Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Fall 2019
Volume 112, Number 3
Our Fall 2019 issue brings together culture and commerce, in three distinctive contexts. In “Florenz Ziegfield and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Chicago,” Susan E. Hirsch explores the rise of high culture–classical music, opera, theater, the fine arts–and its corresponding ethic of cosmopolitanism through the work of the German immigrant, Florenz Ziegfield. The talented classical pianist was one of Chicago’s busiest cultural entrepreneurs during the Gilded Age. Moreover, the city’s well-to-do took genuine pride in the cosmopolitanism that defined Ziegfield’s approach to music and culture. Ziegfield’s outlook, embracing diverse European artistic forms and traditions, fell short of the multiracial pluralism that can be said to define cosmopolitanism today. Nevertheless, Ziegfield’s story is one that blends commercial success with the emerging ethic of ethnic tolerance and cultural diversity that elite Chicagoans came to associate with their city. His legacy includes the Chicago Musical College, the first accredited conservatory in the West, and now part of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and of course, his son, Flo Ziegfield, the famous creator of the Ziegfield Follies. Indeed, the father-son duo show how entrepreneurs of both high culture and popular culture–or what today is known as show business–used commercial mechanisms to cultivate appreciation for the arts, be they lowbrow or highbrow, and in so doing make profound changes to America’s cultural landscape. Even in the face of reaction–such as the campaign for 100% Americanism during World War I and after–and despite ongoing ethnic and racial tensions, Chicago’s cosmopolitan institutions and traditions, forged by men like Ziegfield, remained a permanent fixture in the life and culture of the city.
The commercial opportunities presented by the variety of forms of popular entertainment in Chicago attracted figures less noble than the Ziegfields. In “When Chicago Went to the Dogs: Al Capone and Greyhound Racing in the Windy City, 1927-1933,” Steven A. Riess traces the fascinating history of Chicagoland dog racing and its deep connections to the city’s crime syndicates. Everyone knows Al Capone and other Chicago gangsters made a fortune in the Prohibition era through illegal bootlegging. Gangland Chicago’s connections to popular spectator sports of the era, such as boxing and horseracing, are also well documented. Far less known is Capone’s involvement in greyhound racing. Attracted to the large sums of money generated by this working-class betting sport, Capone and others in Chicago’s underworld immediately saw the financial benefit of operating greyhound race tracks. They could launder ill-gotten money through this semi-legal enterprise; they could reap betting windfalls through “the fix;” and they could enjoy the prestige and popularity associated with delivering entertainment to the city’s working class, essential to their influence over Chicagoland politicians and law enforcement officials. In the end, as Riess tells it, the race track operators lost their own bet–they failed to get approval for on-track gambling, and their political connections were of little help in keeping their tracks open permanently. The biggest loser, Riess says, was none other than Al Capone, whose indictment and conviction for tax evasion was based in part on the money he made in greyhound racing.
Our final article traces the trajectory of racial attitudes and policies in an affluent Chicago suburb. In “Race, Town, and Gown: A White Christian College and a White Suburb Address Race,” Brian J. Miller and David B. Malone summarize the evolution of Wheaton College and the larger community of Wheaton, Illinois on matters of race. Before the Civil War both college and town were well-known for abolitionism and relatively enlightened racial views. By the late nineteenth century, however, that earlier openness to African American uplift was waning fast. At the college, the reform ferment of the antebellum era gave way to evangelical fundamentalism, steering the college in more conservative directions. Meanwhile, as the town of Wheaton suburbanized after World War II, the new affluence it residents enjoyed corresponded with a more conservative approach to racial integration at the heart of the postwar Civil Rights Movement. The history of racial tolerance that had defined both college and town at their founding, while remaining a point of pride to be remembered, seemed only that, a distant memory. Miller and Malone, however, point to this history to make an important point–that structural economic and social change, coupled with new ideas, profoundly influence institutional and cultural change over time. Wheaton College and the larger suburb of which it is a part can, and no doubt will, continue to evolve, perhaps in surprising directions.
“Florenz Ziegfield and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Chicago”
Susan E. Hirsch
“When Chicago Went to the Dogs: Al Capone and Greyhound Racing in the Windy City, 1927-1933”
Steven A. Riess
“Race, Town, and Gown: A White Christian College and a White Suburb Address Race”
Brian J. Miller and David B. Malone
Wanderer on the American Frontier: The Travels of John Maley, 1808-1813. Edited by F. Andrew Dowdy
Reviewed by Amy Godfrey Powers
Return to the City of Joseph: Modern Mormonism’s Contest for the Soul of Nauvoo. By Scott Esplin
Reviewed by Danny Aaron Russell
Corn-Kings & One-Horse Thieves: A Plain-Spoken History of Illinois. By James Krohe, Jr.
Reviewed by Greg Hall
Cemeteries of Illinois: A Field Guide to Markers, Monuments, and Motifs. By Hall Hassen and Dawn Cobb
eviewed by Patricia Ann Owens
Bonds of Union: Religion, Race and Politics in a Civil War Borderland. By Bridget Ford
Reviewed by Amy Helene Forss
The Black Heavens: Abraham Lincoln and Death. By Brian R. Dirck
Reviewed by John Schaff
Chicago’s Grand Midway: A Walk Around the World at the Columbian Exposition. By Norma Bolotin
Reviewed by Roland L. Guyotte
The Mexican Revolution in Chicago: Immigration Politics from the Early Twentieth Century to the Cold War. By John Flores
Reviewed by Oscar Cañedo
Chicago Heights: Little Joe College, the Outfit, and the Fall of Sam Giancana. By Charles Hager
Reviewed by John Morello
Black Public History in Chicago: Civil Rights Activism from World War II into the Cold War. By Ian Rocksborough-Smith
Reviewed by Jason Chatman
Al Capone, 1930, following his arrest on a vagrancy charge. Courtesy, Chicago Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Wide World Photos.