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.

Historic Final Resting Places—Some popular downtown cemeteries

By Angela Gagnon, Staff Writer

Graceland Cemetery, 4001 N. Clark St., is an active park-like Victorian era burial ground and arboretum featuring architectural masterpieces and a lush local history. Established in1860, Graceland was part of a movement toward garden or rural cemetery design, which incorporated native plants and naturalistic landscaping techniques. Graceland is still an active cemetery connecting past, present and future through fascinating stories that combine prominent figures and historical architecture. For more information on cemetery services, including burial plots, creation options and genealogy, visit www.gracelandcemetary.org.

Rosehill Cemetery, 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave., is the largest cemetery in Chicago. It is the final resting place of many known Chicagoans including Oscar F. Mayer, Jack Brickhouse, Leo Burnett, John G. Shedd and Richard Sears, as well as scores of Civil War soldiers and generals. Incorporated in1859, Rosehill continues to welcome visitors with its famous entrance archway designed by William Boyington. Each October, Rosehill becomes the course for a candlelit Crypt 5K where participants experience the 350-acre Victorian-era cemetery’s frightful scenic paths, historic monuments, fire fighters’ memorial and spirited mausoleums. For more information, call (773) 561-5940.

Bohemian National Cemetery, 5255 N. Pulaski Road, was founded in 1877 in an effort to provide an eternal resting place, free of religious restrictions, for Bohemian Americans. Today the cemetery is available for people of all races, nationalities and religions. The landmark cemetery greets visitors with its breathtaking limestone gatehouse and offers 122-acres of rich aesthetic and genealogical history, including ornately decorated columbariums, war memorials and sculptures. For information, call (773) 539-8442. 

Oak Woods Cemetery, 1035 E. 67th St. on Chicago’s South Side, is a large garden cemetery and the final resting place for many notable public figures, including Mayor Harold Washington, Olympian Jesse Owens, Civil Rights Activist Ida B. Wells and an estimated 6000 confederate soldiers and prisoners of war who perished at Camp Douglas. Established in 1853, Oak Woods was constructed with landscape architecture and features beautiful wide lawns and four small peaceful lakes that offer the perfect place for quiet reflection. For information, call (773) 288-3800. 

Lincoln Cemetery, 12300 S. Kedzie Ave., is comprised of 112 pristinely maintained acres and has provided a range of burial choices since 1911. The space includes a unique dedicated Veterans cemetery that honors those who have served. Visitors can also experience the Veterans Walk of Remembrance, participate in a veterans memorial service each Memorial Day, or visit the 9/11 Memorial. For more information, call (733) 445-5400. 
Irving Park Cemetery, 7777 Irving Park Road, is a small, quiet cemetery on Chicago’s Northwest side. It was established in 1918 to serve nearby communities in a nondenominational fashion when the area was primarily prairie, farm and forest. It was constructed with Frank Lloyd Wright-style architecture that features a peaceful prairie landscape. For information, call 773-625-3500.

Coyotes have adapted to big city living

By Elisa Shoenberger

There are 3,000 to 4,000 coyotes living in the Chicago area, according to Stanley Gehrt, professor at Ohio State University. And they can be found across city, even in Grant Park and Graceland Cemetery.

“They are finding ways to use all parts of the landscape in most parts of Chicago,” Dr. Gehrt said. Coyotes make use of green spaces, such as cemeteries and golf courses, but also may curl up in bushes during the day and people might not notice them. 

Their population began increasing in the 1990s, but numbers have leveled off in the past ten years, according to Gehrt.

Some residents could be concerned about a predator living in Chicago. But the number of problems has been low, only a few incidents per year, said Seth Magle, Director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo. “Ninety-nine percent of these coyotes are really good at not drawing attention,” he said.

Coyotes are good at finding places to avoid humans. Golf courses are great because they aren’t used much during the winter, Magle said. One coyote even had a den of pups in Soldier Field’s parking lot in 2014. The best time to see the animals is at sunset in cemeteries like Graceland or Rose Hill in Uptown. 

