Route 66 events:  ‘Ghostbusters’ at Joliet’s Rialto Square Theatre

“I Ain’t Afraid a’ No Ghosts”
— Joseph D. Kubal *

What do ghosts and the Rialto Square Theatre have to do with Route 66?  Everything!  The famous Rialto Square at 102 N. Chicago St. in Joliet, IL is a well-known Route 66 ‘haunt’ and, supposedly, the building is haunted.  On Saturday, March 7, 2015, I set out to see if ghosts could really be found there.

You see, I have an open mind about such things and do believe that not everything can be proven with the science we currently have available.  Over the years, I have had several unexplained occurrences happen to me and my family.  it’s just the Eastern European gypsy blood in me, and I’m more susceptible to believing in the supernatural.  But ask around, and you may be surprised to learn that lots of folks have had unusual things happen to them over the years.  Often, people just don’t talk about those events openly, as they don’t want to be thought crazy, illogical, or as a “kook” by non-believers.

Rialto Square Theatre, Joliet, IL - blog (MRTraska)

The Rialto, the jewel of Joliet  (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 update:  local St. Pat’s and St. Joseph’s festivities

Greetings, fellow travelers!  Have you thawed out yet?  Good!  Those of you who have been following this blog for a few years know that we usually remind you about the March holidays (no, we don’t mean March Madness, even though I am an NCAA hoops fan).  I refer, of course, to St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day celebrations in and around Chicago.  St. Casimir’s Day, also known as Casimir Pulaski Day and the 178th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Chicago, happened last week on March 4th.  But the big celebrations are really St. Pat’s and St. Joe’s.  Happy namesday in advance to all you Pats and Joes out there!

Most of you locals probably already know that Chicago’s main St. Patrick’s Day stuff will happen this coming Saturday, starting with 9 a.m. Mass at Old St. Pat’s Church on Desplaines and Adams Streets, followed by a traditional Irish breakfast in the church hall (individual tickets are $30 per person), for which reservations are required.  There will be Celtic music and dancing during the breakfast, if you really need that.

Old St. Patrick's Church (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

Old St. Patrick’s Church (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 history:  West Side Park, long-vanished home of the Chicago Cubs

A mere two blocks east of Ogden Avenue and historic Route 66, there is a square block of buildings along Polk Street in the Illinois Medical District that is a forgotten site of baseball history:  it was once the home of the Chicago Cubs and the place where the team got that name.  Had its then owner not been possibly the most hated man in pro baseball at the time and a complete cheapskate, as in too stingy to maintain that ballpark or build a new one (setting a precedent for later tightfisted Chicago team owners), that spot might still be home to the Cubs today.  Instead, it’s home to the University of Illinois Medical School and the UIC College of Nursing.

A ring of faculty office and classroom buildings lines the periphery of the block.  A small, cramped open space in the middle, serving as a rudimentary quadrangle, is crisscrossed with sidewalks threading through the space, from east to west.  That small open space is all that’s left of the old baseball field.  Only a barely noticed, weathered bronze plaque on Wood Street remains as a reminder for anyone who cares to look.

2nd West Side Park (IMD) - commem plaqueThat baseball field was known as West Side Park, aka the West Side Grounds  It seems highly appropriate to discuss it now because although the Chicago Cubs supposedly celebrated their 100th anniversary as a ball club last year, in fact April 2016 will be their 100th anniversary at Wrigley Field.

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Route 66 activities:  Winter bird watching on and off the route in Will County

Hello again, fellow roadies!  Are you enjoying your winter so far?  We know that most people simply assume there aren’t any activities worth noting along Route 66 this far north between November and May, but you’d be wrong.  Just as there are interesting winter festivals and things off the route, so there are fun winter activities on the route – even in the greater Chicago area.

My co-author and fellow blogger Joe Kubal is an avid birdwatcher.  Those of you who are into birding and/or nature walks know that many birdwatchers go out regardless of the season and, sometimes, regardless of the weather.  There’s much to see in Chicagoland where bird watching is concerned: try Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago; paths along the Des Plaines River and Salt Creek in suburban Lyons and Riverside; the forest preserves near the Chicago Portage National Historic Site in Forest View; or the trails in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve surrounding Argonne National Laboratory near Darien.  Beyond the Chicago parks and the forest preserves of Cook and DuPage counties, however, there are many opportunities for birding in Will County, too.  I’ll let Joe tell you about his most recent trip.  And before I forget, special thanks to Joe’s birding colleague Sid Padgaonkar for most of the photos here; unless otherwise noted, they’re Sid’s copyright 2015 (all rights reserved).  Take it away, Joe!

Hi there, readers!  When I’m not working with my co-authors on our upcoming Route 66 book, I participate in a lot of clubs and organizations – the Illinois Geographical Society (IGS), the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois (ESCONI), the Knights of Columbus, and the Route 66 Association of Illinois (of course), just to name a few.  Occasionally, the interests of one group overlap with that of another. In this case, my love of birding coincides with my love of all things Route 66.

