Illinois

Posted by Ellen

Baby Kaspar woke up bright and early–6 a.m.–on his first morning in America. His jetlagged parents were not pleased. No doubt, they hadn't slept quite as soundly as he had during the long flights from Estonia to Chicago.

His grandmother was happy to retrieve him from their room, even at 6 a.m., but Kaspar wasn't so sure about her. He complained. He complained more loudly. So she took him outside for a long walk.

Outside, life was good. Kaspar found pebbles and then some pebbles and after that some pebbles. But back in the house again, where his parents were still trying to sleep, he remembered his distress. His grandmother wasn't his mother or his father. He ran from her.

When she got near, he told her to go away. Loudly. If she came nearer, he ran. This went on till he'd reached the far end of the house, up against the back door, where he could run no further.

There were cushions there on the floor, new pads for the garden furniture, and so it came to pass that Kaspar lay down in the doorway and curled up and went back to sleep.

And his grandmother? "I just sat next to him," she said, "and laughed at this world."

Posted by Ellen

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

The flamingos at the Chicago Botanic Garden this winter have a greenhouse for a nest and are grown as topiary. Orchids, perhaps?

Posted by Ellen

"Some time in the 1950s, probably in Decatur, Illinois." That's the baby boomer, stomping away.

Posted by Ellen

The Windy City has a new statue: a cast-aluminum Marilyn Monroe, 26 feet tall, in her Seven-Year Itch subway-grating pose, skirts afly. God and everybody can see her underpants, and tourists on Michigan Avenue can look up at her from between her legs. She'll be there through next spring, we're told, though the installation is called "Forever Marilyn."

Meanwhile, across the sea, in the Norwegian cruise ship port of Haugesund, a bronze more-or-less-lifesized Marilyn Monroe sits harborside, dressed in what appears to be a very short, very wet little cocktail dress with the straps slipping down off her shoulders. Like her Chicago cousin, she is wearing glimpsable underpants, and she's got one shoe on, one shoe off.

The town of Haugesund claims Marilyn on the theory that native son Martin Mortensen was her father. He had emigrated to America in the early twentieth century and married Marilyn's mother. But the couple divorced in 1924, two years before the birth of baby Norma Jean Mortensen, and he had abandoned the family years before that. It seems to be widely believed–except, of course, in Haugesund–that Marilyn / Norma Jean was fathered by somebody else.

On the mythological level, however, the Norwegian connection works. The overall character of Marilyn's short, sad life seems to reprise her mother's story, which ended in a state mental institution, to which she was committed when Marilyn was a baby. Maybe her mother, in her last troubled years, had attempted to reconcile with Martin Mortensen, just as Marilyn in her last days had been planning to re-wed Joe DiMaggio.

A couple things are clear. One, she wasn't really a blonde. And two, American exceptionalism does not require Marilyn Monroe's underpants in the public square. Both statues, but especially the oversized Chicago version, are creepy. At least the Norwegian Marilyn is sad and bedraggled, much as we remember the real star. But the Chicago Marilyn is comic-book iconography, the sexuality so outsized and the sexism so aggressive that the painted smile doesn't hide a thing.

Creeps me out. Obviously, I'm an old fuddy-duddy.

Posted by Ellen

 

According to the photographer, Michael Dauzvardis, this little weed in Channohon, Illinois, near Chicago, was hit hard by gusty winds blowing from all directions on January 19, 2010. The weed was bent almost double and scraped round and round, leaving perfect circular tracks in the snow.

Posted by Ellen

In 1979, the developers of Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois, near Chicago, went bankrupt. More than a hundred merchants abandoned the mall overnight, including the big three anchor tenants, Sears, Penney's, and Montgomery Ward. The trees and ivy in the planters in center court were left to overgrow. The parking lot was left to . . . things went so far south in the parking lot that the town of Harvey built a police substation in the middle of it. You can still go inside the mall, if the spirit moves you--ever since people busted the doors and broke the plywood that was supposed to board things up, the place has been wide open for decades. It has been reported that the food court and much of the rest of the territory is controlled by packs of dogs. When cinematographers need a location for the next dystopic blockbuster, they can check out Dixie Square Mall.

And we're going to have to get used to this, because as the housing bust now spreads to commercial properties in suburbs all over America, Dixie Square Mall is a harbinger. Welcome to the twenty-first century. Already, the phenomenon has atrracted its own historical website--deadmallsdotcom--and a small army of documentary photographers. This photo is by Brian Ulrich.
 

Posted by Ellen

With apologies to those among you who have been on this list since 2007, I am repeating here one of my favorite baby pictures, taken almost 30 years ago. As you can see, John got distracted, and Ted made his move.

The prize clutched in John's little fist must have been something really special, so tasty and/or entertaining that it would be coveted even by a six-month-old baby. Such as a nice little pebble or twig or clod of dirt.

I like this picture because it suggests something of the tone of brotherly, um, love among the boys as the family grew.  Even much, much later, whenever one of the boys would come home from college, odds were high he'd take a few minutes to go through his brothers' stuff and perhaps make off with a little something that wasn't being actively protected. Always, there was a stupid rationale--for example: "But it fits me better than it fits him."