Occasionally, a coyote’s behaviour is unpredictable, like the coyote who walked into a cooler at a Quiznos downtown restaurant in 2007. But that’s unusual, Magle said, likely the result of some strange interactions between humans and the animal. When not hiding from humans, coyotes hunt rabbits and rodents, which is great for keeping those populations down.

The animals have made other interesting adaptations. Gehrt’s research found some coyotes look both ways before crossing the road, which is necessary in busy traffic areas. Through direct observation and cameras on the coyotes themselves, scientists have seen them observing traffic and adjusting their crossing strategies. 

The Urban Wildlife Institute has a scientist citizen project called Chicago Wildlife Watch in which people help scientists gather data on animal patterns. There are remote motion-sensitive cameras set up throughout the city. People can access the photos and tag animals in photos to help scientists gather data

Man, do these kids have it good at the playground

By Jon Cohn

I recently checked out the Maggie Daley Park kids playground. Oh, to be young again!

The playground of my day was a couple of chain swings, maybe a teeter-totter (remember those things?) and a really COOL  jungle gym. 

Fast forward some 50 years and welcome to today’s state-of-the-art playground.

At Maggie Daley Park, visitors can start with the watering hole, a special play area for 2-5 year olds. Adjacent to this is a separate area dedicated to swings, which includes three old-school, strap-in swings and one grand luxury swing, complete with big bucket seats and extra leg room.

Decked out with two giant climbing tree-house towers and a beautiful wooden suspension bridge, the main area really has the ‘wow’ factor that made me want to just climb on in, but I didn’t because I was over the age limit.  Connected to the tree-house towers are two gigantic winding slides that I would have loved as a young kid. Suddenly my old jungle gym didn’t seem so cool.

I was dubious about a four-pronged metal slide I spied. I’m not sure what metal bars were all about, but it sure would be very painful for any fully formed adult male to slide down and so I didn’t try it.

Just when I thought the playground tour was over, I stumbled across a pirate-ship area, really cool nest swings (think giant baskets where two can ride), and an enchanted forest.    

Yes, an enchanted forest, complete with winding paths, cool trees, mini statues, a maze of mirrors and more slides. They just don’t make playgrounds like they used to.

The grass, mud and wood chip flooring we had in our playgrounds has been replaced by a comfy and colorful soft, spongy surface.

I’m not sure I would say today’s kids are soft but the surface they walk on sure is.

Keep it on the down low, but I may go back when it’s a little dark and not many people are around. I just might climb up that tower and go head first diving down that giant winding slide.

Forever young.

PureCircle Ice Cream trucks bring late summer flavors to Chicago

By Angela Gagnon

Staff Writer

PureCircle, the leading producer of stevia sweeteners for the global food and beverage industry, is distributing its new gourmet ice cream in Lakeshore East Park. 

Food trucks will be parked near The Tides from 2-4 p.m. and by The Streeter Apartments in Streeterville from noon-2 p.m. every Saturday through October.

Based in Chicago, PureCircle is known for its natural-origin, zero-calorie sweetener made from stevia plants. The ice cream, which launched in August, features the next generation non-GMO stevia leaf sweeteners and is intended to show consumers how this sweetener tastes great and offers a healthier alternative to high calorie foods and beverages. 

“We’re looking to raise awareness about stevia and what it is as a natural plant that has zero calories and is non GMO,” said PureCircle’s Global Marketing Manager and Streeterville resident Dan Kubiak.

New Eastside resident Morgan Vawter stopped by the truck on a sunny day in September to stock up on her favorite flavors of PureCircle ice cream. 

“It is the best low sugar ice cream I’ve ever had,” she said. “And I’m keto, and it’s keto-friendly which is really special.” 

PureCircle Ice Cream comes in five flavors: vanilla, chocolate, salted caramel, coffee and Rabanaberry, a vegan fruit-flavored dessert with raspberry, banana and blueberry.

“Ice cream has been our opportunity to have people experience the best kind of stevia products that we produce,” said New Eastside resident Alina Slotnik, PureCircle’s Vice President of Global Marketing.

“Our next phase is engaging companies and encouraging them to create next generation products with stevia,” Slotnik said.

In connection with the ice cream launch, PureCircle has partnered with the Illinois chapter of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which funds research, advocates for government action and provides support to fight Type 1 Diabetes. 

