What I Am Reading: Chicago by Day and Night

I have been thinking and reading quite a bit about the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 (The Columbian Exposition) lately, so I was really excited and intrigued when I came across this reprint of a travel guide to Chicago from that time. It’s called Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America and was originally published in 1893 to coincide with the Fair and to provide the many visitors to the city with some direction of where to find what they were seeking. This modern reprinting has been polished a little and minimally edited, as well as annotated with notes at the end, by Paul Durica and Bill Savage.

Now, you couldn’t really publish things for widespread distribution that weren’t morally upright and acceptable at the time, so the creators (it’s apparently not clear who wrote the text) were very careful to repeatedly tell the reader that the sketchier inclusions in the guide were provided only to assist them in avoiding such seedy places as beer gardens, shows with scantily clad women, and brothels. Because refined people would only want to know how to avoid such things, and how do you know it’s what you are trying to avoid if they don’t take the trouble to tell you want can be found there?

Right. Chicago has always been known for it’s high moral standards of behavior, after all. Now don’t get me wrong – I love Chicago. It’s been the big city that was nearest to where I lived for most of my life and the one that felt the least foreign and overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see (and sometimes find amusing) the city’s pride in it’s sketchy history!

The book is organized, like most travel guides, by topic. There’s a chapter on accommodations, a chapter helping you find the various churches in the city, a chapter on how to deal with taxis, various chapters on types of theaters (my favorite is the one entitled “Free and Easy Shows – Where Etiquette is not always Strictly Observed”), one on places to go shopping, etc. The chapter I am looking forward to most is called “The City’s Moral Code – A Complete Refutation of the Libelous Assertion that Chicago is the Wickedest City in the World”. It’s, of course, a few chapters after the one on gambling establishments and the one called “As to Adventuresses – The Seductive but Conscienceless Creatures whose Wiles Work Mischief with those who Do Not Play the Prudent Part and Keep them at a Distance”.

I am so amused by this book already and barely into it, but I’m looking forward to finding out what the sights to see (and *wink, wink* to avoid) in 1983 around the World’s Fair were! I wonder how many of the places this book discusses are actually still around as well. Maybe I’ll see what can still be visited when I finish!

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