Origins: Chicago - #115

Every place in the world has a series of things that give that spot a special character... and make it different from every other place.  When you look at the ORIGINS of these things, you often end up with a better appreciation of the territory -- and that makes it a lot more interesting to visit.  And sometimes, these ORIGINS help us understand why we live the way we do.

Twelve thousand years ago this was a huge glacial lake.  It covered what is now North America’s midwest.  As it receded, it left wide prairies, the Great Lakes, and shores of swamp.  The marshlands that were right here, at the southwest corner of what we presently call Lake Michigan were overgrown with wild onions -- onions that gave off an intense odor.  The native tribes called the place Checagou, which means great strength.

Today we call that spot Chicago -- and it is stronger and sweeter than ever.  Chicago is the most American city in the United States.

The origin of Chicago’s importance lies in its location.  To the north and east are the Great Lakes, and the St. Lawrence Seaway running out to the Atlantic Ocean.  To the south is a network of rivers that join the Mississippi and flow down to the Gulf of Mexico.  Chicago is the control point between these two waterways and people have been using it as a central trading post for thousands of years.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The first permanent settler was Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.  He was the son of a French-Canadian merchant and an African-American slave.  In 1779 he set up a trading post on what eventually became the most important shopping street in Chicago.  His sense of place was absolutely perfect.  His sense of timing, well... maybe he was a little bit early.  But you’ve got to give him credit for being the first guy in the neighborhood, and that’s very important because today Chicago is clearly a city of neighborhoods.

A neighborhood at the heart of the city is called The Loop, which is a reference to the elevated train that loops through the area.  The Loop and the streets around it are the cultural epicenter of the city.

There’s the Museum of Contemporary Photography with an outstanding collection and excellent study facilities...


            There’s the world famous Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera.

The Museum of Broadcast Communications will give you a look at the history of radio and television in Chicago.

You’ll also find the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium.

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the great museums of the world with an important collection of French Impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.

Walk across the bridge over the Chicago River and shop along The Magnificent Mile.  Chicago is the place where the big storefront window was invented.

One of the great things about Chicago is its waterfront.  Many American cities have waterfronts -- New York, San Francisco, New Orleans -- the problem is accessibility.  In most of the waterfront cities very little of the waterfront is easy to get to.  But that’s not the case in Chicago.  The lake front is an integral part of the town.  Lake Shore Drive runs for 124 blocks and it offers residents and tourists easy access to beaches, water sports, outdoor dining, space for biking, jogging and roller skating.  Plus dozens of boat tours.

One of the most successful developments in resent years is Navy Pier.  It juts out into the lake for over half a mile and is packed with attractions.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Chicago has always been a haven for African-Americans coming up from the south, but the two biggest migrations took place after the First and Second World War.  They settled in the south side of Chicago because it was close to the train station where they arrived, and it was near the available work.

Today, the Bronzeville district is being restored and has become an important area for African-American heritage tours.

Between 1840 and 1925, tens of millions of people immigrated from Europe to the United States.  The majority passed through Ellis Island in New York.  But when they got off that island they passed on to other cities and one of the most popular was Chicago.  Irish, German, Italian, Polish, Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians came to Chicago.  Today, this town has more Eastern Europeans, Scandinavians and Greeks than any other American city.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  My grandmother and my mother were immigrants to Chicago.  They came from Warsaw and they arrived here in 1910.

This is a picture of my mother and her sister, taken in a Chicago photo studio in 1915.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The neighborhoods that developed around each of these immigrant groups are still here and they have been joined by Asians and Mexicans.  What makes these ethnic neighborhoods different from those in other American cities is that here in Chicago they are easy to get to and they welcome visitors.  As a matter of fact, the Chicago Office of Tourism runs tours into the neighborhoods each week.

One of the most significant events in the city’s history was the Great Chicago Fire, which took place in 1871.  The cause is still under investigation but the results are well documented.  Within days after the fire, the city passed a law calling for all new buildings to be constructed of fireproof stone and brick.  Chicago began to rise again.  The new construction presented an extraordinary opportunity for talented architects.  The construction that took place after the fire and the enormous work that went into the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 led to the development of the Chicago style of architecture... a style that has influenced the entire world.

Rolf Achilles is an art historian who teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago and writes about the architecture of his city.

ROLF ACHILLES: Chicago’s a unique architectural museum.  Here you can study the whole history of contemporary modern architecture from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century.  Thin-wall construction, thick-wall construction -- everything is here.

