Chicago Grows Up by Miss Eleanor Medier, editor-in-chief and publisher of The SL Chicagoan

The 1920s was Chicago’s most defining decade. It colored the city’s character ((even to this day. These brief notes are to provide a background to inspire authenticity in the sim and ideas for rp characters. There is much question about what year is portrayed in Second Life. Though the decade evolved, compare the activities like a banquet to choose from creatively—and don’t forget to go back for desert! Also, anyone wishing to add to these notes, either post a comment or send submissions to Miss Medier who will be delighted to receive))

The origins of what was became the city’s most exciting decade began in 1871 when the city burnt to the ground in The Great Chicago Fire. The rest of the country was in a recession, so the charred blocks offered the best opportunities for architects and builders—who flocked here. Names like Louis Sullivan and Daniel Burnham come to mind—and then Frank Lloyd Wright. ((The sim boasts a strong group of talented builders.))

The next step into growing from a provincial frontier town to a world class city came with the Columbian Exhibition of 1893. It launched what would grow into a renaissance of art, business, and a unique political style.

Because editor-in-chief Miss Eleanor Medier is personally concerned with the arts, the reader must exert a little indulgence in her prejudices. The 20s inspired a fertile atmosphere to sprout innovative writers, musicians, and architects. Writers such as Mister Upton Sinclair and Mister Carl Sandburg painted vivid depictions of city life that changed not only perceptions but brought about the correction of many injustices. ((The sim can use more artists!!! Of course, prejudice is showing!))

The visual arts struggled under the shadow of New York that unfortunately pulled away many of the best and brightest painters. Chicago has a tradition of supporting visual artists elsewhere versus home-grown—as if their jobs are to bring culture to Chicago versus reflect the culture that is here. A most unfortunate viewpoint. However, unlike today, the department stores all had galleries and were a major economic influence on visual arts, as well as fashion and home furnishings. Many of the visual artists and designers also wrote classic books about aesthetics, most notably Mister Ivan Albright and Mister Stanislaus Szukalski. Several notable events may interest readers:  the No-Jury Society of visual renegades formed and there was a benefit ball where attendees dressed as their favorite paintings. The former struggled through several large exhibits and the latter was a wild success!

However, of the greatest significance and generosity, there were five major art collectors who bequeathed the majority of the French Impressionist paintings that put The Chicago Art Institute on the world map. ((Even today, the blend of those five collections makes AI one of the world leaders in the genre.))

Musically, the decade was unparalled. There are the origins of blues, jazz, and the big band sounds were primary. The radio made new kinds of stars. Movie theaters were the rage. Hollywood glamour became contagious and going to the theater a major event at the end of a workweek. The Loop was bustling with business during the day and a party atmosphere of shows and speakeasies at night. ((How about somebody contribute more here??))

With radios in most households, citizens gathered around the little boxes positioned prominently in living rooms. Listening was a shared experience of family and neighbors. And for many decades, residents either sat on their porches after dinner and/or went for strolls. All the neighborhoods boasted large front porches. ((Today many of them have shrunk, allowing a new room to hang of the front of the house. Garages have also exherted demands on newer constructions, transforming the residential street scapes and thus, the social mix.))

The topic of politics was foremost in every adult conversation—comparable today with talk of sports—facilitated by avid newspaper reading. Publications flourished as presses rolled and reporters, journalists, and publishers rose to national, if not international, fame. They were notorious, accepted bribes, played all sides of issues between the police, judicial system, businessmen, mobsters, unions, and ethnic groups.

No time in Chicago’s history was more colorful due to the 14 years of prohibition—an experiment that backfired. Everyone—and that means everyone—drank bootleg booze. There was almost no adult was without a source and the cover-ups for hiding from the police grew comical. Trap doors, hidden cabinets, and walls that turned around were all creative solutions widely implemented. There was even a gaiety, or a humor about alcohol because the moral issues about were only the concern of a minor percentage of people. And often the police would bust one establishment while drinking at another. Politics usually determined who could produce widely and who had to do it more clandestinely. But drinking alcohol was never more popular! Perhaps is was reverse psychology: tell the people they can’t, and then they must.

Crooked politics was viewed humorously. It was and is expected that politicians practice patronage. It goes with the territory. There was three-term Mayor Big Bill Thompson. He had a complex relationship with the police, the press, and the gangsters. At the end of the decade, he was defeated by Mayor Anton “Tony” Cermak who is also colorful, but got himself gunned down much as our Mayor did—as covered in The Chicagon.

Mister Big Jim Colosimo was one of the first mobster gang chiefs. He is worth learning about. Just type his name in google and check him out! He owned a cabaret and was a white slaver. But he got himself murdered in 1920—possibly by his number two guy, Mister Johnny Torrio, who had brought the young Mister Al Capone from New York. ((More to come on this guy, of course! Mister Capone to this day comes to mind in the same sentence as the word “Chicago.” In fact, when this author travels in Europe and Asia, she is asked the question: “Do you know Al Capone?” The perception is that the mob is still shooting tommy guns in the streets! And maybe that Al Capone never dies.)) ((The sim has a Mister Colosimo—but several would be wise to study Mister Torrio.))

Some of the gansters were viewed as robin hoods—Mister Capone was celebrated, though notorious—he made for great evening story telling! The public didn’t really cheer the gangsters in the 20’s they way they grew to in the 30s depression era. During these gang origins, they were more ruthless and feared. The crime was hard to ignore. It culminated, as did Mister Capone’s career, at the end of the decade with the St. Valentine’s Day Masacre in 1929. Its impact reverberated throughout the city like a shock wave ((and the repercussions continue to this day. The Biograph Theater is still in operation but the garage next door where the gunning down took place has been torn down and the lot remains empty. (It is claimed to be haunted, documented that when people walk their dogs by that empty lot, which they do a lot because it is the famed Lincoln Park neighborhood, their pets exhibit unsual behavior such as wining, wincing/crouching and even an occasional howl. One of the victims of the crime was a police German shepherd—whose ghost seems to be seen by the canine betheren versus the human.)

