Chicago experiencing a Magic Renaissance

By Elisa Shoenberger

Chicago has been known as a cow town, a town of bootlegging gangsters, and even a town with long-winded politicians but few people know that Chicago was also a place for all things magic. 

At the turn of the 20th century, famous magicians, such as Harry Houdini and Howard Thurston, performed in theaters throughout the city. Chicagoans were hungry for magic and other live entertainment.  Another famous magician of the era, Harry Blackstone Sr. was from Chicago and took his name from the Blackstone Hotel, noted David Witter, author of “Chicago Magic: A History of Stagecraft & Spectacle.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, Chicago was known for its magic bars, where magicians delighted patrons with tricks right at their tables.

“From the ’20s to the ’90s there were at least 16 different magic bars operating around the city,” writer Raf Miastkowski said.

Starting in the 1970s, Marshall Brodien, who played Wizzo the Wizard on TV’s “The Bozo Show,” brought magic into homes as spokesperson for TV Magic Cards, Watkins said.

But by the end of the 20th century, the age of magic in Chicago becan to dry up, and magic bars and shows began disappearing.

Now Chicago’s rich magic history is re-emerging throughout the city as well as the US.

Chicago Magic Lounge, 5050 N Clark St., opened a permanent location in 2018. Dennis Watkins,  a magician, mentalist and entertainer, does five weekly shows of The Magic Parlour at the Palmer House hotel since 2011. He’a also performed in Chicago plays that have incorporated magic into their shows.

Shows like “Penn and Teller: Fool Us” are getting people interested in magic again, Watkins said. 

“Magic isn’t just for kids,” he said. “People are looking for childlike wonder, a virtuosic performance, a puzzle and mystery.”

Close-up magic was Chicago’s speciality in comparison with big-production value disappearing acts. “Chicago magic history has been rooted in close-up and parlor style for a long time,” said Watkins. 

He said his intimate show for 44 guests takes place in the famed Empire Room, where magic legends have performed since the turn of the century. Audience members “get to experience something magical, not in front of you, but with you,” he said.

Ultimately, Watkins said that he and most magicians hope that their audience members will experience the “childlike wonder” of the show. After all, that’s what magic strives to do.

Picture perfect: New Eastsider Randy Martens documents the neighborhood

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

New Eastsider Randy Martens wasn’t always interested in street photography.

Growing up in the country, down in Mendota, Illinois, Martens said he got his start taking sports photographs for the local paper and then photos of barns and cows for fun. He’d taken a correspondence photography course, and over time he fell in love with the art.

“I feel in love with photography when I started working in an office in Mendota,” Martens said.

Martens worked as a billing supervisor and his career was moving along, but it didn’t move him.

“The day they offered me a promotion, they were going to make me assistant to the treasurer, I told them I wanted to quit because I wanted to be a photographer.”

He moved to Chicago in 1982 to pursue his passion. Looking through a viewfinder, it changed him

“It was freedom,” Martens said. “Just to do what you want. Not to have clocks and desks and things like that. Just to go around and see what you see. I was always a storyteller. I wrote poetry and things, but that was sort of labor intensive compared to just taking a picture.”

Martens first trained his camera on skyscrapers and the manmade world, though soon, wandering through the loop, he took a look at the river of humanity passing him by and when he wasn’t working his office job, he was out on the street, taking photographs.

In 1983, Martens met his future-wife and in 1986, they got married.

“I was working in an office in downtown Chicago, and after we got married she and could see I wasn’t very happy working in an office, she basically said to me, ‘I’ll make you a deal,’” Martens said. “She had a job in human resources in a law firm. … She said, ‘I tell you what. If you learn how to cook and keep the house clean, you can be a photographer and I’ll earn the money.’”

It sounded like a good deal to Martens, so he got busy in the kitchen.

“I learned to cook,” he said.

He also fell deep into photography. Today, thousands of photographs into his work, Martens has photographed all types of people in all sorts of places. For the most part, Martens said, people in the Loop have been receptive when he asks to take their picture.  

“I don’t know if I have a different aura or what, but I get a lot of yesses,” he said.

But not always. As Martens spends most of his time on the street, his photos include a lot of the street people he sees, but one man has remained elusive.

