I have to avoid the paternalist disease of praising a neighborhood just because I wasn’t instantly mugged, punched and carjacked the moment I parked the Chrysler in Englewood.
Englewood is a bitchy sit for a young, white, liberal and somewhat emotionally needy writer. I don’t want to excoriate a neighborhood for not having the opportunities I did. But I don’t want to praise down to it either.
I don’t want to talk about the human spirit when it’s just some dude going to work. I don’t want to talk about the joyous black culture when folks of all races tend to laugh when they’re hanging out with friends. I don’t want to use the word “vibrant” if I mean “noisy and a crackhead tried to hug me.”
So, for the record, the brief sliver of Englewood I saw is not hell on earth, but it’s also not a place I would want to live.
There are some nice stores and a whole bunch of boarded-up places too. There’s a city college and weed-covered city blocks where they only standing building is a three-flat with busted windows. There are sweet-ass murals and lead in the soil. It’s gang territory. Like bad gang territory. Some damn fine people live there too.
There are homes next to power transfer stations and garages that shake when the L rumbles above them. There was one of those big, creepy yellow-white spiders that crawled all over my windshield so I got an unencumbered look at its nasty underside and I always hate that.
But I was there for one reason: to mail my uncle a get-well card where a serial killer did some bad, bad stuff.
The Englewood Post Office, across 63rd from an Aldi and across Lowe from the Englewood Health Center, was built on the site of Dr. H.H. Holmes’ “murder castle.”
Dr. Holmes preyed during the late 19th century, offing tenants and at least one whole family using his house. That modifier’s not misplaced: His house was the murder weapon.
Some of the rooms in the death house — on the surface a hotel for Columbian Exhibition visitors — were “asphyxiation chambers” where the good doctor would gas his guests before robbing them. They would never leave the hotel, just switch over to one of the various dissection, crematory or acid-pit rooms where Holmes would make sure as little evidence as possible remained.
He confessed to 28 murders, although no expert believes it was that few.
Today, it’s a nice if scruffy post office down half a block from a tranny disco that offers a salad bar.
I saw no marker commemorating the world’s most trap-laden castle not owned by Bowser, but I could have missed it. The older folks coming in and out smiled and thanked me for holding open the door. The lady behind the counter had the most radiant grin I’ve ever seen on a government employee.
But she grinned at me through an inch-thick, bullet-proof window. An older man picking up a package had his gift buzzed through a two-doored counter-top airlock, each side matched by that same chunky Plexiglas. When I left, I noticed the block-long line at the free clinic across Lowe was gone. It was now 10:02, so they had opened the doors.
Here’s the part where I usually sum up, but I’ve got nothing. I’m not so arrogant as to think five minutes buying a book of Black Heritage stamps and mailing a card to my uncle gave me any special insight into Englewood. I’m not going to try to dissect it like Holmes did his victims.
Englewood to me seemed like a “mind your own business” sort of neighborhood, where thousands of people each day lead good, honorable lives without some North Sider poking his nose in.
The highest death tally that address has ever seen was some crazy white dude, but my biggest fears were that huge-ass spider followed by any unemployed person below 25.
I wish Englewood all the best. But, man, I’m still not going there at night. Sorry.
Written in April 2012