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The Facebook page The Northwest Side of Chicago posted this photo of The Buffalo today, and the moment I saw it I was catapulted into my past.

When I was a little girl, living about two blocks from this corner, the Buffalo occupied the corner space, the place that is girded by that neon sign that says “BUFFALO – SODAS – BUFFALO’S OWN MADE ICE CREAM” If I remember correctly, it had ten old, high-backed wooden booths with black marble-topped tables, and jukeboxes affixed to the wood-paneled walls at the center of long, tiled mirror panels.  There were coat hooks on the posts between booths.  At the very back there was one long table for big groups, with a long booth on one side and bentwood chairs on the other.  The floor was tiled in black and white hex tiles with black grout that had probably been white originally.

There were two wooden phone booths on one side, next to a long candy counter which had ceased to be used for candy before I was born.  I think they had stuffed toys displayed there, but it’s hard to remember.  That was where we’d line up to wait for a booth, so it was just as well nobody was trying to do business there.  Across from the defunct candy counter was a counter with stools.  That was where the magic happened, with freezers, pumps for the various toppings, mysterious machines, a big vat to keep the hot fudge sauce hot, stacks of glasses and dishes, and soda water spigots with pull-down handles that always fascinated me.  We almost never sat at the counter.  When we did, I felt like I was being let in on a huge secret as I watched the soda jerks work their magic

My parents and I went there about once a week.  It was one of the only places where my dad was willing to stand in line which is a testament to their ice cream.  Yeah, you could get sandwiches, too, but we went for the ice cream and so did most of the other patrons who would stand in line out the door and down the block on a hot summer night.  Once you got a booth, you’d give your order to a high school boy who never wrote anything down (hoping he’d get it right; he usually did) and fed a quarter into the jukebox for three plays.

I usually ordered a chocolate a la Boston soda.  I don’t know what made it Boston style, but I do know I loved it with a passion that endures to this day.  My dad was a soda man, too.  My mom liked her banana splits.  When I got older, I wanted to try some of the “creations” like the “Hubba Hubba” but my folks always said they were too big.  I never did try the Hubba Hubba, but I remember I did try the “Chop Suey – Not Chinese or with celery.”  I can’t remember if I liked it.  Mostly if I wanted something really fancy, it was hot fudge.  That was when hot fudge tasted like… fudge.  It doesn’t anymore.

I loved their malted milks too, so thick your spoon would stand up in them.  Since the advent of high fructose corn syrup sweetened chocolate syrup, shakes and malts haven’t tasted the same.  And I still remember the packet of cookies that came with them.  One Nabisco butter cookie and one Oreo wafer.  No cream filling, just the single wafer.

Later they expanded.  They took the space behind and the one to the west.  They did all the carry outs from the rear, and the new dining room area was relentlessly modern and I never liked it all that well.  But every year, on the last day of school, we went there for lunch and hung out for the afternoon the way adolescents had done, probably since the place opened.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, this print is for sale.

Later they opened a bar and grill, but I never went there.  I’d moved out of the area and going there wasn’t as much fun as it used to be.  Then Shell bought the property and tore the building down to put up a service station so there’d be three corners with gas stations  at that intersection.  What a boost to the neighborhood!  I’ve had a grudge against Shell since 1978, when the parlor closed

There have been other ice cream parlors in the Chicago area, Chicagoans love their ice cream.  There’s even another Buffalo out in Buffalo Grove, owned either by the same folks who owned the original, or by relatives of theirs, I’m not sure which.  They have a lot of the same ice cream creations, like the Hubba Hubba, and there’s a Boston shake, but no Boston sodas.  But none of them come close to the Buffalo for me.

I can still remember being sent down to buy a pint of hand-packed ice cream, and I can remember how good it tasted.  Most ice cream doesn’t taste that good anymore.  I remember how beautiful the place was with its dark wood paneling and warm incandescent lights.  And the crazy thing is, I can still remember how that place smelled.  It was a cool, dark, ever-so-slightly sweet aroma that seemed to float around you as you walked through those double doors on the corner.

Like most of the other great things about my childhood, it’s gone forever.  And like those things, I miss it.  I miss its magic.

