HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago library has digitized a chronicle of the city’s Jazz Age past, the Chicagoan.
The library has put online the New Yorker-style culture magazine's nine-year run, which attempted to lift the city above its reputation as a haven for pig butchers and criminals.
“The original Chicagoan had a rocky nine-year run in the ‘20s and ‘30s, eventually fizzling out in 1935, at the height of the Great Depression,” writes J.C. Gabel, publisher of a new Chicagoan magazine that pulls its inspiration from the defunct publication, in a 2010 editor’s note. “It was then mostly forgotten, with only one original complete set remaining in existence today — ironically at the New York Public Library.”
The University of Chicago has collected a nearly complete set of the magazine with the assistance of Bill Quigley, the grandson of the original publisher. The library has created a website to display the sometimes prescient writing of the flux of Chicago’s then-vogue South Side.
“Hyde Park is a curious place. One of its most curious features is that nobody knows exactly where it is,” Ruth Bergman writes in a 1928 article on the then-current expansion of the neighborhood into the lake with a massive landfill project. “Presently the sandsuckers and dump trucks are at work on the lakefront and the big hole which the ice fields took centuries to gouge out in the Glacial Period (it was their life work) is being ruthlessly filled by man.”
There are as many clods of mud in the Chicagoan as true gems.
“Notwithstanding the wonderfully designed covers and spot illustrations, the writing in The Chicagoan was, in large part, hit or miss; the profiles and long-form pieces were not up to New Yorker standards,” Gabel writes. “In essence, it mostly was a collection of reviews and society-page fodder for the upper class.”
But Chicagoans can read and judge for themselves the social aspirations of the Second City before the Great Depression.