America 18/70

At last – The Windy City!

Chicago was everything it claims to be as a global city.



View from our hotel room

Constant technological development, the energy of its inhabitants and its position as a network of trade and migration were in evidence everywhere we went.

Nightlife. Archibald Motley, 1943. Chicago Art Institute

Fortunately, I had two ways in to explore the plethora of things to see and do! One of the main drivers for this trip was my interest in Scandinavian immigration and here I was at the door for Swedish Americans. In 1890 Swedes comprised the third largest immigrant group and in 1900 Chicago was -after Stockholm- the world’s largest “Swedish” city. It was the undisputed capital of Swedish America and the nerve centre of an entire ethnic culture. Today much of this story is brought to life in the Swedish American Museum.


The exhibits explore the struggles and triumphs of the immigrant experience, following their arduous journey to build a new life and community in Chicago. I will leave these photos to help tell their stories.

Items needed on voyage
First job
First home
First disaster
The teeming metropolis 1909
Making good – a typical Swedish bio-pic

My second entry point into Chicago’s riches came via my studies in American Modernity and in particular through reading the wonderful novels of Theodore Dreiser. The heroine in Sister Carrie (1900) is interested in Chicago from the moment she steps off the train from Wisconsin, overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place. Two important locations in the novel are still there!

Palmer House Hotel

Carrie tries to find work as a shop girl but glittering palaces like Marshall Field had no openings for ‘country bumpkins.’

Walnut Room Restaurant, Marshall Field Department Store

This was the very first restaurant in a department store and it is also the longest continuously-operating restaurant in the nation. There is a great story about Mrs Hering’s chicken pot pie and the girl in the Millinery department.

The Tiffany Ceiling
‘Visitors to the Macy’s store can’t help but look up when walking through the building’s first-floor cosmetics department—it provides a distant view of a shimmering vaulted ceiling that covers 6,000 square feet and comprises 1.6 million pieces of iridescent glass. The dome ceiling was designed by renowned glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany (it’s the largest Tiffany mosaic in existence) and crafted by a group of 50 artisans who worked atop scaffolds for over 18 months to complete the project.’


In the novel, Carrie spends much time awaiting assignations with her admirers. I just had to find the ‘clock!’

‘According to legend, Marshall Field decided that this corner should have a clock after he discovered notes wedged in the corners of the store’s new glass plate windows that pinpointed times and places to meet friends, family members and business associates. Field determined that a clock could serve as a rendezvous spot for shoppers and also make them mindful of the time.’

For us two, that meant boarding the 14.15 Empire Builder to Portage!

Westwood Ho!

America 18/70

Cleveland, Ohio

We took the Greyhound bus to Cleveland.

Our suitcase trundle to a city centre hotel zig-zagged through street caverns of even more monumental buildings than we had seen elsewhere.Cleveland

Guess who built this one?Cleveland

I have included some retro-research on Rockefeller that may be of interest:  “In 1855, at age 16, he found work as an office clerk at a Cleveland commission firm that bought, sold and shipped grain, coal and other commodities. (He considered September 26, the day he started the position and entered the business world, so significant that as an adult he commemorated this “job day” with an annual celebration.) In 1859, Rockefeller and a partner established their own commission firm. That same year, America’s first oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania.”

Cleveland’s position on Lake Erie, the Erie Canal and later railroads stimulated its growth as a transhipment point for lumber, copper, coal and farm produce. Here is another example illustrating the successful combination of individualism and commercial enterprise in the ‘land of opportunity.’ The Rose Building still stands and is now the HQ of Medical Mutual of Ohio.

Rose building – Built by Benjamin Rose, the Cleveland meat packer who pioneered shipping meat by refrigerated railway cars.

Everyday life for the people of  Cleveland was improved by the sponsorship of  libraries by Andrew Carnegie, another self-made industrialist who led the expansion of the American steel industry.

The mobile library service for ‘workers with little or no leisure time.’

