January 2010
Billie Silvey
Saints and Sinners
I’ve never even been there, but Chicago has held a special place in
my imagination.  It is a quintessentially American place, located in
Middle America, a major transportation hub with arms spread to
supply grain, meat and other commodities to our far-flung nation.

It is the city of my grandparents, my mother’s mother and father,
who moved to West Texas from the Wabash River Valley, Paris,
Illinois and Terre Haute, Indiana.  They were the Yankees in our family.

Incorporated as a city in 1837, it was destroyed 34 years later in the
Great Chicago Fire.  But it had recovered sufficiently to host the World
Columbian Exposition of 1893, commemorating the discovery of
America by the rest of the world.

The city was reconstructed by some of the leading architects following
Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Chicago plan.  Though only portions of
the plan were realized, the document reshaped Chicago's central area
and was an important influence on the new field of city planning.

Poet Carl Sandburg called Chicago:
 Hog Butcher for the World,
 Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
 Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
 Stormy, husky, brawling,
 City of Big Shoulders.

Major architects stamped the city’s skyline, including Louis
Sullivan, the father of modern architecture and inventor of the

Chicago has always been a city of stark contrasts, numbering among its
citizens some of history’s greatest saints and sinners.

It came to renewed prominence in the nation with last year’s
election of Barack Obama as president of the United States,
consciously echoing the words and deeds of another Illinois president,
Abraham Lincoln.  And this past year, it exerted a major effort to host
the Olympics.

Those are just some of the reasons I chose to start the new year writing
about Chicago—the
history, architecture, and saints and sinners that
give it its distinctive flavor.

I'd love to hear about your sense of the city, family connections or visits
you've made to Chicago.  Just email me at
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