Fading Ads of Chicago

              For more than 40 years, Joe Marlin, author of the just released Fading Ads of Chicago, photographed ghost signs, those fading advertisements painted on the sides of brick buildings, a onetime popular way to advertise in the U.S.

              “I’d take notes when I was driving to and from work on the west side of Chicago or when I was going to business meetings,” says Marlin, a retired clinical social worker and director of hospital social work services at Mt. Sinai Hospital. “Then I’d organize the notes by neighborhood and go back and take photos.”

              These signs, some more than a century old, often advertised businesses, products, stores and services long gone. These include the Boston Store which opened shortly after the Chicago Fire in 1871 and was then replaced with a new building in 1906, closing for good in the late 1940s. One of Marlin’s favorites is an ad for Marigold Margarine, which was likely painted in the 1890s.

              “I like that one because its colors were still so vivid,” says Marlin, whose book contains more than 150 color photos of ads painted, for the most part, between 1890 to 1940s. “It wasn’t as faded because another building was built right next to it.”

              Fading advertisements are sometimes called ghost ads because they were painted with lead based paints that overtime begin to fade into the soft brick of the sides of buildings. When it rains, the colors, longer lasting than non-lead paint, sometimes begin to reappear or are easier to see. Marigold Margarine is one such ad. Concealed over for decades it came into the light again for a brief period when the building hiding it was demolished.  

Then it vanished again with the construction of a new building next door, concealed again for who knows how long. So many of the ads Martin took are also gone, making them even more poignant as lost reminders of forgotten times.

“I regret that I didn’t take more photos,” he says. “More and more are disappearing when they tear down old buildings to put up new one or their removed when the exteriors are renovated.

              Even now, Marlin, who also collects vintage cameras particularly those from Chicago’s photographic industry such as still, movie, and street cameras as well as Art Deco items, pursues these disappearing works of art.

              “I just took a photo of one recently, but it was too late to make it into the book,” he says. “It’s an ad for Wizard Oil and claims that it ‘cures rheumatism, colds, sores and all other pains.’ It was a patent medicine and they made all sorts of grandiose claims back then.”

              Like Marigold Margarine and other remnants of the past, this one has a story too, dating back to 1861 when a former Chicago magician invented it.

              “These old ads take us back to a different time,” says Marlin. “In order to find them, just look up when you’re walking or driving through the city.”

              And take a photo because they might not be there next time you go by.

What: Joe Marlin talk and book signing

When: Tuesday, June 25; 6:00-7:00pm

Where: 57th Street Books, 1301 E 57th Street, Chicago, IL

FYI: 773-752-4381; semcoop.com

Park Avenue Summer

Chicago author Renee Rosen describes her latest novel, Park Avenue Summer as “Mad Men Meets the Devil Wears Prada.”

Chicago-based author Renee Rosen typically writes novels about historic periods and people in Chicago, such as Windy City Blues; White Collar Girl and Dollface.

              But in Park Avenue Summer, her latest novel, which she describes as “Mad Men Meets The Devil Wears Prada,” she takes us to New York City during the era of Helen Gurley Brown, first female editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and the author of the scandalous ’60s best-seller, Sex and the Single Girl.

Like many of us, Rosen read Cosmo when she was young. Rosen remembers quickly flipping to the “Bedside Astrologer” column.

Author Renee Rosen

“I was looking for guidance on my 16-year-old love life,” she says, noting that all the time she spent poring over the glossy pages of Cosmo essentially shaped her view of female sexuality and female empowerment. “She changed the face of women’s magazines,” she said of Brown.

“Park Avenue Summer” tells the story of Alice (Ali), who moves to New York City after breaking up with her boyfriend and ends up getting her dream job, working for Cosmo.

Like she does for all her books, Rosen threw herself into full research mode, wanting to convey the story through Alice’s eyes.

“I even went down to the Port Authority to get the feel of what Alice would have seen and felt when she arrived,” Rosen says.

Because Rosen had lived on the Upper West side in New York for a year, she knew where Ali, as a single working girl, would live — an area in the East 60s called “the girl’s ghetto.” She walked the streets until she found the exact apartment she had envisioned for Ali.

