Death & Lighthouses of the Great Lakes

Great Lakes Lighthouse: Death, true crime, suicides, and murder.

         Combining an intense interest in both true crime and maritime history, Dianna Higgs Stampfler’s latest book, Death & Lighthouses of the Great Lakes: A History of Misfortune & Murder (History Press 2022), recounts the darker stories of  the fascinating lighthouses lining the shores of the Great Lake states.

         Stampfler, whose previous book was Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses, first started researching lighthouses 25 years ago while working for the West Michigan Tourist Association and continued after starting her own business, Promote Michigan. But even she made new discoveries

         “Many of the locales, lights, and keepers were new to me, as were their stories,” says Stampfler, who is a member of many maritime and lighthouse organizations. “Some of the stories were so tragic that newspaper coverage was significant. Many stories even appeared in papers throughout the country, which emphasizes their scope.”

         Take the story of head keeper, George Genry, and his assistant, Edward Morrison who both disappeared from their posts on Grand Island in June of 1908.

         “They just vanished,” says Stampfler. “Everything was left at this remote lighthouse including provisions on the dock, coats on the hook, and food on the stove. A month later, what was determined to be Morrison’s battered and decomposed body was found floating in a boat near the shore. A month later, the remains of what they determined to be Genry were found on a nearby beach. There are several theories about how the two men died, some more nefarious or controversial than others, but the exact truth will never be known.”

         The earliest story in her book dates back to the beginning of the 19th century at Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in Toronto – the earliest and longest standing lighthouse on the Great Lakes. In 1809, John Paul “J.P.” Radelmüller, a German immigrant, was appointed as lighthouse keeper for Gibraltar Point. Radelmüller had an interesting history, having worked as a servant for the Duke of Gloucester before moving to Upper Canada.

         “Much of his early history is documented by J.P. himself,” says Stampfler noting that a seven-page handwritten letter he wrote is cataloged at the Library and Archives Canada. “Some believe J.P. was a homebrewer or bootlegger, and that it was through these activities that his murder occurred. Two men from a local military outpost were charged with his 1815 death, but they were acquitted of all charges.”

         Stampfler discovered this story through a chat board where another historic lighthouse enthusiast, Eamonn O’Keeffe has been extensively researching Radelmüller, Indeed, her own research encompassed Googling, old newspaper archives, local libraries, maritime based historical societies, and genealogical sites.

She also visited island lighthouses such as Grand, South Bass, and the many in Door County, Wisconsin.

         “I went not only to do research but also to walk the grounds and see the lights,” she says. “That really helped me connect to them.”

         Autographed copies of Death & Lighthouses on the Great Lakes for $21.99 (plus shipping/handling and tax)are available at PromoteMichigan.com. The book is also available through online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as in local bookstores.

         For Stampfler’s upcoming book events, visit promotemichigan.com/speakers-bureau

Pullman: The Man, the Company, the Historic Park by Kenneth Schoon

               Kenneth Schoon, professor emeritus at Indiana University Northwest, has immersed himself in the history of the Greater Chicago/Northwest Indiana area for decades, writing books starting from the area’s earliest beginnings such as “Calumet Beginnings: Ancient Shorelines and Settlements at the South End of Lake Michigan” and “Swedish Settlements on the South Shore of Lake Michigan.”

               In his latest book, “Pullman: The Man, the Company, the Historical Park” (History Press 2021; $21.99), he showcases what once was among  the ultimate company town and is now a Chicago neighborhood. George Pullman, whose last name became synonymous with plush railroad sleeper cars, believed that happy workers were productive workers and so developed his town along the western shore of Lake Calumet in the late 1800s.

               I thought I knew company towns having grown up in East Chicago, Indiana my friends whose parents worked at Inland Steel lived in Sunnyside in Indiana  Harbor. On the East Chicago side there was Marktown built in 1917 by Clayton Mark, for those employed at the company he owned, Mark Manufacturing.

               But they’re different Schoon tells me. Both Marktown and Sunnyside were residential neighborhoods. But Pullman was an actual town with its own schools, library, churches, Masonic Hall, businesses, and even a band. Garbage and maintenance was paid for by the company.

In 2015, then President Barack Obama proclaimed Chicago’s Pullman District as a National Monument, encompassing many of its surviving buildings such as the former Pullman Palace Car Works, the Greenstone Church, formerly the Greenstone United Methodist Church, the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, workers’ homes, the Pullman Administration Clock Tower Building, Arcade Park, and the Florence Hotel, named after Pullman’s oldest daughter.

               Though I vaguely knew about the town of Pullman, it had never been on my radar as a place to visit even though it was less than eleven miles from where I lived.

               “The same with me,” says Schoon who remembered going to the Florence Hotel, one of the fanciest structures in town, to eat when young never to return until hired by the Historic Pullman Foundation to write about the history of the town for their brochure.

