Welcome to Another Year of Crazy

I had intended to write this before the new year rolled in, but here it is mid-January and I’m finally getting around to it. Last year was weird. I mean, there were some great things and some not so great things, as usually happens. But last year was particularly weird, and I feel the need to tell you about it!


Farewell from my Art Institute co-workers Jan. 2017.

In January, I quit my job at the Art Institute of Chicago to accept a job as the Educator at the Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site in Mexia, Texas, a town of 7500 people. It sounds like an odd choice, but I saw it as a career opportunity. From my journal, January 11th, 2017: “God has blessed me with what I asked for (a job), but I’m sure he also has many things to teach me through this next season of my life.” Oh, how could I have known everything that was in store for me this year!


Mom and Dad visit for the Civil War reenactment, and my birthday April 2017.

By February I was moved down to Texas, started my new job, and was hit with a wave of culture shock! As I slowly settled in, I had my first visitors come to stay, and started to explore more of Texas, going to San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and College Station. In April I conquered my first major event at work, a Civil War reenactment and living history weekend, which Mom and Dad came down for. I also celebrated my 30th birthday with the lovely ladies from my Sunday School class at church, who have been such a blessing to me. In May, I wrote this in my journal: “I believe the Lord is leading me on a great journey, a big part of which was my rock-bottom days of last year, and my shifting attitudes, and my leap of faith to my new life here in Texas. And this Sunday school class has been a part of it too! To know that I keep failing because I try to do it all on my own! Now to learn what it is to abide in Christ.”

At the end of July, I had the awful and humiliating shock of being fired from my new job. Two days afterwards, I wrote this: “I can’t sum up what has happened this week, and I don’t even want to. I have been rudely and unfairly fired from my job, had all kinds of negative things said about me, and no one was willing to stick their neck out for me. I was doing a good job, and anyone I’ve heard from has said so. My boss just didn’t like me and was looking for reasons or opportunities to fire me. But WHY?”

In August I struggled with my new circumstances and started looking for another job, but also took time to get away. I went camping in the Texas hill country, and spent time on the beach at North Padre Island, only weeks before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. In fact, I traveled a ton. In September I went to London and Paris, and spent a week with my good friend Esme. In October my brother came down to visit, and we had fun spending time together and exploring Dallas and Waco. In November, I flew to Florida, to spend a week with my cousin Bonnie and her family, and got to spend some more time on the beach! Finally, I became “Aunt Rachel” on November 24th, when Brian and Jessica welcomed baby Fiona into the world. What a blessing!


Holding my adorable niece Fiona!

I went home for the Christmas holidays, and treasured seeing many friends and family. But the new year saw me packing up all my belongings (somewhat un-enthusiastically), and heading on another adventure. I’ve accepted a position as a Collections and Interpretation Intern for the Fort Bend History Association in Richmond, Texas, which includes the Fort Bend Museum, and the George Ranch Historical Park. While I’m still praying for a full-time job, this gives me a place to live, a new region to explore, and more museum experience to gain. Now, instead of 1000 miles from home, I am 1117 miles away! Not that it makes much of a difference (except in the weather – wheeee).

I was going to say something slightly cheesy about all the lessons I’ve learned in the past year, but I won’t, for two reasons. For one, it should go without saying that you learn more when things are hard than when things are easy. And two, I wouldn’t say the hard is nearly over – my unemployment benefits have just been revoked, and I discovered what it’s like to have all your pipes freeze in a south Texas ice storm! But this past year has made me far more resilient, and I’m sure that will serve me well in the future.


Checking out the new area at Brazos Bend State Park.

My Chicago Adventures: Pullman and Argus Brewery

Once again, I’ve let life get away from me, and this blog has remained largely forgotten. Or maybe not forgotten, since I’ve often thought “I should write on my blog again”. But, as I’m gearing up for another major adventure, I thought I would write a post to get back in the swing of things. And this is the one that I most wanted to finish.

