Trivial Chicago

On September 25, 2016 · 2 Comments

A most wonderful website caught my attention as I researched Connecting Through Midway. I don’t like to recommend websites because they seem to disappear right after I mention them. Seriously, my endorsements create a cloud of bad luck that jinxes any site unfortunate enough to receive one. The Chicago Public Library produced this site however and the author published more than a hundred articles over the previous two years. It should be safe. I’d uncovered the Municipal Reference Guy.

The specific entry that piqued my interest bore an enticing title, Do You Know Chicago’s Streets?. Well, no I didn’t. That’s why I found it particularly interesting. I "borrowed" three of the items I found most fascinating and decided to research them further. All due credit should go to the original author, the Municipal Reference Guy. It doesn’t count as plagiarism if someone elaborates upon the original version and provides full disclosure, right?

O’Hare International Airport

ORD from the air
ORD from the air. Photo by BriYYZ on Flickr (cc)

The page referenced both of Chicago’s major airports, Midway and O’Hare. That’s the connection that led me to discover it. Both of their names traced to a World War II theme although I focused on another feature for today’s purpose. The International Air Transportation Association used the code ORD for O’Hare. If the "O" stood for O’Hare, then what did the other two letters mean? Trick question! ORD didn’t reference O’Hare at all. The airport started operating before World War II, or several years before Butch O’Hare lost his life while earning a Medal of Honor as a Naval aviator. O’Hare didn’t become O’Hare until 1949. It first went by a less remarkable name, Orchard Field. This reflected its position on the outskirts of a village called Orchard Place.

O’Hare began as an airstrip in the area known as Orchard Place. It became a Douglas aircraft manufacturing plant during World War II. It is unclear if the D stands for Douglas or Depot, or simply is the final D in Orchard.

Orchard Place started as a small farming community settled by German immigrants in the 1830’s. It all but disappeared in the 20th Century as the airport expanded and an Interstate highway plowed through part of it. Suburban Chicago grew and absorbed the rest of it, forming the southern edge of Des Plaines. Its name lived on in the IATA Code ORD and at a local school, Orchard Place Elementary (map).

Meet Me at Broadway and Sheridan

If someone in Chicago asked you to meet them at the corner of Broadway Street and Sheridan Road, he might be trying to ditch you. The two streets, as noted by the Chicago Public Library, actually intersect three different times. It’s been awhile since I made my own Google Map although it seemed a perfect opportunity to illustrate the intersections.

Generally they roads ran parallel to each other, north-south. Nonetheless, both took strange angles at places that forced them to intersect repeatedly. This happened at the 3900 North, 4350 North and 6400 North blocks.

I wondered about their names as I naturally do. Sheridan Road derived from General Philip Sheridan who gained his fame during the Civil War. However, the street didn’t relate to his service during the war. Sheridan happened to be stationed in the city when the Great Chicago Fire destroyed more than three square miles of it in 1871. He quickly took control of the situation, dynamiting buildings to create fire breaks, and restored order after the mayor declared several days of martial law. The disaster, awful as it was, would have been considerably worse without Sheridan in command. Chicago did not forget his actions.

Broadway Street apparently got its name from the famous Broadway in New York City in 1913.

All Four Cardinal Directions

Wacker Drive map
Wacker Drive map on Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.

Wacker Drive should be renamed Wacky Drive in my opinion. I’m not sure if similar examples existed elsewhere — maybe the wise 12MC audience can find other occurrences — because Wacker featured street addresses with all four cardinal directions. Chicago used a numbering system that designated addresses as north-south or east-west. Generally it didn’t pose a problem because streets tended to run in fairly uniform directions. Wacker did not. It followed the Chicago River where it bent around downtown. That created a nice curve in Wacker Drive that resulted in both a north-south segment and an east-west segment. Thus, legitimate street addresses included North, South, East and West Wacker Drive.

Anyone visiting Chicago probably noticed that Wacker featured upper and lower levels. The upper level handled through-traffic. The lower level allowed trucks to make deliveries to nearby buildings. I didn’t know that Wacker also included a short third level known as Lower Lower Wacker Drive. Secret drag races became a problem there in recent years.

Who was Wacker? Charles Wacker chaired the Chicago Planning Commission that came up with city infrastructure improvements in the early 20th Century.

