Friday, October 16, 2009

Chicago Under Glass

From time to time, I clip articles from newspapers or magazines, a story that interests me, but that I don't have time to read at the moment when I first encounter it, with the intention that I will return to it when I can give it the close attention I would like. While sorting through some papers recently, I came across one of these clippings, which I found relevant to Ghosts of Chicago.

Nearly two years ago, there was an article in the Chicago Reader (November 8, 2007) written by Michael Miner and titled "Window on a Lost World: The city as its first photojournalists saw it." Miner writes in celebration of the then just published book, Chicago Under Glass: Early Photographs from the Chicago Daily News, edited by Mark Jacob and Richard Callahan.
The "glass" of the title refers to the glass negatives from which photographs of that time were made. The book features images from a time when photojournalism was just in its beginnings, and apparently it took photographers a while to catch on to the full significance of the genre. In 1915, the Eastland capsized a few blocks away from the Daily News offices, and in spite of the fact that photographers were immediately at the site, no photographs of the disaster were printed in the paper. However, in 1929, the paper ran a story with five photographs on the front page - "four head shots and a photo taken at the garage where Bugsy Moran's gang was rubbed out."

The atmosphere of the photographs is haunting and strange, and many of the images are bizarre. One photograph is of a man wrestling a bear. Another is of a heavyweight boxer dressed in a business suit shown holding three men who also wear business suits. The caption for the photograph that appears on the cover of the book states, "Blind children touch an elephant while visiting the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1917."

I checked the Chicago Public Library website and Chicago Under Glass is available at almost every neighborhood library in the city. In addition to the 260 photographs gathered in this collection, the Chicago History Museum, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, has digitally archived 55,000 photographs taken for the Chicago Daily News from 1902-1933.
The archive may be accessed at:

In the Reader article, five of the book's photographs are included, in addition to the image on the book's cover. My favorite of these is a photograph taken in 1924 of Norma Zilk, a student at Lake View High School. According to the caption, at one time Zilk "held the women's world records in the 80-yard indoor dash and the 220-yard outdoor dash." In the photograph, Zilk, wearing a Lake View t-shirt, flies through the air inside the Municipal Grant Park Stadium (later renamed Soldier Field). If you click on the above link and type in "Norma Zilk" in the Search All Collections box, the photograph will appear.


1 comment:

  1. Excellent. You are the powerhouse of research in the class so far, that's for sure. I find this stuff really intriguing and fun. Do you? This Chicago material is so rich and awaits a writer like Peter Aykroyd who did the "biography" of London. We need a brilliant "biography" of this mad character called Chicago.