Also very important in the decade are several landmark court cases, very worth reading up about! Defender Clarence Darrow was the star—check out the trials of Leopold and Loeb in 1924 and the Scopes Trial where he defended the teacher who was convicted for teaching evolution in the schools. ((hint, hint—Mister Darrow could be the basis for a great character in the sim!))

As a rough town, Chicago has always been at the crossroads of American societal inflluences: exemplifying the best and the worst. The Loop had a traditionally bad reputation for pick pockets and rough wanderers. It changed in the 20s when downtown theaters were opened. Dance clubs sprouted everywhere. Going downtown was a glamorous big deal and most people frequented many dinner/dance establishments.
There are many articles about the fashions of the decade in The Chicagoan. The shops in Chicago Roaring 20s are now some of the best vintage ((that Second Life has to offer))!!! Chief Shep Moorlord and Misses Starla Huntress Moorlord are cheered for bringing the best shops to Michigan Avenue!

Dressing formally for museum and theater openings—not to mention the symphony that was growing in reputation—became the elegant activities of choice.

This decade brought about Chicago’s preeminence as a manufacturing capital. Decco design was also taking hold. Downtown was glittering and active—business bustled during the day and the nightlife lit up the streets after hours. There were many industrial barons, and Chicago spawned Sears and the first retail catalogs. Hardworking and practical, Chicagoans are hard to please. It is a place of large ambitions backed up by one of satisfied dreams. ((Wealthy business owner characters exert a very realistic influence in the sim. They work hard, and live fast—but there are always room for more.)) No city exemplifies opportunity more ((then as now)).

The stockyards ((closed already for several decades)) continued to exert a rough influence on downtown as hardworking unattached guys were looking around for ways to entertain themselves after the yards closed. There were also a lot of single ex-soliders too from the First World War who were re-acclamating. ((Many role players have chosen some of these characters so they can wander around looking for trouble.))

The immigration also was so huge in expanding the city that it was one of the fastest growing places in the country. With the railroad came enormous numbers of foreigners through the east coast. And they congregated making distinct neighborhoods and groups. ((A lot of the flappers and showgirls come from these groups. Plus many girls migrated from the East Coast in search of a better economy. Just ask any girl in the sim where she is from and it is somewhere east!))

The politicians tended to be from the older monied families, the police were filled with Irish, many business owners were German, the Italians were in the mafia, and the Polish worked hard labor jobs. There was a lot more conflict and strife between ethnic groups as well as racial. Religious differences tended to also go along ethnic lines. Most immigrants adopted Americanized names and worked hard for their children to fit in. Leaving behind the old country in favor of the new was the preferred mindset.

Ok– this the editor-in-chief’s personal passion. But– there were three landmarks prominent in the decade to exemplify the nature of Chicago, its achievements, and its self concept.

First is the Water Tower on the north end of Michigan Avenue which is one of the only structures that survived the Great Chicago Fire. It is accompanied by the Pumping Station across the street that also survived. They are jewels even today. The second is Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. It was already a few decades old, but it established the beauty of downtown’s lakefront—an elegant and romantic center piece. It also is gorgeous today and is rarely missed by tourists. A romanic place to pose for photographs, it is the opinion of The Chicagoan that the city must have such a fountain in its most pretigious park!!
Finally there are the lions of the Art Institute. Tho already firmly entrenched by the 20s, they became symbols of the culture.

Four landmark buildings, depicted in The Chicagoan, were built around the new Michigan Avenue Bridge, thus establishing the Magnificent Mile—one of the most glamourous shopping streets in the world. These four buildings also blended with the Wacker Project of multilevel streets—a model urban concept that was the first in the world. The site of the original Fort Dearborn, this corner is the most important square acre in the entire city! ((The four buildings are all landmarks today and are the most commonly shown corner in any depiction of the city).

((The decade can really be considered over in 1933 when prohibition ended and the Worlds Fair was the last gasp of prosperity before the full grip of the depression hit the common citizen. Although progress was so rudely interrupted by economic strive, so many things that started then continue.)) The character of Chicago could be summed up by the saying it is the “city of big shoulders.” It is an ambitious, hard working, hard playing, and vibrant place. Daniel Burnham taught the citizens to think big, no small plans are worth pursuing: 

“Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die. Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”


It is often called “The Most American Big City.” And as Miss Medier’s mother, who grew up in here, always said: “If you can’t do it in Chicago, it isn’t worth doing.

((Please note that several residents do live in or near the real world Chicago. The city’s illustrious Mayor KJ Kiranov grew up on the north side and lives in a nearby town. The Chicagoan’s star correspondant Miss Natera Landar lives in a suburb. And Miss Medier works in the Loop, taking the el downtown from Evanston that borders Chicago along Lake Michigan to the north. So if anyone has questions, Iany of these friendly experts will be happy to help and are very approachable. If any visitor or resident would care to debate historical topics, Miss Medier extends a warm though cantakerous invitation to a hot cup of Earl Grey tea in The Chicagoan Office at the corner of Willow and Center in the north east quadrant. ((For those who caught that address and know the real world city, their is no “Center Street.” This needs to be pointed out here in the interests of accuracy and shows what happens when the original builders of the sim didn’t do all of their homework. It would be much more accurate to call the street “Clark Street” because Clark goes through the Loop and is the longest street in the city, going from the very north end to the very south.))


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