I should say, Charlotte, that I enjoyed answering your questions. I likely have written far too much, but I’m like that. I am a writer, and once I start on something of interest, the juices flow. So, just take what you like and ignore the rest. If you have something else important to you to ask, please do. All the best,

John Chuckman


QUESTION 1   When did you leave Chicago? When did you start your website?

I left Chicago late in 1965. Sorry to be dark and serious right at the start, but I was one of the earliest war resisters to go to Canada.

It was painful to leave the city I so much loved then, the Chicago neighborhoods of that day being almost my natural environment.

But I was totally opposed to the war, and that I have never regretted, as America killed an estimated 3 million people, many in the most horrible fashion, and all to no good purpose.

I can’t honestly recall when just I started the website. I got my first home computer in the early mid-1990s. I have many websites, some pre-date the one about Chicago.


QUESTION 2    What was the inspiration to start a nostalgia page dedicated to Chicago?

My inspiration undoubtedly was lingering affection for the city. The genuine homesickness I often felt, despite realizing a good life in Canada.

Also, I think I can say the site very much includes an effort to preserve for others something of what I cared about. Some of the things that were important to me, as tree-lined streets of handsome old apartment buildings, were not the things for which Chicago was famous, but I’ve always regarded that built environment as being just as important as the well-known architectural icons of The Chicago School of Architecture or the Burnham Plan waterfront.

Moreover, a good deal of that urban environment was under assault. The rows of glorious elm trees that once made walking along some residential streets resemble walking through a leafy cathedral had died out owing to Dutch Elm Disease. I also read once, I can’t vouch for its accuracy, that in some neighborhoods, rows of trees were cut down as a crime-prevention measure. That kind of loss was palpable for me. And many of the buildings had become decayed and defaced and ghettoized. So, a sense of seeing something important, even precious, being lost motivated me.

I’ve always had a bit of the museologist in me. At our last home, I had a small room, filled with glass-door display cabinets I put up. My wife named it the Chucky Museum. I’ve also always enjoyed aspects of history and explaining what I understand to others. A good deal of my writing touches historical events. I also did some teaching after my corporate career.

Chicago has changed a great deal, as I know from the Internet. My last visit, about eighteen years ago, revealed a lot of change. It truly is not the same place I knew. Of course, nothing ever remains the same.

But, for those interested, they can find on the site what it was that I cared so much about, and they can gain some sense of a special time and place, a kind of enchanted urban childhood. The site has grown to include more than just that, too, as with many century-old images (old real estate photos from the 1910s provide some of the best images of neighborhoods as they largely still existed into the 1950s), but it still has only a small focus on the present. I do include a limited number of striking contemporary images.

Chuckman’s Places and Chuckman’s Bits and Pieces also attempt something of the same thing on a much smaller scale – both touching on aspects of Chicago, my Chicago: 

I have never got around to digitizing my own Kodachrome slides of the city, except in a small number of cases. I think I’m too old for the effort now. I have taken the personal photos route on some of my other sites, as with Chuckman’s Montreal:


QUESTION 3   Where do you source your information/find the old images for your site?

Sorry, I don’t explain to people my exact methods in finding items and images. Trade secrets, you know. I’ve developed a pretty elaborate way of researching.  But I get things many ways, including occasionally people just sending me something.


QUESTION 4   Why do you think people like to reminisce about their past?

This is a good question, and I’m not sure there is any one answer. You know, sometimes, when I find a certain image, I am immediately struck by it. It can be a powerful thing for me, involving just the graphic force of an image and/or the sense of remembrance and nostalgia it contains.

Some images almost instantaneously transport you back somewhere, much the way a fine song does. I don’t dwell on doing that, but I appreciate it when it happens. I also very much like the fact that I can give that experience to others, which I know is the case from comments I receive.

I think of the opening of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” about the effect on the author of some simple macaroons – an extreme neurotic’s exaggeration, of course, but one containing a kernel of truth.

I know that nostalgia is not a universal experience for people. Few things are. Our minds and emotions can be so very different. And, of course, some simply have nothing good to remember. The past can be pain. But the long popularity of some of my websites and the comments I receive indicate there are quite a few who share my feelings. The Chicago site is my most popular.

