The American Experience: Chicago Project

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Raw footage of an interview with Studs Terkel on March 9, 2001. Interviewer: Melissa Martin. Terkel speaks specifically about Chicago, starting with his arrival in Chicago, but exploring much of Chicago history and character with the style and passion that only Studs Terkel can provide about his hometown.

00:08 Martin asks Studs to describe his arrival in Chicago. Studs vividly tells of his travel to Chicago by train in 1920 when he was 8 years-old and growing up in his parents’ rooming house on the West Side of Chicago.

03:24 Terkel speaks of the Auditorium Theater, constructed by Louis Sullivan.

05:33 Terkel talks about the character of Chicago, the German community and the Potawatomi tribe, who had everything taken from them by the European settlers. He also speaks of Bucky Fuller, who came up with the idea to move a house.

08:20 He speaks of the early trader days in Chicago and the emergence of the department store. He returns to the immigration of the Germans, a group that was upper-class. He continues to speak of the Irish as the “blacks of the time” because they were the lower-class of that period.

13:05 Terkel talks about the beer garden as part of the social scene and history of Chicago. He talks about the two faces of Chicago, and reads an excerpt from Nelson Algren’s book, “Chicago: City on the Move.”

16:20 Terkel tells the story of the Haymarket affair and the Labor Movement in Chicago in 1886. He speaks vividly about the trial and the many characters who had a role.

21:50 Terkel talks about Chicago politics and the First Ward Ball which brought people from all walks of life. The alderman was “Bathhouse” John who was the host of the ball. The other face of Chicago was represented by Jane Addams. He talks about the novel The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, who exposed the cruelty of work in the stockyards. He spoke of the Irish and Blacks at the bottom of the social structure, and the importance of remembering our history so that we don’t repeat it.

28:30 Change of tape. 

29:00 Terkel notes that Fort Sheridan was built to keep the Progressive Movement at bay. He calls Chicago a “city of hands,” because of its strong working class foundation and ties to the Labor Movement. He talks about the migration of the Blacks to Chicago from the south.  

32:10 Terkel talks about George Pullman and his vision of a perfect city, and that vision did not accept Irish. He speaks of Pullman as a “Dickensian” and patriarchal figure. He names the novelists Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser and other important Chicago figures.

35:55 Terkel speaks of the emergence of the Chicago woman who had an aristocratic background and was more advanced than the New York or San Francisco woman.

37:18 Interviewer asks Terkel to compare New York to Chicago. He speaks of the “Second City” syndrome.

38:55 Terkel speaks of the Columbian expedition and how Sullivan didn’t like it nor Daniel Burnham. He goes on to tell more about the Columbian expedition and the World’s Fair of 1933.

41:45 Terkel talks about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and calls the story of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow a farce.

43:00 He continues with the rise of Chicago industries but also the unbridled capitalism and deregulation, and individualism in American society. Terkel calls Chicago the “archetypal American city” because of the lines that were drawn in this contrast and its neighborhoods.

45:50 Interviewer asks Terkel what “Windy City” means. He notes that it is literally windy here, but also that Chicagoans are known for talking.

46:40 Terkel notes that the “city of hands” has changed to the “city of fingers” with the change in the industries that founded Chicago. This is a key aspect in losing our past and not having role models who worked in the mills. He also notes the emergence of the suburbs, and the access that lower classes had to the suburbs changed the dynamic and therefore people have lost their roots.

49:55 He notes that the year 1886, with the opening of the Auditorium Theater and the Haymarket Affair on the scene simultaneously, is a perfect metaphor of the two faces of Chicago.

51:39 End of interview.

51:40 Tape keeps rolling, while crew adjusts sound.

53:00 End of tape.



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