The Reliance Building -- a radical departure from traditional architecture.  It’s a whole new way of building in 1891, and it’s a superb example of the Chicago school of architecture.  It sets a trend that goes around the world; the big plate glass windows in the center let in lots of light, it flows in about fifteen feet on the inside, allows for maximum workspace.  The walls are very thin, compared to traditional wall strengths.  It’s all about selling space and floor space.  The more floor you’ve got, the more you can rent.

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe had designed these two towers in 1949, we’re at 86880 North Lake Shore Drive.  Mies was a classicist.  He loved Greek architecture, and what we’re seeing is a square Greek column; fluting on the outside, light goes across, casts shadows, the building always in transition.  Radical in its day, it becomes the standard form for corporations to build in because there’s an enormous amount of space rentable inside.  It’s a functional building, and corporations do like function.

BURT WOLF:  And he got away from the corners and kept it round like a column by that little thing that he does.

ROLF ACHILLES:  Right, the little thing that we can see precisely the way he works around the corners is something the Greeks never really solved, but Mies did in the course of the 1940s and ‘50s.

Twenty years later, students of Mies Van Der Rohe designed the John Hancock Building, which at the time was the world’s tallest building.  The support structures, which you can see in those X’s, are on the exterior of the building, which made the outside stronger and gave more rental room on the inside.  Chicago architecture is often driven by two forces: the desire for artistic achievement, which has produced some of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and equally important -- the desire to be profitable.  Chicago architecture is the blending together of culture and cash.

As Chicago rebuilt after the fire, it took on a greater importance than ever before. Chicago’s location made it the transportation hub for America’s agricultural heartland, which in turn made it a center for food processing.

The Chicago Union Stockyards opened on Christmas Day in 1865, and were big enough to hold 10,000 head of cattle and 100,000 hogs.  In those days, our nation was more interested in pork than beef.  At first the yard just fattened and shipped live cattle.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  And then Gustavus Swift arrived from New England and started slaughtering and packing the beef and shipping it all over the country in a new invention -- the refrigerated railroad car.  At first, the railroads tried to stop him because they made a lot more money shipping a live cow, but he was too swift for them and eventually won out.

The salt needed to preserve meat in the days before refrigeration made Chicago a salt trading center which led to Chicago’s Morton Salt Company.

In 1879, a man named John Stuart moved his mill from Canada to Chicago.  Today, it’s known as The Quaker Oats Company.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  William Wrigley was a baking powder salesman.  And every time you gave William an order he threw in a free piece of chewing gum.  Unfortunately, the baking powder business was failing, but everybody loved William’s gum.  So in 1906 he went out of the baking powder business and into the gum business and introduced Wrigley’s Spearmint.

But Chicago is also a great place for restaurants.  Ambria has been called the most popular restaurant for Chicagoans.  Contemporary French food, excellent service, and a beautiful art nouveau setting.

Perhaps the most influential restaurateur in Chicago is Richard Melman.  He runs a company called Lettuce Entertain You, and since 1971 has built over seventy restaurants -- including The Everest Room, Shaw’s Crab House, and The Big Bowl.  He is a true lover of traditional Chicago food, the down-home stuff.

The Chicago Stockyards made this city the beef capital of the world, which is presently reflected in its love of steaks, hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches.

RICH MELMAN:  Well, I don’t know of any other place that has Italian beef but Chicago.  They take this roast beef and they cook it with a lot of herbs and spices and so forth like that; they cook it very well done, they cut it real thin, they dunk it in their wonderful au jus --  that’s maybe another key -- it’s served on great Italian bread, and I put a little sweet peppers on top and I think it’s heavenly.  I mean, it’s a real treat to me.  I can’t go more than three or four months without having one, I get cravings for it and this is where I come when I get the cravings.

BURT WOLF:  You need a little Italian beef running through your blood all the time.

RICH MELMAN:  Absolutely. Absolutely.  It just tastes great.

BURT WOLF:  And they have this Elegant Dining Room that they advertise.

RICH MELMAN:  Well, that’s what they say.  I don’t know how elegant it is...

BURT WOLF:  Elegance is in the mind.

BURT WOLF:  That is definitely a deep dish.

RICH MELMAN:  Oh yeah, this is a meal.

BURT WOLF:  Well, it’s not the traditional pizza that I grew up eating.

