The Bleader | Blog + Reader, the Chicago Reader's blog

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How two Belgian boys became the youngest kids to bike across the U.S.—in 1935

Posted By today at 06.07 PM

Jacques, Pierre and Victor de Vise during their 1935 cross-country bike trip. - COURTESY DANIEL DE VISE
  • Courtesy Daniel de Vise
  • Jacques, Pierre and Victor de Vise during their 1935 cross-country bike trip.

On the evening of June 17, 1935, Victor de Visé and his young sons arrived in Chicago after pedaling 793 miles from Trenton, New Jersey, over 13 days on their bicycles. They had 2,349 more miles to go.

As Victor’s grandson, I’m fairly sure that his sons—10-year-old Pierre, my father, and nine-year-old Jacques—became the youngest people in history to cross the United States by bicycle when a month later, they reached Hollywood, where Victor was to work as a correspondent for a Belgian newspaper.


My father’s family had just arrived in America from Antwerp, evacuating their Belgian homeland ahead of the Nazi menace. The cross-country cycling tour was my grandfather’s harebrained scheme for exploring his adoptive homeland. Goodness knows what horrors they endured on the roads. Yet Chicago, at least, left a favorable impression. My father eventually returned and made a life here as an urban planner for the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission who researched the city’s color and health-care gaps in the 60s and 70s. (The Tribune once dubbed him "Dr. Gloom" for his view, which he shared in letters published in the Reader.) He died in 2004, having spent nearly six decades of his life in the city.

Why Victor would choose to lead his sons on a 3,000-mile bicycle ride is a question I never heard a satisfactory answer to in childhood—Victor died a few years after I was born. But the great bicycle trip would come up in conversation whenever talk turned to my father’s eccentric Belgian kin. Pierre, my father, told me Grandpa Victor thought a marathon cycling tour would be a nice way to see the country. Jacques, my uncle, seemed to believe the journey was motivated by Victor’s essential meanness.

Looking back now with the cynical eye of a former newspaper reporter (I covered higher education for the Washington Post for eight years), I can only see the trip as a publicity stunt.

Victor de Visé had knocked around Brussels in the years since the Great War, working as a schoolteacher and covering sports for L'Étoile Belge, the Belgian Star. His wife, Madeleine, died of peritonitis after a botched abortion around 1930, leaving Victor to care for two young boys. Having lost their mother, the boys endured a cruel father. Rather than hire help, Victor would lock the boys in a closet before he set out for the offices of L’Étoile, where he worked nights. The boys sometimes awakened with bruised faces; they managed to incur their father’s wrath even in their sleep. Victor sent them to live with German relatives in the summer and eventually hired a German governess.

An old saying has its that a Belgian boy is born with a bicycle between his legs. In 1934, Pierre, then ten, and Jacques, eight, bicycled nearly 500 miles across Belgium and into Germany, where, visiting Berlin, they saw what it was like to live under Hitler’s Third Reich. After hearing Der Führer’s shrill voice blaring forth from public loudspeakers and glimpsing a Nazi party meeting in a parlor at their hotel, Victor resolved to leave Europe. He had already traveled to Chicago once, in 1927, to cover the celebrated boxing match between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey at Soldier Field.

The cross-country journey began on a spring day in 1935, when Victor and his sons disembarked at New York Harbor after a 15-day crossing from Europe and began to make inquiries in accented French about the location of a “Hotel Eem-kah.” New Yorkers shrugged; the name did not ring a bell. But Victor eventually found the hotel: the YMCA.

After a brief stay at the Y, the three set out on bicycles on June 5 from Trenton along U.S. 30, the old Lincoln Highway, a route that would take them through Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cedar Rapids, Omaha, Salt Lake City, Reno, and Sacramento. They traveled 50 to 70 miles a day and camped on the roadside or in “sleeping rooms,” typically pine shacks with dirt floors. Pierre was a slower cyclist than Victor, and Jacques slower still, so Victor would give the boys a head start each morning, Jacques setting out first and Pierre some minutes later, so that all three would reach their eventual destination at roughly the same time. In racing this is called a handicap, but it left Victor’s young sons to pedal for hours on the road alone. Neither child spoke English.

