Street Smart Chicago

My Confidants, the Gargoyles

Hyde Park No Comments »
GargoylebyTomRossiter

Photo: Tom Rossiter

Even though they’re everywhere, nobody on campus ever mentions the gargoyles. When I first arrived at U of C, the only offspring of unschooled immigrants to attend an elite university, they were the first thing I noticed.

Hailing from a cookie-cutter suburb where what differentiated the boxy little houses was the color of plastic tile inside (your choice of pink, aqua, or baby blue), I marveled at the hand-carved stone, the unique and imposing presence of the gargoyles. Didn’t anyone else wonder why, for instance, on the street side of  Cobb Gate, four little creatures scamper upwards, but on the quad side, another six scurry amidst the contorting heads and eyes of griffins? Wasn’t anyone else curious?

In my first days in this strange place, I nursed my loneliness in crannies atop the Social Science building and Wieboldt Hall where you could buy bad coffee for a few cents and stare the gargoyles guarding Harper Library right in the eye. Dining in Hutchinson Commons with glib classmates from private-school-pedigree stocks, I drew strength from the grotesques banded like rosettes into the stone outside. Before ducking into Bond Chapel, I would schmooze with the mischievous critters frolicking amongst the saintly human faces on the west facade, embarrassed to admit which I felt closer to. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark the Music: U2 and One Man’s Escape From Everyday Life at the U of C

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
U2 at U Chicago, April 11, 1981/Photos: Paul Sandberg

U2 at U Chicago, April 11, 1981/Photos: Paul Sandberg

By Bart Lazar, AB ’82

Music can be a great diversion, punctuate life’s experiences or be a life’s work. New students at UChicago or new residents in Hyde Park should not eliminate music from life’s major food groups.

WHPK 88.5FM, the university’s and community’s radio outlet, is definitely worth many listens. The music includes indie, rock, folk, blues, jazz, dusties, R&B, classical and live bands, and the hosts are as diverse as the music, including a mix of current undergraduates, graduates, alumni and community members. In today’s world of computer-programmed commercial and Internet radio outlets, it is refreshing to hear an actual human being presenting music and/or information that he/she cares passionately about.

My first day of orientation week, I walked up the elbowed steps of the Reynolds Club and ran into the station’s program director hanging around talking. I told him I had been a DJ in high school and was interested in continuing. He said “great, how would you like Friday afternoon?” Read the rest of this entry »

Those Quirky Kids: The Re-Education of the U Chicago Grad

Education/Training, Hyde Park No Comments »
Photo: Monika Lagaard

Photo: Monika Lagaard

By Erin Kelsey, AB ’12

I graduated from the College of the University of Chicago in June 2012, and I started my job at the University of Chicago one week later. I joined the Alumni Relations and Development (ARD) staff at one of the university’s “schools and units”—which is to say, one of the smaller, independent organizations under the umbrella of the university. In plain language, that means I’m a fundraiser, but not the kind of fundraiser who calls up my fellow alumni to ask for donations.

While I haven’t taken a class in more than a year, my time with the university as an employee has still been educational, as I’ve experienced the vast perspective shift between undergraduates and the rest of the community. That shift was evident immediately: not so removed from my O-Week, I went to new-employee orientation for a long, antiseptic treatment of the school’s history, and I sipped their coffee and waited to hear something new. I didn’t. It was only interesting to see them leave out the unsavory bits of history and how they explained the “quirky student body” to employees who didn’t know Hyde Park. Read the rest of this entry »

Gentlemen’s Club: When Football Came (Back) to the University of Chicago

Hyde Park, Sports No Comments »
Martin Northway (right) in a 1968 or 1969 drill with teammate Jerry Culp.

Martin Northway (right) in a 1968 or 1969 drill with teammate Jerry Culp.

