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20. February 1967 The WFMT radio host and professional conversationalist Studs Terkel goes into neighborhoods with his tape recorder and interviews 71 everyday Chicagoans—“people who make the world go around”—for Division Street: America. The book, a bestseller, helps establish oral history as a literary form. For more from Terkel, watch his interview with Charlie Rose below:
19. August 1967 Bribed by souvenirs, such as a White Sox uniform and an Indian war bonnet, and courted in repeated visits from the Chicago architect William Hartmann, the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso finally agrees to design his first large-scale civic sculpture. When the five-story steel monument is unveiled in Civic Center Plaza in August 1967, the public is perplexed—Is it a bird? A woman walking a dog?—but ultimately won over with news that the 85-year-old artist has handed back his check and donated his work to the people of Chicago.
18. January 2007 Two years after August Wilson’s death, the Goodman Theater stages Radio Golf, the coda in Wilson’s effort to dramatize the African American experience. A champion of new plays, the Goodman earns the distinction of being the first theatre in the country to produce all ten plays in Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle. The Kenny Leon–directed production travels largely intact to Broadway, where it garners four Tony nominations.
17. 1917 Rebelling against the American inclination for formal gardens, the Danish landscape architect Jens Jensen proposes what will be his greatest achievement: the 144-acre Columbus Park on the western edge of Chicago. With the eye of an artist, he fashions meadows and groves out of native flowers, shrubs, and trees. An early conservationist, Jensen helps shape many of Chicago’s major public places, and his efforts change the style of American landscape architecture.
16. October 1912 At 51, the Chicago poet Harriet Monroe founds the magazine Poetry to rescue what she calls the “Cinderella of the arts.” In her inaugural issue, she dubs the London-based poet Ezra Pound her first foreign correspondent. Though not rich, Monroe solicits 100 wealthy Chicagoans to each pledge $50 a year for five years, and the magazine becomes the headquarters and spiritual home of modern poetry.
15. April 1919 A decade before the works land in an American museum, the Chicago Arts Club curators Rue Carpenter and Alice Roullier mount an exhibition of French postimpressionists that includes Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse, Dufy, Signac, Derain, Seurat, and “Paul” Picasso, as he was named in the catalog. This is the second American showing of Seurat’s revolutionary “divisionist” work Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. (The Art Institute won’t acquire it until 1926.) The show establishes Chicago’s reputation as a supporter of provocative new art.
14. June 1974 Stuart Gordon, the founder of the Organic Theater and an early nurturer of Chicago playwrights, works with the young local actor-writer David Mamet to fashion a series of sketches into the full-length theatre piece, Sexual Perversity in Chicago. The language is foul, but Mamet demonstrates a poet’s flair for stringing together street vernacular in a rhythmic way. After he volunteers to be Organic’s playwright-in-residence and Gordon turns him down, Mamet marches his next work, American Buffalo, to the Goodman, where it becomes a hit, launching him as one of the foremost American playwrights of the 20th century.
13. 1975 Saturday Night Live raids the improvisational comic warehouse The Second City for its inaugural cast—called the Not Ready for Prime Time Players—and nets rising stars John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner. The TV show’s immediate success establishes the Old Town institution as a major comedy factory, and Chicago-style sketch comedy reigns as a new format for TV. For more on how famous comedians got their start with Second City, watch the video below:
12. May 1885 The Chicago architect William LeBaron Jenney completes construction on the ten-story Home Insurance Building, considered by some the world’s first skyscraper, at Adams and LaSalle streets. Working with pressed brick and stone, Jenney promises a skittish public that the structure will be “strictly fireproof.” Demolished in 1931, the building is one of the earliest examples of iron-and-steel-frame technology.
11. Fall 1971 Under the direction of Sir Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra embarks on a six-week tour of Europe and takes the continent by storm. In Milan, Solti is warned to expect a temperamental public, but instead of boos, the audiences cry “bis,” the Italian request for an encore. The tour rallies a local funding base of donors—both individuals and corporations—and cements the orchestra’s reputation as an international force.