Final Thoughts: Chicago By Day and Night

If, when confronted by the marvelously variegated array of recreations and pursuits that this grand city has to offer, the stranger or the periodical visitor should turn away dissatisfied, imagining that he has failed to discover anything especially suited to his fancy, his mental and physical organism must be sadly askew. It is his fault and not Chicago’s.

Chicago By Day and Night

I recently finished reading the highly entertaining Chicago By Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America, edited by Paul Durica and Bill Savage. This is a travel guide to the city of Chicago published in 1892 to coordinate with the Columbian Exposition (the World’s Fair) that opened the next spring. It is a highly entertaining little book.

The book claimed to be trying to help visitors find entertainments, accommodations, and dining options befitting an upstanding and moral citizen, as well as helping them “avoid” anything untoward. The claims of being upstanding are more than a little flimsy, however, and the reader leaves knowing exactly where and how to find the best risque shows, the best brothels, a wide range of gambling facilities (which were illegal in the city at the time), and more.

There are probably more “crooked” people in Chicago at the present writing than any other city in the Union, and it is altogether probable that this number will be largely increased during the progress of the fair.

Chicago By Day and Night

Chicago had a reputation for being a rather “crooked” city (a reputation it has maintained for most of it’s history), and so the writer spends some time trying to convince the reader that it is also filled with moral, upstanding citizens, despite the reputation. But the claim is a bit doubtful when even the writers seem pretty uninterested in the “moral” things to do and far more interested in anything where men and women and alcohol can mix!

There are chapters about how con men (and con women, who are described as far more dangerous) operate, how to go about eloping if you suddenly need to wed your sweetheart in secret, on what corners you will find shady guys who will get you into a poker game if you want one, which playhouses will let you buy drinks for the actresses alone in your box between acts, and which churches to visit if you want to see rich people (and who to tip to have the very wealthiest of all pointed out to you).

The compiler of this little work advises everybody to forego all games of chance while resident in this city. Confident, however, that with many people old enough and wise enough to know better this advice will be utterly disregarded, a few remarks upon the present status of the gambling fraternity in Chicago may not be thrown away.

Chicago By Day and Night

The writers of this book are unknown and the editors, Paul Durica and Bill Savage, suggest that it was written by a variety of people. I would have to say that this does seem to be likely, since the style, political viewpoint, and even social perspective of the writers seem to change from chapter to chapter (sometimes from paragraph to paragraph). But I suspect the book is more interesting for this, since I doubt any one person could have had so much interesting information about such a wide range of topics.

The book is a lot of fun and I really enjoyed reading it. I learned a lot about Chicago and it’s history reading this and looking up things that it mentions as well. Did you know that Chicago only got a library after the great fire, and then not intentionally? People around the world, including Queen Victoria, sent books to Chicago for their library on the assumption that it had been lost in the fire. In fact, there hadn’t been one before that. But the leaders of the city didn’t bother to mention that to anyone and simply accepted the gifts and created one!

The book was published before the World’s Fair opened, but there are extensive descriptions of the plans and progress made so far, as well as of the proposed opening ceremonies and more. I learned a lot about the fair and found these chapters especially interesting. Apparently, there was a Dairy Building at the fair that served as a research hub on dairy science. It was staffed by researchers from around the world and functioned as an “academy” for anyone wanting to learn more about dairy science who was willing to help work for the privilege of learning. You would care for some animals and make some dairy products and get to learn about the newest science in the process. They ran studies comparing different breeds and their milk, methods and technologies for making different dairy products, and ways to ensure safe usage and transport of milk and it’s products. A lot of scientific innovations came out of the fair and programs like this one were part of why!

The prose is variable and sometimes thick, but the tone is conversational throughout (for Victorian standards of conversational) and uses all kinds of interesting period slang, which was fun to learn. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who finds the concept interesting or amusing as well as to anyone interested in Chicago history. There’s a wealth of stories in here that you aren’t likely to find many other places! There are editor notes at the back that fact check and expand on many things throughout the book that are fascinating and helpful as well.


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