City Stable Closing

Image result for horse carriage chicago photo
As Old Town stable faces demolition, carriage owners see tenuous future
Elyssa CherneyContact Reporter  Chicago Tribune  12.9.16

The sprawling, two-story stable that sits in the middle of a residential block in Old Town has overcome its share of hurdles.

Since debuting as a riding school in 1871, the red-brick building has survived multiple bankrupted owners, a business license debacle, a horse heist by a former employee and two fires — the most recent was ruled arson.

But the Noble Horse Theatre, regarded as Chicago’s last original stable, may finally meet its end when a developer seeks approval Thursday to erect a seven-story apartment building in its place.

The likely demolition of Noble Horse represents the latest blow to an already beleaguered industry, business owners said. In addition to rising property prices, the horse carriage companies grapple with a number of challenges in Chicago, they said, including restrictions on carriage stand locations and a rush-hour ban.

“It’s hard to see that the city, and society in general, no longer values the entertainment, the contribution and the amazingness of horses,” said Wendy Burtt, Antique Coach & Carriage, one of two companies that housed animals and equipment at Noble Horse until this past spring. “It’s the history of the building that’s so amazing.”

Across from the Brown Line “L” tracks, trash, leaves and stale horse pellets littered the stable grounds Thursday. A gap in the metal fence around the property allowed access to the multibuilding campus, where insulation hung from the ceilings and the walls peeled. Neon spray-painted graffiti was scribbled in a dark hallway that led to a riding arena.

LG Development Group is seeking a zoning change to construct a 252-unit complex at the intersections of North Orleans, West Schiller and North Sedgewick streets and is scheduled to appear before the Chicago Plan Commission next week. LG Development did not respond to a request for comment.

Now Antique Coach and the second business that used the space, Great Lakes Horse & Carriage, have been forced to find lodging elsewhere. Burtt relocated to a warehouse in Lincoln Park, converting it to a stable. Jim Rogers, owner of Great Lakes, said he trucks his horses in from northwest Indiana.

“We are victims of gentrification just like every other small business,” said Burtt, spokeswoman and driver for Antique Coach. “We’re a dying industry. At some point, real estate will be out of our financial reach.”

The 1-acre lot that Noble Horse occupies was worth $500,000 in 1991, according to the Cook County recorder of deeds. In April, when it was sold for development purposes, the land went for at least $7.8 million, records show.

For some Old Town residents, Noble Horse Theatre is a relic of how the neighborhood was in the 1990s before — as one woman walking her dog put it — “it was all fancy with condos.”

Maurice Simpson, 53, who has lived nearby since the 1960s, said he never went inside the stable but is sad to see it go. One of his friends rented a carriage for his wedding eight years ago, Simpson said.

“I’m against any sort of demolition in the old neighborhood,” he said. “But we are undergoing massive changes. Some people don’t see the [stable] as necessary.”

Some younger residents who were newer to the area weren’t familiar with the property and wondered about its purpose. After learning about Noble Horse from a Chicago Tribune reporter, Allison Hammer, a 31-year-old nurse, said she would have been curious to know more.

“Historical landmarks are an important part of preserving the city,” said Hammer, who’s lived in Old Town for three years.

The carriage operators have mixed reactions about the fate of Noble Horse. Burtt will mourn the loss of a city gem. Rogers, however, is more concerned with practicalities.

Rogers said he got six months’ notice to vacate but has struggled finding another affordable space to rent where landlords don’t mind livestock. In his 20 years of running the company, Rogers said, he’s relocated at least eight times. He operates three horse-drawn carriages in the city.

“It was extremely inconvenient, but it’s just like another change of address,” he said. “It’s a great place, and it’s too bad.”

Burtt and Ortega, who run 10 carriages each, said their operations are too large to transport by truck. They need to house the horses close to downtown so the animals can walk to Michigan Avenue, where throngs of eager tourists make up the heart of their profits.

Ortega, whose stable is in an industrial area at North Kingsbury and West Willow streets, was among the first to rent stable space at Noble Horse in 1981. That was when the property straddled the troubled Cabrini-Green housing project and gunshots frequently rang out, recalled Ortega.

“When I started there, it was dirt poor,” he said. “There were shootings there in the middle of the street, and the neighbors were happy we moved onto the street because we brought some civility and they felt they could come out at night.”

