attached to the task of holding the ribbons when one's left elbow is continually jostling against the shoulder of a pretty woman at one's side."

Editors Durica and Savage discuss Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker's Guide to the Paris of America Sat 6/1, 1 PM at the Newberry Library (free). Tickets are already snapped up for their 6/8 appearance at the Printers Row Lit Fest.

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