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Route 66 events (brrrr!):  Warm thoughts of the 2014 Berwyn Route 66 Car Show

Hi there, fellow roadies!  How ya doin’ with that polar vortex??  Have you been buried under layers of silk, wool and down this month?  Wearing two pairs of gloves and three pairs of socks, indoors?  Drinking hot cocoa and trying to think warmer thoughts??  Well, we can’t warm you up as fast as an XXX-rated movie might, but we can certainly turn your attention away from the freezer outside to things that should bring a smile.  With the annual Chicago Auto Show ongoing at McCormick Place through Feb. 22, it’s an opportune time to look back at last autumn’s annual Berwyn (IL) Route 66 Car Show … and dream.

Suddenly those cars with the flame-throwing exhaust systems actually look appealing, eh?  Yeah, we thought they might.  But hang on to your mittens anyway (they actually work better for keeping your hands warm).

2014 Berwyn Car Show 3 - nitro fuel demo - blog (MRTraska) Continue reading

Route 66 weekend wrap-up: Chicago Auto Show coming soon & more

Greetings, fellow roadies!  Have you got Seasonal Affective Disorder or cabin fever yet?  Mother Nature has been jerking us around this winter, at least in Chicagoland – teasing us with unseasonal above-freezing days that melt what little snow we’ve had so far (not enough long-lasting snow cover:  very bad for farmers and for your precious perennials), then slapping us upside our parkas with single-digit temps and subzero wind chills and giving us an intermittent reality check (yeah, the super-cold is the way real winter used to be up here; y’all are spoiled these days).  Makes you want distraction, preferably with something warm … or at least something that reminds you of warmth.  Well, thank heavens Mardi Gras season officially began back on January 7 and Chinese New Year is just around the corner; I don’t know about you, but thinking about great food always makes me feel warmer.

Oh, but there’s an excellent distraction coming up soon, especially for those of you who are automotively minded:  the annual Chicago Auto Show is coming back to McCormick Place!  And it’s warm and sexy inside!!  Now some of you may be asking yourselves:  Hey, wait – what does McCormick Place have to do with Route 66?  Fret not, there is a legitimate connection:  the massive convention center is located at the eastern end of Cermak Road/22nd Street, right where Lake Shore Drive meets the start of Interstate 55.  The final alignment of U.S. Route 66 in Illinois during the early 1970s had the eastern terminus set back to Jackson Boulevard and Lake Shore Drive, then the route went south to I-55 where the interstate and Route 66 mostly ran together on the same superhighway between Chicago and Joliet for a few years, before Route 66 was finally decommissioned in Illinois during the 1970s.  This last iteration of the route took it right past McCormick Place.

So: do we really need more reason than that to come stare at muscle cars, sports cars and high-tech prototypes?  Naaaah – like you should even ask.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Rosemary Clooney

Greetings, fellow roadies and road music lovers!  It’s time for that Route 66 Song Of The Week, one of the multitudes of versions of our favorite travel anthem.  We really meant to put this one up last year around the time that George Clooney got married (hoping that he and his new bride would take the hint from George’s Aunt Rosie), but for some reason we never did, silly us.

Rosemary Clooney was the prototypical ‘girl singer’ of the World War II and postwar era.  There was always at least one attached to most big swing bands.  In the case of Benny Goodman, it was Peggy Lee.  Duke Ellington had Joya Sherrill and a few others.  Count Basie stuck with the guys most of the time – Jimmy Rushing and, later, Joe Williams – but Basie was atypical.  Rosie began her recording career in 1946 singing with Tony Pastor’s big band for Columbia Records.

Rosemary Clooney, head and shoulders, 1954

Rosemary Clooney in a 1952 publicity glamour photo.

Before that Rosie Clooney and her sister Betty, who grew up with their brother, newsman and broadcaster Nick Clooney (George’s dad) in Maysville, KY, about 60 miles southeast of greater Cincinnati, started singing locally on Cincinnati’s radio station WLW in 1945.  By 1951, she had a hit single on the pop music charts, “Come On-a My House,” which turned out to be the first of many hit recordings during the 1950s and 1960s.  She’s perhaps best known for having co-starred with Bing Crosby, Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye in the musical film White Christmas, which featured the song of the same name, and for her many TV appearances during the 1950s and 1960s.  However, her career began to wane during the 1960s in part because of her bipolar disorder and drug addiction.  She also had a nervous breakdown in 1968 following her second divorce from actor José Ferrer (in 1967; she had divorced him the first time in 1961 and had remarried him in 1964), from which it took her some years to recover.

Her singing career got a reboot in 1976 when she signed with United Artists Records for two albums, then got a further boost in 1977 when Bing Crosby asked her to appear with him at a show marking his 50th anniversary in show business.  Starting that same year, she recorded an album a year for Concord Records, a jazz label.  She continued rrecording until her death in 2002.  What most of the younger (Gen X?) generation might remember, however, is her guest appearance with nephew George on the popular TV series ER in 1995 (in which George was one of the stars), for which she received an Emmy nomination the following year.

A lolngtime smoker, Clooney died from lung cancer.  This recording is from one of her later albums.  We hope you enjoy it.  It includes actress Dorothy Malone and Bobby Troup himself, author of our favorite Route 66 song.  Cheers!

Until next time,
your own DJ SweetMarie