For some reason my Grandparents kept this postcard. It may have been because it shows the land that according to a family story our German ancestors built their home on. This would have been just across the bridge and on the right, which is also where Ft. Dearborn stood. Or maybe the story was that their home is where City Hall now sits; I can’t remember which is correct. My Grandma told me this tale many years ago so I should most likely research that one before it goes any further. Anyway, they most likely kept this post card because it’s pretty.
This postcard went through many printings and was apparently very popular. So popular in fact that I was able to quickly find references to it on multiple sites. From what I can gather the card is c. 1929 and was reprinted multiple times including a special edition for the 1933 World’s Fair. (There were also editions of this card that had the barges removed and others with the names of the buildings printed on the front.) The area of downtown that it shows was built up almost entirely during the boom of the 1920s. Chicago experienced an incredible wave of construction over that decade that changed both the face of the city and the entire Chicago construction industry. This is to say that after some brutal strikes early on a peace was eventually reached and labor became a well paid union gig. All of the key buildings shown and mentioned on the back still exist and none of the Art Deco grandeur of this area has diminished. As a matter of fact, over the last decade Chicago has set out to replace fixtures that were lost over the years with replicas that are more appropriate. An example is the railings going across the bridge, which were replaced just a few years ago. Like Mies van der Rohe said “God is in the details.”
This is Detroit’s original “place to be seen” - Belle Isle
It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and located right in the middle of the Detroit River. Belle Isle became an incredibly popular gathering point. There were boat rentals in the summer, or ice skating in the winter, or you could visit the conservatory, and of course the old standby of having a picnic. This was the place to spend your weekend. My Grandmother spent many a day there with her friends back in the ’20s and fortunately I have some photos of those days. It is no surprise to me that she kept this postcard.
A classic postcard of a boozehound and guessing from the art style and his choice of poison, Rye, I would say this was from the 1920s, which puts this smack-dab in the middle of Prohibition. While the selling of alcohol became illegal it by no means rid this nation of drinking. Quite to the contrary it helped create an aura of rebellion around booze that the liquor companies could have never achieved on their own. As a matter of fact, it was easier to get a drink in a big city during Prohibition than it was after the 18th Amendment was repealed. This makes sense when you consider that there were no age limits, and of course no limit on hours of operation or other blue laws to get in the way of a Speakeasy. In turn this counterculture created an entire new world of marketing including items like this postcard.
While Prohibition as a law was a cataclysmic failure it did actually manage to lower the rate of alcohol consumed in this country. According to Daniel Okrent’s really excellent book Last Call – The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by the 1830s American adults were averaging a consumption of seven gallons of pure alcohol per year. This would break down to 1.7 bottles of 80 proof hooch per week or 90 bottles a year. This statistic includes the factoring in of the millions of abstainers that already existed. By the 20th century this level of consumption had not tapered off. After Prohibition was repealed the rate dropped and today we average only a third of what it was back then.
If Prohibition interests you I highly recommend the above book. If history books aren’t your thing, but you’re still interested in learning a bit more, check out this Fresh Air interview with the author. There are really some fascinating and bizarre things that happened because of this goofy law.
Another postcard from the 1933 A Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. This card is of Fort Dearborn which was the original army outpost that was erected in 1803. The Fort itself has a rather ingloroius history. After war with Great Britain started in 1812 the inhabitants of the Fort and the neighboring civilians were told to march back towards Michigan. Soon after they left they met hostile Patowatomi Indians and most were killed. After that the Fort was looted and burned to the ground.
According to my guidebook from the Fair this replica of the fort was built to be exactly like the original. Inside there were various history related displays. I can’t say as to how accurate all of this was, but the list of contributors was pretty impressive. They included: The Chicago Historical Society, The Army & Navy, The Smithsonian, and West Point - Just to name a few.
My Grandma Alice told me a family story about how my ancestors owned a house (or cabin) on the site of where the fort stood. I’ve never been able to confirm that tale, but maybe that is the reason why she kept this postcard. The real fort was located at roughly the corner of Whacker & Michigan Avenue (across the river from the Wrigley Building). I was walking down there a year or two ago and noticed that there was a marker in the ground with an outline of the footprint of the fort. So if you’re ever walking down Michigan Avenue don’t forget to look down for the marker (but make sure you don’t blindly walk out into traffic).