The afternoon is fine. Sun and a light wind are working together. That huge sky is full of cirrus masses, rolling toward the south.
With but one hand on the wheel, the taxi-driver takes it easy, skimming the border of the lake, over which gulls are circling. Turning, he calls to his passenger:
"Now, where'd you say to go?...Hope we find what you want..."
He grows still more talkative; needs no invitation, for such is the way of the Chicago taxi-man.
"If you don't move fast, the thing you think is some place just ain't there...He changes so fast."
So the city is "he." It is somebody, and not to be spoken of, like other cities we know, as feminine. A big-boy city, growing mature but with young arteries. "He" has a personality...
If there were a "Who's Who" of cities, Chicago would fill out a questionnaire more verbosely than is the custom; something like this:
Born twice: As a town, August 10, 1833; as a city, March 4, 1837.
Son of the United States and the State of Illinois.
Early life one of extreme hardship; worked furiously through adolescence; sometimes could hardly call a dollar his own. Built a house and founded a fortune, without aid from rich relatives.
Studied during spare time and, while carrying on a growing business, acquired some degree of learning, appreciation of arts, and religious zeal.
Had such rapid success in business that, during early life, he neglected his dooryard, allowed his house to stand in a morass, and was careless about sewage, drinking water, and the like. But, aroused to this, he raised his house and lot bodily. Within forty years he had conquered insanitary conditions, and he and his family were in excellent health.
In 1871 he was burned out. Nearly all his business and investments were destroyed; his house with them. He scarcely paused to survey the ruins, but set to work rebuilding. And his new home was considered vastly better than the first one.
As he reached what appeared to be his prime, he became well known as a virile, broad-shouldered, rather careless but hospitable soul, who permitted all sorts of people to crowd his domain. Within his fences, the woes and quarrels of those people were many, and loudly expressed. He laughed and said, "Let every man speak his mind." He liked stentorian talk and a lively fight. But at the worst of times, he would step in and compose order.
Grown triumphantly rich, and having in his nature a love of beautiful things as well as material prowess, he built an exposition to which the world came. He began again rebuilding his entire property, using a careful plan for landscaping. He had invented a new way of constructing tall buildings, and he had learned the right use to make of his water frontage. Also, having gathered treasures of art, literature, and science, he began to exhibit them more widely. So people who came to visit him were often much astonished.
One of the great of the earth, a generous and vigorous soul, he confessed serious faults. He had never learned thoroughly to govern his family, nor even himself. His thoughtless hospitality permitted thieves, murderers, and plotters to come in. Getting them out again was a duty he seemed slow to recognize. But at last there were signs that this genial giant was making ready for a wholesale eviction.
Although having lived almost to his hundredth year, he was not old. Like mythical men of antiquity, he promised to live on, and to develop, through more centuries. And there were prophets who said that he would become not only big and powerful but also self-disciplined and wise.
Henry Justin Smith
Managing Editor, Chicago Daily News
From: Chicago: A Portrait (1931)
Photo courtesy of Justin M. Smith