Bonus! The Midway Plaisance

Fall Day on the Midway
Fall Day on the Midway. Photo by feministjulie on Flickr (cc)

I discovered some bonus trivia on another article on the site, Streets of Chicago: Midway Plaisance. This Midway, unlike the airport, did not reference the Battle of Midway or Midway Atoll. Actually I couldn’t find the definitive reason why they called it Midway although it dated to the mid-19th Century. Plaisance came from a French version of pleasant, in other words a nice place to spend some time. The World’s Columbian Exposition happened there in 1893. Chicago wanted to create an iconic statement like Paris had done with the Eiffel Tower at the 1889 World’s Fair. A revolving circular tower rose at the center of the mile-long Midway Plaisance, the world’s first Ferris Wheel (map).

Hundreds of exhibits lined the Midway Plaisance during the Columbian Exposition. It became such a sensation that just about every circus, fair or exposition afterwards took the idea along with its name, creating their own Midway.

Connecting Through Midway

On September 22, 2016 · 2 Comments

I hadn’t flown through Chicago’s Midway Airport much until recently. Then Southwest Airlines started offering flights at my local airport and many of its connections passed through Midway. I always hated connecting flights, and flying in general, although I admitted a preference for Midway over O’Hare. I never thought about its name though.


Battle Of Midway Memorial Located In The Midway Airport Terminal
Battle Of Midway Memorial Located In The Midway Airport Terminal.
Photo by AmateurArtGuy on Flickr (cc)

Chicago, Illinois seemed to be a perfect spot for an airport named Midway, being placed just about midway across the continent (map). That’s where I thought the name would lead like the Definitely Halfway article. I’ve been wrong so many times before it shouldn’t surprise me anymore when something takes a strange turn. This one still caught me off guard. It began service as Municipal Airport in 1927. The named changed to Midway in 1949, not because of its geography but to honor the Battle of Midway.

In May 1942, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to draw the US Pacific Fleet into a battle where he could overwhelm and destroy it. To accomplish this he planned an invasion of Midway Island which would provide a base for attacking Hawaii. Using decrypted Japanese radio intercepts, Admiral Chester Nimitz was able to counter this offensive. On June 4, 1942, US aircraft flying from USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, and USS Yorktown attacked and sunk four Japanese carriers, forcing Yamamoto to withdrawal. The Battle of Midway marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.

Midway Atoll marked an approximate midway point between North America and Asia (map), thus the name.

Midway Ships

USS Midway / San Diego
USS Midway / San Diego. Photo by Michael Mayer on Flickr (cc)

Did the Battle of Midway inspire other names? Yes, of course.

A few months ago my transit through Midway Airport took me onward to San Diego, California. I’ve always enjoyed San Diego and its downtown waterfront. Visitors there can see lots of attractions including the USS Midway Museum. It’s a vintage aircraft carrier converted into a massive floating exhibit.

The Naval History and Heritage Command’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships noted three ships with the Midway name. The War Shipping Administration first pressed a private freighter into service in 1942, naming it the Midway (AG-41). It operated mainly along the Pacific coastline and later became the Panay because the Navy wanted to use Midway for a more important ship. That first Midway got its name from the atoll anyway, not the battle, so the battle needed to be commemorated. The second Midway (CVE-63), an escort carrier, got its name in 1943 and it definitely honored the battle. Its name changed in 1944, however, so an even larger aircraft carrier could become the Midway. The second Midway became the St. Lo to honor Saint-Lô, a town in France in the crosshairs of the Normandy Invasion A kamikaze attack sank the St. Lo at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

The final Midway (CVE-63) eventually became the museum that graced the San Diego waterfront (map). Its commissioning came a few days too late for World War II. However it served valiantly for nearly a half-century thereafter. The Midway ended its service as the flagship of the Persian Gulf fleet during Operation Desert Storm before its 1992 decommissioning.

Midway Streets

I couldn’t simply check every Midway Street to see if it traced back to the Battle of Midway. That would have involve thousands of data points. However, I did find a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia called Elizabeth East. The street names reflected the battle. Very quickly, I spotted Halsey Road, Nimitz Road, Hornet Crescent, Saratoga Road, and of course Midway Road. There were many others. These reflected the commanders and ships of the winners. I wondered how many of Elizabeth East’s four thousand residents understood the theme.

There must have been more. I couldn’t find them. They were lost amongst many more streets called Midway for other reasons.

Midway Theater

The Midway Theatre Forest Hills Queens NYC - IMGP0420
The Midway Theatre Forest Hills Queens NYC. Photo by BEVNorton on Flickr (cc)

However, I did find an interesting movie theater that opened in 1942. Thomas White Lamb designed this wonderful Art Moderne structure placed in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York (map).

