Chicago

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The truth is not hard to believe: these guys were in fact trying for a world record in 1893 when they loaded the sled with more than 36,000 board feet of virgin white pine logs from Ontanagon County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

How did they pile up the load so high? The horses actually did much of the work. The men would lay each log on the ground longside the sled and affix ropes to it that went up and over the load and then back down to the ground on the other side of the sled. That's where the horses were waiting; they would be harnessed to the ropes, and as they were led away from their side of the sled, the ropes would pull the new log up to the top of the heap, guided up the side by angled tracks made from small logs. When the new log reached the top, the men would snag it into place.

How come the sled didn't just sink down in the snow? An ice road had been specially prepared, with the snow sprayed repeatedly with water and allowed to freeze rock-hard. The horses had special shoes with crampons that bit into the ice surface.

Usually, logs hauled this way were taken to a frozen river, awaiting spring, when they'd be floated downstream to a sawmill. But this particular load was pulled for just half a mile by these two horses, to a railroad siding, where the logs and the sled were loaded onto freight cars and shipped to Chicago.

There, at the Michigan pavilion of the 1893 Columbia Exhibition, the load was reassembled, sled and all, treating fairgoers to a glimpse of logging activity in what was then the world's busiest lumber region.

Did they make it into the Guinness Book of Records? We have no idea, but they did claim this was the largest load of lumber in the history of the world.

Note that most of the men here had no gloves, and of course none of them had hard hats.

Posted by Ellen

'Twas the night before Easter, and all over town, stuff was getting weird. Above, Chicago; below, Philly.

Posted by Ellen
Maud Humphrey, born in 1868 in upstate New York, educated at New York City's new Art Students League and then, of course, in Paris, was a rare creature in her place and time: a highly successful professional woman who managed to combine a brilliant career with conventional marriage and family life. She married a doctor but out-earned him several times over, producing commercial artwork for immensely popular books, magazines, and advertising campaigns; she specialized in sentimental watercolor illustrations that featured plump children and adorable animals. Think: Gerber baby.
 
During her student days, Maud had become friends with another aspiring career woman, Grace Hall, a contralto from Illinois who was studying music and beginning a career on the New York opera and concert stage. Grace enjoyed considerable professional success right from the start, performing at Madison Square Garden among other venues, but she soon began to fear that the pressures of a heavy performance schedule were taking a toll on her health. Her eyesight had been weakened by childhood scarlet fever, and the newfangled electric stage lights seemed blinding. She suffered headaches and exhaustion after every show and lasted only a year before returning home to conventional bourgeois domesticity in the suburbs of Chicago. Like her friend Maud, she married a doctor, and also like her she earned substantially more money than her husband, in her case by offering voice and piano lessons to Chicago's nouveau riche.
 
The two women stayed in touch, and in 1899, when Grace wrote Maud that she was expecting her second child, Maud responded by sending Grace a half-dozen watercolors to decorate her nursery. And Maud had some news of her own: she too was expecting.
 
That year, both women gave birth to sons: Maud's boy was named Humphrey Bogart, and Grace's was named Ernest Hemingway.  Fifty or so years later, Bogart and Hemingway got to know each other during the filming of a Hemingway story, and they figured out their mothers' connection and the provenance of the nursery paintings.
 
The photo above shows two of the Maud Humphrey watercolors above Ernest Hemingway's baby bed in the family home in Oak Park, just outside Chicago.
 
Although Grace Hall Hemingway was still alive when her son met the son of her old friend Maud, she may never have learned about the meeting. Hemingway rather famously nursed grievances against his mother and was distant to his family. His main complaint was that his mother was a cold bitch who had emasculated his father by earning too much money and refusing to defer to husbandly authority.
 
Every summer, when the family vacationed at a lake cabin in Michigan, where Ernest's father loved to hunt and fish, Grace vacationed instead in a cottage across the lake that she had built for herself and her one-time music student Ruth Arnold, who had previously worked as the children's nanny. Grace clearly preferred Ruth's company to that of her husband and six children, even after her husband created a public commotion when he tried to expel Ruth from their property. Ernest's version of the story emphasized a financial angle: he believed that the money his mother had used to build her lake retreat should have been used instead to send him to college.
 