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Chicago Tribune building

Chicago Tribune building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Y’know I used to read the Trib on a regular basis when I lived at home. However I’ve had any number of delivery problems with them, the most recent being those damn Local Value and Red Plum papers that get strewn all over my porch, steps and lawn umpty gazillion times a week. Between that, the Nadig newspapers and flyers from the dozens of businesses that drop flyers all over my property each week, it’s a constant battle to keep this place looking neat. And the waste of paper and plastic is phenomenal which I find highly offensive.

I have phoned the Tribune at the number on the ad papers, I have emailed them, I’ve told the delivery people who I can catch not to leave the papers, but NOTHING stops them. They’re like zombies, they just keep on coming. I have been promised that the deliveries will stop on several occasions, but it’s a lie; nothing stops them.

Well I just emailed them again and made them a promise: I am going to write about this wherever I have a forum. I am going to contact all their advertisers and tell them that I will not buy from them if they support the ad papers. I am going to do everything in my power to deliver a good solid kick to the collective backside of the Tribune ad paper department and keep on kicking until these damn deliveries stop.

This isn’t difficult. I spoke to the folks who deliver Hoy and they were very nice about it. I never got another paper. So why can’t the Tribune do the same? Is it because they employ lazy-ass delivery people who fling the papers from their car windows so that the sidewalk, parkway and steps are always covered in these things?

If you hate this kind of waste, I suggest you get on them too. Don’t just think that it’s something you have to pick up and toss away because that’s the way things are in Chicago. Screw that! Hit back. Phone them at 800-874-2863 or email them at

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Chicago - Can't Stop the Serenity 6/22/07 - Po...

Chicago – Can’t Stop the Serenity 6/22/07 – Portage Theatre, before the show (Photo credit: meryddian)

The church has withdrawn its request for rezoning of the Portage Theater, and has pulled out of the bidding on the property.  While I don’t have any other details right now, I believe this makes the current theater operators either the only or the top bidders on the property.

This is wonderful news, particularly coming on top of the successful Patio Theater Kickstarter campaign.  Thanks to everyone who supported these projects, with donations or letters or signatures on a petition.  You’ve done something good for Chicago neighborhoods; you’ve aided in the process of bringing them back from decrepitude.  These two theaters will serve this area for years to come, showing second run, oldies, and holding special events that will enrich their communities.

This is all very exciting.

Portage Theater

Portage Theater (Photo credit: reallyboring)

p.s.  Don’t forget that the Patio Kickstarter campaign is accepting donations until tomorrow night.  While the donations are a sure thing now, every little bit helps.  So please, if you haven’t already pledged, consider giving a few bucks.

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4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 www.p...

4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Portage?  Well it’s still in danger.  Here’s the situation:  A church located a few miles from the theater has outgrown its current location.  When church reps found that the Portage was up for sale they jumped at the chance to buy it since the property is enormous.  They plan to use the auditorium space for their presentations, the storefronts and apartments for other church business and events.  They also plan to make significant alterations to the façade.

The alderman, John Arena, has been working with the church to try to find other, more suitable locations, but so far the church has refused to reconsider.  This is not a matter of keeping the building owner from selling; there are several other offers on the property including one from the people who run the theater.

I haven’t yet run across any local who likes the idea of an enormous store-front church spang in the middle of the Six Corners business district, an area which used to be a thriving shopping and entertainment district, but has in the past twenty or thirty years become very down-at-the-heels.  The re-opening of the theater has been a tremendous boost to pulling more business into the area.  There’s a theater group and a museum of veterans’ art slated to open almost across the street from the Portage, and several new bistros and cafes which have recently opened or are about to open.  The theater is an anchor for the neighborhood.  Without it, and in fact with the church in its place, the area would almost certainly lose its momentum.  The presence of a church (in the words of the group trying to save the theater) “would mean the eventual loss of a neighborhood favorite in the Portage Theater. The net effect would be a loss of tax revenue, economic revenue, economic engine that fuels activity in the corridor, and set insurmountable restrictions for businesses looking to open restaurants, bars and places of entertainment moving forward.”

