Potpourri for holidays
By JUDITH L. EVERSON
Editor's note: As book review editor, I have been pleased to discover the steady stream of new books suitable for coverage in the magazine, but I have also been frustrated to find that the number of recent releases worthy of attention exceeds the available space in our pages. In order to inform readers about additional works of interest, each December and July the magazine will feature mini-reviews of selected publications that deserve your notice even when their fuller treatment proves impossible. Like other books covered here throughout the year, the ones mentioned below cover a wide range of subjects related to Illinois. Perhaps you will consider some of them possibilities for holiday reading or giving. JE
In the newest addition to the University of Illinois Press's commendable Visions of Illinois series, Raymond and Linda Bial take us on a tour of The Carnegie Library in Illinois. Their photodocumentary joins such impressive predecessors as Prairiescapes by Larry Kanfer (see Illinois Issues review, July 1988) and Nelson Algren's Chicago (see Illinois Issues review, July 1989). As illustrated by this book's map and photographs of the 83 extant Carnegie libraries around the state, Andrew Carnegie's generosity remains visible here a century after he began to fund the building of public libraries in this country. Carnegie believed that the public library was as crucial to the success of democracy as the public school. Between 1889 and 1923 he underwrote construction of 1,679 public libraries in the United States, doubling their number. The Bials' book is a touching as well as timely tribute to the impact of his philanthropy on Illinois.
It is touching because these buildings typically became cultural focal points for their communities, which provided a central site, submitted architectural plans for Carnegie's approval and agreed to support the library continuously through local taxes. In Sterling, for instance, library usage increased dramatically when the new building replaced cramped and smelly temporary quarters over the stable which housed the fire department's horses. It is timely because 22 of the 105 Carnegie libraries in Illinois are no longer in use, and others may not survive the century. Thus architectural history and community history are both well served by the Bials' account of each building's genesis. Anyone who has lived in a town blessed with a Carnegie library at its core should welcome the chance to thumb through this book as much as the chance to browse through the library itself.
The Midwest in American Architecture is as fascinating in its diffuse approach as the Bials' book in its narrower focus. John Garner, professor of architecture at the University of Illinois, has edited a collection of essays honoring Walter Creese, architectural historian at the university from 1958 to 1987.
Although the essays vary in topic and technique, each emphasizes the significance of regional orientation in the evolution of the Chicago School of commercial architecture and the Prairie School of domestic architecture. Instead of concentrating on the stars of these movements, this volume also illuminates lesser lights who have been overshadowed by their famous associates. One example is Walter Griffin, landscape architect and protege of Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked with horizontal sites as well as indigenous vegetation to realize the unique beauty of the prairie.Other chapters describe the construction of Chicago's Auditorium Theatre, built in the 1880s as the first of its kind in the United States to be lighted exclusively by electricity, and the design of Pullman, the model company town commissioned by railroad magnate George M. Pullman.
Two of the new histories covered here could serve as companions to these latter essays in Garner's collection. Loyola historian Harold Platt's The Electric City traces the electrification of Chicago between 1880 and 1930. We only notice electricity now when it is interrupted, but we were not always such an energy-intensive society. Inventor Thomas Edison introduced the light bulb when Chicago was the world's fastest-growing city, and opportunist Samuel Insull, an Edison apprentice, marketed "the gospel of consumption" as president of Chicago Edison Company. Despite Insull's fall from power during the Depression when he was tried for securities fraud, his legacy endures. Electric rates still encourage us to use rather than save energy, rewarding the high-volume customer at the expense of the small consumer.
Having substantially rebuilt itself after the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago came to symbolize the possible by the turn of the century. Partly for this reason, in 1893 Chicago became the site for the World's Columbian Exposition. In Perfect Cities: Chicago's Utopias of 1893 (a book that is better than its title),
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James Gilbert describes the various images of the city that greeted the 27 million fair-goers a century ago, the apex of optimism about urban culture. The exposition — the biggest tourist event in American history to date — became a battleground for contending conceptions of urban life. On the fair-grounds, these ranged from the White City (representing high culture for the elite) to the Midway (representing mass culture for the working class). In greater Chicago, fair-goers heard evangelist Dwight Moody crusade for rural wholesomeness over metropolitan corruption and toured Pullman, whose idyllic lifestyle would shortly end during the bitter strike of 1894.
The most ambitious of the new histories treated here is William Cronon's Heartland Prize winner, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, which attempts a mouthful (an environmental analysis of the ecological consequences of regional economic growth) and mostly succeeds. According to Cronon, "no city played a more important role in shaping the landscape and economy of the midcontinent during the second half of the nineteenth century than Chicago." Rural bias in writing the history of the nation's westward movement often pits urban scholars against frontier specialists. Yet for Cronon, city and country are interdependent, a fact he illustrates by tracing the commodity flows (in grain, meat and lumber) between the two.
