I prefer the view I had yesterday.
August 14, 2010 10:33 PM   Subscribe

Raising Chicago: An Illustrated History. Lilli Carré takes a look at an unusual civic project: 'Mid-19th-century Chicago was an emerging titan of agribusiness, a burgeoning transit hub, a potential star of the Midwest—and a disease-infested swamp in danger of being reclaimed by Lake Michigan. By 1855, with roads knee deep in sludge, city hall faced a massive undertaking: hoisting Chicago out of the muck by raising the streets and structures as much as 14 feet.' More about the raising of Chicago. (via)
posted by shakespeherian (12 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Seattle did this too. So did Galveston after the hurricane in 1900 (but it wasn't enough to bring the city back). Makes me wonder how common it was, I guess I can guess at why so many cities were built in low water areas to get in this mess. The most interesting thing that Chicago ever did though was reversing the river. That's impressive.
posted by Some1 at 12:02 AM on August 15, 2010

Guess Chicago hadn't developed broad enough shoulders to lift itself until the next century
posted by Cranberry at 12:15 AM on August 15, 2010

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,

Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,

Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,

Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.
-Carl Sandburg
Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized.
-Daniel Burnham
Sharks are as tough as those football fans who take their shirts off during games in Chicago in January, only more intelligent.
-Dave Barry
I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.
-H. L. Mecnken
I've reported murders, scandals, marriages, premieres and national political conventions. I've been amused, intrigued, outraged, enthralled and exasperated by Chicago. And I've come to love this American giant, viewing it as the most misunderstood, most underrated city in the world. There is none other quite like my City of Big Shoulders.
-Irv Kupcinet
posted by eriko at 12:29 AM on August 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

It is fascinating to wander through older parts of the city where you can see evidence of this. Especially the blocks where some buildings are newer. The street grade remains the same, but the back yards are below grade. And then at grade, and then below grade, as you walk down the street.

The other interesting thing is the double decker streets in certain areas. In some parts of the downtown area, the apparent grade actually rises as you go towards the lake. Because the actual grade drops slightly, this leaves plenty of room for a second set of streets below, used for deliveries and such. It is especially interesting to wander around down there and see the streets above basically bolted to the buildings.

Also, most of what we think of as the lakeshore is all landfill.

The reversing of the river isn't *quite* as miraculous as it might seem if you are thinking about a normal river. Chicago was pretty much a swamp, depending on the season, and the river was its low point. The continental divide is only a few miles offshore and the elevation isn't all that much higher than the lake. Maybe 20 feet? So they just cut a canal and installed some locks. Tremendous engineering feat, yes, but it's not like reversing the Mississippi.
posted by gjc at 5:51 AM on August 15, 2010

For despite the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, the missionary societies and the Bible institutes, the Legion of Decency and Lieutenant Fulmer, Preston Bradley and the Epworth League, Emile Coue and Dwight L. Moody, there's no true season for salvation here. Good times or hard, it's still an infidel's capital six days a week.

-Nelson Algren
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:56 AM on August 15, 2010

My aunt used to live on a raised street. Such an adventure to go visit. We kids were instructed not to fall off the street into the front yard. And if you lived on the first floor of a three-flat, you didn't get a whole lot of natural sunlight in your apartment.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:03 AM on August 15, 2010

The layers of Chicago are really quite interesting. Illustrated here. More about Chicago street grades here and here, and its extensive network of underground tunnels here (including the crazy cool underground freight tunnels, how they were constructed and a ComEd employee's exploration of the abandoned tunnels in the 1980's). More goodies from Forgotten Chicago.
posted by jeanmari at 7:38 AM on August 15, 2010 [8 favorites]

For almost a decade I insisted that my older brothers were putting me on when they said that Chicago had to raise the streets and buildings. The more they explained it the more it seemed like a joke. "Make no little plans" indeed.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:59 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in the city's early history, and/or Daniel Burnham, check out Devil in the White City, about the Columbian Exposition in 1892. It's a great read, and I was pretty surprised to find out that the Science and Industry Museum is housed in one of the original buildings from the fair.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:42 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

This strip -- while I like it! -- isn't exactly her most mind-blowing work ever and might not necessarily get you to check out her other work, but if you like comics and don't know who Lilli Carré is, you should get that fixed. That second part, I mean. I really liked The Lagoon.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:02 AM on August 15, 2010

Yes, let me add my applause for linking to the work of Lilli Carre. I have only a short booklet of hers that tells a story about a boy and an Octopus, but it's clear she's a very interesting and distinctive talent. I've long wanted to read more of her work, and I'm thinking that now I will. Thanks for the post.
posted by washburn at 9:31 AM on August 15, 2010

I really really loved Chicago for the few years I lived there. I never got to do so many things I wanted to though. The routine of everyday life and being lazy, I guess. Hopefully I'll get to do a few of the things I always wanted to do when I visit in October.
posted by kmz at 10:07 PM on August 15, 2010

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