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From: Nan Brennan <>
Subject: Re: [IRISH-IN-CHICAGO] Chicago Flophouse
Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2007 13:38:29 -0500
References: <ce8.db42018.335104c0@aol.com><000b01c77def$eb5dfe90$6400a8c0@CARMEN>
In-Reply-To: <000b01c77def$eb5dfe90$6400a8c0@CARMEN>


I think Carmen is right. There were SROs and boarding houses that
were cheap housing, but had
occupants who were employed like the example Kathleen gave.

I looked at the 919 address, that Ed OHara
asked about, and although there were a few residents there that were
unemployed, most at that addess were unemployed.

And as the article from Chicago Encyclopedia pointed out this street
was part of "the main stem" before it deteriorated into SkidRow.
But like Maureen, I remember driving through there in the 50s and it
was a profoundly disturbing experience. It was almost all alcoholics.
My dad lost an uncle to alcoholism. He (my dad) and his father found
Uncle Martin frozen to date along a curb on Madison ave.
I think dad was about 20 or 21 at that time. This would have been
1932-34 or so.

When I was young, every year or almost every year for many many
years, after all the guests were gone on Xmas evening, my father
would go to kitchen
and make up several bags of turkey sandwiches and a couple of large
thermoes of coffee. Then he would go into his "hobo drawer",
a drawer in his bedroom dresser bureau where he would keep socks,
mufflers, gloves and stocking caps that were either used, but
serviceable,
or new that he had picked up cheap. He'd fill another bag with with
the clothing and leave. I didn't know where he was going, but I use
to help him make the sandwiches. Finally one year, he took me with.
I think I was 7 or 8. I went a couple more years, and my older
brother went with him several times, too.

Dad would let one or two men into the car at a time and give them the
coffee and a sandwich and let them warm up.
And he would "check them over" to see what they needed and would give
them socks, a hat, or something. Dad treated them with great
respect and dignity and engaged them in cheerful conversation, and
they would talk about themselves and their previous lives, and they
all had a previous life and a family and were from somewhere, just
like Uncle Martin. Then Dad would tell them he had more people to
"visit" and they would exit the car and we would drive on looking for
our next Xmas guest.

My very first impression of my very first Madison Ave Xmas guest as
he thumped into the back seat of our car was fear and disgust and
discomfort---he was so dirty and smelly and the street was so dark
and lonely and forlorn. But as I watched my dad speak to this man
with respect and kindness and saw that they were instantly connected
in a very cordial and warm and normal way, I saw the human being in
the back seat and my fear and disgust disappeared into a strange mix
of joy and sadness.

I remember how grateful they were for the kindness and the warmth and
the food ----and the acknowledgment of their humanity---on Xmas. I
remember our exchange of "Merry Xmas and God Bless you" as they left
the car. It was the most genuine and heartfelt expression of these
words that I had known until then. It is an experience that will
never leave me. And I'm sure my dad knew he was helping someone
else's Uncle Martin. It was the tragic memory of Martin that brought
him there every Xmas for many years.

I am grateful to my dad for this experience.

Nan

P.S. My dad was no fool......he packed a gun and brass knuckles.

On Apr 13, 2007, at 12:19 PM, Carmen DiGiacomo wrote:

> Kathleen, I don't understand why you connected The Springfield
> House to the
> term flophouse. If those listed on the census sheet were singe and
> laborers
> the place could have been a boarding house for laborers. I would
> venture to
> say one could find similar places in New Bedford, MA, Providence RI
> or any
> other city that had a manufacturing industry that needed workers.
>
> Carmen-Pittsburgh
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Friday, April 13, 2007 12:07 PM
> Subject: Re: [IRISH-IN-CHICAGO] Chicago Flophouse
>
>
>> My Chicago flophouse connection: I have a 1910 federal census record
>> listing
>> one of my grandfather's brothers (Martin Fitzgibbon) as a "lodger"
>> at 523
>> West
>> Madison Street in Chicago. At the top of the page where it has
>> "Name of
>> Institution", the census taker filled in "Springfield House".
>> I've not
>> found any
>> specific references for it, but assume it was a transient hotel (aka
>> flophouse). Martin is age 32 and a laborer for the railroad.
>> Everyone
>> listed on the
>> page is a single white male; most are laborers for the railroad.
>> If my
>> research is correct, I found Martin listed as Fitz FitzGibbons in
>> 1900 at
>> the
>> Illinois State Reformatory in Pontiac. Not sure what old records
>> there
>> are for the
>> reformatory inmates.
>>
>> Kathleen Richmond
>> Oak Forest IL
>>
>>
>> **************************************
>> See what's free at
>> http://www.aol.com.
>>
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