[It] was named after the World War II battle, opened later that year as a single-screen 1,933-seat theater, but it was converted to a nine-screen multiplex when United Artists took control of the building in 1998.

Midway seemed as good a name for a theater as an airport.

Richmond Ad Infinitum

On September 15, 2016 · 3 Comments

I came across an interesting naming string as I researched Noble Layers. It didn’t quite fit the definition of that earlier article. Even so I found it fascinating in its own right, and it deserved to be highlighted.

Richemont, Seine-Maritime

Richemont mairie
Richemont mairie [town hall]. Photo by Gjv76 on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

It began, maybe, in a remote corner of Normandy a millennia ago. There stood the village of Richemont (map), now a commune in the present-day Seine-Maritime department of France. Richemont in the old Norman language translated to something like Strong Hill. It never grew into much. Fewer than 500 people lived there even in the modern era.

Richmond, North Yorkshire

Richmond, North Yorkshire
Richmond, North Yorkshire. Photo by Ian Britton on Flickr (cc)

Sources diverged on whether the Norman Richemont inspired the name of Richmond in North Yorkshire, England (map). Maybe it did, or maybe North Yorkshire’s Richmond truly served as the "Mother of All Richmonds." A long line of Earls and other nobles of Richmond hailed from Yorkshire’s Richmond starting in 1071. William the Conqueror bestowed the initial title of 1st Lord of Richmond upon Alan Rufus (Alan the Red) of Brittany who lived in Richmond after the Norman conquest of England.

Richmond Palace, London

GOC Richmond 010: Gate House
GOC Richmond 010: Gate House. Photo by Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors on Flickr (cc)

Earls of Richmond existed through several creations, held by more than twenty men over the next four centuries. Henry Tudor claimed the title indisputably in 1485. He went on to win the Battle of Bosworth Field to effectively end the War of the Roses, becoming King Henry VII of England. Henry VII moved to the royal palace of Sheen outside of London. It burned down in 1498 so he replaced Sheen with a new palace on the same spot. He called it Richmond Palace (map) after his Earldom. Very little of Richmond Palace survived besides its original Gate House. The rest was demolished soon after Charles I died in 1649.

Richmond, London

Richmond, London

A town formed around Richmond Palace and remained there after the demolition of the castle. It carried the same name, Richmond.

Richmond, Virginia

Richmond on the James
Richmond on the James. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili on Flickr (cc)

Across the Atlantic Ocean, adventurers streamed into the Virginia Colony. They focused their settlements along the James River. They brought familiar place names with them too.

As early as 1608, the English settlers eyed a community near the seven-mile-long series of rapids that divided the head of navigation at the river’s downstream end and the calm stretch of water upriver from it. The area provided a series of strategic advantages: as a port, as a location for mills, and as a transitional territory between the Tidewater-based Powhatan Indians and the Monacan Indians of the Piedmont.

It took more than a century for a town of significance to form along the James River’s fall line. A prominent colonial plantation owner, William Byrd II, provided the necessary land in 1737. He named it Richmond (map). The view of the James River supposedly reminded him of the view of the Thames from the Richmond near London.

Richmond, California

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Photo by Don McCullough on Flickr (cc)

Richmond, Virginia existed before most of the places in the new United States. It also served as the capital city of the Confederate States. Its longevity and significance inspired people to name newer communities in its honor. Thus, Richmonds sprouted successfully in Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, California and many other states. The one in California arose soon after California gained statehood.

[Edmund] Randolph, originally from Richmond, Virginia, represented the city of San Francisco when California’s first legislature met in San Jose in December 1849, and he became state assemblyman from San Francisco. His loyalty to the town of his birth caused him to persuade a federal surveying party mapping the San Francisco Bay to place the names "Point Richmond" and "Richmond" on an 1854 geodetic coast map.

Several Neighborhoods

California’s Richmond later included several neighborhoods incorporating the Richmond name. These included Central Richmond, East Richmond, Richmond Annex, Richmond Heights, and Southwest Richmond Annex. I wondered if people living in any of those places realized the unlikely string that connected their communities back in time a thousand years.

Other Possibilities

Several other Richmond strings existed to lesser degrees. I also found Richemont, Seine-Maritime, France –> Richmond, North Yorkshire –> Duke of Richmond –> Richmond Co., New York (Staten Island) –> Richmond, Alabama. In addition there was Richemont, Seine-Maritime, France –> Richmond, North Yorkshire –> Duke of Richmond –> Fort Richmond –> Richmond, Maine.

So many Richmonds existed that the possibilities seemed endless.

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