               Today we talk about experiences, but that’s what Pullman was all about back then. His sleeper cars were luxurious, but the brand also meant great service. After the Civil War, he hired recently emancipated African American men, to work as porters becoming the largest employer of Blacks in the U.S. Their jobs were to attend to passengers needs by serving food and drink, shining shoes, tidying up the train, making sure the temperature was just right and that lighting fixtures worked.  Black women were hired as maids to take care of women guests on the most expensive cars—babysitting children, helping with their baths, giving manicures, and fixing their hair.

               Pullman was no dinky little town. The Arcade Theatre could accommodate 1000 people and Schoon says it was, for a time, the finest theater west of the Hudson River.

               With the advent of automobiles and highways, the need for sleeper cars lessened. But luckily many of Pullman’s historic buildings remain including the Florence Hotel which is currently closed for renovations but expected to open within a few years.

               “The old stable is now a store,” says Schoon. “The old fire station is still there and of the 600 residential buildings all but three are still standing.”

               In an interesting tidbit, Schoon notes that Pullman was originally dry because George Pullman was a Prohibitionist. Luckily for those who  wanted to imbibe, Kensington, the town next door had 23 taverns at the time.

               Kenneth Schoon will be signing copies of his book during the Labor Day Weekend at the Grand Opening of Pullman National Monument Visitor Center and Pullman State Historic Site Factory. For more information about times and other events, visit www.pullmanil.org

George Diamond’s: A Northwest Indiana Classic

            In 1924, Peter Levant’s opened what was one of Whiting’s famous “perch palaces,” a place that served freshly caught perch right from Lake Michigan. They also advertised such menu items as steak, chicken, and, of course, this being The Region, frog legs—mostly likely from nearby Lake George.

            Indeed, frog legs were so in demand that Vogel’s—which was just down the street and totally classy—raised their own frogs for legs in the lake. But that’s a different story.

            Located at 1247 Calumet Avenue, Levent’s became the home of Juster’s Charcoal Broiled Steaks and then later George Diamond’s. Though my mom liked to cook, my parents were totally into eating out as well and though its been years and years, I remember going with them to George Diamond’s. It was the kind of place where everything was overlarge—the steaks, the salads, the charcoal flames, and even the menus.

            That Diamond (yes, there was a George Diamond) even opened a place in Whiting shows the town’s status as a food destination. Indeed, around that time, there were a lot of great restaurants–and I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of places out–Vogel’s, Phil Smidt’s, Margaret’s Geneva House, Al Knapp’s Restaurant and Lounge, and the Roby Café. But Diamond was international. Besides his flagship restaurant at 630 S. Wabash Avenue in Chicago that was said to have cost over $1 million to renovate in a style I call 1950s swank, all red velvet and red upholstery, he had places in Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Antioch, Illinois on a golf course, and Acapulco, Mexico.

            What I remember most was the house salad dressing which they bottled and sold on the premises. It was so unique that even now it has a cult-like online following with people  searching for the recipe.  It wasn’t Russian and it certainly wasn’t French or at least not the orangish French dressing we buy in bottles now. Diamond’s dressing was an almost translucent reddish pink. And if the recipe I found online is close to the original, it’s main ingredient was tomato soup.

  There’s nothing left of Diamond’s empire today. Diamond died in 1982 at age 80 and the building housing the Wabash Avenue restaurant went up in flames in 2006.  But people still remember that dressing.

George Diamond’s salad dressing

  • 1 (10-ounce) can condensed tomato soup
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup each: white vinegar, sugar
  • 1 small onion, peeled and grated
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: salt, ground black pepper

Place undiluted soup, oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, onion and garlic in a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Cover and blend or process on high speed until pureed, about 2 minutes. Serve chilled. Store covered leftovers in refrigerator.

            I’ll be signing copies of my book Classic Restaurants of The Region at Miles Books. 2819 Jewett Avenue in Highland on Saturday, August 21st from 11:30-3pm. For more information, 219-838-8700.

               Hope to see you there.

Patrick Butler Writes About Chicago Neighborhoods!

As a fifth generation Chicagoan with roots in the city’s political world as well as long-time newspaperman who grew up or spent time in such neighborhoods as Ravenswood, Lake View, Uptown and Edgewater, Patrick Butler always knew that at some time in his life he would explore the what he terms “a kind of curio shop of people and places that time forgot,”

“Many of the stories I heard growing up in the neighborhoods,” says Butler, a natural born storyteller and author of both Hidden History of Uptown and Edgewater and Hidden History of Ravenswood and Lakeview both published by History Press. “Some I reported on and some I discovered as I was researching other stories.”

Illustrated with vivid black and white vintage photos, Butler takes us deep into the neighborhoods, telling us stories of the denizens of these streets and the buildings out of which they operated.