On June 11, near Pittsburgh, the family became separated. Jacques had started the daily ride alone, as usual, and came upon a fork in the road. It was a bypass, offering motorists the option to steer around the city. Jacques could not read the sign, so he proceeded on instinct. Evidently Pierre chose the same road, and he eventually found Jacques—but not his father. Around noon, the two boys were spotted “wandering aimlessly about” on their tiny bicycles by J. L. Broderick, a man employed as boys’ work secretary by the local Y. He addressed them in high school French and found the boys “very friendly and extremely polite” as they clutched their berets, according to an account in the Pittsburgh Press. But they didn’t understand a word he said. Broderick found an interpreter, and through him, the boys explained their plight. A police bulletin finally located the elder de Visé, who was comfortably settled at the elegant Fort Pitt Hotel.

Delighted at the attention, Victor parlayed his parenting lapse into two full days of media coverage, lecturing the Pittsburgh press like a visiting diplomat. “I see another terrific war in Europe as inevitable,” he told them. “It is coming soon.” Victor recounted how his own parents had been burned alive when the Germans marched through Belgium in 1914.

On June 17, the cyclists arrived in Chicago. Having now logged 800 miles, Victor dressed his tanned boys in matching argyle sweaters and again summoned reporters. The Chicago Daily Tribune covered the makeshift press conference (in which my dad was said to be 11, but his birth certificate reveals he was only 10 when the trip started):

The Tribune story on the trip from June 18, 1935.
  • The Tribune story on the trip from June 18, 1935.

“Victor de Vise, a Belgian newspaper man, and his two sons, Pierrot, 11 years old, and Jackie, 9, arrived in Chicago last evening on their European bicycles after pedaling 793 miles here from Trenton, N.J., in 13 days. They are guests at the home of Louis Clement, 1120 Lake Shore Drive. De Vise was once Clement’s swimming instructor and tutor in Brussels.

“De Vise says he plans to make his home in America.”

The Tribune account said the boys had arrived “bright eyed and fresh,” perhaps anticipating that readers would question Victor’s wisdom in staging such a trip with such young boys boys. Victor amicably explained that Pierre and Jacques had “developed bicycling stamina by touring Europe.”

After lodging with the family friend for a few days, Victor and family pressed on, through Iowa and Nebraska and into Wyoming, which was “a desert, really, hotter ’n hell,” Jacques recalled to me 70 years later. They continued through Utah and Nevada, sleeping on Indian reservations. Finally, after more than 40 days of cycling, the family arrived in California, their journey complete.

Victor’s bragging was off-putting, but his family’s accomplishment was real. Assuming that he and the boys pedaled the full distance —and neither Jacques nor Pierre ever suggested otherwise —they were almost certainly the youngest souls to traverse the nation on bicycle. When another nine-year-old boy completed a cross-country bicycle ride seventy-nine years later, in 2014, he did it with his family riding alongside him in a bus.

Victor de Visé settled in Hollywood, taking an apartment near the intersection of Hollywood and Vine and planting his sons outside fashionable nightclubs with cigarette trays in hope that they might be discovered. They were, and the boys reaped bit parts in various films. Pierre, my father, landed a tiny speaking role in 1936 as a bellhop in the Oscar-winning drama Dodsworth, directed by William Wyler and starring Walter Huston.

When neither the boys’ film careers nor the father’s photojournalism business took flight, Victor relocated to Chicago and took a job at the Belgian consulate. Pierre, the more studious brother, earned a diploma from Waller High School (the present-day Lincoln Park High School) at 15, and an associate degree at 17. He entered the University of Chicago that fall, but war interrupted his studies, and he took a job at the Belgian Embassy in Washington, D.C.. Pierre then trained his considerable ambitions on his bicycle, and through the war years, he emerged as one of the better amateur cyclists in the east.

