#891: The Corner, Prequel

February 19th, 2018

Picture an ocean of warm, shallow water.

Long, eel-like fish slip by coral reefs. On the sea floor, oval not-crabs skitter through sand, pausing to glance with crystal eyes for food, predators or just to watch the hot sun shimmer and diffract through warm waters.

Picture later. Picture not-that, not-this.

Picture the up-and-down flap and drumbeat of wings half ‘tween leather and feather. Picture the roar of something, Picture the stampede and stomp of something bigger. Your imagination must guide. We have no record of these somethings. Wind and water and endless years took care of that.


We see ice now, dirty, mud-licked ice stretching, screaming, groaning, creaking, calfing and retreating. Ice stretches beyond vision, as unyielding and neverending as the tropical seas where the not-crabs once skittered.

Cold lakes drool by the ice’s edge; other parts heap up mud and rock. Shaggy beasts lumber and glare.

People, dancing loving. People, fighting making amends. People, singing dreaming hunting building reed-wove houses.

Other people coming. Other people taking. Other people signing deals so onerous even one of theirs will ask “Who will believe that any act, however formally executed by the chiefs, is valid, as long as it is known that whisky was one of the parties to the treaty.”

The people danced away in 1835 just a city block north of the street corner at Dearborn and Randolph where every scene has been set.

I’ve written of this corner before and before. Some snippets from writers of each time.

1836: “It was principally prairie with some timber southerly from Randolph Street, though there were some groups of buildings scattered here and there with small patches of ground inclosed [sic] with rail fences.”

1919: “There were acrobats, aerialists, singers, dancers, ventriloquists, jugglers, animal men, dramatic sketch artists, piano teams, dialect comedians in all classes, wire walkers, trick cyclists, sister teams, trios and quartettes, pantomimists, trick cartoonists, novelty musical acts, monologists, soubrettes and prima donnas, mimes and entertainers in all the infinate [sic] variety which was Vaudeville.”

1931: “When the tungstens and the neons at dusk change Randolph Street into a world of gaudy incandescence; when you have arrived in this Great White Way with your companion for an evening at the theatre; when you have finally found a place to park your car and once more reassured yourself that the theatre tickets are still in your coat pocket; and, lastly, when you and the fair lady with you begin to feel that familiar inner void at this time of day, then the restaurants of the Rialto beckon most invitingly.”

1950: “Cocktail lounges with hookers; horse rooms; lawyers’ offices.”

You could see the world from this street corner at Dearborn and Randolph. You can see crime and power at the Daley Courthouse on one end, commerce and poverty through the McDonald’s on the other. Look above and see the stars, look below and see massive bungled civic projects and the remains of crystal-eyed trilobites. A man with portable amps screams you’re going to hell; a man with colored signs declares “THE FBI RAPE ME DAILY.”

Every moment’s here, if you have the interest, a library card and a few minutes of internet access. You can see the world from a street corner. You can see it from any street corner.

Read more on Illinois’ geologic past

I always thought this particular historical tidbit deserved more love

What's this?

You are currently reading #891: The Corner, Prequel by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • -30-