Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Chicago, IL

After a steamboat ride from St. Louis to Alton, Illinois, a train east to Springfield, a stagecoach to Bloomington and another train ride, 17-year-old Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) laid over for 26 hours in Chicago before heading for New York City. In Life on the Mississippi, Twain says Chicago is growing so quickly that “she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.” Twain included Chicago on lecture tours in the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s. He also visited Chicago for the 1893 World’s Fair, which featured a world congress of religions. When Twain stopped in India on an around-the-globe lecture tour three years later, he met Indians who thought Chicago was a kind of holy city. But a Pudd’nhead Wilson maxim in Twain’s Following the Equator has Satan caution a new arrival to Hell: “The trouble with you Chicago people is, that you think you are the best people down here; whereas you are merely the most numerous.”

September 29-October 1

Posts from Chicago, IL

Chicago, Second City or second-rate?

As we follow Mark Twain’s path in 1853 north by stagecoach from Springfield, Illinois, I’m reminded of how Twain’s vision of his next stop, Chicago, changed and didn’t change. Twain insisted that a visitor always found … Read more >>

The curious case of Michael Fosberg

Michael Fosberg plays the race card, literally. He joked about it as he handed us his business card. “RACE” is emblazoned on the back in big black letters. The other side listed Fosberg’s contact info and … Read more >>

A visit to Barack’s barbershop

Chicago’s Hyde Park Hair Salon, 5234-B South Blackstone, bills itself as the official barbershop of President Barack Obama. True, the president has been going to the barbershop for at least 20 years (though security now requires … Read more >>

Are Italian-Americans black or white?

I kept thinking about race as we walked along Taylor Street in what’s left of Chicago’s Little Italy. Where Italian businesses once stood, LA Tan, Yummy Thai, CousCous and an Irish bar, Drum & Monkey, now … Read more >>

Vietnamese refugee appreciates freedom in ‘dreamland’ after 10 years in prison

It’s easy to miss the hulking brick building on Broadway when you’re in a hurry to get to Argyle, the busy hub of the Vietnamese refugee community in North Chicago. Nicknamed “New Chinatown” by Chicagoans, Argyle … Read more >>