Cities rarely get a chance to start over; we have to live alongside our history as we build our future at the same time. Factories close, Sears Towers are built, and day by day, the same city changes.
But how fast? What's left in Chicago today that was there 30 years ago?
50 years ago?
70 years ago?
Augie March's Chicago has vanished, surely. Augie's generation is dead (like his creator Mr. Bellow) or dying, their children moved to the suburbs, and the city neighborhoods where Augie played and worked have undergone many transformations.
Re-reading The Adventures Of Augie March, I heard references to places I knew, streets that still cut their way across Chicago. Sensing an opportunity for a little literary archealogy, fellow Gapers Block staffer Alice Maggio and I set out to explore the differences between the places Bellow describes and what you see today. The following photographs attempt to marry Bellow's text with Chicago today.
Driving through Chicago, comparing what Bellow wrote with what we saw, I could only think of how filthy Chicago isn't anymore. More specifically, I kept trying to imagine the smell then versus the absence of smell now. With coal heating gone, so many factories and their smokestacks closed, the dirt and stink of Augie's time has been removed. Today's Chicago had no discernable odor, just the steady hum of highways that Augie wouldn't have recognized. Who would have thought of noise pollution in 1930?
These photos don't fully capture the smell, but I do think they show how much Chicago has changed. And is changing — almost every photo outside the Loop was framed by new condo developments and newly constructed housing. The city Augie knew is changing again. Despite his old age, I don't think he'd mind.
- Brian Sobolak
Click here to view the photo essay. (launches in a new window)