Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Sidewalks (Mile 1.04)

Chicago was built on land that was mostly marsh.  It had, for centuries, been covered with water and grasses, providing refuge for passing waterfowl and all sorts of marshland animals.  As the city grew and developed, it became obvious that the terrain was beginning to prevent the city from growing properly.  There were tales of a twelve mile journey through the city taking an entire day.  Another joke of the day was:
A man came upon another buried up to his shoulders in mud.  When asked if he needed help, back came the reply, "No thanks, I have a good horse under me."  Early attempts at correcting the problem included plank roads, but the water collecting underneath both rotted and warped the boards, as well as contributed to vector borne cholera.  Something had to be done.

Vaulted Sidewalk in Pilsen
To the left is the original level of the city in this area, to the right is where the city raised the street level.

Ellis Chesbrough, an engineer brought in from Boston to deal with Chicago's sewage mess, decided that
Chicago's land was too low to properly dig sewers to drain the area.  His idea was bold and innovative.  He decided that the city needed to raise itself out of the muck.  In 1855 and 1856, Chicago passed a number of ordinances which required the streets to be raised between 4 and 14 feet.  It took twenty years to accomplish this task and it was not unusual to see buildings being lifted by "dozens of men turning winches in unison so that foundations could be built underneath."  Foreign visitors watched in amazement as entire masonry hotels were elevated to the new street level while people came and went and guests slept and ate.  It was also a fairly frequent occurence at the time to see entire houses and shops rolling down streets as they moved to new neighborhoods... with people inside of them!

An example of a building in Pilsen that was not raised with the streets.  Notice the walkway from sidewalk level to the "new" first floor.

Of course,when the streets went higher, the sidewalks also need to go higher.  Most of the sidewalks were raised on steel beams, with the slab of concrete forming the "roof".  By the 1990s, most of the beams were deteriorated and cave-ins in the Pilsen and Heart of Chicago areas were not uncommon.  The city responded and there are several programs in place to fill in the vaulted sidewalks with rubble and repair the cave-ins.

For an interesting article on vaulted sidewalks, follow this link:

Kathy and I will be walking the sidewalks a lot over the next month in a show of solidarity with immigrants facing difficult situations in the United States and in order to support a ministry by one of our dear friends, Sr. Kathy Brazda, Taller de Jose.  We will be wearing a T-shirt with the name of one of their clients and information on contacting their ministry.  We've pledged to walk 90 miles in the next month.  You will be following our journey on the blog.

Street Food

Elotes from a Vendor at the Maxwell Street Market

 Elotes (Corn on the Cob)
1 corn on the cob
Chili Powder
Parkay Margarine
Cotija of Parmesan (Kraft) Cheese

1. Take the boiled cob of corn and place a stick in the end of it.
2. Brush corn with Parkay margarine and use a spatula to slather with mayonnaise.
3. Dust with cheese, chili pepper, salt.
4. Make the Sign of the Cross.
5. Devour.

Damn, it's good!

(P.S.  You know how fussy I am with ingredients and I would NEVER suggest Parkay or Kraft Parmesan Cheese.  But you NEED to use it to get the proper flavor of this delicacy.  I am not kidding.)


  1. Where were you when I had that paper to write on Chicago in the 6th grade? I totally would have gotten an A.
    We do our Elotes a little different with Crema Rancherita, Cojita, chili pepper and a splash of lime. So amazingly wonderful. Makes eating corn on the cob in the "off" season enjoyable for this Iowa farm girl.
    Love the new look, by the way!


  2. My recipe was straight from the vendor I bought it from. Kathy was laughing at me the whole way because of the use of less than highest quality ingredients! I was like a pig in mud when I ate it... so good, though soooo bad.