Full Title: “Walks about Chicago,” 1871-1881: And Army and Miscellaneous Sketchesby Franc Bangs Wilkie
Location: Google Books Date Published: 1882
The satiric stories and essays written by Franc Wilkie (1832-1892) and contained in this book provide an interesting view of post-Civil War America. Wilkie had been a war correspondent for the New York Timesand during the Civil War he accompanied General Ulysses S. Grant from the taking of Fort Henry to the Battle of Vicksburg. In 1863, Wilkie joined the staff of the Chicago Times and remained with the newspaper until 1882. Wilkie was extremely versatile as a writer, and his satire was some of the best.
The following excerpt gives Wilkie’s view of a strange land, known by locals as the “Nord Seite” of Chicago. I think you’ll enjoy it.
THE geography, customs, productions, people, and so forth, of a new country, are always full of interest.
Once, when I was traveling about, I reached a place known among its inhabitants as ” Nord Seite.” I spent some time there. I found much to interest a traveler. Nord Seite is situated in about the same latitude as Chicago, and is about 10 degrees of longitude west of Washington. Its population is about 60,000.
To reach it from Chicago, one can take rail to New York; thence go by steamer to Alaska, via Cape Horn; from Alaska south to about the 42nd parallel; thence east by stage and rail, 2,000 miles, to Nord Seite.
Nord Seite has an immense body of water en one side, and a river whose main stream and one branch inclose two of the remaining sides. Nord Seite is, therefore, a sort of peninsula.
The river referred to is deep and sluggish. It can not be forded. It can not be crossed in small boats on account of its exhalations. These are a combination of sulphuretted hydrogen, the odor of decaying rodents, and the stench of rotting brassica. In crossing this river a sort of contrivance is resorted to, which is termed by the natives, Briicke.
This Briicke is not always reliable. Sometimes one can get over the river by its means, oftener he can’t. The Briicke is built of wood and iron, painted red, and at a distance looks not unlike a stumpy sort of rainbow.
The inhabitants of Nord Seite consist of men, women, children, dogs, billy-goats, pigs, cats, and fleas. In estimating the proportion of each of these classes, it is found that the fleas vastly outnumber all the others. They are not only numerous, but full-grown and vicious.
In the warm season a Nord-Seiter has a lively time in flea-hunting. In hunting this game the Nord Seiter shuts himself or herself in a tight room and strips to the skin. Then the flea is pursued and captured.
Most all the Nord Seite dogs are good flea hunters. They commence hunting fleas when young, without any instruction. Pretty much all their lives are spent in pursuit of this pastime.
The human population of Nord Seite is industrious. In the flea and fly time especially.
The business of the inhabitants of Nord Seite consists of a great variety of pursuits and occupations. These pursuits and occupations divide themselves naturally into two large classes. The first includes every other male resident of Nord Seite. These are engaged in selling a liquid which tastes something like a mixture of hops and rosin. It is the color of amber, and is surmounted with a white, yeasty, flaky coronal. The other class includes every man, woman and child in Nord Seite. This class is engaged in drinking what the other class is engaged in selling.
From the large admixture of hops in this universal beverage, it results that the residents of North Seite are very fond of dancing.
The ladies of North Seite are usually feminine in dress, and oftentimes so in fact and appearance. They mostly wear their hair braided in small plaits, which are again braided in larger plaits, which are braided into still larger ones; and these are once more braided into a large braid, which is twisted, and coiled, and wound and intertwined in, and around, and through, and about, and over, and under itself, till it resembles a riddle tied in a Gordian knot, and the whole enveloped in a rebus which nobody ever can guess.
When a Nord-Seite lady once gets her hair done up in this complex and elaborate style, she never takes it down. She couldn’t if she would. The only method of removing this style of coiffure is to shave the head.
Intercommunication in Nord-Seite is carried on in various ways. Many of the inhabitants go on foot. Others have a small two-wheeled vehicle, to which are harnessed a dog and a small boy, or a little girl.
They also have tracks upon which run vehicles which they term Vagens. The Vagen is drawn by two horses.
The Vagen is used principally for the conveyance of passengers carrying goods. It will answer to what would be an express-car in this country, in which each man should ride carrying whatever article he wished expressed to any point.
I have been in a Vagen in which a woman, on one side of me, carried on her lap a clothes-basket; in which were four heads of cabbage ; six links of imported sausage ; one bottle of goose-grease ; two loaves of a brown, farinaceous product termed Brodt; a calf’s liver; some strips of what is known as Schweinfleisch; a half peck of onions ; a string of garlic ; and a large piece of a fragrant compound known as Limburger Kdse.
On the other side of me was a woman with a baby in her arms ; a small child on each knee ; two other children, a trifle larger, on their knees, on each side of her, looking out of the windows of the Vagen ; and five other children, of various sizes, picturesquely grouped about her knees and on the floor. The same sort of thing was seen all through the Vagen. Each woman either had from four to nine children, or a basket that filled half the vehicle. Sometimes a woman would have the basket and the children both.
A very common patroness of the Vagen was a woman with two buckets of swill, carried by a yoke from the neck. The woman with the swill buckets was very common. She usually made her appearance at every third square. She didn’t generally look very attractive. If possible, she smelt a trifle worse than she looked.
The’ Nord-Seiter is economical. No matted if he earn nothing per diem, he always has enough to buy a mug of the amber fluid, and have five cents over, which he puts away in the bottom of an old stocking.
There is no newspaper published in Nord Seite. But there is a brewery there. So is there a distillery. There is likewise a place where they sell a beverage known as Lager Bier.
When two or three Nord-Seiters are conversing confidentially on a subject which they wish nobody else to hear, their whisper is about as loud as the tone in which a Chicago man would say, “Oh, Bill!” to an acquaintance two blocks away.
When two or three Nord-Seiters converse in an ordinary tone of voice, the result is a tremendous roar. A stranger would think them engaged in a hot, terrific altercation.
A Nord-Seite Vagen is an epitome of one hundred and eight distinct odors, of which onions constitute the dominant.
Some of the Nord-Seiters speak a little broken English.
There are many other curious things about Nord Seite and its population. Any body who has time and money should visit the place. The people are hospitable. Any one can visit them; reside with them as long as necessary; study their customs, and enjoy himself very thoroughly.