Interestingly, my “Chuckman’s Places,” a much smaller site with a far more limited subject – the neighborhoods of South Shore and Hyde Park in Chicago – is pretty popular and has been for some years. You might think the potential audience would be very small for relics of two neighborhoods in one city, and, indeed, that site mainly focuses on just one old neighborhood, South Shore. But I guess the audience makes up with affection and enthusiasm and nostalgia for its size.

I do think there is something especially sentimental or loyal for many people who grew up in Chicago around my generation. I don’t know whether it’s the special loyalties the place engendered or has something to do with the kinds of people who lived there decades ago – many Germans, Irish, Eastern Europeans – or just something about the nature of the times. Chicago also had a very rich cultural history, over which to be sentimental, with museums, institutions of many kinds, an unmatched park system, architecture, truly explosive growth from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, and a great spirit of “I will.” I address some these things in my essay:

Sites I have about other places where I’ve lived do not receive quite the same attention, for example, the one about Toronto which uses a similar format. It receives maybe a quarter of the attention. But Toronto was peopled largely by English people, who in my experience are quite a bit less sentimental on average. Also, while Toronto has exploded in size in recent decades (its quoted population is a good deal larger than Chicago’s today, the city proper of Chicago having seriously declined), going back to, say, the 1960s, it was quite a small place.

However, it can be difficult to compare the sizes of urban areas because some have incorporated or amalgamated what were suburban communities (Toronto very much so) and some have not (Chicago).

You can see the rich, long-term history of the physical culture of Chicago versus Toronto from the number and variety of things like matchbooks, postcards, and other memorabilia. As in archeology, richer and more striving societies leave behind a greater number and variety of artifacts than others. Without really trying, you find four or five times as much material for Chicago. From around the turn of the century through the 1950s, Chicago was a place of almost boundless energy and ambition. Not so Toronto, then more of sleepy British imperial backwater, sometimes known by the somewhat disparaging nicknames, “the Belfast of the North” and “Toronto the Good.” People just did not speak that way about Chicago.

I’ve always been involved and concerned with images, as my lifelong hobby of photography and a bit of drawing and painting testify. I also have long collected prints and framed them and hung them wherever I’ve lived. I’m not fond of bare walls. My efforts at gardening over the decades I think come from the same impulse.

Getting philosophical, change itself is our only constant in society, and change occurs at ever-increasing rates over time. Over a lifetime, like mine, you realize how quickly it has gone and how greatly things have changed. Impossible even to imagine the Internet in, say, 1950, and all that it has exploded into, from shopping to the world’s newspapers and an unparalleled information resource. Constantly changing technology is the driver of change in everything else. Yet human beings are born into specific circumstances to which they adapt and become comfortable. For most people, the familiar is comfortable and the object of some affection. Hence, nostalgia. It is also a basis for what we tend to call “culture,” large parts of which are groups clinging to earlier-established forms and traditions.

Nostalgia involves holding off the world’s racing change for just a bit and glancing back at things you were happy with. So, it is not a terribly productive activity, and we do have something of a prejudice in our society about anything which involves looking back being backward. I think that the rate of change in technology, before very long, is going to outpace most people’s ability to cope. That may represent something of a crisis ahead, but, in any case, just that fact about most people and unprecedented rates of technological change, with all that it implies, means big changes in our society ahead.

Short of a catastrophe such as war, the rate of technological change can only keep increasing, exploding as new developments keep building on the base of other recent developments. Very rapid technological change will drive, as technological change always does, rapid change in every aspect of human society – education, work, housing, the economy, politics, and social patterns. Remember, a relatively simple technology like efficient sailing ships suddenly opened the entire New World with all that that entailed, from the near eradication of aboriginal people to mass slavery. An efficient plow contributed to explosive growth in agriculture, clearing of land, cutting down of forests, etc. The era of extremely rapid technological change will be an exciting one for some, but a frightening one, perhaps, for a great many others. We may come to a pace of change where there is no place for nostalgia, with nothing ever remaining long enough to become nostalgic over. So, enjoy some nostalgia while you still can.


QUESTION 5    What kind of responses have you received regarding your website?

All kinds of responses. One of the things I think we learn from the Internet with its immense number of users is a better understanding of the spectrum of human thoughts and emotions. It is very revealing and not all of it is positive. Just as we find so much wonderful creativity and information on the Internet, think of all the energies also expended on maliciousness.