Why does business matter?  Because this area has been a ghost town for too long.  When I was a child it was the central business district for all the neighborhoods around it.  Then people began to leave the city in the late sixties and early seventies and bit-by-bit neighborhoods came apart.  We need our neighborhoods.  We need places where independent businesses can grow and thrive, where we can shop, dine, and be entertained close to home.  Actual, physical involvement in a community is a deterrent to crime; it raises the bar for that community.  Everyone benefits.

Why am I saying all this?  Because the folks who want to save the Portage Theater have started a petition that they want to present at the final Zoning Board of Appeals hearing.  The church needs special zoning permissions and the neighborhood is against granting them.  They came to the last meeting unprepared, and were given a continuation.  The board has made it clear that they will not get another continuation, so this is a make-or-break moment for the campaign to save the Portage.  Please consider signing the petition.  You don’t really have to be a resident of the area, or even a Chicagoan; you just have to care about what will happen to the neighborhood if this wonderful old theater is lost.

Sign the petition to save the Portage Theater

Go here to send a letter to the City of Chicago showing your support for the theater.

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4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 www.p...

4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I live in Chicago where there is currently a resurgence of interest in restoration of old movie theaters.  In fact I live within walking distance of two absolute gems, The Portage and the Patio (Which my folks always pronounced “pay-she-oh.” I guess that was the way it was said before the fifties.)  The Portage has built its business around events like the Silent Film Society’s film festival and Can’t Stop the Serenity, a Firefly-related event that raises money for charity, as well as screenings of old movies.  Currently the building is in danger of being sold to one of those storefront churches, which is a horrible idea for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the Portage is a landmark of the northwest side of the city. Right now there’s a lot of scrambling going on to save it, but apart from showing support for the theater as a theater, there’s not a lot that can be done to save it.

The Patio

That can’t be said for the Patio.  It opened about a year ago after many years of being shuttered.  The owner, Demetri Kouvalis, and his father, spent a lot of time and money restoring it to its former glory, and they’ve done a terrific job.  The Patio shows second run films for $5 a seat, and has a well-stocked and reasonably priced concession stand.  It’s the cornerstone of the Irving-Austin business district.  But it’s in danger.  Hollywood is switching to the digital format a lot sooner than anyone imagined, and all these little theaters have to switch too, to the tune of $70,000 to $100,000 each for the new equipment.

It’s doable, if you’ve had the time to build your business, but the Patio has only been in business for a year.  There are benefit showings of great old films, and I know they’ll happily take donations.  But in hope of raising the money, Mr. Kouvalis has begun a Kickstarter campaign.  His goal is to raise $50,000 by July 20th.  If he doesn’t, if he only gets $49,999 worth of pledges, the whole campaign is a wash and he’ll get nothing.  that’s how Kickstarter operates.

With a little over three weeks to go, there are about $30,000 worth of pledges. Word is spreading, and there are some terrific perks for your donations (Mostly of interest to Chicagoans, but still.)  But it’s by no means a sure thing.  That’s why I’m writing this.  I’m hoping both local and non-local friends will donate something to the cause.  Look, if you were planning on giving me a Christmas gift this year, and want to donate to the Patio instead, I would be THRILLED.

I’ve already donated and as the deadline gets closer I’m going to give as much more as I can afford because I think it’s that important.  Think about what it would mean to have this sort of theater in your community, and consider that the area that is home to both the Patio and the Portage has been depressed and fairly run down for a long time.  But just lately we have a museum of veterans’ art and a legitimate theater company moving in almost opposite the Portage, a wonderful coffee house a block down from the Patio, and a number of other businesses gearing up to join the Portage/Old Irving Park community.  It’s a very exciting time, and I want to do what I can to help.  I hope that you’ll feel moved to do the same.

And thanks.



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Thumbs Plus that is, still my favorite way to organize my image collection.  There are occasional problems, it’s true, but for the most part it’s a damn good program.  If you’re struggling with a large digital image collection you might want to take a look at it.

Ella Jane Osgood

In the process of sorting the photos I’ve already digitized, I came across some images that I’d love to share.  The first is my great-grandmother, Ella Jane Osgood, who was born in 1851 in Vermont.  She moved

John Walter Wilson

to Illinois to teach and married a farmer, John Walter Wilson, whose father moved to Illinois from Glasgow as a young man.  The Osgood women all had sultry eyes.