Family photos suggest my father rode his first bicycle race in 1938, the year he turned 14. Press clippings show him placing fourth in a 40-mile road race in Baltimore in June 1944, and ninth at a race in Detroit the following month. Although I have no records to prove this or other claims, my father told me he once held the national amateur speed record for the distance of 10,000 meters. He and Jacques also claimed to have pedaled more miles on their bicycles than anyone else on the amateur racing circuit; after all, they had a 3,000-mile head start.

Not surprisingly, I grew up in a home where bicycle racing, rather than baseball, framed the summer months. Bicycle wheels hung from suspended broomsticks in the basement. Bicycle frames dangled from hooks in the garage. I owned my first fixed-gear track bike at six or seven. I owned a spoke wrench at 12. Though we lived just a mile from Wrigley Field, our preferred spectator sport lay 20 miles away, at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook. There, on Thursday nights, we would file into the grandstands for an evening of bicycle races.

I never entered a bicycle race; I lacked the reckless, daredevil spirit I recognized in the racers, who jostled and bumped like bulls in Pamplona and regularly sustained gruesome injuries. Instead, I threw myself into a routine of relentless recreational cycling, pedaling back and forth across the north side of Chicago on summer days instead of taking the el, and logging 30 or 40 miles at a time on weekend rides with my father. We would head north up Sheridan Road through the elegant North Shore toward the Glenview Naval Air Station, or northwest through the Caldwell Woods along the bicycle path that abutted the Chicago River. One summer, I commuted 36 miles daily on my bicycle to a job in Des Plaines. I loved the hypnotic rhythm, the bucolic scenery, and the rush of accomplishment that came after completing a long ride.

My father died after attaining a measure of fame as an urban scientist and seer of Chicago’s demographic future. A few years ago, I set out to write a book that honored his passion and celebrated the glory days of bicycle racing in America. The book recounts the glorious career of Greg LeMond, probably the greatest American cyclist of the modern era, climaxing with his comeback from near death and miraculous victory at the 1989 Tour de France. Of all the great Tours my father and I watched on television, that was our favorite. The book, titled The Comeback, came out this month. Naturally, I dedicated it to Pop.

Daniel de Visé is a Chicago native, former Washington Post reporter, and author of The Comeback: Greg LeMond, the True King of American Cycling, and a Legendary Tour de France (Atlantic Monthly Press).

Tags: , , , , ,

Loyola clears campus police of using excessive force against students of color in viral video

Posted By today at 04.52 PM

Loyola Police handcuff student Alan Campbell during a confrontation in February.
  • Loyola Police handcuff student Alan Campbell during a confrontation in February.

Loyola University Chicago police officers did not use excessive force in detaining two students of color during a February confrontation that was caught on a video viewed millions of times, says a new report from the Jesuit school in Rogers Park.

Released Wednesday, the report found that campus police used "inappropriate control techniques" but not excessive force in detaining the students during a February 24 confrontation, a video of which went viral on social media. The report also concluded the officers did not racially profile two black men accused of scalping tickets to a Loyola Ramblers' basketball game.

The report was written by Hillard Heintze, a private security firm in Chicago hired by the school to work with a student-faculty task force on an independent investigation of the incident.

Two of the students involved have sued the school in federal court charging that they were victims of excessive force and their civil rights were violated.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Alicia Swiz wants to make you a better feminist—by taking her online course

Posted By today at 01.00 PM

Alicia Swiz hosting Feminist Happy Hour Galentine's Day 2018 - STEPHANIE JENSEN
  • Stephanie Jensen
  • Alicia Swiz hosting Feminist Happy Hour Galentine's Day 2018

Alicia Swiz is a feminist. She's also a writer, a performer, and an educator who uses her various platforms to initiate conversations about women's issues, intersectionality, and the representation of gender in media. Now, thanks to her recently released online course, potential students don't have to be enrolled in college to learn from her.

After receiving her master's degree in women's and gender studies from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Swiz began teaching at Alamance Community College in Graham, North Carolina. In 2010, she moved to Chicago intending to find more opportunities to perform and to explore more creative ways to create dialogues about issues related to gender.