“There’s one guy I haven’t seen in three months, a black guy with rasta hair,” Martens said. “He used to walk around for 15 years and I hope he’s not gone. He has the darkest skin. I’ve walked up to him and I asked him if I could take his picture and he says ‘no I don’t do pictures,’ and I said, ‘I’ll give you $5 bucks and he says, ‘no.’ I’ll see him a year later and I offered him $10, and he turned it down. I once offered him $50 and he turned me down. Some people just don’t like the idea.”

Martens has self-published one book, though it’s not for sale anywhere. He said he is planning a show in the near future, and in the meantime people can check out his website, randymartensphotography.com.

Get to know the only biplane pilot in the Air and Water Show

(Published July 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

The Chicago Air and Water show may be famous for its display of high powered state-of-the art aircraft, but one airplane featured this year is not like the others. 

Chicago-based pilot Susan Dacy’s biplane is a throwback to pre-war piloting, to a time before jet engines, but her performance is no less technical and it is no less thrilling. 

Dacy, one of the pilots featured at the Chicago Air and Water Show Aug. 17-19, is one of the few female pilots in the U.S. performing in a bi-plane. But this isn’t her first Air and Water show. Dacy is a commercial pilot and, when she’s not doing tricks during her day job, she tours the country performing rolls, spins and other acrobatic tricks. She said she started in the 1990s and her decades of acrobatic performances is the realization of a goal she’s had since she was a kid and went to her first airshow.

“Of all the performances what impacted me was the biplane that flew,” she said. “It had the smoke trail and it was loud and it really excited me. I always remembered that.”

The early inspiration is reflected in Dacy’s plane, a bright red, 450 horsepower Super Stearman named Big Red. Although biplanes are among the earliest planes, the Super Stearman is a WWII-era plane, developed as a reliable craft for young pilots to learn to fly. Because of their reliability and their ubiquity, Dacy said quite a few planes were retired after the war and they flooded the civilian market.

“This type of plane trained bunches and bunches of cadets,” she said. “They made Army and Navy versions so they had gobs and gobs of these airplanes after the war. A lot of bombers and things like that were crushed up melted down and repurposed but a lot of the Stearmans luckily survived because it was determined they were good for crop dusters.”

It’s a Stearman crop duster that chases Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.”

Dacy’s plane was used in air shows before she bought it. Aside from a new engine, a new “skin” and some aileron flaps, it’s the same plane as the cadets would have piloted in training.

“It’s been a plane that’s pretty much worked its whole life,” she said. “It’s never been in a shed collecting dust.”

Later this month it will be at it again. Although the pilot schedule isn’t set until the day of the show—weather affects what planes can perform—Dacy offered a behind-the-scenes sense of what audiences can expect. Like all the other pilots, Dacy will take off from Indiana but Big Red is the only bi-plane scheduled for the day.

Dacy said audiences can expect “barnstormer-type moves,” including some twists and circles, shooting her craft high into the sky, trailing environmentally-friendly smoke before tumbling back down to earth and ending in a barrel roll.

While her performance may shock, surprise or even make audiences anxious, the one person who won’t be wowed is Dacy.

“Of course, we know what to expect, so it’s almost everything seems routine,” she said. Dacy said she’s got an exit plan in case of the worst, but said she doesn’t worry about it.

“You’re always thinking that stuff and it’s not being fatalistic but it’s just common sense,” she said. “But my airplane is so reliable, and of course I make sure maintenance is performed regularly”

Sticking with the queen of tape

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Anna Dominguez is the queen of tape. It’s a self-proclaimed monicker but it’s also something she can back up. 

Not video tape nor audio tape. Sticky tape. The sort of stuff people use to seal packages and paint walls. She is a tape artist; at once the inventor of a medium and a leader in the Chicago arts scene. 

Dominguez, a Gold Coast resident, has a piece displayed in the St. Jane Hotel in New Eastside. St. Jane owner Carrie Meghie said she’s glad to work with local talent. 

“We are thrilled to support an up and coming artist who is unique, innovative and extremely talented,” Meghie said. 

This is the second work Meghie’s bought from Dominguez. 