All in the name of research, she visited Tavern on the Green, 21 Club, St. Regis and the Russian Tearoom, all swank places still in business that were popular back then. But best of all, a friend introduced her to Lois Cahall who had worked for Brown.

“Helen Gurley Brown was like a second mother to Lois,”  Rosen says.

“She and I became good friends, and she vetted the book for me. It was like a gift from the gods, because she knew so much about Brown and Cosmo and that time.”

Rosen is very much an admirer of Brown and what she accomplished.

“She really wanted to help women be their best,” she says. “She wanted them to know that they could get what they want even in what was then a man’s world.”

Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers.

              The end of the world is coming again—just as it was before Y2K and the Mayan Doomsday Calendar back to the calculations of Bishop Gregory of Tours, showing it would be all over sometimes between 799 and 806 and Christopher Columbus (yes, that Christopher Columbus) who it was ending in 1658.

              “It’s something that people have believed all through history,” says Tea Krulos author of the just released Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers. “There have been different takes on the end times throughout our culture. In 1844, people followed Father Miller and believed so very strongly that the world was going to end that they sold their property, gave away things in preparing for it.”

              Curious and somewhat amused about those who believe in end times and take steps to get ready, Krulos decided to explore the subject,

              “I have a strong interest in Utopian fiction like such classics as 1984,” says Krulos, a Milwaukee journalist. “And I’ve always wondered, if there was a huge disaster, how long I’d be able to survive. Not very long, I think.  I also wanted to get some answers about who these people were and to find out what prepping was about as well as to get out in the field, to experience some things and learn some things.”

              But Preppers, the term used for those who are preparing for the ultimate catastrophe, were definitely not interested in talking to Krulos.

              “I found out almost immediately it was going to be a challenge,” he says. “It’s a secretive group that distrusts media. So, I signed up for a prepper forum and attended a survival camp where I learned to build a fire, filter water and other simple things that might be helpful if something happens.”

              Prepping, in turns out, is a billion dollar industry and it’s not only isolated rural dwellers who are buying into the need to prep. Krulos also talked to preppers in New York City and says that Chicago has a chapter of the Zombie Squad.

              “They don’t really believe in a zombie apocalypse but think if you learn how to prepare to survive on, then you can survive hurricanes, mass rioting and other disasters,” he says.

              What apocalyptic scenario should we fear the most? Krulos says it’s climate change.  And he also thinks we need to pay attention to why the Doomsday Clock is now just three seconds before midnight.

              “That’s the closest it’s been since they invented the hydrogen bomb,” he says.

              So, what sorts of items does Krulos think are important when prepping for the apocalypse?

              “A good water filter is a very good thing to have,” he says. “Food, comfortable gear for hiking, tools, a renewable food supply like extra seeds and books. I’ve always wanted to read War and Peace, I just haven’t had time.”


What: Tea Krulos book signing

When: Friday, June 21 at 7 p.m.

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: 773-293-2665; words@bookcellarinc.com

Stefan’s Destiny

When Rosemary Gard was growing up in Gary, Indiana, she asked for and was given a typewriter for her 12th birthday—a Remington portable in a gray hard cover carrying case (in case you’re wondering).

“I’ve been writing ever since,” says Gard who graduated from Lew Wallace High School in 1956 and credits the patience of one of her high school English teachers with helping her hone her natural enthusiasm for story telling into a long lasting ability to convey the unique tales of growing up in Northwest Indiana, a richly diverse region of the ethnicities and race.

              Gard has recently completed Stefan’s Destiny, the tenth and final book in her “Destiny” series. Growing up Croatian in an ethnic enclave, Gard’s books explore the lure of our roots and her own unique childhood.

              “I was born in the mid-town section of Gary at 2625 Van Buren Street in an area known as The Patch back then,” says Gard. “It was a poor neighborhood and some people even had pigs and chickens. I spent my school years in the Glen Park

              But there was a close knit solidarity one in which, in Gard’s case, people from the country of origin stuck together in order not to lose their heritage, sometimes to the point where intermarriage was frowned upon.

