Street Smart Chicago

The One-Man Gang: How Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago became America’s first Heisman Trophy winner

Chicago History, Hyde Park, Sports No Comments »

By Martin Northway

He lives on in crackling 1930s football footage: a running back in a long, Homeric dash ranging from sideline to sideline, on a field so muddy water stands in visible pools; he is a speeding human gyroscope, maintaining his balance while he evades and breaks tackles. Every defender seems to have a shot, yet he crashes into the end zone.

Comparisons of John Jacob “Jay” Berwanger with other football players fail. Legendary sports broadcaster Red Barber called him simply “the greatest college player I ever saw.” Late former President and onetime Michigan star Gerald Ford bragged about his scar from tackling Jay Berwanger in 1934.

The famous Red Grange said Berwanger had a “faraway look” allowing him to see downfield and rapidly adjust. Grange also said Berwanger could hit a hole closing on him, drumming his feet lightly, freezing tacklers before slashing through.

In fall 1935, the star back of the University of Chicago Maroons was selected as the first recipient of what came to be known as the Heisman Trophy. “Seventy-five years later, Jay Berwanger still receives positive publicity,” says Brian Cooper, Dubuque newspaper editor and sports author, writer of a forthcoming biography of Berwanger. “Not just because he was the first Heisman recipient but because [of] how he played the game—tenacious and tireless, and playing both ways every game”—and “how he lived his entire life.” Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Chicago Half Marathon (September 13, 2009)

Hyde Park, Running No Comments »

finish10What does it mean when it’s easier to run 13.1 miles than it is to get to the starting line? When the race is the Chicago Half Marathon, with 20,000 runners arriving in Jackson Park, not far from the proposed epicenter of the 2016 Olympics, and the CTA seems to be running less buses on the one route that will take folks to the parking-challenged area, it doesn’t bode well for the city’s global aspirations. Oh well, maybe they handled the U2 concert that night better, since the bus rerouting for that event was reasonably well communicated. Never mind that Soldier Field is easily accessible via multiple modes of public transit and offers ample parking. Thankfully the race started late, as cars emptied their passengers a mile away, and hundreds of runners converged on the starting line after the appointed time. Many even had time to pee in the parking lot of the nearby Chicago Park District building, till the park workers starting shooing runners away. Too bad the portable toilets were completely inaccessible from the west side of the starting mass.

It was that kind of day, where the scale always threatened to overwhelm the event, but in the end never did. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Greg Kot/57th Street Books

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Honestly, do you really need to hear once more that the music industry is, uh, changing? That much you already know. What you might not know is exactly how artists developed new ways to funnel their music to the public, how fans themselves became mouth-to-mouth (or file to file) distributors and live music has become even more essential in the marketplace. In essence, how boomboxes and CD players gave way to laptops and the Internet. Chicago Tribune music critic and co-host of “Sound Opinions” Greg Kot chronicles this progression in his new book, “Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music,” which hits shelves this week. To achieve a greater understanding of where exactly the music business is at the present-plus, with all probability, where it’s headed-Kot’s analysis can work as a textbook. Now if I could just figure out how to open this .rar file…(Tom Lynch)

Greg Kot discusses “Ripped” May 27 at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th, (773)684-1300, at 6pm. Free.

Museums Review: Harry Potter: The Exhibition/Museum of Science and Industry

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harry-potterMuggles across the country have already booked their ticket for “Harry Potter: The Exhibition,” which made its much-ado’d world premiere at the Museum of Science and Industry on April 30. This well-oiled showcase features more than 200 beautifully crafted costumes and props from the Harry Potter film juggernaut. The temporary space is packed with iconic movie artifacts presciently salvaged from the films’ production, including Harry Potter’s glasses, wand and the Golden SnitchTM. The museum staff dons black robes and faux English accents to further submerge guests in a fantasy realm. Noise is sure to be an issue, with jittery children riding fanatical adrenalin highs and promos blasting from screens in every corner. This is less a museum exhibit and more a Warner Bros. marketing attraction. Much like Planet Hollywood, it is a chance to ogle memorabilia from the films. Because it was created by Warner Bros. Consumer Products, “Harry Potter: The Exhibition” makes little mention of the literary phenomenon on which the films were based. J.K. Rowling’s name appears fewer times than Robert Pattinson, the swoony actor who played Cedric Diggory and has since gone on to “Twilight” fame. In fact, the only time the books—instead of the movies—make an appearance is at the end…in the gift shop. (Laura Hawbaker)

“Harry Potter: The Exhibition” runs through September 27 at the Museum of Science and Industry, 57th and Lake Shore Drive.

Reading Preview: S.L. Wisenberg

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Adapting her blog to full-fledged book, local author S.L. Wisenberg transforms her illness memoir into a fiercely engaging and often very, very funny account of her battle with breast cancer. The title, “The Adventures of Cancer Bitch,” should be the first clue that Wisenberg wasn’t prepared to linger in an overly sentimental region and play to readers’ fears and Lifetime-movie expectations. She claimed “Bitch,” she writes, because “Babe was too young and Vixen was already taken.” Presented in a diary format, the piece is, at its core, a 160-page staring match Wisenberg has with herself. Doctors, diagnosis, medication, chemo, surgery—sure, it’s in there. The most devastating offerings aren’t found in the cold facts that are beaten into our bodies by health magazines and prescription-pill commercials, but rather under blog entries with titles like “How Not To Tell Your Class About Your Breast Cancer.” (Wisenberg, Jewish, deftly adapts the wit of Woody Allen as well.) But, like the best of the savage memoirs, it’s doused in hope, and as readers, we share a most important reward in the end: life. (Tom Lynch)

S.L. Wisenberg discusses “Adventures of Cancer Bitch” May 6 at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th, (773)684-1300, at 6pm. Free.

