I love traveling. At the moment I’m in Chicago, and it’s been delightful. Taking it easy tonight, but I’ve been here two days and it’s felt a bit non-stop. Today I went on a gangster tour, sailed the Tall Ship Windy, and then went to Gibson’s for dinner.
But, today’s post isn’t about those places. Today’s post is about the awesomeness of the research library, Newberry Library. (at 60 W. Walton Street, across from the Washington Square Park.) I spent five hours in their reading rooms. Truly, I could have spent a lot more time, but I just didn’t have that much time. My main research goals were to look at several maps, the Illinois Crime Survey (a massive tome), and part of the Bessie Barnes papers.
Ms. Barnes was a producer of nightclub entertainment in Chicago and Milwaukee, and she worked during the 1920s and 1930s, with celebrities like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The library has all her papers and production notes, and I went through a box that included theatrical photographs of some of the performers, some letters, a stack of receipts and bills for shows, and some postcards. Stuff like that is what can help bring a story alive, all those little details that can make things that much more vivid in the reader’s imagination. (It also gives me a good idea of the cost of things, what people were eating– there were several menus too –and what some of the costumes were like.)
One of my favourite items to look at was a map of gangsters’ saloons and clubs, marked on a map of Chicago that was created in 1927. All the red dots give an idea as to which neighbourhoods were the most criminally populated, and there were also notes about which ethnicities lived in which areas of the city. Perfectly handy for me to use to create my fictional spots in the Roaring Twenties Chicago landscape.
And then, going on the gangster tour, I got to see some of the places up close… but that’s another post!