06 Mar Happy Birthday, Chicago!
The shining city on the lake turned one hundred eighty-three years young this week! While we celebrate another year, it’s worth looking back to see how things looked one hundred years ago. Picture it, March 4th, 1920:
“Billboard” didn’t exist so we can’t know for sure what the number 1 song of the week of March 4, 1920 was, but it might have been “Swanee” by Al Jolson. “Mammy, mammy, I love the old folks at home!” (Okay, no one said it was a cool song!)
On March 3, 1920, President Woodrow Wilson was seen in public for the first time in the year after suffering a stroke in 1919.
The Chicago Daily Tribune reviewed the play, “Seeing it Through,” and the reviewer took issue with the fact that the heroine’s face was “dolled up” and the leading man had too much makeup on and his lips looked “like a smear of jam.”
The Chicago Daily Tribune’s top stories included aldermen voting to limit skyscrapers to two hundred sixty-feet, up from the prior limit of two hundred feet. (Spoiler alert, this changes over the next one hundred years, the Willis Tower, nee Sears Tower, is 1,729 feet from bottom to tip.)
A man-on-the-street column asked Chicagoans whether an actress’s recent divorce would hurt her reputation, professionally. Surprisingly, five out of five agreed that there was nothing particularly scandalous about this divorce and her career would manage.
The best scandal of the week, though, goes to the four women in California that were sent to the “state insane hospital” in California for using a Ouija board. Apparently, a twenty-four séance caused one to burn $200 in cash and another to strip out of her clothing. Maybe the Ouija board can’t be totally blamed, $200 is still a lot of money!
Universities were busy that week, as well, trying to prevent college students from cheek-to-cheek dancing. (Is that not the cutest damn thing in the world!) Medical professionals took the position that it was a public health issue, but given that this is 100 years before we were talking about COVID-19 and that there is no mention of germs, it is probably more of a Victorian-concern than hygiene. In any event, doctors warned that students should be made aware of the “danger that lies in the caress.” (Seriously, though, no cheek-to-cheek dancing while we fight COVID-19. Some science prevails 100 years into the future.)
The Bee’s Knees was among the most popular cocktails in 1920 because it was sweet enough to dilute the bitter taste of Prohibition-era liquor. To absolutely no reader’s surprise, Edith Wharton, Agatha Christie, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (who gets a lot of mention on our Members Only Tour) topped the book world that year.
“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired,” Gatsby said, and despite everything else has changed, that rings true in 2020, still. But little else about Chicago remains the same since its birth on March 4, 1837. The drinks are better (and legal!), the buildings are far taller, and the city itself moves faster, for better or for worse.
Happy Birthday Chicago! Here’s to another glorious one hundred eighty-three years!
Written by Amy Williams