Responses go from thoughtful and affectionate responses, admiring ones, generously stated additional information or corrections, to careless or rather rude comments or questions or corrections. I do love the ones along the lines of, I lived in that building, or my uncle ran that restaurant, and I do get a fair number of those. There are a remarkable number asking me for something – a better scan, a print, whether I have another image of a place, can they buy a menu, do I want to buy something they have, etc. There are people trying to locate other people. There are even requests for recipes, as for the Little Jack’s cheese cake recipe (a close approximation of which, sent by a reader, I have posted).

I must say the full range has a surprising amount of narrowness. Perhaps a reflection on human nature? The site has had several million hits, so we do get a kind of statistical sampling. That’s what I mean about the Internet and its huge number of users – we as a society are assembling a huge set of statistics about people’s thinking and emotions, something we never had before.

I only approve comments on the site which I think add something for other readers. In my early efforts, I used to respond to every request for something special, such as a better scan, explaining why I could not help them, but I do not do that anymore. There are just too many requests. And I’m really starting to feel my age, slowing down. I’ve already given quite a gift to people – far richer than an expensive pile of coffee table books – and that’s the best I can do. More than 15 thousand images, and a good number of them are ones you are unlikely to find anywhere else. Many tidbits of information added. My approach has changed over time, too, with me spending a fair amount of effort on touching-up or enhancing images with my graphics program, something I did not do originally. The results are pleasing and quite noticeable. I never allow highly personal matters to be posted, as someone’s wanting to hear from Gladys. It’s just not interesting to most others. I don’t provide a “bulletin board,” but people still try.


QUESTION 6    What are the memories that stick out to you from your childhood in Chicago?

My sites, Chuckman’s Places ( ) and Chuckman’s Bits and Pieces of the Past ( ) have a great deal about that. So does my essay about the city,


QUESTION 7    Do you see nostalgia as a good or bad thing and why?

Nostalgia is likely no different to so many human experiences. If it makes people feel good for a little while or if it contributes to understanding or adds to the stock of beauty and knowledge, it is very much a good thing.

But if it becomes obsessive with huge amounts of time spent on it – and believe me, despite the size of the effort on my site, I am not obsessed – it likely is not positive, at least from the point of view of others. But that is true of almost anything, even reading books. If you ever saw the old Twilight Zone episode (the original show of the early 1960s) with Burgess Meredith as a bank clerk who only wanted to read books all the time, you know what I mean.

An effort like the site gradually evolves from an initial, emotionally-gripping one to a project, an elaborate hobby, a set of tasks repeated over time. I find I need some projects. They provide me with some creative outlet in my old age, as well as just something to do at times. I really am feeling my age recently, and don’t get around so much as I always did.

But even saying that much is perhaps too much. I don’t like being judgmental at all anymore about people, unless they are doing something destructive to others. Whatever each individual feels is the right amount of nostalgia, or of anything else, is indeed the right amount for him or her, so far as I’m concerned.

It is just so clear to me that, despite many similarities among all people, there are a great many details that vary immensely among us – as for example, superstitious or not, serious or not, enjoys learning or not, sensuous or not, aggressive or not, sentimental or not, warm or cool feelings, and drawn to nostalgia or not – that people may well be more different than they are alike. I believe these differences do not reflect learning or values, but are just innate differences, parts of a complex spectrum of nature’s many experiments with our species. Nothing meaningful is obtained by judging the differences, although people keep trying to do so all the time, especially in politics and religion.


QUESTION 8   What is something, someone or some place that you didn’t appreciate until it was gone from your life?

A good question, although it risks opening the many regrets that come with age, and I think most people do not like to hear of the regrets of others any more than they like conversation about someone’s aches and pains.

I have a list of such things, but I’ll avoid offering it to you. Especially the “someones.” That topic can overflow with regrets. And pain. I fear we all indeed often fail to tell others how important or loved they are. And then one day, it is too late.

Here are a few, not too personal.

One is what excellent schools I experienced during the last portion of my public education. Earlier, I had experienced some absolutely terrible schools in decaying neighborhoods. We moved a lot, my hard-working mother, who was divorced with two young sons (very uncommon in the 1950s), was always trying to improve our situation. As you can imagine, too, landlords were not always happy with two young boys whose mother didn’t get home until dinner time. She was one of the bravest people I ever knew and a truly loving mother.

