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Across the pond with Rex Wailes: Chicago

Extracts from Rex Wailes’ 1929 diary of his trip to the USA and Canada. Part 21.

Poster Image


I left Pittsburgh by the 11.22 p.m. (summer time) sleeping car, and arrived at Chicago at 8.55 a.m., gaining an extra hour in bed en route, as the result of the change from eastern to central time. The sleeper was quiet, in its regular system, compared with the hotel, and I slept well. May 30th was a bad day to arrive – Commemoration Day. Almost everything was shut, but at 9.30 a.m. Miss Young rang me up from the E.S.U. and told me that there was mail waiting for me. I went round there and was hospitably received. She took me in her car on a sightseeing trip first S. along the lake shore to Washington Park and the University and then back again, and N. to Lincoln Park, finally landing me back at the Hotel Sherman for lunch.

The hotel is a huge place, and has a number of shops etc. on the ground floor and in the basement. The eating places are four in number, the Celtic Cafe, the Old Coffee Shop, the Restaurant and the Coffee Room.

The old Coffee Shop has counters and tables and is served by waitresses. The walls are hung with old English prints and the ceiling is painted with a map of Chicago. There was a Scotch waitress here who was very pleased to serve a countryman – especially one who tipped her well – and who saw that I got plenty of the best of everything. One of the great drinks is milk and cream, it amounts to about the same as drinking good unseparated milk. All tea seems to be called Orange Pekoe, though I have my doubts about it – mostly blended I imagine. I have got to like it with lemon and sugar, but only a China tea in this way. Toast and rolls are served hot on a hot plate and paper doyley – toast gets very flabby served in this way. Pineapple is a favourite and is served with a cream dressing, or cream or lactic cheese. Water ices called sherberts, are also served with meat. One sees all sorts of curious types in these restaurants. Nearly all the ties are ghastly and so are the socks. The made-up bow tie is very popular.

Chicago River

The view from my window in the Sherman Hotel – 18th floor – was interesting. It faced west. In front was a huge white brick block of office buildings with gaping maw in the centre to light it. Below, street cars crawl in and out like caterpillars to and from the exits of one of the North and South street car river subways. A procession of fire engines clungs passed, seeming very slow when viewed from this height. Cars crawl along in fits and starts as the traffic lights permit, and antlike people scurry in and out of doorways and along pavements. In the distance, wharves along the river and factories and houses as far as one can see, blue and smoky. Overhead feathery clouds in pale blue sky, and a large 3-engined Ford Monoplane passes slowly across the line of vision, looking like a huge moth.