Chicago history

The Reason for Time

Whole minutes passed when I didn’t think of my man and the swimming lesson set up for the next day, if no one was murdered before then, or the cars stopped, or a bomb go off somewhere…

On a hot, humid Monday afternoon in July 1919, Maeve
Curragh watches as a blimp plunges from the sky and
smashes into a downtown Chicago bank building. It is the
first of ten extraordinary days in Chicago that will
forever change her life.

Racial tensions mount as soldiers return from the
battlefields of Europe and the Great Migration brings new
faces to the city, culminating in violent race riots.

Each day the young Irish immigrant, a catalogue order
clerk for the Chicago Magic Company, devours the news of
a metropolis where cultural pressures are every bit as febrile
as the weather. But her interest in the headlines wanes when she catches the eye of a charming streetcar conductor.

Maeve’s singular voice captures the spirit of a young woman living through one of Chicago’s most turbulent periods. Seamlessly blending fact with fiction, Mary Burns weaves a compelling and evocative tale of how an ordinary life can became inextricably linked with history.

Available at all the usual on-line outlets or at your favourite independent bookstore.

Vancouver, B.C. launch, Saturday, April 23, 3:30 PM, 1220 East Pender

Toronto launch, Saturday, April 30, 3:30 PM, Victory Café, 581 Markham

Trouble in Chicago, almost 100 years ago

(From The Reason for Time, from Allium Press of Chicago)

Tuesday, July 29, 1919

The answer didn’t come like magic, but not much work got done at the almost empty office of The Chicago Magic Company, neither. No Billy, still no Florence. Eveline, of course, gone to her cousin’s. Mr. R himself missing for half the day left me free to search the directory for the location of Provident Hospital. It would be a long walk and not a safe one, sure, not for someone skin light as mine in a neighborhood belonged to all those people at the heart of the trouble. Oh, what to do? But safe not even around us in the Loop when a colored man could be attacked and shot on his way home from work, something I learned when I took the elevator down and stepped outside and saw the story in another paper, all the papers plastered up to the board at the corner and me not the only one crowding in to read.





Happened two blocks from where I stood with the others, and me having to angle in from the side, since there were few shoulders low enough for me to see above. Two blocks away only, the poor fella’d run from the mob chasing him. And he’d not been the only one hounded, though he was the only one killed.

One hundred whites, led by five sailors, marched through the Loop early this morning in search of Negro employees. The mob was dispersed by a squad of policemen from the central station, but there was no violence. A Negro employed at Weeghman’s restaurant on Madison, near Dearborn, was driven into the kitchen. He escaped by jumping through a window and running down the alley. Later the mob chased a Negro busboy into a restaurant in the McVickers building. He took refuge in an ice box.

(Above excerpt from reports of the Chicago Race Riot in the Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1919)

"The dirigible fell that fast..."

(From, The Reason for Time, Allium Press of Chicago)

"The dirigible fell that fast gusts of pushed out air rustled my skirt around my ankles, and wasn’t I across Jackson Boulevard by then, not knowing whether to tilt back my head to look or duck for cover? First the spreading shadow, then the odd shout sprung up from here and there, bunching into a roar when that big silver egg dropped flaming from the sky right onto the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank. And one of the parachutes meant for escape? Didn’t that fall flaming too, a candle soon snuffed on the ground barely a block beyond. Others floated through the billows so thick you couldn’t see what was attached to them, but you hoped it was someone made it out alive. “Look!” But where to aim your eyes first? The Wingfoot Express. Looked so impressive on the ground, it had, over there at the Grant Park field, but knowing how flimsy it turned out to be had me wondering what fools’d wanted to go along for what the papers called a joy ride. No joy for them that day, maybe never again.

The screaming started with the plunging made it more terrifying. A great boiling soup of sound, roar of fire, shattering glass, clanging bells, keening voices, clattering metal. Then an unholy minute, sure not even as long as a minute after the explosion, when them gas tanks fuelled the airship went up and I might a been deaf. It was that still I thought I’d been killed, like all them in the bank and the fellows crashed into it. But I was not about to die then, no, not killed, only bleeding, and just a dab of blood it was on my neck, like something’d bit me."