RICH MELMAN:  No.  You know, Ike Sole, the guy that created this pizza, you know, supposedly the story goes, that he wanted to create a pizza that was more than just a snack, that was really a meal.  And this is what he came up with, and this started the thick pizza craze all over the city of Chicago, and it really has become something that’s all over the country now.

BURT WOLF:  Why do you think it’s so popular?

RICH MELMAN:  You know, it’s an acquired taste probably, I know that people in Chicago love it, and I think that’s certainly one of the important things.  And I think it’s also inexpensive.  You get a whole meal, you know, three or four people can eat out of a pizza here.  You got two of these slices, that’s just about enough.  I think you probably eat for under ten dollars.  I mean, that’s why I like it.

And then there is the authentic Chicago-style hot dog.  It starts as an all-beef sausage in a natural casing that snaps when you bite it.  It’s grilled or boiled -- boiling keeps in the juices -- and they are served on a steamed poppy-seed bun.  But that’s just the foundation.  Chicago’s history as the home of the skyscraper seems to have affected its approach to hot dogs.  The yellow mustard goes on, then the green relish, chopped raw onions, a slice of pickle, peppers and finally tomatoes.  This is as much about construction as it is about cooking.

BURT WOLF:  Is there a method for eating these?

RICH MELMAN:  I think the trick is not to get it in your lap.  And I think you want to hold it over -- I’d hold it straight up.  Good hot dog.  They’re very famous for their cheddar fries.

BURT WOLF:  French fried potatoes and Cheddar cheese.

RICH MELMAN:  Mmm hmm.  Yep.

BURT WOLF:  Anybody ever hear the word cholesterol?  Or is that kind of like a foreign language?

RICH MELMAN:  Well, people know what cholesterol is... I don’t know if you want to eat this every day.

BURT WOLF:  Ah, that’s the secret: everything in moderation.

RICH MELMAN:  Exactly.  Exactly.

BURT WOLF:  I’ve been pretty moderate so I’m going to have another bite.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   And I love the names of some of the hot dog stands: Relish The Thought; Red Hot Mammas; Dog Day Afternoon; Wiener’s Circle; and my personal favorite... Mustard’s Last Stand.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  As I mentioned, Chicago’s first permanent resident was half French-Canadian and half African-American, so Chicago’s African-American heritage goes all the way back to its beginning.  And you can feel the impact of the African-American heritage throughout the city.  But Chicago’s African-American culture has extended it’s importance throughout the world.  A perfect example of what I mean is the Chicago Blues.

The Blues is a musical tradition that became the roots of rock and roll.  Willie Dixon was one of the great men in the business, and before he died in 1992 he founded The Blues Heaven Foundation.  The foundation is housed in the old Chess recording studio on Chicago’s South Side.  The primary objective of the organization is to educate blues artists in the business aspects of making music.  Willie Dixon’s daughter Shirli is a director of the foundation.

SHIRLI DIXON:  I was at a friend’s house and she was listening to the radio, and on comes this song “Whole Lotta Love.”  And I said, “You know, that’s my dad’s song.”  Well, as we looked at the album there were other songs on there that he was credited for, but not this one.  And he says, “Oh sure, I wrote that song for Muddy many, many years ago and I’m sure they’re paying me for it, we just need to go look up the royalties and make sure I’m being paid.”  Well, no payment.  It was really tough for him to decide to do anything about it, so it took two years before we decided that there was no way to resolve it.  And his idea was, “If I ever get through this, if I’m ever successful, I’ll make sure that my fellow bluesmen and women will not have to go through the same challenges that I’ve had with this” and with other songs that have had samples of his sound.

We have a copyright and research area as well as a number of attorneys that volunteer their time to assist the artists when there is an issue in a contract.  And what we call it is “moral persuasion.”  Because we have to make sure that when the artist goes in that they know there’s people behind them in order to get the issues resolved.

If you’re visiting Chicago and would like to school yourself a little in the blues you can stop into any one of a half-dozen good clubs.  One of the best is Buddy Guy’s Legends.  Eric Clapton called Buddy the world’s greatest guitarist.

BUDDY GUY:  I was checking into a hotel in New York, and I wear this ring which says “Blues” and the couple who was checking me in was husband and wife and they made a comment that, “Ooh, blues, it make you cry.”  And I looked and I said, “Oh yeah?”  And I gave them two passes to come and see me that night, and the next morning when I got ready to check out, they were crying saying, “Because I danced all night, I didn’t hear nothin’ sad by you.”  I said, “Stop going by what you hear.  Only a little bit of  what you see.  Go see for yourself.”  It’s almost like a good meal, you know?  I’m from Louisiana, you know, if you don’t eat it yourself, can’t nobody really tell you how good it is.  I mean, you can sit there and imagine how good it is, but you gotta go taste it yourself.  And to me, that’s what blues is -- go and listen to it and then come back and tell me whether you like it or not.