We caught this exhibition on show in the fantastic Central West library.

The American Library by Yinka Shonibare.

After World War 2, the fortunes of Cleveland followed the familiar economic decline and dereliction endemic to the Rust Belt. But fortunately, some visionaries in the 1980s proposed a revitalisation strategy. We took a  guided cultural and architectural tour which revealed some of the ‘gems’ – old and new.Cleveland

Re-purposed industrial building with trendy community garden.
The Arcades, one of America’s first indoor shopping mall 1890, known as the Crystal Palace.

And no visit to Cleveland would be complete without a visit to…

We had a ball…

Model Stuka airplane used during The Wall shows in 1980 and 81, which Paul saw at Earls Court, London

America 18/70


We only had an overnight stop in this “Rust Belt” city but we did get a real feel for its rich economic and industrial history.  Just take a look at the scale of City Hall.

A Buffalo landmark, City Hall was dedicated on July 1,1932

We took a taxi to the rusty reminders of this former hub of American industry.

Grain elevators – ‘after’
Grain elevators – ‘before’

The ever helpful information board explained the dissolution of this amazing site.

So, imagine our excitement when we found we could kayak all the way through Elevator Alley!

Bird’s eye view!

My photos don’t really do justice to the experience so click here if you want more. As you can see, the area has really re-invented itself but without pulling its soul apart. This site will show you more.

One other memorable site we managed to squeeze in was the location of the final chapter of the Underground Railroad story. This tortuous route came to a climax at Broderick Park.

Here are ‘those trees’ mentioned in the text:

America 18/70

Niagara Nuggets – more great ‘finds’

We all know Niagara Falls is one of the global tourist honey pots and it is grossly overcrowded and highly commercialised.

My own special ‘honey pot’

But keep the faith, just start exploring and it gets really interesting! First up, photos from Paul’s helicopter trip help make sense of the geography and location of the falls at the border between USA and Canada.

You can get away from the crowds by rambling through the islands between the falls.

The tip of Goat Island where the Niagara river splits. Bear left for USA, turn right for Canada.

Paul also took an aerial shot of our hotel. So what, you might think?

Giacomo Hotel

This is a very pleasant, rather trendy boutique hotel but it was not our visit that made it famous! It was another Marilyn who came here in 1953 and who was mobbed as she descended these stairs to the hotel lobby.

26 year old Marilyn Monroe arrived on June 2nd 1953 to begin filming of the movie, “Niagara”.  But you will not find this scene in the movie. Marilyn was here to visit a dentist  for some emergency treatment and the news sped round the town!

Another hotel with a very different story…

Cataract House Hotel, Niagara

Once again we had connected up with the Underground Rail Road history. The story of the hotel features in a fantastic exhibition at Niagara Falls railway station. The penny dropped for me at last – Canada was the freedom goal.

from Heritage Center display

‘The permanent exhibition at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, One More River to Cross, features the rich stories of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, the crucial role of its location and geography, and the action of its residents – particularly its African American residents.’

These last photos  give just a flavour of the desperate events that took place at Niagara Falls – a World tourist hot spot…

America 18/70

Rochester-Info boards Come to Life!

Rochester is a great city-full of interest and surprises. Incorporated  in 1834, it was the Erie Canal, the abundant water power and railway linkages that made it one of the early boom towns of the “West.”

There are 3 waterfalls on the Genesee river which powered the grist mill in 1789 that started the settlement.


The industrialists developed the town big time. 

Their legacy exists in the renovated lofts, creative work spaces and trendy eateries that were everywhere. We loved staying in a city that had a Niagara-like water fall bang in the middle of town!

The view from our favourite brew-house

George Eastman, Kodak founder, ploughed money into the town and this is just one of the benefits.Rochester

We loved the elegant tree lined streets, much favoured by the industrialists who made their fortunes in flour milling, clothing, shoes, photographic and optical instruments.