A favorite he says is Sunnyside, which began first as a stage coach stop and then a resort where the likes of Abraham Lincoln and xxx Douglas could relax and discuss politics. But by the 1860s, under the ownership of Cap Hyman, a Chicago gangster who liked to wave his gun around and wasn’t averse to shooting it either, and his wife Annie Stafford, known as the fattest brothel keeper in Chicago.  

“They called her Gentle Annie,” says Butler noting the term was sarcastic because Annie carried a bullwhip which she used to keep the girls and their customers in line.

“If there’s any place in Chicago that’s been all things to all men, it has to be the corner of the city that is occupied by Edgewater and Uptown,” writes Butler in the Introduction to the Hidden History of Uptown and Edgewater.  “Babe Ruth and Mahatma Gandhi found a place of refuge at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, but the locale has also been a sanctuary for Appalachian coal miners and Japanese Americans released from internment camps.”

Al Capone makes an appearance here as well, reportedly moving booze via underground tunnels (there really are tunnels and it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine Al using them) including one connecting the Aragon Ballroom and the Green Mill which now is an upscale cocktail lounge with live jazz and blues. The tunnels are now used for storage, but the booth at the Green Mill where Al and his gang used to hang out still remains.

Butler’s raconteur style makes it even more of a pleasure to read about this slice of Chicago history.

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

Book Signings: Lost Restaurants of Chicago by Greg Borzo

For those of us who grew up in and around Chicago, there are names of long gone restaurants that still tug at our heart, evoking memories of foods no longer served, surroundings replaced and aromas we many never smell again.

Hoe Sai Gai

          For me, that’s the allure of Greg Borzo’s latest book, Lost Restaurants of Chicago with foreword by Dough Sohn, the owner of the now closed Hot Doug’s.

          Borzo, a Chicagoan historian who has written several books about the city’s bicycling, transportation and history including its fountains frequently gives tours and talks for organizations such as Forgotten Chicago, the Chicago History Museum and Chicago Cycling Club. The idea for his latest came about when he and his friends were chatting about the good times they’d had at restaurants over the years and how many were gone. His book goes further back though, starting over a century-and-a-half ago.

Jacques

          “My list of restaurants to research from at least a hundred people,” he says, noting that he still gets some complaints about places he left out but then with seven out of eight restaurants closing within a few years of opening, the number of those gone are overwhelming.

          I ask Borzo what some of his favorite are “lost” restaurants. Some he had dined at, like The Great Gritzbe’s Flying Food Show, a Richard Melman restaurant that opened in 1974.

Maxim’s

          “It had a dessert bar and you could get as many desserts as you wanted, like a salad bar,” he recalls about the restaurant that closed in 1883. “There’s also Trader Vic’s which was in the Palmer House. Its décor was completely over the top.”

          When Trader Vic’s, a Tiki bar extraordinaire first opened in 1957, bringing it up to its Polynesian zenith cost $500,000 which included a décor boasting huge Eastern Island carved wooden heads, totem poles, canoes and massive Maori beams. It was part of the Tiki rage that swept the U.S. and Trader Vic’s had its competitors include Don the Beachcomber which featured 85 types of run and 65 different cocktails.

          There are also places he wishes he ate at but didn’t such as Maxim’s de Paris, which was opened from 1963 to 1982.

          “It was a replica of the Maxim’s in Paris,” says Borzo. “I went to it when it later when the building was an event space.”

          Which is another phenomena of Chicago restaurants.

          “Many single locations have been many different restaurants,” says Borzo.

Indeed, Bistro 110 at 110 East Pearson used to be the Blackhawk, then became Bar Toma Restaurant which is now closed.

“This book is a history book too,” says Borzo. “It reflects the character of the city through the food and showing the different income levels. Some people were going to diners, others to the Pump Room.”

The girl on the trapeze at Flo’s Restaurant and Cocktail Parlous

Borzo and I both share a laugh about the now closed Flo’s Restaurant and Cocktail Parlor which was located at 17 West Randolph, near what is now Macy’s flagship store. I used to see it as a kid when my parents took me shopping in the Loop. It was notable because a woman in a form fitting Playboy-bunny like costume and spiked heels climbed out on a swing on the second floor balcony to advertise the place.         

Greg Borzo

          “I’ve eaten at a lot of the places I write about,” says Borzo. “And those that were already closed I tried to find people who had eaten there, researched old newspaper stories and searched through vintage photos.”

Ifyougo:

What: Greg Borzo talk and book signing

When, Where and Contact Information:

Thursday, January 24 at 5 p.m.  

Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St., 6-7 p.m. A free raffle will give away more than $1,000 of gifts: trips, tours, food, books and more.

(312) 747-4300; slpl.bibliocommons.com/events

Saturday, February 9 at 5 p.m.

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

(773) 293-2665; bookcellarinc.com

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