Humphrey Bogart is alleged to have complained similarly about his own mother, Maud, although many more details of the Hemingway mother-son issues have been thrashed out in public. But one Maud Humphrey legend can definitely be put to rest: no, the young Humphrey Bogart was not the Gerber baby. His mother did paint his likeness for a baby-food advertising campaign, but that was for a different brand.
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Icelandic sculptor Steinunn Thorarinsdottir  populated this garden just south of the Art Institute with aluminum and cast iron people.

Posted by Ellen
In the 1880s, when he was a little boy, there were so many McCormick relatives also named Robert that they called him Bertie. He inherited a townhouse in Chicago, a suburban house in Lake Forest, and a country estate called Cantigny in Wheaton, Illinois, about twenty miles out of town. The flowers amongst the reeds above were blooming last week in Cantigny, which is now a museum and park.
But Robert McCormick's two most significant inheritances from his wealthy and industrious family were reactionary politics and a newspaper, the Chicago Tribune. Tribune editorials ranted against the New Deal and everything else civilized or modern. But McCormick built the paper up into a huge media empire run out of a downtown office tower that he decorated with chunks of rock from other buildings around the world including, as seen below, Westminster Abbey, the Taj Mahal, Hamlet's castle in Denmark, Byron's Chillon in Switzerland, and the Berlin Wall.
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We went to Chicago last weekend for a family wedding, a proverbial happy occasion. The town was bustling with big goings-on; for example, the night before "our" event, there was another wedding at the same downtown hotel, a high-concept sort of wedding in which the bride and everyone else was wearing black. Also at our hotel, an MLS soccer team had taken up residence, visiting from Toronto for a game against the Chicago Fire (the Fire won, 1-0).

And then there was the happy occasion seen here, which included a Saturday morning photo session in front of Millennium Park's "Cloud Gate," aka the bean.

Seven years ago, when this tourist magnet first opened, photographers were required to get $350 permits and schedule their shoots in advance. Annish Kapoor, the artist who designed the bean, controlled his work's copyright and attempted to limit its reproduction. But the bean is nothing if not a photo op, and Kapoor quickly had to back off his restrictions; currently, you don't need a photo permit unless you are part of a film crew of ten or more people. The thousands of visitors every day who pull out their cellphones aren't breaking any laws.

The perfect shine and complex globular shape of the bean were inspired by drops of mercury, according to Kapoor, an Indian-born British sculptor. He thinks the popular name for his work, bean, is idiotic. He named it "Cloud Gate" because most of its polished stainless steel surface reflects, and distorts in odd ripply ways, sky and skyscrapers. Visitors are mostly interested, however, in how it reflects them, especially in the arched middle section, which reflects reflections of reflections in crazy, curvy ways much too complicated to figure out.

The plaza in which the bean sits is actually the roof of a restaurant and parking garage, and it had to be seriously reinforced to support 110 tons of highly polished stainless steel. After the reinforcing, computer-aided robots spent a year bending and welding together 168 steel plates, and after the welding, a crew of humans with sandpaper spent more than a year polishing the plates. After all the polishing, the welding seams became completely invisible, an accomplishment that won the work an Extraordinary Welding Award from the American Welding Society.

The lower part of the bean, where people leave fingerprints, is washed every day with Windex. The upper part, where air pollution and birds jeopardize the polish, is washed twice a year with liquid Tide.

If you want to rent it for a day just for yourself and your friends, the city charges $800,000. Twice so far, since opening day in 2006, people have paid that rent. The rest of the time, everybody's welcome, free of charge.

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A few hours before the really big moment on Saturday evening, our niece Melissa–now Mrs. Matthew Solomon–enjoyed a little moment with her Grandma Helen.

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Two women wait for the streetcar in front of a Chicago store window in the summer of 1941.

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On a cold night in January, more than two hundred firefighters from all over Chicago battled a huge blaze in the Harris Marcus warehouse in the city's Bridgeport district. The job was complicated by extreme cold, as hydrants froze and ladders iced up; the water department was called in to de-ice the ladders with steamers.

The next day, embers in the smouldering ruin reignited, and firetrucks had to go back there and spray even more water.

Posted by Ellen

At Macy's in Chicago, upstairs and downstairs, the season is upon us.