When I pick up my guitar, I’m going to give you everything I got and more.  And a lot of young people, I think, today say is, “I just want to show you who I am.  I don't have to give you my best, I’m just that good.”  And that doesn’t go too far with me.  You know, I’m not that good.  You know, I just have to give you everything I got, then even if you don’t like it, you can look inside of me and say, “You know, that guy gave me all he had.  And that’s all he got.”

Buddy uses his club to present some of the finest talent in the business.  Tonight we’re listening to Lynne Jordan.

One thing that is sure to help keep the blues away is a visit to Chicago’s Four Seasons Hotel.  It’s located on the Magnificent Mile, and its rooms start on the thirtieth floor!  The hotel has all the elegance and professionalism that has made the Four Seasons group famous, but it also has a few touches that are unusual.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   When you check in, they can issue you a “900” card that will get you discounts on the things you buy in the shops downstairs.  They have special suites designed for families traveling with children, baby bathrobes and children’s toys are included.  They have the only rooftop running track in the city and they have an in-flight menu.  When you check out, they will make a basket of food for you that tastes good, is good for you and will free you from eating on the airline.

Their restaurants have some of the highest ratings in the city.  Today the sous chef, Douglas Anderson, is going to make one of the hotel’s signature dishes -- a warm Chocolate Cappuccino Tart.

He starts by melting two and a half ounces of butter in a quarter cup of heavy cream.  That gets poured over eleven ounces of bittersweet chocolate, which has been flavored with a teaspoon of instant coffee.  The chocolate melts and cools down a little as it’s mixed, at which point five egg yolks are blended in.

Eight egg whites have been whisked together with a quarter cup of sugar, until they stand in peaks.  Chef Anderson uses granulated sugar, because confectioners’ sugar usually contains cornstarch, which would affect the recipe in ways we’d rather not talk about.  The egg whites are carefully folded together with the chocolate.

CHEF DOUGLAS ANDERSON:  It’s so important that you take your time with this and you use a rubber spatula and not a whisk, because if you use a whisk and knock out those beautiful airpockets, what will happen is your soufflé will never rise.

What we have now is the batter for a chocolate soufflé, which is used to fill little cups made of chocolate shortbread.  This is a standard shortbread recipe with a little added cocoa -- but the soufflé mixture will work just as well in a ramekin.  The tarts go into a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for twelve minutes.  When they come out, they’re served with a caramel sauce and a dollop of pecan ice cream.

One of the manifestations of Chicago as the most American of American cities is its love of sports.  The Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field, which is one of the oldest major league baseball stadiums still in use.  It has been refurbished but not redesigned, and it feels the way a baseball park must have felt in the old days.  It’s a wonderful experience to come out to an afternoon game and see what baseball was like when it became our national sport.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  I have an enormous respect for baseball.  It can teach you one of the great lessons of life.  If a batter were to a hit a ball three out of ten times, he would be batting three hundred, which would make him a superstar.  The other half of that equation, of course, is that he would be failing seventy percent of the time.  Baseball can teach you to accept failure, feel good about yourself, and keep on trying.

In addition to the Cubs, Chicago has the White Sox.  The White Sox play baseball at Comiskey Park.  In addition, there are the Bears... the Blackhawks... and the Bulls.  There is an entrance fee for professional sporting events, but Chicago has an unusual program of events that are free.

The Mayor of Chicago and the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs believe that a city cannot survive unless the citizens enjoy their environment.  They also believe that tourists must be able to join the local residents having a good time.  To make that possible they have set up a series of free festivals, cultural events and recreational activities.  And it appears that Chicago has more free cultural events than any city in the world.

There are Latin music festivals, jazz festivals, blues festivals, gospel festivals.

There are free rides on the elevated trains that go through the Loop with guides that explain the architecture and history of the area.

And then there is a food festival called The Taste of Chicago, which celebrates the ethnic history of the city.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Free events like these remove cultural barriers and offer an opportunity to people, both tourists and residents, to enjoy each other and the event.  And I hope you enjoyed visiting Chicago with me and that you will join me next as we travel around the world looking at the ORIGINS of some of the things that surround us.  I’m Burt Wolf.