              “My parents didn’t want me to marry anyone who wasn’t Croatian,” she recalls, noting that her boyfriend Robert Gard was English, German, French and Irish and to avoid the romance from getting more serious, sent her to live with relatives in a small village near Zagreb in Croatia.

“I had lots of marriage proposals there, but as my cousin told me, it wasn’t because I was beautiful but because marrying me guaranteed U.S. citizenship,” laughs Gard.

She lived the peasant life while there—a straw mattress for sleeping, dirt floors in living quarters and cooking done on a clay stone—and developed a deep respect for the devotion people had for their family, land and traditions, but she remained steadfast in her love for her boyfriend back in Gary.

Of course, there’s a story behind their young romance too. She was only 13 when a friend of a friend introduced them.

“But I lied and said I was 16,” she recalls. “When he found out how old I was, he was ticked. But I was so darn cute, he came back, and we saw each other from then on.”

After three months in Croatia, she returned home, her parents relented and the two married in 1957 and have two children.

“He’s still my boyfriend,” she says. “After we married, he got drafted and went to Italy and I followed him. We lived at the very top of a hill, the most expensive gown I owned was an Anne Fogarty dress—you’re too young to know what that is—and we went away for a few days and when I came back, I noticed the hem of my gown was ripped. I went across the street to my neighbor and said to her, now the only one who had a key to our place was your housekeeper so she must be the one who tore my dress. I found out later that the housekeeper was a prostitute so when people ask, I tell themI didn’t work in Italy, but my dress did.”

Ironically, the garrulous Gard says she didn’t speak that much to adults when growing up.

“The community in which I was raised, the young were not encouraged in conversation,” she says.  “I played puzzles while the adults talked, but I listened. I knew who was having an affair with whom. Also, when I was young you could take a child into a tavern, so I grew up in a tavern and you hear a lot there as well.”

“Rosemary is a natural storyteller,” says Carrie Napoleon, managing director of the Lake Court House Foundation Inc. which was founded in the 1970s to save the historic Lake County Courthouse, which is on the Register for National Historic Places, from being demolished and preserve the 141-year-old building for future generations to enjoy.

 “She keeps me spellbound with all her stories and she has the ability to carry that over to her books. It’s no wonder people love them so much.”

Napoleon notes that those attending the book launch/fund raiser will also have the opportunity to view a display of turn-of-the-century Slovak and Region history by the Lake County Historical Museum, including one-of-a-kind pieces from Gard herself. During the event, Gard will share some of her personal experiences of life as a youngster in both Croatia and Gary that helped form the characters for her series.

Gard tells me she’s taking a break from writing but then in the next breath, says she’s planning on calling her next book, I Shop in Dead People’s Closets because of her propensity for sales.

When I tell her, I need to go as I have an appointment, she says she has one more story to tell. Who can resist?

It turns out there are two stories, one about how she was the Queen on the Croatia float in the 1956 Gary’s Golden Jubilee Parade and actor Mark Harmon’s father, Tom, who grew up in Gary and went on to win the Heisman Trophy when he played for the University of Michigan, was the grand marshal.

The next has to do with running into a GI at a party.

“The guy starts showing me his scars by pulling up his sleeves and shirt,” she says. “After he left my husband came up to me and said I’m surprised you didn’t pull down your pants and show him your new hips.”

The Body in the Castle Well

              After reading Martin Walker’s The Body in the Castle Well, the 14th book in the series about Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges, I Googled real estate listings in the Périgord, known for its castles, caves, gastronomy and lush landscape of rolling hills, woods and vineyards. From Walker’s description, this region in southwestern France seems like an ideal place to live even if you have to deal with the type such skullduggery as truffle fraud, archaeological vandalism, arson, drugs and even terrorists Bruno encounters on a regular basis.

              “There’ so much inspiration and history here,” says Walker who, with his wife, splits his time between Washington D.C. and Le Bugue, a small village in the Périgord where they own a home. The home came about, says Walker who talks like he writes, with many wonderful asides, when he was waiting in the Oval Office and received a phone call from his wife.