Ella Jane’s mother, Ellen Lee Osgood was born in Vermont in 1823 and died in Chicago, in her grand-daughter’s home, in 1922.

Ellen Lee Osgood

Lucy Kingsley Osgood

Ella Jane’s paternal grandmother, Lucy Kingsley Osgood was born in Vermont in 1783 and lived to be 91 years old.

It’s through the Osgoods that my family is related to: Katharine Hepburn,  John Hancock,  Robert H Goddard,  Robert Frost,  Samuel Morse,  Richard Lovelace,  Lillian Gish,  John Steinbeck,  E.E. Cummings,  Philo T. Farnsworth,  Julia Child,  Bette Davis (Who had the Osgood eyes),  Laura Ingalls Wilder,  Robert Graves,  Amelia Earhart,  Shirley Temple, and a number of Presidents and First Ladies.   My mother’s family has been in this country since at least the 1580s.  I’ve traced her family back to the late 12th century.

Minna Rusche Furhmann and her three sons.

My father’s family are relative latecomers to this country. The earliest mention of any of them settling here is 1606.  Pikers! His maternal great grandparents came from Germany in the late 19th century.  Minna and Henry had three boys, the eldest of whom, Henry Jr., was my great grandfather.  Most of Minna’s relatives remained in Germany and I have postcards and photos that they sent to her.  There’s evidence that there were any number of trips back and forth to visit each other, and her grand-daughter, Clara, may have moved back there at some point.

My father’s father came from Stroud in the UK.  He was the oldest boy in a family of eleven children, and I’ve saluted his mother’s stamina by naming one of my characters “Hopson” for her side of the family.  She looks like she could keep eleven children in line, doesn’t she?

My grandfather’s parents and some of his siblings

I enjoy the heck out of doing this.  I love the old photos; they make me feel more connected to my family even though I never met most of the people in them.  It’s a picture-takin’ family on both sides, and I’m the richer for it, particularly when I consider what it means to have old daguerreotypes like this one:

unknown Osgood-Lee-Wilson men

unknown Osgood-Lee-Wilson men (Photo credit: Tracy Rowan)

I also have a treasure trove of old snapshots my maternal grandparents took not only on their travels, but around Chicago at the turn of the last century.  Here’s a photo of Lincoln Park, looking north from the lagoon area, near the zoo towards the conservatory.

Lincoln Park, about 1910 or so

I could do this all day. Every day.

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In mid-July of 1919, the Wingfoot, a dirigible owned by the Goodyear company was making tests flights along Chicago's lakefront. On the third flight, the pilot decided to take the airship over the downtown area. Not too far from the lakefront, over Chicago's financial district, flames began to shoot out of the engines. The pilot told his passengers to jump, and took his own advice, landing on the roof of a nearby building. Not all the passengers were so fortunate, nor were the people in the bank beneath the burning airship. The now-flaming dirigible fell onto the roof of a bank, shattered the skylight and fell into the bank, crushing or incinerating those inside. Over the next twelve days, as an inquiry was launched into the air disaster, a young girl went missing and was eventually discovered to have been brutally murdered, race riots claimed hundreds of victims, and all transit workers went on strike, crippling the city. And the mayor went on vacation.

City of Scoundrels is an engaging account of an almost two-week period in the city's history when everything that could go wrong did. It's a story of the political machine (Still very much a force in Chicago politics.) and how it dealt with cumulative disasters. It's also intriguing because I've lived in this city for sixty years and had never heard of any of the events, not even the Wingfoot disaster which predated the Hindenburg by almost twenty years. Kudos to Gary Krist for chronicling it and the events which followed and helped to change the face of Chicago.

Krist's prose is tight and smooth which makes the social and political analysis easy to read and assimilate. This is, after all, a book about how the political institutions of the city functioned (or failed to) in a perfect storm of disaster and social unrest. It could have been dry; it isn't. It's an immediate, involving story, and if you have any interest at all in how cities are shaped, and in Chicago in particular, I highly recommend "City of Scoundrels."