Cronon writes compellingly, as when he describes how Chicagoans coped with the site's poor drainage by raising the city's elevation by four to 14 feet over two decades, or when he shows not only how Chicago profited from its location at the break point between eastern and western rail networks but also how these railroads created the national time zones for their convenience. Although Cronon recounts his first view of Chicago's alien environment as a Wisconsin boy, his scholarship supplies a new vision of the relationship between the landscape he left and the cityscape he entered: "To do right by nature and people in the country, one has to do right by them in the city as well, for the two seem always to find in each other their own image."
The urban-rural factor that Cronon explores environmentally and economically acquires a political flavor in Inside State Government in Illinois, edited by James Nowlan, former state legislator and agency director. Like the 1982 volume of the same name, this revised and updated 1991 version is primarily aimed at managers in state government but offers information of more than passing interest to citizens and students too. It contains topical chapters by experts — like "Auditing State Government" by Robert Cronson, auditor general of Illinois, and "The Press Corps and Public Information" by Bill Miller, director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at Sangamon State University. Filled with anecdotes, cartoons, charts and graphs, the revised text was completed in late 1990. Like most books of its kind, it faced selective obsolescence as soon as it appeared because its overall subject is to some extent a moving target. Thus, while the chapter on personnel and patronage examines the implications of the recent Rutan v Republican Party of Illinois case, the chapter on the legislature cannot treat the impact of the current remap process. Nevertheless, this paperback offers one-stop shopping for the reader in search of a useful overview of state government.
Professors Paul Green (Governors State University) and Melvin Holli (University of Illinois-Chicago) have edited a lively study entitled Restoration in 1989: Chicago Elects a New Daley. The contributors agree that conflict within the African-American community over Harold Washington's successor was the main cause for Daley's victory, but their perspectives diverge thereafter. Green credits Daley with attracting working-class and lakefront voters in both the primary and the general election. Alderman Edward Burke, himself a candidate, argues that Daley's oratorical ineptitude played well with ethnic voters who fondly recalled his father's fractured syntax, while Eugene Sawyer's soft-spoken style cost him black support. Sawyer's press secretary predictably defends the former acting mayor's record: "Eugene Sawyer got a bum rap and a blunt shaft." Advisers to Alderman Tim Evans explain how their man, "a model of middle-class rectitude," came to be viewed by many as a raging radical. David Fremon chastises most of the local media ("Chicago's Daley News") for being in Daley's corner from the outset. Holli identifies the city's changing demographics as one cause for its recent volatility, a point reinforced by Jorge Casuso's treatment of the rise of Alderman Luis Gutierrez within the context of Hispanics' emergence as the new swing bloc.
Checkoffs and the IL-1040
In November we reported that the checkoffs for direct donations on the 1991 Illinois income tax form include five new funds and three existing ones (see Names, p. 28). We left out one already existing fund, the Homeless Assistance Fund, and one new one. The Persian Gulf.
Sponsored by the Department of Public Aid, the Homeless Assistance Fund goes to local agencies that help homeless people. This is its third year on the tax form. In fiscal 1992 about five million 1990 IL-1040s were turned in; of these, checkoffs on 36,000 returns donated more than $277,900 to the homeless. Those funds are still being disbursed. In fiscal 1991 (tax year 1989) donations totaled $263,988. Local agencies in Chicago got $119,339, including $20,000 to Casa Central towards rehabbing a 13-unit apartment for transitional housing for 39 homeless families. The Belleville Mental Health Center got $10,000 to renovate two apartments to use as permanent housing for seven homeless, handicapped persons. Kankakee County Community Service (which served about 288 homeless persons per year and had no housing) got $16,000 to help renovate two homes for transitional housing. Olney SWAN serves nine rural counties; it got $15,000 to help purchase a van for the more than 100 homeless persons it served. The Peoria YWCA got $5,000 to make doors exit-friendly to people in wheelchairs; more than 575 homeless women and children stayed at the Peoria YWCA in fiscal 1991.
Sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans' Fund aims to fund a $100 bonus for every Illinois veteran returning from Desert Storm. To qualify veterans must have received a Southwest Asian Service medal, must be on active duty or have an honorable discharge. They also must be a resident of Illinois for 12 months. An estimated 20,000 veterans will qualify, making a funding goal of $2 million. If voluntary donations don't reach the goal, the Department of Veterans Affairs says it will ask the General Assembly to make up the difference.
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