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Chicago’s Continuing History of Drama

PUBLISHED: January 30, 2009

It’s a strange time to live in Chicago.  On the one hand, we have a new President who has filled much of the country, indeed, much of the world, with an almost palpable sense of hope and optimism.

On the other hand, we have our governor. Our defiant, conniving, artfully tousled governor with a penchant for theatrics and language that seems even more out of place when printed on oversize poster board for the Illinois legislature to peruse. And frankly, I’m getting tired of the circus. Chicago is a wonderful city, and I’m not the only one to think so. A lot of great stories that have been written or filmed here in the Windy City, windbag politicians notwithstanding.

The FDA is still making headlines today with tales of contaminated spinach and suspect peanut butter, but we wouldn’t have an FDA at all if not for Upton Sinclair’s classic 1906 novel, The Jungle. Published during the same era (1900), Theodore Dreiser’s classic Sister Carrie shows our heroine running away to the big city of Chicago—even though without the Hancock building or Sears Tower, Carrie’s Chicago is a far cry from the skyline of today. Nobel laureate Saul Bellow placed The Adventures of Augie March (1953) smack in the middle of Chicago. And even if he did leave Hyde Park and the University of Chicago for a small town on the eastern seaboard later in life, well, he started here.

When it comes to nonfiction, who could forget the stories of Studs Terkel?  Terkel may have been born in NYC, but he grew up and lived his life in Chicago, and many of the remarkable stories that fill his noted oral histories are the lives of Chicagoans. And when it comes to downright creepy, it’s hard to top Erik Larson’s more recent Devil in the White City (2004) chronicling not only the 1893 World’s Fair held in Chicago but also the story of one of the first recorded serial killers. (That comes from the book reviews—yours truly walks to and from work at all hours of night and day, so I didn’t make it past the first 50 pages.)

And then there is the glorious world of film….how can we forget the ultimate high-school drama of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1985) filmed in the North Shore, Julia Roberts bringing her classic smile to 1996’s blockbuster romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding, endless scenes of The El or the lakefront in the NBC medical drama ER (hurrah for George Clooney returning one last time!), or more recently the twists and turns of Heath Ledger’s inconic Joker in The Dark Knight? Rest assured, Lower Wacker Drive, site of the infamous car chase/tanker explosion scene, is every bit as unnerving in real life. Even the cabbies avoid going down there.

Is our now-convicted governor going to jail? My guess is yes, and either way I think I know what all of us here in Chicago will be discussing in the elevator for some time to come. But I also know that the Windy City is a great place to be. There are just so many stories.

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