George Eastman’s House

The museums, libraries and archives are to die for. And so are the wonderful staff! We met Gabriel Pellegrino, Librarian, who was a mine of information.

Au Revoir, Rochester!
America 18/70

Rochester and the 3 R’s

Race, Rights and Revivalism! These were just some of the historic social movements that used Rochester as a base from which to question the status quo. Our Swedish pioneer trail became submerged by the rich offer.  Frederick Douglass lived and published here.

Frederick Douglass in Rochester
Underground Rail Road sites, Child’s Basin, Rochester
An easily missed vignette of race history

The building today –

Reynolds Arcade, Rochester

Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony were contemporaries in Rochester and abolitionist meetings were held in her now beautifully preserved house.

Home of Susan B. Anthony

Her life and activism is brilliantly portrayed in this property. I sensed she understood Suffragist campaign PR and marketing as this tiny artefact shows:

Her work deserves a blog all of its own so I will leave you with this link and a bit of fun below!

ps, Rochester is also the home of the Kodak empire


America 18/70

The Erie Canal, New York State

Pre-holiday research had alerted us to the existence of the Erie Canal. But what we did not realise was its significance to the development of America! First some hard data:

  • North America’s most successful and influential public works project.
  • Built between 1817 and 1825, it was the first all water link between the Atlantic Seaboard and Great Lakes.
  • Canal packet boat passengers traveled from Albany to Buffalo in 5 days, rather than 14 by stagecoach.
  • An engineering marvel at a time when America had no qualified engineers.

But they sure knew how to party when it was completed!

On October 26 1825, Governor Clinton and his party boarded the packet boat Seneca Chief , with two wooden barrels of Lake Erie water, to begin the journey from Buffalo to New York City. Eight days later, Clinton ceremoniously emptied the water into the Atlantic Ocean to marry the waters as a symbol of the importance of this canal.

Erie Canal
Lake Erie meets the Atlantic

And the actual bucket stands in the New York State Museum in Albany!

Erie Canal

Now for the ‘soft’ stuff. The Erie Canal became the route to opportunity and prosperity in the American interior. New York City became the nation’s busiest port and most populous city and immigrants knew they could  find work in the many new cities sprouting along the canal.

But the Erie Canal carried more than goods and people.The general prosperity and the cosmopolitan nature of the Canal corridor created a climate where social innovation could flourish.  It was a conduit for ideas. Several of the 19th century’s most influential social reform movements started or flourished along the canal system. 

Here is just one!

America 18/70

Hidden Figures

Just before leaving Albany we struck gold in finding the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence  – a significant location in the history of the Anti-slavery and Underground Railroad period. We were given a personal tour of the house by Paul Stewart, co-founder with his wife Mary-Liz of the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, Inc. We exchanged contact details with Paul Stewart so that we could keep in touch with their inspirational work in public history. Imagine our joy when we received an email in the Autumn saying that they were in Oxford for an Inspector Morse pilgrimage and could we meet up!

Underground Railroad
Can you recognise the Inspector Morse location?
America 18/70

Another Saturday Night…

Albany did not get much better during ‘Happy Hour.’

Now, where have you seen this before?
Automat, 1927 by Edward Hopper

Things got a whole lot brighter when we visited the New York State Museum. One of the first things we saw was this Automat!

A bit more information below –

America 18/70


Albany is the capital of the state of New York. It is rich in the typical set pieces of American power, commerce and transportation.

New York State Capitol


University Administrative Centre, formerly Delaware & Hudson Railroad Company Building!
Albany’s former banking glory

Then we wandered down a whole street full of banks!

Coffers into Coffee!
Fancy a sandwich?


Despite all this grandeur, Albany just felt empty. Its downtown decline has been attributed to urban sprawl and party politics. It seems to have a love-hate relationship with the power bases in New York city. Governor Norman Rockefeller tried to re-invigorate the city with a typical, monumental Plaza – it worked in New York didn’t it? Well, take a look at Saturday afternoon in downtown Albany.

Bustling Albany