The Pullman neighborhood is a hidden gem in Chicago; I’ve vaguely known about it for a while now, but the topic is timely because earlier this year President Obama stopped by to celebrate the new designation of the Pullman National Monument, under the National Parks System. Which presumably means even better preservation for the site, and greater recognition of its’ historical significance.

The historic district itself is smaller than the neighborhood of Pullman, between 111th and 115th streets, and Cottage Grove and Langley Avenues. This is considered the far South Side of Chicago, as even the red line trains don’t come this far. Take the red line to the end of the line, and you still have a 15 minute bus ride to get to the Pullman Historic District.

The district includes the Pullman State Historic Site, the Historic Pullman Foundation, and the Pullman National Monument NPS. The Historic Pullman Foundation is housed in a very unassuming looking building, and is a good place to start. While I have yet to visit the museum (the hours were rather limited), I had time enough to ask for the self-guided walking tour brochure, which led me around the neighborhood and gave simple explanations about the buildings and their use and architecture.

The very simple explanation is that Pullman was a company town for employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company. George Pullman wanted to uplift his lower-class employees, and built a town with some of the first worker housing with indoor plumbing, a hotel, market, church, and factory buildings, and attempted to provide for his employees in every forseeable way. However, it was not a true utopia. “The opportunities that Pullman provided went beyond social uplift—they amounted to social control. A Chicago Tribune editorial stated that, “none of the…advantages of the model city will compensate for the restrictions on the freedom of the workmen…” Limitations on freedom sowed the seeds of social unrest”, which resulted in strikes, boycotts, and bloody conflict between labor and employers (http://www.nps.gov/pull/upload/PullmanUniGrid.pdf). If you are at all interested in the industrial and labor history of America, then you’ll just have to come visit.

What brings me to the Argus Brewery were these “limitations on freedom”. Saloons and drinking establishments were forbidden, so many of these thirsty employees wandered over to the other side of the tracks to find what they were looking for. Argus Brewery is a new enterprise, but it is housed in an old horse stables that was the distribution center for the Joseph Schlitz brewing company – heard of it? You’ve probably at least seen the logo somewhere in Chicago, with the Schlitz banner over a globe. Schlitz was just one of several breweries along the same street, catering to the large population of German, Polish and Eastern European immigrants that worked for Pullman. On a tour of the Argus Brewery today, the guide will share a little bit of this Chicago history, along with the requisite explanation of how beer is made, and how Argus fits into the growing craft beer culture of Chicago.

My Chicago Adventures: Lincoln Square/Ravenswood

I love Lincoln Square! But seriously, the neighborhood of Lincoln Square seems to have a lot going for it. As per usual, my copy of the “Open House Chicago” sites was my guide to exploring the neighborhood, and I’ve made repeat visits back to the DANK-Haus German American Cultural Center. The museum there is free and worth a visit to learn about the German legacy in Chicago. After having just read the book Death in the Haymarket, and the Haymarket Affair and labor struggles in late nineteenth century Chicago, it was strange to see this poster below; the poster called for workers to meet and discuss recent events and labor strikes. Little did they know the firestorm that would start that night (http://www.history.com/topics/haymarket-riot).


Inside the DANK Museum at the cultural center; historic political leaflets in English and German.

It’s true that Germans made up one of the largest portions of the immigrant population in Chicago, when they started arriving in the city in the nineteenth century. Imagine then that they arrive in Chicago, set up their trades to be bakers and beer brewers etc., and some teetotaling mayor decides it is illegal to drink on Sundays, their only day off of work! That Joseph Medill… Anyway, I liked the German cultural center so much that I came back for an art exhibit, German cinema night, and now I’m volunteering for their booth at the street festival “Maifest” at the end of the month. This is all in line with my next big adventure, which has yet to be announced. Something to do with German language and culture, that’s all I’ll say for now!

Below are a few more pictures of the place, complete with a view of Lincoln Square from the rooftop terrace of the building.


The club room inside the DANK Haus is full of character!!


International art exhibition and the opening event at the DANK Haus.