At Bradwell Elementary, where I started during the fifth grade, there was some real excellence and a very palpable sense of community. I liked it very much. Schools today often are questioning whether they can afford this or that program. We had, over and above the core stuff of math and science and English and social studies, art and music and home economics and gym. And the teachers in those courses were people who knew their subject, not place fillers. South Shore High School, too, was a school out of the ordinary. That is not to say that there weren’t individual teachers even in those schools who should not have been teaching. There were. But the overall culture of learning, the excellence of some teachers, and the variety of subjects was something I’m sure I did not fully appreciate until later.

Another one was the city’s museums. I loved them from quite a young age. They were pretty well all free when I was young, too. But I doubt I fully appreciated them before I had experienced what some other places have. Perspective is everything. They added an immense richness to my childhood, and I love those places to this day.

By the way, a happy discovery some time ago on the Internet was the giant new model railway layout they created at the Museum of Science and Industry, showing trains moving from the great rail city, complete with accurate models of famous buildings, to the West. It is just beautifully done, infinitely better than the old Santa Fe model they had for many years, and I wish I could easily see it.

Not all people in the city realize it, but Chicago’s immense growth and wealth came pretty directly from its rail connections. Chicago was the great entrepot from the East into what was often called the Great Northwest. The railroads were the ships, and great firms like the original Sears Roebuck and the Chicago meat packers grew up in the city and used the same rail connection to supply people all over the West and other regions. Sears was an amazing operation in, say, 1910s. You could order boxes of groceries, home furnishings, all kinds of mechanical devices, and even kit homes, all the pieces pre-cut and ready to be assembled on a site (I saw one of these once in a pretty town south of Buffalo, New York. A handsome, good-sized home, and you’d never know its origin without being told).

The city became the world’s great catalogue mail-order center, the Amazon of its day, with Sears, Montgomery Ward, The Hartman Company, Spiegel, and a number of others. There are some postcards and catalogue covers on the site.

I was always very fond of that museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, as a boy, and as a young man, I worked there part-time on weekends as a museum guide. I worked in a number of departments but ended up regularly at the U-505 captured German submarine. I took groups for tours, and I like to think I did a good job.

The beaches, too, were very special. I’ve never lived in another city with quite a compable public resource. And I’ve never lost my taste for what I call beach-style hot dogs (what became the Chicago Hot Dog later) and hot tamales, although tamales remain scarce items in Canada. Even in the winter, the beach was something of a resource for a boy. We enjoyed climbing and exploring the icebergs which formed, and sometimes we brought apples or potatoes to roast in a fire we built down in a wind-sheltering hole in the sand. And there was ice-skating in the adjoining park, with lights in the evening and a comfortable “warming house.”


QUESTION 9   How does it make you feel to know that the Chicago you grew up with is very different now?

There are some thoughts in the essay on this:

There is a sense of sadness I experience from any news reports I may see – I don’t seek Chicago news at all, as I once did decades ago, but it does come up in things which I read for other reasons, and I read a good many international newspapers daily – as about crime and shooting right in the neighborhoods I loved, the number of shootings on a weekend.

And then there are pictures I sometimes see which show something so different – I think “sterile” is the word I want to use – for well-known downtown locations. State Street is very nice today, but it looks positively sterile compared to the 1950s and early 1960s. And the same thing for other streets, as, say, Clark. Just look at some of my images from the time, full of bustling urban life.

The neighborhoods have heavily decayed. There was some decay even in the 1950s, but it has reached a very sad and regrettable level. Chicago’s tree-lined streets of handsome old apartments and neighborhood parks were simply one of its glories. I’ve lived in a number of cities, and most have nothing quite like it. My home town today, Montreal, a beautiful city, is absolutely the closest to it I think on the continent, although it has its own “flavor,” quite different in many details. It has lots of apartment buildings, trees, parks, and little neighborhood shopping districts. I have long called old South Shore an “urban village.”

