A Mile Square of Chicago by Marjorie Warvelle Bear is a book with a long story of its own. Bear wrote the manuscript in the 1960s and 1970s and died in 1982 without publishing. Though her daughter Marjorie Harbaugh Bennett's efforts to sell the book to a publisher were described in a Chicago Tribune column by Eric Zorn in 1994, it was late 2007 when the long-awaited book finally appeared in print.
The square mile of Chicago in question is directly west of downtown, a bit west of the Chicago River. It now includes the United Center, surrounded by its parking lots. Along its southern edge is the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center and the Eisenhower Expressway. It is no longer thought of as a family oriented neighborhood, as it was in the 1850 to 1920 period described by Bear in her book .
A Mile Square of Chicago, more of a reference book than narrative, is divided into three books. The first part is "Book One: Before My Day," which tells about the area up to 1897, when Bear was born. The first chapter tells about Brown School, an elementary school started in 1852, and its famous students. Tad Lincoln, Bertha Honore Palmer, Lillian Russell, Flo Ziegfield, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Eddie Foy, and five others each get between two and twenty-two pages telling about their lives, much of it beyond their years at Brown School. Most get pictures. The second chapter then tells about Old Central High School and another list of students, none of whom I recognize. The third chapter tells about the beginnings of all the area hospitals.
"Book Two: In My Day" starts with a detailed description of Bear's house at 654 West Monroe Street, which was later renumbered 1743 West Monroe Street. This may be the most important contribution of this book, as the author gives a deep look into everyday life at the beginning of the twentieth century. She tells about the rooms, the furniture, the bathroom fixtures, the kitchen, and the back yard. She includes interior and exterior photos, and describes ice and coal delivery. Then she tells what a walker would see in the immediate neighborhood and on a walk on Ashland Avenue.
Further along in Book Two, Bear uses school records to tell about textbooks and assigned reading and public library records to tell about children's books and popular periodicals. Her friends at Brown School, the clothes they wore, the music they played, and how they celebrated holidays. Then the author tells about more schools and more famous students. The names I recognize are the animator Walt Disney and the novelist Phyllis A. Whitney.
The third section mostly updates information about schools and hospitals in the area up to the 1970s. For a pleasure reader, this is the least interesting section as there are no personal details.
Bear ends with a short philosophical section, which is most quotes from poetry. It expresses the idea that a small neighborhood can give much to the world at large.
The 548-page book is a model of what would be a great personal project for any family history-minded person. A collection of family and neighborhood information could be invaluable to grandchildren and later generations, making their ancestors more than just names on charts.
A Mile Square of Chicago is an important acquisition to Chicago area libraries and research collections outside the area. The only way to obtain it appears to be through Google Base. If I read the source's entry correct, there may only be 32 copies left.
Bear, Marjorie Warvelle. A Mile Square of Chicago. TIPRAC, 2007. ISBN 9780963399540