“JDRF understands the challenges and limitations of finding really delicious, but healthy and safe products for people with diabetes,” Slotnik said. “They were excited to bring this product to their audience and help educate them about stevia and show that it’s a safe sweetener.”

JDRF will have PureCircle ice cream samples and products as well as coupons and promotional materials at its One Walk Events this fall. PureCircle will also be the official dessert sponsor of JDRF’s One Dream Gala in Chicago at the end of the year. 

For more information, visit purecircleicecream.com.

Pumpkins at the Park Event

By Sheetal Balani

October is here.  Autumn in Chicago means days will soon be flush with fallen red and orange leaves that crunch satisfyingly underfoot.  The temperatures will cool and we’ll respond iwith chunky sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes in hand. We’ll watch The Chicago Bears defeat the Green Bay Packers and attend Oktoberfest events across the city.

Anticipation grows for the upcoming holiday season – in my opinion, among the best holidays of the year: Halloween and Thanksgiving!  

Last month, I wrote about fun events in and around Chicago to commemorate the arrival of Fall.  In the spirit of community and to celebrate the changing of the seasons, I invite you to come to get a free pumpkin, enjoy some seasonal treats, and meet your neighbors on Saturday, October 19th from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm outside at Mariano’s 4th Floor patio.  

My team and I look forward to meeting you.

Death cafes remove mystery from the end

By Jesse Wright

Talking about death isn’t easy, but Rebekka James tries to make it painless.

James guides Death Cafes, discussions around the end of life, aimed at older people who need to plan for the end. In September she hosted a discussion in Streeterville. She will host a cafe anywhere, for free.

The Death Cafe provides a safe, confidential forum where people are invited to discuss thoughts about death, dying, and mortality freely and openly,” James said. “While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea (though tea is served), many people have questions, feel fear, suffer loss, and simply wonder about the future.” 

James usually hosts the cafes in a public space, such as a library, though she’s also done private Death Cafes. She said a variety of people of all ages attend. The cafes were started by Bernard Crettaz and Jon Underwood, and to host an “official” cafe through the deathcafe.com website, James said a leader needs to follow certain guidelines.

The guide states, ‘The Death Café model is an agenda-free discussion, with topics determined by attendees,’” James said. “Facilitators are there to move the discussion if it stalls.”

She said each cafe is different. The best maximum is 10-12 people and the conversation moves according to who is present and what they want to discuss.

“That’s the beauty of this forum,” she said.

Generally people talk about familiar topics, including power of attorney information, health care information and how one even begins talking about death with family.

James is also a registered celebrant with the Celebrant Foundation, an institution that trains people to officiate weddings and other celebrations. It’s at the foundation that she first heard the term death cafe.

I attended my first one in June of 2018, led by Sheryl Barajas. Sheryl had done a great deal of work promoting and establishing Death Cafes at numerous Chicago-area libraries.”

The schedule is at deathcafe.com. James said she regularly hosts cafes at the Wilmette and Arlington Heights libraries.
“Also, the cafe part is important—there will always be coffee, tea, and sweets to comfort the soul,” she said.

Streeterville author tells history through the cemetery

By Jesse Wright, staff writer

Streeterville photographer and author Larry Broutman knows a little about cemeteries.

His newest book about the city’s cemeteries, “Chicago Eternal,” in April was awarded a silver award in the regional book category by the Independent Book Publisher’s Association. 

For Broutman, cemeteries aren’t maudlin but rather are instructive.

“The history of Chicago can be quite well told by walking through the cemeteries and looking at Chicagoans who have passed away,” he said.

His previous book, “Chicago Monumental,” focuses on the city’s monuments. After that book was published, Broutman said he began thinking that many monuments are in cemeteries. So, he went searching.  

“Some of the monuments were done by world famous sculptors,” he said. “I had been in a couple of cemeteries when I realized, ‘Wow there are some pretty incredible stories there.’”

So, he began to tell those stories.

His research took him to more than 30 cemeteries across Cook County and when he wrapped up, he had 300 stories.

“It’s a hefty book and a time consuming one, but I am retired,” he said.

Before going into a cemetery, Broutman checks with the keeper.