The buildings lining the Chicago River or on the Gold Coast today, as I see images of them, lack character and architectural merit. In my view, a lot of it is suburban-style architecture, mass manufactured- looking stuff, not the stuff of Chicago’s heyday when the very buildings spoke of hopes and dreams and ambitions and demanded admiration. Second-rate condos or office buildings of no real architectural distinction. Could be any big city. Nothing much interesting about most of them. But that is a phenomenon happening everywhere. New modes of living and the technology and costs of construction do seem to be generating huge swathes of blandness or sterility in many cities. Toronto’s giant condo frenzy of recent years on the site of old railroad lands between downtown and the lake is especially notable for this.

And then we have periodic genuine idiocy like the Chicago Mayor’s trying to put a big, dumb Star Wars “Museum” – nothing but an ugly piece of marketing hype for a tired Hollywood kids’ movie franchise – in the Museum Campus, a fairly unique place in the world with truly great institutions. A bit like putting Ripley’s Believe It or Not on the Champs-Élysées. The latest of these is the effort to put the Obama Whatever It’s Going to be Finally Called (It’s not to be a presidential library with all the original papers for scholars) on Jackson Park land – a true abomination with no serious thought given to the purpose of the project, its location, and its second-rate suburban design. Here is what I wrote about it in a posting on the site:


QUESTION 10    What are some institutions or businesses that you were sad to see go?

There are many. Marshall Field’s, where I had a special attachment because I worked there part-time for a couple of years, should probably come first. It was a unique and beautiful institution in its day. I’m glad the building is preserved, but it really is something very different than it was. It had such a sense of life and vibrancy, a city within a city. You could get your shoes repaired, have a picture framed, buy an interesting book, and have some excellent food – all without leaving the building.

And there was always something new and interesting and exotic to look at. I couldn’t afford much of it, but I thought of the store as a kind of museum where displays were always changing. I learned a lot, too, from some interesting people who worked there. There were genuine experts on a number of subjects in some of the departments. I knew every corner of the store, even the bakery at the top floor where they made all those wonderful muffins and things, the bakers coming in at four in the morning.

As a part-time employee, I had access to the store’s employees’ cafeteria – the eighth floor? – which, while not a beautiful place like the public restaurants, was large and comfortable, and the food was just excellent and very cheap. I can still remember, once a week, the big trays of baked beans, the best I’ve ever eaten with roasted salt pork on top, being pulled from a big set of ovens or warmers. Oh, just the smell! You could get soda fountain treats, too.

The Berghoff, a place both I and one of my dearest friends ever, Robert Sorensen, my late father-in-law, loved. Oh, the fresh strawberry shortcake in season! Then, there was always a huge glass bowl of the sugared, moistened berries on a side table. Fresh heavy cream. Real pieces of short cake, not those little sponge rounds from the supermarket. For the meal, Sauerbraten, the incomparable beef dish, and potato pancakes. Makes my mouth water just remembering. Berghoff’s own beers in steins. The waiters in long European-style heavy cloth aprons. The regular line-up, outside and down the stairs if you were going to the lower level, to even get a table. The buzz and hum of the place. What a delicious urban atmosphere.

The grand movie palaces that dotted downtown streets. My God, there were so many on State and Randolph and neighboring streets that in the evening the streets resembled some kind of giant entertainment arcade. Those huge, elaborate marquee signs with blinking bulbs and colored lights. Chicago really had an unusually large endowment of such magnificent theaters. And all of them handsome inside, some extraordinarily so. They gave you the feeling of being in a special place, as they were intended to do.

You cannot get that feeling today, although, again, I am glad some of them have been preserved as venues for other things. Oh, and the elaborate candy stands in the front lobby of every theater with the wonderful smell of fresh popcorn regularly made with melted real butter. The sound of it periodically exploding with the rapid rattle of the kernels against the big metal container. Some of the neighborhood theaters were as beautiful and enchanting, too, as the Avalon in South Shore or the Grenada on the North Side. Just beautiful places like no one will ever build again with elaborate mosaics, exotic architectural motifs, high, high ceilings, subdued lighting, a sense of mystery. Special in every way. The modern multi-plex places are absolutely nothing like them, right down to cheesy, cramped auditoriums and the pre-bagged popcorn with no delightful smell.