Since then, Swiz has become an important figure in the Chicago feminist community. Her writing has been featured in a number of local outlets, including a roundtable discussion on the importance of intersectionality in feminism for the Reader. She's also the cofounder of Chicago's local chapter of Shout Your Abortion, a network created to empower people to share their experiences with abortion, and the creator of SlutTalk, an organization that raises awareness of slut shaming and encourages sex positivity through performances, workshops, and social media.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Chicago playground engulfed in flames captured on drone video

Posted By on 06.20.18 at 08:55 PM

Fire-Abla Brooks homes from Robert R Gigliotti on Vimeo.

A drone caught dramatic video of a fire in the ABLA/Brooks Homes in University Village Wednesday.

The footage shows playground equipment enveloped in flames in a courtyard in the middle of the public housing project, which is located off Loomis between 13th and 14th Streets. Thick smoke billowed into the air.

Firefighters could be seen at the scene hosing down the fire as it destroyed the equipment.

The video, by Robert Gigliotti at RRG Photography, was taken about 3:30 PM.

Chicago Police did not immediately have information on the fire. Fire officials said the fire was near 1300 S. Throop. There were no immediate reports of any injuries and the cause of the fire was not released.

The fire broke out just a few days after two people were killed in the area.

On June 18 at 4:50 AM, six people were shot nearby in the 1300 block of South Loomis, police said. A male teen, 17, and woman, 23, died from their injuries, while four others between the ages of 21 and 23 were treated at local hospitals for gunshot wounds, police said. The shooting took place when two cars drove around the block several times outside a large party and "someone started shooting," said Norma Pelayo, a police spokesperson.  

  • Courtesy RRG Photography
A fire broke out at the playground at ABLA-Brooks Homes Wednesday. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RRG PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Photo courtesy of RRG Photography
  • A fire broke out at the playground at ABLA-Brooks Homes Wednesday.

Tags: , , , , , ,

RIP Chicago techno marvel and international cult figure Dan Jugle

Posted By on 06.20.18 at 05:20 PM

Dan Jugle performing with Chandeliers in 2010. - GIANT SYSTEM
  • Giant System
  • Dan Jugle performing with Chandeliers in 2010.

Chicago producer and multi-instrumentalist Dan Jugle got hooked on electronic music in the mid-90s, when he had to find his way to raves without being old enough to drive. Shortly after he turned 16, he started messing around with analog equipment to make his own music. He fell in love with techno, and in recent years he'd earned a reputation for the waterlogged club tracks he made with Juzer (a duo with Beau Wanzer) and the raw, throbbing cuts he recorded with Dar Embarks (a duo with childhood friend Ken Zawacki). Last Thursday, Dar Embarks played Smart Bar, one of the most respected electronic-music venues on the continent. But it was the last time Jugle performed live—he died this past weekend at age 37.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chicago Bike Week Rally, Tour de Fat, and more of the best upcoming bike-related events in Chicago

Posted By on 06.20.18 at 01:31 PM

  • Tomasz Zajda -

Bike to Work Challenge
The annual Bike to Work event now spans two weeks, rewarding commuters for putting down the Ventra card or the car keys and picking up a helmet and U-lock. Prizes will be awarded; more information can be found at Fri 6/15-Fri 6/29, kick-off Thu 6/21, 5 PM, Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington, 312-346-3278, free. 

Chicago Bike Week Rally
This year Chicago Bike Week begins in a beer garden. Cycle over to the Daley Center and chill with a drink from Revolution Brewing. Imbibe and pedal wisely. Presented by Freeman Kevenides Law Firm.
Thu 6/21, 5-7 PM, Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington, 312-427-3325, Active Transportation Alliance, free.

Chicago's Mellowest Bike Tour Learn more about our bike map from its creator, John Greenfield—who guides cyclists through some of his preferred routes. Wed 6/27, 6 PM, Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington, 312-560-3966, Active Transportation Alliance

Critical Mass At this monthly group ride, bikes of all shapes and sizes join forces and stop traffic via . . . critical mass. Camaraderie is encouraged; old-timey bikes are a given. Fri 6/29, 6-11 PM, Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington, 312-346-3278,, free.