By Martin Northway, X’70

“Isn’t that where all the Reds are?” was a common reaction among my high-school classmates when I told them I was enrolling at the University of Chicago. Even in the sixties, what attracted me to Chicago was its abundance of libertarian scholars—led by Milton Friedman—and the prospect of a liberal arts education anchored by the Common Core. I originally fancied myself an economics major but later abandoned it for less-depressing American history. Mainly, I wanted to write.

The last thing I thought I would do at U of C was play football. But I found myself drawn to the purity it preserved in the sport, unlike the tainted and excessive adulation given by my high school, a national power running up a string of consecutive victories that would stand for a decade. What U of C had was a football club, a stew of undergraduates and grad students of diverse abilities.

U of C had been a power in the Big Ten (originally the Western Conference) under legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, but ultimately its small undergraduate talent pool could not compete against Midwest behemoths. A last flash of greatness was back Jay Berwanger’s selection as the first Heisman winner in 1935. (I joined his Psi Upsilon fraternity, again an athletes’ sanctuary.) U of C left big-time football in its rear-view mirror in 1939. To some—especially President Robert M. Hutchins—it was good riddance. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pedaling History

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park, Museums No Comments »
IMG_6195

1839 McMillan bicycle, the first with pedals/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The new exhibit “The Art of the Bicycle” at the Museum of Science and Industry does a fine job of tracing the evolution of the bike from the dandy horse, a primitive wooden contraption pushed along with one’s feet, to today’s high-tech steeds. While last year’s terrific “Bikes! The Green Revolution” show at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum celebrated cycling culture in general and the Chicago scene in particular, the MSI’s exhibit focuses on the history of the machines themselves. It features nine rarely seen historic bikes from the museum’s collection, newly restored for the show, plus a gaggle of modern rides.

“For 200 years people have continuously reinvented the bicycle,” reads the intro to the exhibit. “With each new decade new designs and technologies improved the popular machine, making riding safer, more reliable and more fun.” Amusement was probably one of the main motivations when German Baron Karl von Drais built the first verifiable dandy horse, a pedal-less, steerable, two-wheeled vehicle he dubbed the Laufmaschine (“running machine”) for cruising around his large garden. A 1931 replica of an 1818 Draisienne, as the French called it, is on display, and the clunky, green-and-gold vehicle looks like it would be a blast to scoot down the Lakefront Trail. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: From Southern Africa to the South Side

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park, Transit No Comments »
Dustin Gourdin / Photo: John Greenfield

Dustin Gourdin on 53rd Street in Hyde Park/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Parts of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, and the South Side of Chicago are actually eerily similar,” says Dustin Gourdin, a PhD student in the University of Chicago’s sociology department, over coffee at Hyde Park’s Valois Cafeteria. “You see a lot of the same issues, in terms of transportation challenges and youth opportunities. Hopefully we can figure out ways to make things better in both places.”

Since 2009 Gourdin, twenty-five, has made three research trips to Namibia, a nation of 2.1 million people just northwest of South Africa. He’s been studying the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) Namibia, a nonprofit that provides disadvantaged local people with efficient transportation and job opportunities, as well as other non-governmental organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

Custer’s Last: A South Side Celebration at the Historic Ben Hecht House

Architecture, Chicago History, Hyde Park No Comments »

Photo: Harrison Smith

By Harrison Smith

Early Wednesday evening, when the first guests start making their way inside the Ben Hecht house on 53rd and Kenwood, Kelly Custer is sitting out on the porch with a friend, asking if “maybe it was too much.” Earlier that morning she had called someone over to her family’s historic ten-bedroom bungalow for a little house cleaning; eight hours later, the job was done, or done as well as could be expected for a short notice cleaning of a four-floor house in transition. The person was paid, but Custer—whose family is selling their home of nearly fifty years—is concerned that things still aren’t clean enough: there are boxes lying around in corners, books and papers piled on desks, and for the next couple of hours a hundred-odd visitors will be walking through it all, taking a look at the house and its history. And, she figures, its mess, which probably should have been cleaned a little better anyway.