              “She said I don’t care what you’re doing, get on the next plane and come here, I just found our house,” he says, noting he explained to her he was meeting with the president so it might have to wait just a while. Besides that, he didn’t even know they were buying a house.

              Of course, they did and now live in an old farmhouse dating back to 1698 with several newer outbuildings, if you consider the 1700s new and in France they do.

              Of course, there are always obstacles even in paradise.

              “One of the challenges for anyone writing crime stories is finding places for bodies,” says Walker, who speaks French, Russian, English, Arabic, German and a just enough of other languages to get himself in trouble. “I drive around with an eagle eye looking for the perfect spot for a body. I was in Limeuil, a lovely village, and there it was, the castle well.”

              So that’s where the body of Claudia, a young art student ends up, in what first looks like an accident and turns out to be much more ominous.

              “She’s studying with Pierre de Bourdeille, one of the greatest art experts in the world, a hero of the French Resistance,” says Walker. “She told Bruno a little of her concerns about the attributions de Bourdeille made about his paintings which drove up prices and then she turns up dead.”

              Another suspect is a falconer (so we get to learn about the ancient art of hunting with falcons) who met Claudia the day after her got out of prison. As compelling as the mystery is, so is Bruno’s life. He’s a gourmet chef, has his own blog and a cookbook, written by Walker’s wife, which is a best seller in Germany where it’s sold 100,000 copies. But unless you read the language, don’t bother as it’s not published in English though Walker encourages people to call his publisher and demand that it be.

              The Bruno books are quite a segue for the Oxford educated Walker who served as bureau chief in Moscow and the U.S. and as European Editor for The Guardian, a British daily newspaper and wrote lengthy tomes (ponderous and boring he says, though noting they won awards) like The Iraq War and The Makers of the American Century

“The 15th is already done,” he says. “And I’m thinking of the next. They’re fun to write.”

Asked what his favorite is, he replies, “my favorite is always the latest or the one I’m working on right now.”


What: Martin Walker: The Body in the Castle Well

When: Tuesday, June

Where: The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., Winnetka, IL

Cost: Free and open to the public, but The Book Stall asks that you buy your books from them if you intend on entering the book-signing queue.

FYI: 847-446-8880; thebookstall.com

How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir

          Kate Mulgrew is just finishing lunch when I call at the pre-arranged time and she asks for a moment so she can order coffee. She’s eating and talking because her schedule is so tight it requires serious multi-tasking. Right now, she is juggling filming a new season of Mr. Mercedes and is also on a multi-city book tour to promote her just released book, How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir.

          It is a book, she tells me, that she felt compelled to write as it chronicles “the turbulent, tragic and joyful “time she spent in Iowa with her dying parents.

          Knowing that sometimes expressing raw and painful emotions can be a psychological relief or catharsis, I ask if that was true for her.

          “It was the opposite of that,” says Mulgrew. “Instead writing took me into deeper waters. But I told myself you have to do this; you have to write this.”

          Those deeper waters were both emotional and physical as Mulgrew holed up in a friend’s house on Lough Corrib, which is, she describes as a desolate, deep and col lake near Cornamonai west Ireland.

          “Writing this book was lonely,” she continues after taking a sip of coffee. Since I’m drinking a cup as well, it’s almost like we’re having coffee together. “It took three years to write because I had to keep leaving to film Orange is the New Black.

          Was it necessary to live on Lough Corrib to write the book, I ask?

          “It is the only way to write a book about them and how much I loved them,” she tells me, in that husky voice I remember from her playing Captain Kathryn Janeway of “Star Trek: Voyager.”

          Embracing the remoteness and isolation while writing about death, Mulgrew talks about the Ireland’s short winter days.

          “The sun is out for just short time, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then the darkness is upon us again,” she says.  “I shed many tears I would force myself to write until four and then light the fire and go for a walk or make dinner.”

          In the end, it was worth it.

