Sunday, January 13, 2019

Churchill in Chicago


     When we were small, my mother had an expression she used to suspend our frenzied searches for some missing toy:
      "You'll find it when you're not looking for it."
      Cold, comfort, if I recall, when Lucky Pup had gone AWOL. But there is a certain truth, particularly when it comes to those odd bits of information that resist solving instantly on Google.
      For instance: I keep a ragtag assemblage of historical figures in the back of my mind I call "People Who You Don't Think of as Visiting Chicago." They consist of personages who are somehow difficult to picture on Chicago streets: Oscar Wilde, Col. George Armstrong Custer, Dylan Thomas, Golda Meir, who lived here.  Charles Dickens almost got here, but St. Louis was a bigger deal when he made his vaunted visit to American in 1842, so he went there instead, setting foot in Illinois only at Cairo.
     I had always included Winston Churchill on the list, though couldn't put my finger on any evidence. He got around a lot, particularly as a young man. It made sense.
     On Thursday I had lunch with a pal at the Union League Club, in their soaring Lincoln Ballroom. I admired the rich blue walls, and felt that whatever drudgery life consisted of, at the moment I was sailing in style. At one point, during our mutual exchange of dire observations about our troubled mutual profession, I swept the room with my hand and observed: "On the other hand, we're here now!"
     They make you check your coat at the Union League Club, and afterward, I retrieved mine. It was cold and I planned on hiking over to Iwan Ries, to fill the time before the train with the consolation of a cigar. I paused just before the revolving door to put on my gloves and hat and zip up.
    And my gaze fell upon this plaque.
    Well, there we go. Complete with the photographic proof offered above. As I typed the part about Google not being helpful, I thought I had better do that check-it-out reportorial thing, and instantly came to this detailed historical assessment of Churchill's three, count 'em, three visits to Chicago, in 1901, 1929 (when he stayed at The Drake) and 1932.
     Hmmm...the article was posted in 2006: no doubt my curiosity about Churchill dates to long before then. I seem to remember riffling through the index of a few thick Churchill biographies, looking for a Chicago reference.
     Mere trivia? Perhaps. Though I don't think it's a stretch to use it to raise a larger question related to the immediate knowability of things. Could the shaky role that verifiable fact plays in our current political woes somehow be related to the ease with which truth can be ascertained? Economics tells us that abundance is inversely proportional to value. When facts were difficult to dredge up and verify, they were held in regard. They had high worth. Now that the truth is in each of our pockets, on our cell phones, 24 hours a day, they seem less substantial, and more and more people turn to their own private fantasies, which of course have less abundance, and thus perhaps more perceived worth, because they are rare, sometimes unique, having been freshly made up. An interesting possibility.



  1. Neil,
    In addition, I think that a person's ability to broadcast their fantasies gives a percieved credence to whatever they belch out. Anyone with a smartphone or laptop can find a soapbox to hop up on and spew contaminants into the fact pool.

  2. Yes Neil the abundance of ready information easily at our access has an effect on its value. But a couple other things also affect peoples understanding of the information they're provided as well .

    There is and has always been debate about historical fact. Bias and misperception have always been present and always accurately or successfully.

    More recently it has become increasingly easy for people to manipulate information and more difficult to determine when it has been tampered with. Thus the proliferation of conspiracy theories .

    Finally most people have "their own private fantasies" about what is truth and reality. Most fail to see this about themselves and only see the flaws in others understanding and perception

  3. I'm sure Neil aware of this already, but a lot of people aren't...

    On one of his visits to America -- in New York City, I think it was -- Churchill was hit by a car and severely injured. He was laid up in the hospital for months. It happened because he looked to the right as he crossed the street, momentarily forgetting that in America, traffic would approach from his left.

  4. That accident was how Churchill was able to get around Prohibition laws. A doctor wrote him a note that prescribed the need for him to consume alcoholic spirits, especially at meal times, for proper recovery.

  5. How fortunate that the accident didn't happen in Chicago, where he might have been clocked by one of those big red streetcars of the old Chicago Surface Lines. Without a Churchill, Hitler might have successfully invaded Great Britain, and eventually won the war.


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