“I first saw Anna’s work when she created a piece for me and my husband for our charity (the Jackson Chance Foundation) a few years ago,” Meghie said. “I was impressed, not only by her talent and creativity, but also by her generosity to create such a special piece for us personally. When selecting the artists to work with at St. Jane, she immediately came to mind.”

Dominguez has been creating art since she was a girl. Following graduation from the arts program at Dominican University, she delved into the tape designs—a style she invented. 

“It’s really cool to see that this has become a form of art,” she said. “A lot of us that create with tape call it ‘tape art’ and I refer to my work as ‘tapings.’ When I started this nine years ago, no one was doing what I was doing as far as I know. In the last two years it’s really picked up as a form of art and more people are creating with tape now.”

Dominguez focuses on sports figures, most recently the tennis champion Serena Williams, with the kinetic energy illustrated with various shades and textures of different tape.

“I’m a huge sports fan and athlete myself,” she said. “To me sports and my art relate so much. It’s like you work towards this goal, it’s grueling sometimes, you laugh, cry, mentally push through some of your biggest obstacles. In a way, art is both physically and mentally enduring for me like sports. I could be up for 21 hours straight working on a piece I’m really into and it does take a toll on your body. But a lot of it is mental for me. At the end you find out all the hard work you’ve put into that one piece was worth every emotion and physical obstacle you’ve hit.”

To check out her work, visit www.queenoftape.com. 

How one realtor helped build the neighborhood

(Published on May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright for Sheetal Balani

New Eastside residents know what a gem the neighborhood is. But years ago, before Magellan developed the area, Compass realtor Sheetal Balani was asking her prospective buyers to have faith in her and the future of the area.

Balani has been selling in New Eastside for 13 years, and she recalls bringing clients to the developer’s trailer on Upper Wacker  Dr. to look at scale models and floor plans.

“The sales staff would make their pitch and I’d hold buyers’ hands as they took a leap of faith,” she said. “For most folks there was definitely a lot of uncertainty over what it would ultimately become and what the community would look like.”

With the units stil two to three years away from completion, Balani saw the vision of what could be, and made the sales. Over time, she helped build the familial community.

“Those early buyers, a lot of them are still in the neighborhood and they attract other family members and friends,” she said.

Balani knows the story well. She sold a unit to her in-laws, who moved from the suburbs and she watched their stress melt away.

“They used to always enjoy going to the theatre but the distance between the city and the suburbs was too daunting,” Balani said. “Now they frequent shows two-to-three times a month.”

While Balani could understand the appeal of raising kids in the suburbs, the community of New Eastside allowed her to have a neighborhood and be in the heart of the city–it was the best of both worlds.

“Having lived in the city and moved to the suburbs, wanting to come downtown with two kids, it was clear to me that Lakeshore East was an oasis in the city,” she said. “It felt comfortable and welcoming to a young family.”

Balani knows firsthand the biggest selling points of Lakeshore East.

“My kids learned to ride their bikes around the perimeter of Lakeshore East Park,” she said. “We walk to Mariano’s several times a week and we can walk to work in just minutes.”

Whether you’re raising young kids and want a city meets neighborhood experience or your kids are off at college, Balani knows the ins and outs of New Eastside and can help make it your home.

Spertus to honor Justice Ginsburg in song

(Published May 6, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, will honor Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the musical “Notorious RBG in Song.”

The musical will be performed once, May 19 at 2 p.m.

Ginsburg has served on the high court for 25 years and in recent years Ginsburg has become a pop-culture icon known to fans as Notorious RBG, a wry nod to fellow Brooklynite, rapper Biggie Smalls, the Notorious B.I.G.

Ginsburg’s life and work are celebrated in this one-act dramatic concert featuring soprano/composer Patrice Michaels, who has been called “a formidable interpretative talent” by “The New Yorker” with her collaborative pianist Kuang-Hao Huang and their guests, soprano Michelle Areyzaga, tenor Matthew Dean, and baritone Evan Bravos.

Justice Ginsburg, this concert and the accompanying CD are personal. These songs about her life are presented (and in many cases, written) by her daughter-in-law, Michaels, and produced by her son, Cedille Records founder James Ginsburg.

James Ginsburg will sit for a post-show question and answer session and an accompanying CD will be for sale at the post-program reception.