The Wingfoot Air Exprress prior to liftof from...
The Wingfoot Air Exprress prior to liftof from Chicago's Grant Park site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Caddy's pawprintsSo yesterday was a pretty interesting day, all things considered. We'd discussed going down to Hammond, IN to a salvage and resale store that Jim knew of, but by the time we got started, it was already past 11 and none of us were really in the mood for a long trek, especially as there were errands we needed to run. So we started out with a bank run and a good Mexican breakfast at Sabor Ixtapa, and then all the way back east to Jewell Animal Hospital because Dawn had to pick up some food for her boys and I had to pick up Caddy's remains. I was kind of blindsided by the fact that they'd made a medallion of his pawprints as a kind of keepsake before they sent him for cremation, and when they handed it to me I lost my rag. Poor Dawn stood there hugging me and Dr. Jewell was kind of petting my arm while I stood there, tears pouring down my face, saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." I'm such a big dork sometimes. I have to say that I've never had a vet who treated me or my pet better than we were treated by Dr. Jewell and his staff.

So I pulled myself together, we left, me clutching the box filled with Caddy's ashes, and Jim suggested we go to Nadeau, where we hadn't been in ages. While they didn't really have much in the way of dining room tables (Apparently they fly out of the warehouse almost as soon as they come in, so I'm going to have to be fast if I want to get one.) I did fall in love with these chairs, and these, and continue to be enchanted by their hand painted items like this corner cabinet. We saw a wonderful chest right at the front door with a big sold sign on it, and honestly I loved it so much I think I'd have bought it outright if someone hadn't beaten me to the punch. It was about five feet tall, bright yellow, and shaped like a big oval with a flat top and legs. It was incredibly whimsical and needed just a bit of amusing decorating to make it utterly hilarious. Or as I said to Jim and Dawn, it wanted something whimsical but not figurative, just before I said "I'm being a big wanker, aren't I?" To which they agreed wholeheartedly.

Pray be seated, Mr. HolmesJim wanted to go to Golden Triangle, but Dawn wasn't sanguine about getting parking there in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. I'd never been, and I do want to go, but I wasn't certain I was ready for the sticker shock, especially after the very reasonable prices at Nadeau, so we opted to head back west to Time Treasures Antiques an antique dealer and furniture restorer with whom I've done business in the past. Anna does wonderful work, and I wish I had the space for more of it in my home -- she refinished two hope chests, my mother's and my grandmother's, which had been damaged in a flood -- but space is kind of tight. She also took some dining room furniture from my old place, and we've been whittling down the selling price on that to the point where she really doesn't owe me a whole lot more. I saw this chair in the window, and when she gave me a price I couldn't refuse, I jumped on it. We nearly failed to get it into Jim's car, but persevered, and now it's sitting in my dining room, ready to join the other chairs I've got in various states of disrepair, all of which will eventually sit around a dining room table I don't yet have in a dining room that's still filled with boxes. But I has a chair! (And one I don't have to do anything to.)

Back out to Half-Price Books where I found a copy of Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography, which looks like a terrific resource for the novel I'm working on and a copy of Time and Again which Dawn recommended highly. I love time travel stories anyway, and if she liked it, the chances are good that I will too. On the way back here we stopped for pie and coffee at Baker's Square.

We laid around here for a couple of hours, talking and watching HGTV, making fun of people who behave like morons while house hunting. Karen and Gene came by about eight and we all went to McNamara's for supper. I love that place. It's homey, warm and cozy, and the food is always good. We drank beer and ate comfort food, and laughed a lot, and enjoyed the live entertainment. I love it when I can wholeheartedly recommend a neighborhood business.

Karen and Gene stayed for about an hour after we got back, and we talked a lot about fandom and my beloved Kindle and their business the ultimate fate of which is still pretty much up in the air. Sales have been slow because of the recession, and though their internet biz is doing well, the future of their brick-and-mortar store is by no means sure. And that would be a shame because there are so few places like Alien in this city.

I love days like that. We get things done, we make some plans but nothing really etched in stone, we do some stuff that's spontaneous and we laugh a lot. Those are the best days.


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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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