The Treasure Chest and Vaughn’s Seed Store on Randolph where I used sometimes to get toy soldiers. Neither of them was that much to look at but they were wonderful for a young man to shop in. Vaughn’s had this wonderful multi-tiered “Lazy Susan” glass display of lead soldiers in its west front window, a beautiful display of soldiers with all the color and panoply of the British Empire, a British company then being the main manufacturer of lead soldiers. The Treasure Chest, on the south side of Randolph, had some lead soldiers, too, but also had magic tricks and books about magic and practical joke items and unusual novelty items like miniature cameras and what were then very sophisticated rubber masks filled the front window for Halloween.

The department stores on State Street. There were at least eight of them still in the early 1960s. They were the reason State Street was nicknamed then as the world’s greatest shopping street. Each with its own selection and focus, special features, live demonstrations of products (I remember seeing Melita filter coffee first demonstrated at one, a product I use to this day), and places to eat, some of them very inviting, if you were going to have lunch. And what an adventure, having that many department stores to search through for something, as a gift for someone, and all of it came with such a sense of life and vibrancy. It made an adventure. There is nothing compable today, anywhere.

Kroch’s and Brentano’s bookstore on Wabash Avenue. It was the grand one of its day. Always fun to walk through and browse for new books. Marshall Field’s also had quite a nice bookstore, I believe it was on the fourth floor.

There was a wonderful print shop, too, on Wabash. I cannot recall its name. It was on the west side, maybe around Adams. It had all kinds of inexpensive art prints and little plaster copies of famous statues. They did framing too. I still have a couple of items in the apartment from there. It was a unique and interesting shop.

The Kungsholm Restaurant and Miniature Opera with Marionettes on Ontario Street. It was in a handsome old mansion and was a very special institution. Indeed, further, the many bits of Swedish culture that were still part of the city in the 1950s. There were tea rooms (generally full restaurants despite the name) in many places, including Johnson’s and Flander’s in South Shore. Since I loved meatballs and lingonberries and lemon pies and Danish pastries, these were memorable. There were some Swedish butcher shops that made specialty items like fresh Swedish sausage. There was one on 79th Street in South Shore.

The feeling of shopping on Wabash with the El periodically clacking and roaring by overhead. Quite unforgettable.

Christmas season. Chicago was really big on it in those days. Likely the German influence, the same influence that gave the city the Old Heidelberg and the Berghoff and Schulien`s and The Bismarck Hotel and other German-origin places. All the department store windows – just a delightful free treat. The huge multi-storeyed city tree, composed of smaller trees attached together on a frame and very thickly lighted. Marina City with little white lights lining the edges of all the balconies. (Maybe these have been brought back, but the last time I was in the city for Christmas, they were not there. The city’s tree was just a single large one. The lights weren’t on at Marina City.) The Berghoff. Field’s and Carson’s interior decorations. Lunch in the Walnut Room. The lighted trees of Michigan Avenue, using what we called in those days, little Italian lights. And on the street corners of State Street were the Salvation Army and a small army of charity Santas ringing big hand-held bells over collection containers.

Oh, gone for many years is the George F. Harding Museum, a small private museum on the South Side at 4853 S. Lake Park. It was a unique place, fascinating to a young boy, stuffed with magnificent armor from different countries and periods in Europe. The museum was closed and razed in the 1960s. After its closing, there was a long period of uncertainty over the collection. Finally, in the 1980s, the Art Institute put much of it on permanent display. It’s wonderful to see the collection kept together, but for atmosphere it’s not quite the dark old halls and rooms of the original owner’s somewhat spooky custom-built castle on the South Side.

The old ice-cream parlors of the 1950s and 1960s. There was Cunis Ice Cream on 79th Street in South Shore and the wonderful, far more elaborate Buffalo at Pulaski and Irving Park on the North Side. Plus, many more. A small pleasant way of life disappeared with these institutions. On Friday or Saturday nights, there was typically a long line-up of people, as for a movie theater in those days, along the sidewalk on Pulaski, waiting for tables at the Buffalo. Some of this was undoubtedly associated with the local neighborhood movie theaters. It was quite typical in that period for a snack shop or restaurant to be near a good-sized movie theater. At the very least, a candy and treats shop.


QUESTION 11 – Are there any places that you’re surprised to see that are still around?

I cannot think of any, but then I haven’t been to the city in nearly twenty years. And when it comes to cities, the only way to really see and experience them is walking around.


Posted February 12, 2019 by JOHN CHUCKMAN

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