Dare2tri Tandem Bike Training Grab a buddy and hop on a bicycle built for two. Dare2tri, an organization that organizes outings for folks with physical disabilities, offers training on how to ride tandem, plus information about volunteering. Arrive promptly at 10 AM. Sat 6/30, 10 AM-noon, Wilson at Lake Shore Dr, free.

Illinois Beach State Park Bike Adventure Experience an overnight stay at the Illinois Beach State Park, located north of the city along Lake Michigan near Zion. Of course, you'll arrive via bike, and along the way guides will point out the sights and scenery of northeast Illinois. Participants return by train, and there's an option to spring for a hotel if sleeping in nature isn't your thing. Campfire included. Sat 6/30, 7 AM-Sun 7/1, 6:11 PM, Buckingham Fountain, 500 S. Columbus, 312-555-1212, $80.

Louis Sullivan Architecture Tour This guided bike tour heads from the north side down to the Loop, with many stops along the way to admire Louis Sullivan's work. RSVP is required; visit to sign up and learn the starting location. Sun 6/24, 9 AM-2 PM, location TBA, free.

Pothole Art Bike Tour Cruise around Edgewater scoping out potholes that have been decorated by artist Jim Bachor—described by the website the Chainlink as "stunning and sometimes snarky mosaic works." The entry fee includes a sticker designed by Bachor. Sun 7/1, 9 AM-5 PM, Broadway and Thorndale, $25.

Tour de Fat Prepare your bike for a parade! The annual Tour de Fat offers beers, live music by Best Coast, and camaraderie among fellow bike enthusiasts. Beer proceeds benefit West Town Bikes. Sat 6/30, 10 AM-5 PM, ride begins at 11 AM, Humboldt Park, 1440 N. Sacramento, 312-742-7549,, $15.

Women and Trans Night BYO bike project to West Town Bikes Wednesday nights, when only women and trans individuals are allowed. Instructors are on hand to assist with everything from brake adjustments to larger-scale repairs. Attendees are encouraged to bring snacks and drinks. Wednesdays 7-10 PM, West Town Bikes, 2459 W. Division,, $10 an hour.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Queer filmmaker Derek Jarman gets a Pride Month retrospective at FilmStruck

Posted By on 06.20.18 at 06:00 AM

Derek Jarman's Caravaggio
  • Derek Jarman's Caravaggio
The queer British filmmaker Derek Jarman, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1994, is one of the artists featured by the streaming channel FilmStruck during Pride Month. We spotlight five of his eclectic and highly original films.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The valley of the gilded frogs on the gig poster of the week

Posted By on 06.20.18 at 06:00 AM


ARTIST: Daniel MacAdam
SHOW: Mastodon and Primus at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island on Wed 6/6

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Video games are public enemy #1 . . . again

Posted By on 06.19.18 at 10:05 PM

Lots of kids play a lot of Fortnite, but it's not a sign of the apocalpyse. - YOUTUBE
  • YouTube
  • Lots of kids play a lot of Fortnite, but it's not a sign of the apocalpyse.

Earlier this week, Red Bull launched Rise Till Dawn—an all-night Fortnite tournament in July starring local streaming sensation Tyler "Ninja" Blevins on the 99th floor of the Willis Tower. It's no surprise that the event sold out in a few short minutes, Fortnite is arguably the breakout entertainment hit of 2018—played by 40 million people—and Ninja is the game's biggest star.

Still, the timing of the announcement of the dusk-'til-dawn tournament—one that resembles a compulsive gaming binge—was notable.

On Monday, the World Health Organization announced that it had officially recognized "gaming disorder" as a condition in its International Classification of Diseases. To be diagnosed with the disorder, you have to do more than just play the games a lot: you have to play compulsively despite suffering negative consequences for more than a year.

In other words, you can be addicted to video games. The disorder reportedly affects between 1 and 3 percent of gamers.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Prog-rock wizards the Mugicians never released a note—but they may still unearth their dazzling early-80s demos

Posted By on 06.19.18 at 05:40 PM

Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who've been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place. Older strips are archived here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tabbed Event Search

The Bleader Archive

Popular Stories