Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Gallery : How Chicagoans Remember Their History
How Chicagoans Remember Their History
What We All Know: Icons of Memory
Reproduction of Memory
Institutions of Memory
Forgetting, Misremembering, and Contesting Memories
Case Study: Jean Baptiste Point DuSable
Case Study: Fort Dearborn
What We All Know: Icons of Memory

Mrs. O'Leary's Cow

Although Mrs. O'Leary and her cow have been exonerated from responsibility for the Fire of 1871 by researcher Richard F. Bales and, in 1997, by a resolution of the Chicago City Council, the mythic story is likely to persist in popular memory as a fable of the truism that small causes can have large effects. In 1996 the Chicago Historical Society unveiled a web exhibit curated by Carl Smith, The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory, where much more material can be found documenting how Chicagoans have remembered the Fire.

See also: Demography; Irish; Racism, Ethnicity, and White Identity; Fire of 1871; Year Page: 1871

Capone's Chicago

A Map of Chicago's gangland from authentic sources: designed to inculcate the most important principles of piety and virtue in young persons, and graphically portray the evils and sin of large cities, 1931. Al Capone remained part of Chicago's image long after his downfall, kept alive in popular memory by books, television, and movies, as well as by Geraldo Rivera's anticlimactic live television stunt in 1986, in which he had Capone's purported secret "vault" in the basement of the Lexington Hotel blasted open, revealing only an empty chamber. Reproductions of a lively 1931 Chicago gangland map have remained commercially available decades later. Despite the map's veneer of a pious educational purpose, its content provides vivid evidence of a degree of romance that some contemporaries attributed to the gang wars of the 1920s. It is a record of colorful patterns of vernacular speech that contributed to that aura of romance.

See also: Crime and Chicago's Image; Gangs; Organized Crime in 1920s (Map)

"Hog Butcher for the World"

Carl Sandburg's poetic epithet for Chicago, "hog butcher for the world," is often misremembered as "hog butcher to the world," but that is perhaps less a mistake than a sign of how much the phrase now belongs to popular memory, along with the phrase "city of [the] big shoulders," from the same poem. Though the stockyards have long been closed, the repetition of these phrases continues to carry a memory of Chicago's industrial past, even to many who will never read Sandburg's poems nor any of the many histories of the stockyards. "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg, 1916

See also: Literary Images of Chicago; Meatpacking

Good and Evil in the White City

Historians have long researched and interpreted many aspects of the World's Columbian Exposition. Erik Larson's book, The Devil in the White City (2003), contributed little new historical information or interpretation, but it attracted a wide popular audience. Larson's vividly imagined and dramatic narrative juxtaposed stories about Daniel Burnham supervising the design of the Fair, and Herman Mudgett, a serial killer active near the Fair. Though drawing on historical research, the The Devil in the White City most effectively exemplifies the workings of popular memory. Larson arranges facts, suppositions, and invented scenes to meet the expectations of historical fiction. In the process he effectively reenergizes a Victorian perception of cities as embodying a powerful duality of beauty and horror, sunshine and shadow.

See also: Crime and Chicago's Image; If Christ Came to Chicago; Literary Images of Chicago