Dank Haus Panorama

View over Lincoln Square from the rooftop terrace.

And… I leave you with a few more favorites from the area:

A very German and international type of place :)

A very German and international type of place 🙂

The exterior of the old Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue.

The exterior of the old Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue.

Architectural Artifacts is a warehouse full of... architectural artifacts for sale.

Architectural Artifacts is a warehouse full of… architectural artifacts for sale.

My Chicago Adventures: Pilsen

My second neighborhood to visit was Pilsen. Now, I’m not claiming that I’ve thoroughly explored these neighborhoods; not even close! I just like getting out on a Saturday, with a short list of things to see. I get the feeling there is a lot in Pilsen that I still haven’t seen or don’t know about. My visit centered around the National Museum of Mexican Art, and a few points of interest from the “Open House Chicago” list.

A mural in the Pilsen neighborhood

A mural in the Pilsen neighborhood

Hector Duarte's studio and the Gulliver in Wonderland Mural

Hector Duarte’s studio and the Gulliver in Wonderland Mural (apparently represents the stuggling Mexican immigrant as Gulliver). 

The National Museum of Mexican Art is an interesting place, not too big but nice enough. I was sad that I’d missed the Day of the Dead exhibit. The current exhibit, “Nuestras Historias: Stories of Mexican Identity from the Permanent Collection” was neat, highlighting periods of strong nationalism vs. loss of culture, and place specific identities, like Mexicans in Chicago and the Midwest. Cool.

At the National Museum of Mexican Art

At the National Museum of Mexican Art

Make tacos, not war.

My Chicago Adventures: Edgewater/Andersonville

Since moving to Chicago I’ve started a few habits: there’s the independent coffee shops on Fridays, visiting a different museum most weekends, and walking around new neighborhoods. And does Chicago have the neighborhoods! I usually plan out my walks to include some historic spots, and interesting places, and take pictures along the way.

My first neighborhood visit to share is Edgewater and Andersonville. Edgewater is long on history and has many buildings and “apartment hotels” dating from the 1920’s. The most striking and recognizable is the pink stucco Edgewater Beach Apartments, once a celebrated hotel and celebrity hotspot. Of course, once the completion of Lakeshore Drive cut off easy access to the lakefront, the hotel became a little less popular. Today the place gives off a feeling of tarnished glamour. I visited the Edgewater Historical Society for an hour to learn a bit more about the Edgewater Beach Hotel, and about the development of the neighborhood.

Edgewater Beach Apartments

Edgewater Beach Apartments

Edgewater Historical Society

Edgewater Historical Society

A walk around the neighborhood also finds many historic homes and churches; the Lakewood-Balmoral Historic District is worth a look, but none of my pictures could really capture the cute and quaint single family homes around here. To end the day, I actually ended up in the historically Swedish neighborhood of Andersonville, walking along busy Clark St. That’s where you’ll find the Swedish-American Museum, which I have yet to visit! More neighborhoods coming in the future.

The frozen Chicago lakefront in January

The frozen Chicago lakefront in January

Al Capone and Gangster History

Chicago in the 1920’s was a city of political corruption and gang warfare, and the embodiment of the failure of Prohibition. Three of its key figures happen to be buried near each other in an old Catholic cemetery outside of Chicago. This cemetery just happens to be right near my house.

I will admit that I find cemeteries interesting, and not creepy (not during the daytime anyway!). They carry a very local history, and allow us some small but tangible connection to the past. It has been on my to-do list for some time now, to walk through the Mount Carmel Catholic cemetery, where the notorious Chicago mobster Al Capone is buried.

