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Fin de siecle Chicago for dummies

A new edition of Chicago by Day and Night, with annotations by Paul Durica and Bill Savage, is a guidebook to both the city and the era.



"Chicago has been called, in its time, the wickedest city in the world, and somehow or other (in exactly what manner it matters not) the impression has gone abroad that it is really a very wicked place indeed." And yet: "It is possible for a perfectly moral person, one used to all the refinement and peace of the most law-abiding and self-respecting of communities, to spend any length of time in Chicago without being contaminated by the evil that may be found easily enough if sought. This statement is made with due consideration and careful thought. It may seem a bold one, but it is true, nevertheless."

This bold statement is to be found in the amazingly boosterific Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker's Guide to the Paris of America, a guidebook published for the benefit of visitors to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, held, of course, in this very wicked city.

Paul Durica (of Pocket Guide to Hell Tours) and Northwestern lit scholar Bill Savage have edited and annotated a new edition of Chicago by Day and Night. The citation above comes from the chapter "The City's Moral Side," though the anonymous writer (or more likely, writers) spend much ink cheekily describing the "immoral" aspects of Chicago culture available to the tourist.

The book contains practical advice on hotels, theaters, restaurants, shopping, church services, the coming fair, and much more. On the other hand, the writing tends toward a conversational, almost conspiratorial tone, about "Traps Set by the Wicked for the Unwary," "Adventuresses," "hackmen and their ways." It seems a particular tack of the writers to describe a potentially alluring activity while at the same time warning the respectable visitor to avoid it: "Of course no well regulated person ever enters a saloon except for purposes of investigation, but there are a few saloons and cafes in Chicago that are visited as much for sight-seeing as for liquid refreshment." You have been warned.

According to their acknowledgments, Durica and Savage spent some time in saloons while editing the book. Their annotations to the "mistake-ridden and highly irregular original text" are both amusing and informative, much as Chicago by Day and Night is itself.

Unfortunately the identity of the writer (or writers) remains unknown. The editors speculate that the book was written "either by a glib and loquacious Chicago Renaissance Man-about-town utterly immune to writer's cramp or by multiple authors working in parallel, each according to his or her own area of expertise." In any case, it would have been a joy to share a drink with them in a saloon.

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