#844: The Thought

November 1st, 2017

“No, no,” the slim woman said, looking out at the scattered crowd eating pizza and toying with microphones in a far Northwest Side rental hall. “Stay where you are. Do not break the stillness of this moment.”

No one did, not the microphone tinkerers, the laptop typist nor the woman running line-by-line through a Braille transcript of the slim woman’s words.

“For this is a time of mystery, a time when imagination is free and moves forward swiftly, silently. This is… The Haunting Hour.”

And the music swelled.

“The Thought,” she said, taking a step backwards from the first of four mics.

With the flick of a laptop button, the Schorsch Village Improvement Association rental hall, an early 1940s affair maintained in perfection down to the black-and-white framed headshots of past leaders on a side wall and the giant S.V.I.A. letters above the stage curtain, filled with sounds of a drink-laden stage audience. Chatters, laughter, a bit of clap from an invisible crowd.

A very visible, very real, rather tall man stepped up to the second of the four mics and introduced the Great Marlo the Mental Marvel, who, blessed with a “seventh” sense would read the invisible audience’s thoughts.

“Now I warn you, if you have a secret you don’t want him to know,” the tall man warned the invisible crowd, his voice dropping for this last bit. “Just don’t think about it. ”

It seems like the past, but it’s not. It’s an old-time radio show, or more appropriately a mid-October rehearsal for the Logan Square Lions Club’s reenactment of an episode of radio’s “The Haunting Hour” entitled “The Thought.” In the episode, which originally aired July 13, 1945, stage magician and mind reader the Great Marlo will “hear” an audience member planning a woman’s murder. The telepath knows which woman will be killed. Her killer? Identity lost in the telepathic babble of the crowd.

“We loved ‘The Whistler,’” the foreboding emcee — Lions Club President Bill Marsh — said, referring to the 1940s-’50s CBS radio show the Lions used to perform at their yearly fundraiser. “There’s always some bloodbath. We like someone getting murdered. That was always good. But then we ran out of scripts because there’s not that many available.”

The fundraiser this year was Oct. 29 at La Villa Restaurant in Irving Park, and apparently went very well, according to the group’s Facebook page. Proceeds went, as always, to the group’s charitable and philanthropic endeavors, including the free vision, hearing and health screenings you can catch pictures of on the aforelinked Facebook.

“Our main focus is hearing and eye impairment. That’s our main thing,”  Marsh said. “We give it to that, food pantries, local things.”

It seems like the past, but it’s not. It’s a group of longtime Logan Square residents who gather together and work for the community in the exact way they have for decades. Nose to the grindstone, feet on the ground, hand on the tiller — active and direct involvement in a community now pigeonholed as a hotspot for trendy bars and transient 20somethings.

Kathy and Mike, who played dueling marrieds “The Bickersons” in the pre-”Haunting Hour” comedy show, have been involved with the Lions since 1999.

“Our kids were grown up, so we had no kids’ groups to join,” said Kathy, who asked that her last name not be used.

A year after they joined, they started playing “The Bickersons” (1946-1951, NBC radio) at the yearly fundraiser. She and Mike, who this year also played the Great Marlo, picked the feuding pair “because we get along so well in real life,” Kathy said, laughing fondly. “It’s kind of the opposite of who we are.”

In his 35 years with the Logan Square Lions, Marsh has seen the group and the community change. The youngest radio actor by decades is the slim woman who read the “Haunting Hour” intro. She’s my age, late 30s — an old friend of mine and the one who tipped me to the rehearsal. The group is aging, and the small business community that used to feed it has dissolved.

“The club used to be all small business down Milwaukee Avenue, but it’s all gone away. It’s all gone,” Marsh said.

Marsh got involved through his former boss at Acme Frame Products at Pulaski and Wrightwood. It pulled up stakes and moved to Harrisburg, Ark., in 1990.

“People don’t take lunches anymore,” he said. “That’s where our meetings would be. We would meet at noon and all the businessmen would come there. These were printers, some manufacturers, Art’s Foundry was right on Pulaski Avenue — Pulaski and Diversey — up and down that whole area” he said.

Pulaski and Diversey now houses an old Marshall Field’s warehouse mid-conversion into “Chicago’s newest premier destination for high-tech loft office users.”

But this isn’t a story about lost businesses and lingering social clubs. This isn’t a story that separates the past from the present because this isn’t the past. The radio show packed a crowded Irving Park restaurant pre-Halloween. The Bickersons made the crowd laugh, the Great Marlo the Mental Marvel made a shiver run up their spines.

The funds the radios raised raised will help people with vision and hearing problems. They’ll stock food pantry shelves. They’ll provide services for people who see Logan Square as a community to build rather than as a sweet ‘hood to kick around in during your 20s.

It seems like the past, but it’s not.

Read about a Portage Park Halloween tradition

Read about an Albany Park group that fought the good fight for years, and with gardens

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