Friday, October 7, 2016

Since Hyde Park...

Rockefeller Chapel. a little harder to access by the el or by bus I've been saving it for an evening when we had a small enough group to fit into a car. Last night only four of us -- Alan, Jack, John and me -- made the journey down to the South Side neighborhood known for the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago.

We arrived at around 5:30 and parked in front of the University's International House on the Midway Plaisance. The International House, as its name implies, is "a residential community where students from different nationalities and diverse cultures can live, work, and study together." My son John, who went to school in Hyde Park for a few years, said "So that's the International House! Someone once asked us where it was and we thought he meant IHOP."

Looking east from the Fountain of Time.
The Midway Plaisance, about a mile long and over 200 yards wide, connects Jackson Park on the lakefront with Washington Park on the west. (I once asked someone how to pronounce it and she said, "MID-WAY." I guess everyone's a comedian.)

According to Wikipedia, "the word 'plaisance' is both the French spelling of and a quaint obsolete spelling for 'pleasance,' itself an obscure word in this context meaning 'a pleasure ground laid out with shady walks, trees and shrubs, statuary, and ornamental water.' " Gotcha.

Intended to serve as a Venetian-like canal linking the lagoon systems of Jackson and Washington parks, the Midway has remained essentially a green area. I asked the guys if they'd ever heard the term "Monsters of the Midway," and they all responded with blank stares. Often used to describe the Chicago Bears, the nickname originally referred to the football team at the University of Chicago. The Maroons, founding members in 1896 of what was to become the Big Ten Conference, dropped out in 1946 after U. of C. president Robert Maynard Hutchins famously decided that "commercialized college sports were incompatible with the academic and intellectual aims of institutions of higher learning." Can you imagine anyone taking such a quixotic stand today?

After the International House, we strolled past the University of Chicago Lab School (where President Obama's daughters attended before 2008 and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's three kids still do today), the magnificent Rockefeller Chapel (which looks more like a "cathedral" to me), past Harper Memorial Library, past the Medical Center and on to the Fountain of Time at the western edge of the Midway in Washington Park.

The sculpture, dedicated in 1922, was intended to be matched by a sister fountain, Fountain of Creation, at the opposite end of the Midway. The design was inspired by the poem "Paradox of Time" by Henry Austin Dobson:

Time goes, you say? Ah no! 
Alas, Time stays, we go;

Profound, huh?

That's exactly what was going through my mind when I snapped that picture of the guys in front of the statue of Father Time. (Actually, I was thinking more of how the shot reminded me of the famous "Who's Next" album cover.)

The sculpture, depicting a hooded Father Time carrying a scythe and watching over a parade of 100 figures arranged in an ellipse, was created as a monument to the first 100 years of peace between the United States and Great Britain after the Treaty of Ghent concluded the War of 1812.

From there we dodged traffic back to Cottage Grove Avenue and zigzagged our way through the rest of the campus and surrounding neighborhood to Valois Restaurant at the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue.

Valois (pronounced Val-loys) is a locally-famous cafeteria with murals on its walls that show various sites around Chicago. Opened in 1921 and in its current location since 1970, the Greek-owned establishment has been the home-away-from-home for many Chicago celebrities, including President Obama and former White Sox owner Bill Veeck.

Veeck was such a fixture at Valois that his "usual" breakfast -- four eggs, double wheat toast, double links and hash browns -- was cooked and getting cold in early January 1986 when his wife called to tell the staff that, yes, Bill had just died. She didn't want them to have to read about it in the newspaper. (FOUR eggs? If I didn't know Veeck died of cancer I would have sworn it was a heart attack!)

After dinner (John and I had the Reuben, which we both heartily recommend), we zigzagged our way back to the car and left for home at about 7:30.

(The food at Valois was actually better than I remembered it -- and cheaper too! I like to keep the price of dinner on our Wednesday Hikes under ten dollars when at all possible, and that's easy to do at Valois.)

Where are we headed next week? Good question. I noticed there's a baseball team on the North Side still playing in October. Maybe we'll take our Hike through the Lake View neighborhood and drink in some of the excitement. See you then?

P. S. This post originally appeared on our non-profit's Facebook page.

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