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Bridgeport Book Offers Glimpse Into Chicago's Oldest Neighborhood

By Casey Cora | November 13, 2012 6:45pm | Updated on November 20, 2012 2:56pm

BRIDGEPORT — It's called the old "What side you from?" routine, a local rite of passage between strangers that starts with a grilling about neighborhood geography and parishes, then turns into conversations about family and how you may be related.

It's a chat that author, activist and Bridgeport native Maureen Sullivan had often, especially since she began researching for her new book "Images of America: Bridgeport."

"There were 10 questions before I could even get a photo out of anybody," she said.

Sullivan, 49, began writing the book in 2011 with JoAnne Gazarek Bloom and Daniel Pogorzelski. Gazarek Bloom said the book, believe it or not, is the first written history of the city's oldest neighborhood.

"I thought, 'You gotta be kidding.' Then I said, 'Well, I’ll do it,'" said Gazarek Bloom, 64, who now lives in Hyde Park.

Turns out, there was a huge demand to get stories out of basements, backyards and bars and into the pages of a book. After debuting in August, "Images of America: Bridgeport" is now in its third printing.

Its 127 pages and 200-some photos provide a revealing a snapshot of Bridgeport from its time as a shortcut for 17th century explorers to a progressive enclave of artists, with plenty of surprising historical tidbits along the way. 

For example, who knew the neighborhood was home to the first Negro League All-Star game? Or that Babe Ruth popped by the long-shuttered McCuddy's for cheeseburgers and beer between innings at Comiskey?

One thing missing from the book is a heavy dose of the politics that have defined the area for decades. The Daleys, who hail from the neighborhood, make a cameo for a chapter but the authors said local politics is a road already traveled.

"All the books on Bridgeport are all about politics. We wanted to make a book that was not only about the neighborhood and nostalgia but about the actual history of the neighborhood," said Gazarek Bloom.

As the research continued, the authors solicited photos from neighbors and relatives. They took out ads in local papers and left flyers at cars parked in church parking lots. Prior to their efforts, no one had documented the area from a historical perspective.

"We don't have a historical society. We're it," Sullivan said.

Since its debut this summer, the authors have embarked on publicity tours all over the South Side. One common theme from well wishers and readers?

Either they got it right or they got it wrong.

"They listed what we did wrong. And we got a lot of 'Why didn't you put this in?'" said Gazarek, somewhat exasperated. "People in Bridgeport really love their neighborhood."

"Images of America: Bridgeport" is available for purchase ($21.99 plus tax) on the book's official website and at Jackalope Coffee and Tea House, 755 W. 32nd. St.