#956: Who Was Who?

July 20th, 2018

The book smells delicious, that combination of wood rot and dust every hankerer after old volumes knows well.

It’s a “Who’s Who in Chicago and Vicinity” (Enlarged to Include the Entire State of Illinois) from 1941. I’m flipping through a pound of pages and decades of history, life stories laid before me in dates, figures and antiquated abbreviation systems.

And I have no idea who these people are.

There are some famous names sprinkled and strewn — HALAS, George Stanley, prefessional [sic.] football; THOMPSON, William Hale, ex-mayor; DALEY, Richard J., state senator — but most of the attraction is the stately, powerful and unknown.

I know who Kenesaw Mountain Landis was (“ex-judge, baseball commissioner” at the time of the book), but I don’t know the names flanking him of his more-forgotten peers — LANDESCO, John, criminologist and LANDIS, Reed Gresham, regional vice. pres Am. Airlines, Inc.

Sometime there are explanations and details, such as how attorney Paul George Dallwig earned the title “layman lecturer.”

Became interested in the exhibits in Field Museum, Chicago, and offered his services without compensation as lecturer; lectures each Sunday afternoon on such subjects as “The Parade of the Races,” “Digging up the Caveman’s Past,” “Gems, Jewels and ‘Junk’”; his methods so interesting and the response so general, advance reservations must be secured for the lectures; in appreciation he has been appointed a volunteer member of the museum staff with the title, Layman Lecturer.

Or how journalist John Charles Metcalfe went undercover with the Nazis.

Awarded silver plaque of Nat. Headliners Club for finest piece of news reporting in the U.S., 1938. Agent in charge of Nazi and Fascist investigations for Dies Com. on Un-American Activities, 1938. Nat. lecturer, speaking on “I Cover The Fifth Column,” “Alien Propaganda and Spies” and “I Joined The Bund.”

Other times the bios taunt with their lack of detail.

MACINTIRE, Horace J., prof. refrigeration, U. of Ill.

THRANE, Victor, timber lands; Mar. 12 1868-Dec. 10, 1936.

HARRIS, Roscoe Everett, physicist

Whether careers were summed in essays or nouns, they were followed by lists of accomplishments. Books on stamp collecting, lectures on woodwind instruments, expeditions to Africa, club memberships listed to the exact degree of shrining they shrine at. Political appointments and the dates they joined the Trail Riders Assn. or the British Royal Navy.

It’s fascinating and sad to leaf through this book of forgotten luminaries, of people once so widely known a book purporting to list the listable would have seemed empty without them.

“There is no charge for the inclusion of sketches in this volume,” the preface declares. “Not a single sketch in the book has been paid for–and none can be paid for.”

I will never hear a Dallwig lecture or know exactly how one becomes a professor of refrigeration. I might put this book back on the shelf where I found it and never skim the pages again. But I like to think something from this book of the dead’s lives will linger with me, a notion of impermanence, some perspective on accomplishment or just a delicious smell wafting through the air.

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You are currently reading #956: Who Was Who? by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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