The beginning of Prohibition in 1920, which made the manufacture and sale of alcohol illegal, was just the beginning of Chicago’s problems. If Chicago was already known for corruption, then Prohibition was the impetus for an alliance between organized crime and corrupt politicians. “As Prohibition laws were openly violated and men were murdered on crowded streets, notorious criminals made little effort to conceal the weapons they invariably carried”.1

In the early 1920’s, rival gangs battled for their share of the city and the profits. The Irish-American Dean “Dion” O’Banion led the North Side Gang, against his Italian-American rival Al Capone and his Mob. Dion was the first to lose the fight when he was murdered in 1924 by Mob gangsters, in the back room of Schofield’s flower shop. He was initially buried in unconsecrated ground at Mount Carmel, because of his gangster lifestyle, but was later moved to consecrated ground. 2

Dean or 'Dion' O'Banion, the Irish-American mobster.

Dean or ‘Dion’ O’Banion, the Irish-American mobster.

The grave marker for Dion O'Banion, North Side rival of Al Capone/

The grave marker for Dion O’Banion, North Side rival of Al Capone.

O’Banion’s murder ushered in “a period of vicious, almost uninterrupted, gang warfare that lasted until Al Capone’s conviction for tax evasion in October of 1931”. 3

There were to be more startling murders, particularly the St Valentines Day Massacre, and just over a year later, the murder in broad daylight of Chicago Tribune crime reporter Alfred “Jake” Lingle. Any confidence in the Police Dept. to control gang violence seemed to be lost, but the murder of a reporter caused a firestorm in the press. Only later did it become known that Lingle had been playing both sides, and had a questionable income that was well above his Tribune salary.

The grave marker of Jake Lingle's family, a Chicago Tribune reporter during the 1920s.

The grave marker of Jake Lingle’s family, a Chicago Tribune reporter during the 1920s.

The inability of Chicago Police or any political officials to apprehend the gangsters reeked of political corruption, but “the Lingle murder marked a new seriousness in the war on crime”. 4

If Chicagoans could have guessed that it would not be local law enforcement that would eventually arrest Capone, but that the federal government would have that honor, they would have been angrier still. Capone was convicted for tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. He eventually died from syphilis, and several of his family members are also buried in this prominent spot at Mount Carmel Cemetery. 5

The Capone gravesite gets frequent visitors at Mount Carmel Cemetery.

The Capone gravesite gets frequent visitors at Mount Carmel Cemetery.

The gravesite of the Capone family; individual family markers lay in the ground before it.

The gravesite of the Capone family; individual family markers lay in the ground before it.

1. Mcdonough, Daniel. “Chicago Press Treatment of the Gangster, 1924-1931.”Illinois Historical Journal 82.1 (1989): 17-32. JSTOR. Web. 06 July 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/40192250?ref=search-gateway:64e408e6356230f1c2ac8aefda9fd29c&gt;.
2. http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/?section=RecArchivePage&RecArchivePage=o_banion
3 & 4. Mcdonough, Daniel. “Chicago Press Treatment of the Gangster, 1924-1931.”Illinois Historical Journal 82.1 (1989): 17-32.
5. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/al-capone

Travel and Adventure Show 2014!

A few weekends ago I attended the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show, which I have also attended a couple times in the past. For about the price of a movie its a full day of talks, demonstrations, freebies and ideas, and I’ve always found the day well worth it.

This year was no exception. I had the chance to hear travel guru Rick Steves speak on his personal travel philosophy, with perhaps a little more irreverence than his PBS television shows allow him. But Rick Steves has been entering uncharted territory recently. Three years ago he presented on his latest book at the time, “Travel as a Political Act”, and now he is working on new television programs for Israel and Palestine. I can also mention that I got his autograph in my new ‘Croatia and Slovenia’ book – no trip planned yet, just an idea!

Rick Steves presenting to an attentive audience at the Travel show

Rick Steves presenting to an attentive audience

Signing autographs in a “hurry up, I want my lunch” kind of way 😉


My autographed travel guide – ideas for a future trip?

Always another highlight of the Travel and Adventure show is the cultural performances, which I use as a nice breather between the many other activities – just sit, watch and enjoy. Below are two pictures from the “Global Beats Stage”.


A Canadian folk band, with an adorably energetic fiddler.

A lovely Classical Indian dance number.

A lovely Classical Indian dance number.