Chicago Publishers Thomson and Zimmerman released Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America as companion to visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. It combines boosterism, a dash of morality and a wink and a nod to the city’s immorality of the time. Historians Paul Durica and Bill Savage have edited a new printing released through Northwestern University Press. They were kind enough to answer a few questions by e-mail.
Where did you find the source material? Were they original editions?
Paul: A few institutions such as the Newberry and the University of Chicago Regenstein library have first editions of CBD&N. Old newspapers as well as the personal papers of various Chicago figures yielded a wealth of primary source material.
Bill: The original editions are very rare in paper; I’ve never seen one for sale anywhere, or on any website. But there is a horrible scanned Google Docs version (where the illustrations all are rendered as typographical gobbledygook) and a scan of the original book, which is good, but truncates some pages.
How did you divvy up the editing responsibilities?
Paul: Bill wrote a draft of the introduction, which I then added to and amended. I drafted the notes, and then he added and amended. It was a pretty equitable exchange of editorial duties. It was great having someone to talk things over with, someone who has such a vast reservoir of knowledge about the city.
Bill: We both just started writing. I asked Paul to join me on this project because I knew his work with Pocket Guide to Hell, and knew two other things: that he has serious research chops and he knows the period better than I do (my literary studies tend to focus from the ‘20s onwards). We then rewrote each other to some degree. It was a great collaboration.
Whenever I watch a movie or TV show set in Chicago, I always play “spot the landmark” and try to figure out where a shot was filmed. What architectural or geographic surprises have you found?
Paul: I was surprised by how quickly the guidebook became out-of-date. The Panic of 1893 had a profound effect on Chicago’s economy, and many of the businesses–restaurants, hotels, theaters, gambling dens, etc–listed in the guide had folded within a year of publication. Thankfully, the architectural marvel of the book, the Auditorium, survives to this day.
Bill: The main surprise was not how many familiar places were mentioned; the main surprise was how differently the author(s) thought about famous places. No architect is ever mentioned—the interest in buildings like the Auditorium is almost wholly about how much it cost, how many tons of what sort of marble are in the lobby, etc. Chicago in 1893 did not worship architects the way modern Chicago has.
The world had changed since 1893, but how has Chicago remained the same since the Gilded Age?
Paul: Chicago is still defined by scale and speed: it remains a big place and it builds itself up and tears itself down with a sort of unbelievable rapidity. And despite the prominence of these qualities, it remains a place where people can live their whole lives and feel part of very stable and close-knit communities.
Bill: No one trusted taxi drivers then or now. Then and now, there are neighborhoods where a visitor might want to stay away. But what was way more interesting for me is those things that were a certain way in the 1890s, and went away from that, then returned to it. Nowadays, for instance, people like to “eat local”; well, in 1893 you didn’t have much choice, as in-home refrigeration was unheard of. Local farmers supplying restaurants is a big deal today; it was taken for granted then. Transportation? Well, nowadays we are moving towards “green” city systems, emphasizing public transportation and bicycles; well, that was also a big deal in the 1890s, though we certainly have emphasized cars in the interim.
Are there plans for events to coincide with the book?
Paul: Yes! The book contains a chapter on the “ideal day” in Chicago, and the Pocket Guide to Hell hopes to create a 21st century version of it. Also, there’s a very good chance that Baum’s Theater or perhaps the Park, with all its lowbrow attractions, will live again.
Bill: Many: 1 pm Saturday June 1 at the Newberry Library is [was] the official launch; we’re also doing events at the Hopleaf [5148 N Clark, Chicago, IL] the evening of Wednesday June 4, plus Saturday June 8, at 11 am at Printer’s Row Lit Fest.
Bonus question for Paul Durica: Who is this Ben Reitman guy who leads the Pocket Guide to Hell tours?
Paul: Ben Reitman traveled around the country as press agent and paramour of Emma Goldman for almost a decade. Locally, he helped start the Hobo College and played an active part in the Dill Pickle Club. He also worked to preserve the legacy of the Haymarket anarchists into the twentieth century.
Chicago by Day and Night is available at local purveyors of books. I got mine at Quimby’s.