Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Someday About 25 Years From Now -OR- Small Town Charm

Life in an inner-ring suburb of Chicago used to be easier. The best of both worlds?
It sounded very odd when I first heard the "summer home" stories from aged neighbors whose parents and grandparents first "settled" in this place. Not much remains of the tranquil woods, pastures and prairie that first attracted city folk. As a result of the Great Chicago Fire, the settlements, towns and villages that rose up beyond Western Avenue became refugee camps, then bedroom communities for the army of workers required to rebuild the city or the estates of Chicago's movers, shapers and shakers.

Western Avenue got its name simply. It was the western border of the city. As part of the rebuilding process Chicago's borders were extended. Through a acrimonious period of annexation, Chicago enlarged its footprint south, west and north swallowing up the towns, settlements and villages that surrounded it. Many retain their community names as "Chicago neighborhoods". Some of them are still home to the descendants of their earliest settlers, just like any small town in America.

Names like Rogers Park, Irving Park, Jefferson Park, Andersonville, Steeterville, Austin and Hyde Park and scores of other towns were taken whole. Assimilated within the corporate boundaries. Resistance was staunch in some places and token in others. Chicago was a juggernaut. There are countless stories of skulduggery, intrigue, bribery, extortion, election fraud and bullying that took place during the annexations process. The pros and cons of becoming part of Chicago were hotly debated. A glance at a modern map of the city illustrates where the battle lines were finally firmly drawn. That is where the suburbanites overcame the obstacles and
finally halted Chicago through legal maneuvering and strength of will.

Today, this period is an afterthought. For most of the people living in and around Chicago it is now as it always has been. Local histories have been codified and homogenized. Many have been sanitized as well. A few have been completely rewritten making heroes, myths and legends of local characters from those days.

Very few people have the time, energy or resources to develop an appreciation for what happened last week, let alone what took place in the 1890s. (Unless of course they are Cub Fans reliving the glory years.) Most of the published histories tend to
focus on singular aspects and events which lack a broader perspective and tend to concentrate on "good news".

Having the time to reflect on the past is a pure luxury. Considering what may have been lost, forgotten or purposefully left out of the written record is not generally accepted as a field of study. History is written by the winners?

For my little village, the REAL history is far from what is presented in the Chamber of Commerce brochures. The story is much more interesting. Unfortunately time marches on. Interest is fickle. Nobody wants to think of their hometown as home to outcasts and rejects. Such a shame.

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