“I always was careful about the respectful aspect of it and first I consulted the cemetery staff and told them what I was doing, and I asked them if photography was OK,” he said.

Broutman said nearly every cemetery was fine with the project as he took photos of grave markers, monuments, tombs and war memorials.

Streeterville residents might recognize Broutman’s work from the walls of the Lurie Children’s Hospital. Broutman said he’s been a photographer for years and has travelled through Africa taking nature photos.

Several years ago, the Lurie Hospital asked him to take photos of Chicago scenes, so he mixed them together with his African photos. The result included  a tiger lying in the flowers along Michigan Avenue and he replaced the horses on a horse drawn carriage with zebras.

The project also sparked another interest, photographing the city.

“Once I did that I couldn’t stop,” he said. “I spent another year taking Chicago scenes all over the city.”

Then he moved on to the grave yard.

“Chicago Eternal” is available at Amazon.com.

Chicago Bird Collision needs help collecting injured, dead birds

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff Writer

Each year nearly one billion birds die in collisions with buildings, according to a study in “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment” and the study considers Chicago to be the most hazardous city in America for birds.

Chicago sits in the center of a major migratory corridor. Birds, confused by office lights or the glow from a window late at night, become disoriented and slam into windows and fall to the street, dead or injured.

The Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (CBCM) patrols downtown Chicago to find injured and deceased birds from sunrise to 9 a.m. Injured birds are brought to wildlife centers outside the city while dead birds are taken to the Field Museum for collection and study.

Ben Marks, Head of Zoological Collections and Collections Manager of Birds, estimates the Field receives nearly 5,000 specimens from about 140 different species of birds each year.

Mary Hennen, Assistant Collections Manager of Birds, said the specimens become part of the research collection. She said it’s important to track when and where the bird specimen was found to compare years and locations.

Researchers use that data to track migratory habits. For example, Hennen said a study on white throated sparrows showed the birds’ bill sizes were shrinking.

CBCM Director Annette Prince said if a bird is injured, pedestrians can trap it in a dark paper bag or box to calm the bird and then contact CBCM. She said even if the bird seems fine, it may have injuries that aren’t visible.

If the bird is dead, pedestrians should collect it in a plastic bag and call the CBCM and a volunteer will take it to the Field. Hennen said bird collectors should note when and where it was found.

To prevent bird collisions people should close curtains or make their windows less reflective. CBCM is working on a Bird Friendly Design Ordinance to make new construction less dangerous for migrating birds.

“These birds are not local birds,” Prince said. “They are global citizens in our city and since we are a central location, we owe it to them.

Contact CBCM at 773-988-1867 to report an injured or dead bird in Chicago.

Survey: It’s a good time to buy, what does that mean for you?

Urban Real Estate

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) last month released a consumer survey showing that more than half of those polled believe that this market presents a good time to buy. The Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) survey indicated optimism was abundant, and as income brackets increased, so did the impressions of the current market. 

When respondents were asked whether now is a good time to purchase a home, according to the organization’s release, “Of those with an income under $50,000, 54% answered “yes.” Answers in the affirmative increased as household incomes increased. In the $50,000 to $100,000 bracket, 64% said now is a good time to buy a home, and among those polled who have an income of $100,000, 72% said that it is a good time to buy.”

Michael Emery, senior partner and broker with New Eastside’s Urban Real Estate, agrees consumers are more measured in their buying decisions, for a multitude of reasons.

“While there are great opportunities on the market, locally, there are consumers who can afford to buy but still choose to rent for the flexibility it offers, as well as the ability to more easily make lifestyle or job changes,” Emery said. “We also have clients who remain cautious of the future of our economy, and aren’t as quick to initiate a change from one home to another.” 

New Eastside continues to be a draw as would-be residents relocating find a private neighborhood in the heart of the city attractive for its proximity to the lakefront, parks, transportation and shopping. Multinational companies continue to invest in downtown Chicago, and new construction paired with existing real estate, makes the neighborhood even more unique for its residential options.

If you have considered buying or selling your home, or are interested in investment opportunities, connect with your neighbors at Urban Real Estate to review your options at (312) 528-9200 or visit UrbanRealEstate.com.

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