Prompted by Op-Shop and Southside Hub of Production organizer Laura Shaeffer, the Custer family had decided to open up their home to the community before saying goodbye for good. Shaeffer, like many others at the “Ben Hecht House Party,” is dressed in full 1920s garb, greeting guests as she walks through the building in flowing white pants and a rustling jewel necklace-piece her friend Victoria, a psychic, found in Chinatown. “The family was so worried” about the mess, she says, “but I said that’s fine, we’re going to clean up the front room, make it really nice and comfortable, and let people roam around and see that this is a space in transition.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Bike and Proud

Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Pilsen 1 Comment »

Eboni Senai Hawkins/Photo: Richard Pack

By John Greenfield

All Chicagoans should have a chance to reap the benefits of urban cycling: cheap, convenient transportation, improved physical and mental health and good times with friends and family. The proliferation of nonprofit bicycle shops and youth education programs, along with the rising popularity of fixies among inner-city teens, is starting to broaden the demographics of cycling here. But the local bike scene still doesn’t reflect our city’s ethnic and economic diversity. Eboni Senai Hawkins wants to change that. The thirty-four year old recently launched the Chicago chapter of Red Bike and Green, a nationwide group that promotes bicycling in the black community. Read the rest of this entry »

A Thousand Voices in the Night: The University of Chicago celebrates the centennial of its Interfraternity Sing

Chicago History, Hyde Park No Comments »

Lanterns have been strung from the trees around Hutchinson Courtyard in the University of Chicago quads, speckling the area with light on a dark and warm summer night. This is the Saturday of Alumni Weekend, so the campus is already buzzing with tradition and remembrance, but the chairs of the courtyard tonight are specifically (but not exclusively) filled with alumni who were in the Greek system.

The Interfraternity Sing is an annual University of Chicago tradition that harks back to June 1911, when it began as a way to replace the less popular Senior Sing. Now, it’s a beloved and successful Panhellenic singing competition. In 1916, twenty fraternities marched into Hutchinson Courtyard, but by 1922 there were thirty fraternities and more than 18,000 participants. Today, the IF Sing draws over 1,000 and is 100 years old—so it’s more than ready to have a birthday party.

“We are just really excited for Sing in general this year,” says Jessica Sheft-Ason, Kappa Alpha Theta’s public relations VP. “I think because it is the 100th anniversary, many of the girls in our sorority are looking forward to it even more than usual.” Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing Glory: University of Chicago students strive for posterity with twenty-fifth annual Scav Hunt

Events, Hyde Park No Comments »

One young college student, balanced on the shoulders of another, wobbles dangerously while the lower one cringes. “Low five!” he screams, and claps hands with the scavenger-hunt judge beside me, successfully fulfilling said item on the list of required finds or feats. Over the next hour, as people rush around the quads trying to figure out “Nearest what classroom building you can find a Ferrari?” and “the theorem illustrated on Eckhart” before time runs out, this happens thirty times. Thirty.

Students from the University of Chicago are attempting to break the official Guinness World Record for the largest scavenger hunt, one currently held by 212 children from St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Ontario.

This record-breaking attempt is happening just as the twenty-fifth annual UChicago Scav Hunt, one of the school’s zaniest and talked-about traditions, is underway. The entire event is a four-day-long frenzy to collect almost 300 items, including “The most evil thing you can build using only the parts and materials included with one IKEA item” and “brownies baked using only the power of the sun.” Captivated students abandon their student groups, midterms and souls to fulfill hundreds of insane challenges, putting their intellects to use in ways that seem both geeky and totally, unashamedly cool. So today, in the warm sun of a late Friday afternoon, they’re trying to break the Guinness World Record, an effort that is just one small part of the larger Scav Hunt.

“It’s crazy,” says one student, a first-year, who is sitting beside her team and planning their attack, “I want to break a world record! I want to buy the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ and say, ‘Hey, I did that.’” Read the rest of this entry »