          “These were the people who shaped me,” she says, as she sets her cup down for the last time, a clinking sound on my end of the phone signaling an end to the interview. “It’s important, that experience of saying goodbye, to be present with your parents at their mortal illness, to take the journey with them. We know that the turn in the road to sickness and then to death is universal. We know that bend in the road does not go into a flowering meadow, but into a darkening thicket from which no one will ever return. I’m one of eight children, each one of us has a different story and each one of us gets to go their own way in telling it.  And this was mine and this is how I decided to tell it.”

Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times

Scott Pelley sitting on a rock by a river holding a camera

              While other boys his age were reading Hardy Boy mysteries and articles about baseball, Scott Pelley was riding his bike down to the public library in Lubbock, Texas and checking out books on faraway places.

              “I kept a stack by my bed and when I finished those, I’d return them and get more,” says Pelley, author of the recently released memoir Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times Hanover Square Press 2019; $17.70)

              Pelley, a definite glass half full kind of guy, is thankful he’s been able to make his living for the last four decades covering stories around the globe.

              I ask if more than 40 years of travel has worn him out. But no, Pelley, an award-winning 60 Minutes correspondent, is always ready for the next assignment.

              “I’m 61 and by God, I still enjoy getting on a plane,” says Pelley though he does admit he gets a little tired of going to the same place over and over. “But I never tire of going someplace new, whether it’s nice or not.”

              So where hasn’t Pelley been that he’d like to see.

              “Anyplace that doesn’t have a pin stuck in it on my world map,” he says. “I’ve been to both the Artic and Antarctica numerous times, but I’ve never made it to poles though I’ve been just a few miles away, so I’d like to get there. And I’ve never been to Portugal and I’ve heard it’s very pretty.”

              Portugal? From a man who is a multimillion mile flyer and has covered stories in the remote jungles of Mexico, reported on the genocides in Darfur, was onsite when the planes hit the World Trade Center and watched first responders’ stream into the building, many to never come out, hoping to find survivors, He also was on the ground during the Persian Gulf crisis of 1990 and the 1991 invasion of Iraq (indeed, he’s seems to have visited Iraq as many times as most people go to the grocery store) and joined, with his team, the U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. Getting to Portugal, it would seem, would be a piece of cake.

              But then Pelley may be too busy. He’s won 37 Emmys—of course, he says it’s due to the many wonderful and capable people who back him up and make him look good—and despite his passion for action, likes to ponder as well.

              “I called my first chapter ‘Gallantry,’” he says about his book. “I was in Paris several years ago shortly after  ISIS’s terrorist attack and I watched people holding a memorial on the cobblestone streets with candles in their hands and it struck me that I had seen that same look before, at the World Trade Center and in Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. It’s a look I’d seen it again and again throughout my entire career, people wondering what the meaning of life is. I got to thinking, don’t ask the meaning of life. Life is asking: ‘What’s the meaning of you?’ And that’s what I went looking for in my book, people who have discovered how to get meaning, people who are heroes.”

              Maybe, in a way, Pelley is a hero as well. He reveals in his book how he lost his long time job as CBS Evening News anchor after complaining too vociferously about the way men and, especially women were treated at the network. He took his complaints all the way up to CBS Corporate Chairman Les Moonves, who spent over an hour listening to Pelley’s concerns. Obviously, hoping to forestall any more action on Pelley’s part, his contract wasn’t renewed despite his show’s high ratings. Ironically, Moonves would be fired in turn, because of sexual harassment allegations.

              Losing his job is okay now, says Pelley because he’s grateful for the direction CBS is taking, how they cleaned house and are acting with integrity.

              Yes, definitely half-full.

              “I think a sense of optimism is important for a reporter,” he says. “That and empathy. If you have that empathy for that person you have emotional stake in their lives.”


What: Join in a conversation, Q&A, and book signing with Scott Pelley

When: Monday, June 3 at 7 p.m.

Where: Community Christian Church, 1635 Emerson Lane, Naperville, IL

Cost:  Ticket for one person costs $37.74 w/service fee and includes one copy of the Pelley’s new book; the ticket package admits two and costs $42.99 w/service fee and includes on copy of the book. Tickets can be purchased online at brownpapertickets.com/event/4243153 and entitles the holder to

meet and get a photograph with the author and a personalized signature.

FYI: The event is hosted by Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville, 630-355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

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