Roadside Weirdness!

We’re just about done putting the finishing touches on the Weird Chicago book, but taking a break for the weekend, since Troy is off to Gettysburgh for a ghost hunt. So, here’s some roadside Weirdness from Grand and Harding on the West Side. Does this look like a lumberjack version of the Statue of Justice or what?

Actually, this happy gent is one of the Muffler Men built in the 1960s to hold up muflers outside of service stations. They turn up nowadays as cowboys, spacemen, and other such things. Viewed from the right angle, this guy, he appears to be shaking his pipe and shouting “damn you kids! Stay away from my pipes!”

Ghost Signs!

Of all the weird old remnants of the City As It Was, Ghost SIgns are probably the easiest to find. These faded old ads are everywhere! One of my favorites to point out to people is this one near 11th and Wabash for a carriage and delivery wagon company:

It’s too faded for me to be sure what sort of business it was, exactly, or WHERE it was – anyone know?

But every now and then you still see ads for long forgotten products, products that aren’t advertised anymore (corsets, for instance), or ads with old-fashioned phone numbers.

Things You Find Around the City #2 – Street Car Lines

Here’s a streetcar going down Racine at Grand in the 1940s.

The last of the streetcars in Chicago stopped running in the late 1950s. However, thanks to the magic of potholes, you can still see the tracks:

There’s no mass transit on Racine at all anymore; finding North-South transportation between Halsted and Ashland is a real trick nowadays. About a week ago they finally filled in the potholes here, but some of the tracks are still visible.

Things You Find Around the City #1: Old Addresses

Traces of the city as it was a century ago are everywhere – looking for them while walking, biking or driving around is like a treasure hunt.

One of the trickier things to find is old addresses. All of the numbers of addresses were changed in 1909 – which can really make finding the exact location of certain old buildings that we investigate a challenge, even with the renumbering guide – and some houses, especially many built around the 1880s, had elaborately built their original address into the building, often in stained glass. Quite a few people put up the new address but left the old one up, as well:

According to the gang over at Forgotten Chicago, the best place to find these is in the Ukranian Village – that’s where I found the one pictured above. There does seem to be quite a handful of them there!

The Chicken Man #2

We’ve already talked a bit about the Chicken Man of Chicago, but he’s worth another post just so I can post this wonderful photo that I got from Joe at Imperial Hardware:

“That chicken did everything but talk!” says Joe.

The Chicken Man’s real name was Anderson Punch, but he went by Casey Jones, after the song he sang most often, for much of his life. Born in 1870, he came to Chicago around 1914 and went to work as a street musician. After his accordion broke, he took up training chickens. At any given time, he had three or four trained chickens, traveling around the city having them do tricks and dancing to his accordion and harmonica. He was a well known figure around the city for more than half a century; when one of his chickens died, there was a public funeral at a vacant lot on State Street. On more than one occasion he was hauled into court for one reason or another (usually obstructing traffic) and got out by having his chickens do their act. In 1971, he was still performing on the south side when he celebrated his 101st birthday. He died in 1974.

One interesting thing to note is that he hit every corner on the south side, but, as of the 1940s, said that his favorite place, financially, was at 63rd and Halsted – only a couple of blocks from the site of the H.H. Holmes murder castle. Imagine standing outside of the castle (which was still standing until 1938) and watching a dancing chicken in front of it – how surreal can you get?

Look for more on the chicken man and other such Chicago icons in our upcoming book – up for pre-order soon!