Tip of the Week: Mary Pat Kelly

Andersonville, Events, Hyde Park, Lit, Literary Venues, News etc. No Comments »


An epic novel that documents one family’s emigration from Ireland to the United States during the great potato famine—Chicago, in fact—Mary Pat Kelly’s enormous epic “Galway Bay” paints a picture of the nineteenth-century Irish-American experience with thrilling, if a little overwhelming, results. Let’s face it, though—there was no way this book could’ve been short. Gritty, though not as gritty as “Angela’s Ashes, ” and romantic, though not in an abysmal “Far and Away” way, Kelly weaves her plot with historical intricacies and brilliant observations that could only come from an authority on the subject. Spanning six generations, Kelly’s most impressive feat is her ability to naturally allow space for the passage of time. A former nun, Kelly’s an award-winning documentary filmmaker and former producer on “Good Morning America” and “Saturday Night Live,” plus has a PhD in Irish literature. “Galway Bay” is a meaty novel, rich with color and hope. (Tom Lynch)

Mary Pat Kelly discusses “Galway Bay” March 9 at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th, (773)684-1300, and March 11 at Women and Children First, 5233 North Clark, (773)769-9299, 7:30pm. Both events are free.

Museum Review: Black Creativity 2009: Green Revolution

Green, Hyde Park No Comments »

Since 1971, the Museum of Science and Industry has presented its “Black Creativity” celebration, a six-week program highlighting the achievements of African Americans. This year, in addition to an art exhibit and a series of guest lectures, the museum focuses on African American contributions to the green industry: the businessmen, artists, entrepreneurs and consultants working to save the world through conservation. The exhibit promotes ways to take the green revolution home, such as recycling and taking public transportation. It also provides interactive games for its younger visitors, among them a solar-powered car race and a hands-on earthworm demonstration. But the real draw of “Green Revolution” is the walls, decked with banners detailing the achievements of notable African Americans in the environmental fields. Among them are Mae Jemison, an astronaut and the first African-American woman to explore space, Will Allen, the CEO of Growing Power and a promoter of urban farming, and Bryant Terry, an eco-chef. These individuals serve a dual purpose: to exemplify the successes of African Americans, as well as to show the leaps being taken at this very moment to introduce environmental consciousness into the infrastructure of our society. (Laura Hawbaker)

Museum preview: Smart Home: Green + Wired

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The Museum of Science and Industry’s latest exhibit is a fully functioning three-story house, the “Smart Home,” an ecologically sound building built on the foundation of material, energy and water efficiency. This is green living gone haywire. Museum guests are ushered through a twenty-minute eye-opening (if somewhat rushed) tour of the house. Every aspect of the building is environmentally friendly, from the recycled construction material, to the organic food, to the to LED lights. An ethanol-burning fireplace. A “raw” wood kitchen table. And of course, in the garage, a hybrid car. The house is called “smart” for a reason. Even the houseplants are clever. When a plant needs watering, a call is placed to your phone. That’s right—your plant is calling to say it’s thirsty. A black obelisk with blinking blue lights (that calls to mind HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”) is the “brains and guts” of the “Smart Home”; it’s an automated system that controls the heating, cooling and lighting of the entire house. A module of the house’s network charts not only the amount of energy being used, but also the amount being produced. Guests are given a “Resource Guide” which, like a shopping catalogue, details each gadget and piece of furniture, and where everything can be purchased. We all might not be able to live in technologically advanced, self-sustainable houses, but we can live green by bringing aspects of the “Smart Home” into our own. (Laura Hawbaker)

“Smart Home: Green + Wired” runs at the Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, (773)684-1414, through January 4, 2009.

Museum review: Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era

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In 1969, Curt Standifer, a U.S. soldier stationed in Vietnam, wrote in his journal, “Why should I, a brother of soul, whose war is on the streets in the States, be here?” Standifer’s entry perfectly encapsulates the mission of the DuSable Museum’s latest exhibit, “Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era.” Read the rest of this entry »

Museum review: The Glass Experience

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Vases edged in filigree, windows like Japanese shoji screens, vibrant sculpture pods… one wouldn’t expect an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry to feature galleries flaunting Tiffany lamps, Frank Lloyd Wright windows and a Chihuly Macchia sculpture garden, but “The Glass Experience” does just that. The exhibit celebrates the collaboration between glassblowing and science, a relationship in which the artisans of Venice and Murano jumpstart technological leaps forward in LCD and fiber optics. The scientific specifics are only touched on in favor of a more all-inclusive look at the glass world. The exhibit opens with a dark “Industry & Invention” bunker, which offers a hodgepodge of glass facts: radioactive dishware, microscopes, windshields and witchglobes linked by one common thread—the material from which they’re made. The “Invention” room offers tidbits and the various galleries present pretty things to look at, but what really makes “The Glass Experience” an event worth the trip comes near its end. Pathways gradually wind into larger spaces that culminate in two immense workshops peopled by real, live glass workers. Visitors can watch stained-glass artisans from the Botti Studio restore the Chicago Cultural Center’s fragile, 120-year-old Tiffany Dome. Meanwhile, in-house master gaffers spinout glassblowing demonstrations during the Corning Hot Glass Show. The glassblowing show perfectly encapsulates the aim of “The Glass Experience”—a hypnotic merging of art and science. (Laura Hawbaker)

“The Glass Experience” runs at the Museum of Science and Industry, 57th and Lake Shore Drive, (773)684-1414, through September 1.