Monday, April 24, 2023

Time to explore all of Chicago

Shermann Dilla Thomas

      “This is example one of why everything dope about America comes from Chicago,” said Shermann Dilla Thomas, delivering his trademark buzz phrase to a busload of tourists on a recent Saturday at the west edge of the Midway Plaisance. “This is my main man, Lorado Taft’s ‘Fountain of Time.’”
     I’d been to the fountain before. Even written about it. But never grasped why it’s here. Thomas filled us in.
     “It was made in honor of the 100 years of peace between Great Britain and the United States,” he said. “Let’s see: Raise your hand if you know why the White House is painted white? I can help you with that.” 
     Maybe something to do with the British setting it on fire? I almost said that but kept my hand down. Shutting up is an art form, and I didn’t want to intrude. Smart, since I could never have explained it with half the panache that Thomas did:
     “In 1812, we tried to jack Canada from Great Britain,” he began. “It didn’t really work out in our favor. In fact, any time you sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ you are talking about when Great Britain was kicking our butts in Baltimore with the ‘rockets red glare.’ During the War of 1812, they also burned down the presidential residence. We didn’t call the place where the president lived ‘The White House’ in 1812.
     “After the redcoats burned it down — sadly, chattel slavery was still going on. So they went up to the enslaved Americans and said, ‘Hey yo, y’all gotta rebuild this crib.’ They were like, ‘Damn, OK.’ So they rebuilt it.
     “And then when someone walked around to do the inspection, they were like, ‘Hey man, there are still some char marks from the fire. You gotta clean that off.’ So they tried, they tried, they tried, they couldn’t get the char marks off.
     “Then finally, some dude was like, ‘Hey, just paint the whole thing white!’ It’s been painted white ever since. That’s why we call it the White House.”

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  1. I've seen the Fountain of Time & don't get it. It's not a fountain with water & the whole thing makes no sense. You can barely make out the figures.
    The Chicago Defender Building was actually the Illinois Automobile Club Building.
    The Marx Brothers lived around 46th & Grand Blvd, now King Dr., but they also had a chicken farm in Lockport.

    1. Was it ever a fountain? I don't think so. It was...and is...a sculpture. And a huge one...126 feet long. A century of Chicago weather, endlessly eroding the concrete, has obliterated many of the features, especially the noses. I've seen it exactly once, about forty years ago, in the wintertime. The falling snow made it look pretty cool. If you want to know more about this obscure Chicago landmark,, Mr. S wrote about it length...last July.

    2. Marx family bought the farm in modern-day Countryside just south of La Grange.
      Lockport wasn't their home as the brothers fondly remember their train trips from a La Grange depot to visit Wrigley Field.
      The grouchy chickens wouldn't lay eggs, so the family placed store-bought varieties under the fowl's hind legs, family legend goes.

  2. I hope I have Mr. Thomas' permission to quote him when anyone casts asparagus on my favorite city.

  3. Heard Mr. Thomas interviewed on of all places sports talk radio . The Bernstein and Holmes show he was terrific. Thanks for shining some light on this fella. We are going on an Englewood tour next month

  4. It's been nice to observe Mr. Thomas' ever-increasing prominence on the Chicago scene. While today's appearance on the front page of the Sun-Times seems like quite a highlight to me, I suppose that's partly because I'm not among the millions viewing his TikTok videos. (Previously, we'd enjoyed seeing him interview our EGD host at the Lit Fest on a rainy day in Printer's Row, and he is frequently mentioned by the dedicated group of Chicago history aficionados on Twitter.)

    We visited both the First Church of Deliverance and Boxville during the most recent Open House Chicago in October. I had been seeing photos of the church for a while and it was swell to get a tour from some very welcoming folks.

  5. What’s with the snarkers in Punta Gorda? Don’t they have better things to do than to dump on Chicago? Like putting their own house in order…literally? Much of that area was nearly erased in last September’s monster hurricane. That’s one thing Chicago doesn’t have to worry about very much. Killer tornadoes? Yeah, It'll happen.

    Mr. Thomas is right on the money. Chicago has always been a punching bag, beginning when it was supposedly finished after the fire in 1871. Its politicians were derided and called windbags, hence the nickname. Then came Capone, and Valentine’s Day. Followed by the sneers about “The Second City”--and then Daley in ’68. Next came the gangbangers. Now Chicago is once again a political football, kicked around by the likes of Orange Julius and his cronies.You know what they can do.

    But in the end, it always comes back to Capone. And Capone, and more Capone. Time was, anyone from Chicago could be sure, when traveling, that a native of Turkey or Texas or Taiwan would point his finger and say “Bang bang!” Or just “Al Capone!” and make a rat-a-tat-tat noise. Probably still happens. Alphonse is to Chicago as Adolf is to Germany. He was superseded by Daley the Elder for a time, but only briefly.

    And that’s really nothing new. In 1931, Capone's last year as Mr Big, my aunt and my mother were taken to Brooklyn to visit relatives. They were nine and eleven. The wide-eyed kids on the block quizzed them, in all seriousness, about how many killings they’d seen. None? “Well, didn’t you even see any blood on the sidewalk?” one urchin asked.. My mother never forgot it. And so it goes. Me? I’m proud to be from Chicago. As a youngster, I knew more about the Outfit than I did about the Cubs or the Sox.

  6. I worked with Dilla. You could blinfold him, drop him on a corner in the city, take of the blindfold, and he'd be able to tell you the history and current situation of that location. I like how he ties various events to each other and the present. Like the electric lines he worked, everything in Chcago is connected.


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