Performance is 75 minutes long and there is no intermission. Tickets are $18, $10 for Spertus members and $8 for students and Spertus alumni. They’re available at spertus.edu.

SHE SAID YES!: The Maggie Daley marriage proposal heard ‘round the world

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Bob Lempa wanted to do something big for Peggy Baker, his longtime girlfriend.

They’d been dating for years and he knew she was special and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. It was just a matter of finding the right time and place to ask her to marry him.

So, one snowy morning, armed with twine, some stakes and a snow shovel, he went to work in Maggie Daley Park, first marking out the letters and then shoveling.

Six hours later, the words “marry me” were written across the snowy canvass of Maggie Daley Park.

“I had no idea whether security would kick me out when I started doing this,” Baker said. “But they were supportive. I wasn’t writing something negative, it wasn’t something political and it wasn’t a commercial.”

It was painstaking, Baker said.

But it worked.

After he wrapped up, Lempa called Baker. It was a day after Valentine’s Day and he had told her she’d be getting a card.

“At four he called and said, ‘Did you get my card yet?’ and I said, ‘no’ and then he said ‘look out your window,’” said Baker. “I knew it was for me and I saw the message and my co-workers overheard and they started congratulating me and giving me hugs. They clapped and cheered. I met Bob at the park and the park district people were there and I got to say yes officially when I went down there.”

Lempa caught more than Baker’s attention though. Since the public proposal caught the attention of downtown, Lempa said he’s seen his name pop up in stories around the world.

“I wasn’t doing it for the publicity, although I thought I might get some,” Lempa said. “But it is all across the States and it hit Mexico, Spain and New Delhi.”

Baker said she’s thrilled to be part of a good news story.

Prior to the engagement, Baker had been thinking about a fun vacation as a way to shake up her winter.

“I was thinking a week ago, I need to plan a vacation or something exciting,” she said. “Who knew how the week would go? So many people are reaching out and this got so much attention. It is amazing. I was on TV this week! So many people are talking about it.”

Lempa said he certainly doesn’t mind.

“I was looking to hit a homerun and I hit a grand slam,” he said.

The couple hasn’t set a date for the wedding yet, but Lempa said they’re thinking about sometime over the summer.

It’s easy to help others in the downtown area

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

 

The holiday season often inspires a desire to do good and give back. Lucky for folks who live in the Loop, it’s easy to find charities that need help right next door. Of course, if time is limited, these organizations would love a Thanksgiving or Christmas donation, just in time for the holiday season and in time to get a tax break next year.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 251 E. Huron St., offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities. Whether you want to knit hats for newborns, deliver mail or interact with patients, there’s something for everyone to do. Volunteers receive free flu shots, invitations to hospital events and discounts at participating retailers. Volunteer must make a six month commitment of four hours per week, be 18 years of age and complete a background check. Visit nm.org/patients-and-visitors/volunteer or call 312-926-2070 for more information.

Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s Hospital

Ronald McDonald House helps families with children who have medical needs by making sure family members can stay somewhere close when their child is in the hospital. Volunteer opportunities are numerous and varied. Visit rmhccni.org for more information. For information about volunteering with Lurie Children’s hospital, visit luriechildrens.org.

Skyline Village Chicago

Skyline Village is a membership organization for older adults. By volunteering, you can make a positive difference in an older person’s life. Volunteers can choose from a variety of jobs, including visiting members at home or in the hospital, accompanying them to doctor’s appointments, doing their grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions and providing technological help. Call 312-957-6060 or visit skylinevillagechicago.org for more information.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago

When you volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, you will become a mentor and a friend to an at-risk child between the ages of 7 and 14-years-old. These relationships help children become better students and improve their relationships with their peers. Find out more at bbbschgo.org/volunteer.

Fourth Presbyterian Church

Fourth Presbyterian Church uses volunteers for its own church groups and activities, but also partners with other Chicago-based organizations such as the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Chicago Lights Urban Farm. In addition, the church organizes a group called Helping Hands, which helps with painting, cleaning, construction and gardening. Call 312-981-3382 or visit fourthchurch.org for more information.

