The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

At Chicago's Northwest Corner, A Flag Marks City's Territory

 A group of four Edison Park residents has maintained "The Triangle," a small patch of land on the city's border with Park Ridge that has flowers and a City of Chicago flag.
The Triangle
View Full Caption

EDISON PARK — The history of flags dates back several thousand years, when they originally were called "vexilloids," the Latin word for "guide."

For millennia, flags have been used to mark territory — to let people know where they stood.

There is such a case at Chicago's very northwestern most corner, where a group of Edison Park residents have proudly flown the city's blue-striped, four-starred flag for decades from a small patch of land across the street from suburban Park Ridge.

"This is not Park Ridge. This is the city. We wanted people to know that," said Carol Sternberg, 70, one of the keepers of the flag.

The flag flies from a pole in a spot Sternberg and others call "The Triangle."

The Triangle was created when the north-south Canfield Road crisscrossed with Ottawa Avenue and Ostego Avenue. A smidgen of triangular green space remained, and in the 40 years since, some nearby residents have cared for the land by planting trees, shrubs, flowers and even pumpkins.

"We moved here in 1976, and I feel very fortunate that from our living room, we can view [The Triangle] every day," said Fran Durkin, who lives with her husband, Tom, steps from the spot. "It's kind of nice."

When the Durkins arrived in the neighborhood, The Triangle already had a full-time "gardener" in Mabel Spamer, a single woman who would not let anyone assist her for years.

That changed in 1982, when Sternberg and her late husband, Tom, came to Edison Park.

"My husband was the only one she would let help her," said Sternberg, a Kelvyn Park High School graduate. "She eventually told us we could take over, and after that, it was up to us."

In the mid-80s, the Sternbergs asked the Durkins for assistance, and the couples upgraded the spot with a railroad tie perimeter, then gravel and finally its current cement curbs. The rest of the neighborhood sometimes chipped in, with Memorial Day serving as the official "planting" day each year.

"People around here took an interest in it," said Tom Durkin, 67, a Leo High School graduate and retired aircraft mechanic for United Airlines.

The flag pole and its flags arrived when Dave Wietcecha bought a house in the 'hood in 1987. Wietcecha, a Taft High School alumnus, works in a Christmas display business that had an account with a flag company in Wisconsin.

Wietcecha said the City of Chicago flag always "looked cool" to him, and he wanted The Triangle to feature one.

"I'm the flag man. When I bought the flag pole, I made sure it could fit two flags," said Wietcecha, 53. "The top one is always the United States flag, and the other one is usually the Chicago flag. Seasonally, we'll change it out for Halloween and Christmas. If the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this year, I'll put up a flag for them."

The Triangle currently sports mainly perennials, including peonies, tulips, day lilies and sedums, with a juniper bush, bayberry bush and serviceberry tree.

Sternberg, who has kept several photos of The Triangle from the 1980s and 90s in a scrapbook, said she and others have tried growing other plants, but said the salt trucks in the winter driving on Canfield have damaged the soil.

The group had high hopes when they tried to grow pumpkins one year, but only two of the orange orbs reached maturity.

"A little failed experiment," said Fran Durkin, 66, a Loyola University Chicago graduate, former English teacher at Lane Tech High School and an employee in the Park Ridge public library's children's department for the past 30 years. "The Triangle means a lot to us and yet it's kind of a rough thing sometimes because you can't get too attached to things growing there."

As Spamer passed the responsibility of The Triangle's care to her neighbors, they know their duties will end eventually, too.

Wietcecha, who has three children, hopes his oldest son, now 21, will move into his house so he can "pass on the tradition to him."

Fran Durkin thinks the transition might happen more organically.

"I have a feeling someone else will step up without us having to ask," she said. "We took it over without knowing we were going to do it. If we were to leave here, I think someone else would do it."