Day Three: Cather International Seminar
In the morning, 55 seminar participants boarded a tour bus to make the trip north along Lake Shore Drive to Andersonville and Uptown, neighborhoods connected with Cather’s Thea Kronborg and Lucy Gayheart as well as Cather childhood friend, Irene Miner Weisz, immortalized as Nina Harling in My Antonia. Neighbor Fannie Wiener (Mrs. Rosen in “Old Mrs. Harris”) is also connected to this part of Chicago: she is buried in Rosehill Cemetery, having died in Chicago during a visit to the 1893 World’s Fair.
Our energetic and witty tour guide, scholar Tony Millspaugh, provided commentary as our able driver, Cheryl, negotiated Lake Shore Drive and neighborhood streets. She was deft within Rosehill Cemetery as well, whose lanes were clearly not designed to carry large tour buses! First we went up Michigan Avenue, past the expensive stores and hotels–Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Saks, Tiffany’s, Chanel, The Drake, and other high, high-end places–and the Gold Coast area made famous by the Rockefeller and McCormick empires. We whizzed past many landmarks from the University Center: Frank Gheary’s bridge and “The Bean” or “Cloud Gate,” the Art Institute of Chicago, The Fountain of the Great Lakes in its courtyard, the Y (where the two branches of the Chicago River merge and head to the lake), Pioneer Park with its recreation of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, a number of Louis Sullivan buildings, and the Chicago Water Works, which was supposed to end the too-frequent cholera outbreaks that plagued 19th-century Chicago. The statues of Grant, Lincoln, and Phil Sheridan greeted us along the lake, as well as the Lincoln Park Zoo animals. We passed marinas full of boats, and the Lincoln Park Boat House which shelters various sculls for rowing. Tony regaled us with many stories of Chicago’s old mayors (two of whom were assassinated), Oprah, President Obama, sin and infamy (he recommended the book Sin in the Second City), and tales of the beer wars. Chicago has more bars, Tony told us, than any other American city. Between the German beer gardens and the Irish saloons, not to mention the Fort Dearborn Massacre in 1812 brought on by the dumping of liquor, Chicago has had a lively, colorful history connected to “the drink.” At this point in the 21st century, one can definitely say that the Carrie Nations of the USA did not win the beer wars! Tony told us about the 1871 fire, which destroyed much of Chicago along what is now Lincoln Park. He also pointed out the buildings and streets that Irene Miner Weisz lived in and that Cather visited when she came through the Windy City.
We weren’t able to go to the Chicago History Museum, but Tony highly recommends it. It is near one of Irene Miner’s homes. When she visited Chicago, Cather would use Irene’s credit at Marshall Field’s to purchase things for herself. She even held a book signing at Field’s great store, now gone and replaced by “the evil red star, Macy’s,” according to Tony. As we entered into the north ethnic neighborhoods, now the Edgewater area of town, Tony pointed out his favorite statue of Abraham Lincoln, a young man reading a book. We also passed Western Avenue, Chicago’s longest avenue. A Swede, Pers Peterson, planted most of the trees in pioneer Chicago, helping to establish its “garden in a city” culture. Chicago’s wonderful green spaces owe much to Peterson’s vision. Cheryl gingerly pulled into the Rosehill Cemetery, clearly not designed for unwieldy modern tour buses! We walked to the burial sites of Irene Miner Weisz and Fannie Wiener, who died during the 1893 Chicago Fair and had to be buried within 24 hours, the Jewish custom. She now rests in an old Jewish section of the cemetery. Irene lived a long life–1881-1971. In Andersonville, one finds the Nelson Funeral Home, where Irene and her husband, who preceded her in death, were “rested”–or is it fested?– the Swedish term for a wake. Thankfully the temperature today is tolerable; the walk around the cemetery was a bit longer than people had expected, so we had to hurry to Ann Sather’s for lunch in order to return downtown for afternoon sessions. Anne Kaufman hopes to add a photo of our meal later on. I forgot my camera this trip.
My sister and I are still recovering from the luncheon meal! While some of us ordered vegetarian–an overly ample portion of salad–most of us wanted to try the restaurant’s famed “Swedish Sampler.” It was overwhelming! Duck with lingonberry sauce, white sausage, Swedish meatballs, noodles and gravy, kraut, humongous cinnamon rolls, and strawberries and chocolate squares–way too much food to process! With just a few seconds to spare, I ran into the Swedish American Museum to purchase a “Velkommen” sign for my home, a connection to my paternal grandmother’s family, the Dahlquists and Christies, who settled in Andersonville. It’s worth Googling Ann Sather to read about this wonderful restaurant. The walls are all decorated with rosemaling paintings; we ate upstairs in a charming area overlooking the street.
We passed familiar territory on the way back, but Tony pointed out some new features we had missed: the splendidly elaborate terra cotta decorations on Uptown buildings, the ferris wheel at the old Navy Pier, the Palmolive Building with its dirigible landing pad (never used–the Hindenberg disaster happened) that became home to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club, and all of the Mies van der Rohe skyscrapers along the lake. We passed Gheary’s fanciful Bean again, and Cheryl twisted and turned around downtown before landing us back at the university center: happy, smarter than we were before we left, and ready for the afternoon sessions. I have to chair a session on “Southwestern Modernism” in half an hour, so I’ll sign out for today. Tonight I plan on resting up, reading more of Mildred Bennet’s The World of Willa Cather, and beginning to pack up for the train trip home tomorrow afternoon. Thank you Tony for a great tour of the quintessential American city!