In Her Shoes Foundation

In Her Shoes is a volunteer-run organization dedicated to empowering women and girls. Opportunities include mentoring, administrative roles, photography and videography. Find out more at inhershoesfoundation.org/volunteer.

Cruising from summer job to boat captain

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

Published September 04, 2018

When Gabriel Argumedo was 15, he got a summer job with Chicago’s First Lady Cruises and Mercury Cruises as a deckhand, taking tickets, cleaning bathrooms and acting as a lookout for the captain.

“When I started down here, I didn’t even know that Chicago had a river,” said Argumedo, who is originally from Barrington, Illinois. “That’s how green I was.”

Now 30, he has risen to the rank of captain, piloting vessels on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan for tours and private events. He also works as director of vessel operations and runs the maintenance department during the winter off-season. Argumedo’s brother, David, works as a captain as well.

A typical day for Argumedo begins around 7:30 a.m., giving him and his crew time to prepare for the first river cruise at 9 a.m. They run safety drills first and then set up the boat and check that everything is working and ready to go. Then the tours begin—three to six each per day.

Argumedo offers several tours, including a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise and a river and lake tour, the latter being Argumedo’s favorite.

“I never get tired of that view of the city from the lake.” He said his favorite moments on the lake are at sunset or at night.

When he does private events like corporate parties or weddings, Argumedo said he sometimes works late into the night. Piloting for private charters takes more skill and is, “more involved with the customer one-on-one, and you’re doing more custom routes and making a lot more decisions,” Argumedo said.

Argumedo said he loves his job because it changes every day and he’s constantly
meeting new people.

“If you’re a social butterfly, this is definitely the job for you,” he said.

Argumedo said he just likes being out on the water. Some of his most exciting moments have involved rescuing other boats and meeting celebrities, he said.

But being a boat captain does come with challenges—namely, dealing with river traffic.

“While there is plenty of room for everybody to be on [the river], the most difficult part is just getting the education out there of how to maneuver on the river,” Argumedo said.

He said the boating industry is always looking for good people to hire.

“I think most people are unaware that this opportunity or this industry even exists,” he said.

He said it’s possible for a boat lover to make a career out of it—and a fun one, at that.

Argumedo said that because he enjoys what he does, “it really doesn’t feel like work most of the days.”

Meet the new head of GEMS school

By Tom Conroy | Staff Writer

Tom Cangiano began in July as the newest head of school for GEMS World Academy Chicago.

Cangiano is the fourth head since the school opened in September 2014, but said he will stay a while. “I don’t take a job if I’m not completely committed to it,” said Cangiano, who has over 25 years of combined experience as an educator and leader.

“It is crucial to have leadership stability at a newer school and the only way to get things done is to stay long-term.”

Prior to arriving at GEMS, Cangiano led the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh for eight years. That experience will serve him well as GEMS prepares to add more high school classes and new facilities in its Upper School building by the 2019–2020 academic year.

Cangiano said he and his wife were happy to move to Chicago. Cangiano, a native of Massachusetts, said he enjoys living in the city and the school’s proximity to everything in New Eastside. He has two children in high school and a third in college.

Cangiano has lived overseas, teaching in Budapest and serving as the president of the American College of Sofia in Bulgaria. He said his international experience fits with GEMS and its global network of schools as well as its International Baccalaureate curriculum.

“The school is both inward and outward looking, as we encourage students to understand what is going on not just around the world, but also here in Chicago.”
– Tom Cangiano

“GEMS’ genuine commitment to global citizenship attracted me,” he explained. “The school is both inward and outward looking, as we encourage students to un- derstand what is going on not just around the world, but also here in Chicago.” He added that the school teaches students to explore and research Chicago.”

“The history person in me comes out when I encourage the kids to be part of the community so they can understand the context of what they are learning,” said Cangiano, who has a background in the humanities. Cangiano added that he hopes to strengthen the school’s global network.

He recently attended strategic planning meetings in Dubai and hopes to increase the number of joint service programs and exchanges, allowing students to collaborate with their peers at other GEMS schools.

Domestically, he will work toward growing enrollment to 100 students per grade level for a total enrolment of 1,500 students.

GEMS World Academy Chicago
350 E. South Water St.
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 809-8900
gemsworldacademy-chicago.com

Published August 1, 2018

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