A New DECADE? Who… What… How… did that Happen?
January 8th, 2020 - By Patrick T. McBriarty
HAPPY NEW YEAR and 2020 no less!
It’s hard to believe an entire decade has just slipped by. Reminds me of shampoo. Not the 1975 movie with Warren Beatty. Of course, now I have completely dated myself, even though I did not see it in the theater, rather on TV a few years later. Anyway my point was, losing a decade is like shampoo because it slowly sneaks up on you, using a little each day, then seemingly all of a sudden… Bam! You are out of shampoo, whether we have thought about it or not. Of course, the first response is denial, “Didn’t I just buy this bottle…” but no, that was months or almost a year ago if you have short hair like mine. So, as we open the bottle of 2020… to wash, rinse, repeat day-after-day we should pause and take a look back.
The 2010s flew by – washing the years right out of our hair – like the song in Oklahoma! which opened (on Broadway in 1943) way before my time. I have no recollection of it and apparently my recollections from high school stage crew are also faulty as that song is actually from South Pacific. The internet has gotten so much better over the last decade and is now practically indispensable. Yet this idea of jumping into a new decade, people are calling it the roaring ‘20s, completely surprised me. The idea had not occurred to me until a friend wished me a ‘good decade’ a week ago. I guess I have had my head down (please ignore the bald spot) \consumed by work and life and living, and never thought about the time! The past couple years, two projects in particular have been quite consuming.
The first was, and is, the Windy City Historians Podcast. Started two years ago with Chris Lynch, we began with the first episodes in March of 2019 to release an episode a month since. Last Friday, Episode 10 in our initial series called “Laying the Foundation” was released as we continue presenting Chicago history from its beginnings on up into the 1940s. A seemingly simple concept, until our first interviewee with retired attorney John Swenson, who dropped a historic bomb on us. He disagreed with much of the traditional origin story of Chicago and unleashed an entirely new story of discovery and French exploration. And Episode 1 became three as we struggled to capture and wrap our heads around this new history. More work resulted in taking on co-authoring a forthcoming academic article with John Swenson on this topic which should be published in the March, 2020 edition of the Illinois Geographer.
Chris and I have received a lot of good feedback on the podcast, particularly the sub-series The Canoe Chronicles of Episodes 4-7, which Chris produced from our interviews with the reenactors of the Marquette & Jolliet and La Salle expeditions in 1973 and 1976. Continuing to plug away we’re getting to know a swath of history that is new to us and have discussed the early settlement, like the city’s founder Jean Baptiste Point de Sable in Episode 8 and now Fort Dearborn in Episodes 9 and 10. One can get the podcast most anywhere you find your podcasts or listen directly from the website at www.WindyCityHistorians.com.
The second major project has been as Program Coordinator and Operating Board of the new nonprofit Chicago Maritime Arts Center. This almost entirely volunteer effort over the past years has delivered programs teaching kids to build, launch and row boats on the Chicago River. Often working with at-risk-youth, the impact with these kids is amazing and about half of them had never been on the water before, let alone rowed a boat or taken it away from a dock on their own. We teach safety, basic maritime skills, some ecology, tool use, and life skills, giving Chicago youth a connection to the water and opening new opportunities and new potential pathways. It has been a lot of work but really cool to see this organization begin to set sail. We will be at the Chicago Boat, RV, Sail Show at McCormick Place this week (January 8th to the 12th). So, if you are there stop and see us at Booth RV 2410. You can even take our aluminum boat challenge and see how many golf balls your boat design will float before sinking. And the best score by a 11-15 year-old during the Boat Show wins a full scholarship to one of our 2020 programs.
Besides these efforts I have been doing a lot of riding connected with a group of cyclists and have. Regular group rides from the Johnny Sprockets bike shop have evolved into a cycling team. It has made riding more fun and encouraged me to get more miles in this year and increase my fitness in an attempt keep up with a bunch of 20 to 30 year-olds. Meanwhile Chris has been busy with college and university visits, drop offs, and pickups with his three kids, and squeezing in a few historical side trips along the way, besides his day job at the City of Chicago Department of Buildings.
In any event, we hope you had a good previous decade and here’s looking at the Roaring 2020s; may they be good to all of us historically speaking!