Dan Sampson, who used to run the city’s largest carriage company, operated the Noble Horse then. He took it over in 1984 and revived the stable over 25 years, offering riding lessons, the carriage service and eventually a dinner-show production. He also pushed a $2.5 million renovation, adding 300 seats to the arena in 2003.

But Sampson also faced adversity. The stable was nearly bankrupt in 1991, a real estate company threatened to bulldoze it in 1997 and a fire ravaged the interior in the same year.

As Sampson built the business, the neighborhood changed. Cabrini Green shuttered for good in 2011. Gentrification continued as swanky restaurants popped up, and The Second City comedy club attracted an artsy crowd to settle nearby, though the 2008 economic crisis stalled some of the development.

At its height in the ’80s and ’90s, there were 60 horse-drawn carriages clopping the streets of downtown — compared with the 23 in use now. Though the current companies have converted some spaces to serve as stables, they say the Noble Horse building is the last standing stable originally built for that purpose.

By 2009, Sampson could not sustain his carriage and dinner-show business, blaming the city’s regulations for a hand in its demise. Afterward, Burtt and Rogers rented space from the property owner, real-estate developer Sheldon Baskin.

The most recent blaze in February, which damaged 13 horse-drawn carriages, appears to have been set by animal rights extremists, according to the FBI. Graffiti typically associated with that movement — spray-painted messages of “Save the horses” and “freedom” — was discovered in the barn, said the FBI, which is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Burtt said the industry can’t afford to fight the Noble Horse closure and said she had to emotionally detach from the property. She filmed as the last horse rode out of the barn for the final time April 1, chronicling what she calls the end of an era.

“There are kids in the city who will never have contact with horses like ours if we’re gone,” Burtt said. “Tourism in Chicago is a No. 1 industry, and we bring a very important aspect to the tourism industry, but they are forgetting about us … We’re not big business companies, we’re not corporate finance. We’re just small people trying to do our thing.”

Chicago Snow to Florida Girl

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That Time Chicago Sent a Trainload of Snow to Florida

January 15, 2016

By: Logan Jaffe                                    source

Chicago loves winter. Talking about it at least. Inevitably, you’ll lament the most recent snowfall with your neighbor. Inevitably, a Facebook friend will post a screenshot of Chicago’s zero-degree forecast.  And, inevitably, a media outlet like us will bring up the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 — if only to remind everyone that today’s bad weather could always get worse.

But this isn’t a story just about that blizzard; it’s also about how the media talks about its aftermath. It’s been nearly 50 years since the largest single snowfall in Chicago history, and not only are local news outlets still publishing retrospectives, they’re also still hung up on a single, microcosmic detail — written in a sentence or two or in a quote like this one, usually below the fold:

Some of the snow from 1967, there was so much of it, they didn’t know what to do with it,” said Peter Alter, resident historian at the Chicago History Museum. “They put it on train cars, and they shipped it to Florida for kids who had never seen snow.”DNAinfo, January 9, 2015

It was a tidbit like this that inspired a question that came all the way from a classroom of fourth and fifth graders in High Point, North Carolina. They had learned about the ‘67 blizzard and, being school kids themselves, they were particularly enamored with the Chicago-to-Florida snow train delivery. So, they asked us for help filling in the blanks:

Was there really a trainful of snow surplus shipped from Chicago to Florida school kids? How did that even happen?

I’ll tell you right now: It happened, all right, and the story’s details are worth revisiting. Because when you retrace the making of this Chicago mini-legend, you can see click-bait journalism being written across the front pages of mainstream newspapers — 40 years before its time.

Not all snow trains lead to Florida

The story of the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 starts on January 26, when it snowed for 29 hours straight. Having been 65 degrees just two days before, the storm took many people off guard. More than two feet of snow covered the region, with reports of drifts up to 10 feet high. Cars were discarded like cigarette butts over expressways. There was no public transportation, no access to grocery stores, no way to get to work. Twenty-three people died in the Chicago area, mostly from heart attacks while shoveling snow.

It took three weeks for the Department of Streets and Sanitation to plow the city streets. Desperate for places to put the stuff, they dumped it in any vacant lot they could find: Park District land, neighborhood lots, even the Chicago River.

Some Chicago rail yards came up with their own solution for snow that built up in their depots. It’s kind of bizarre in its simplicity: Shove it on freight trains already heading south. The warmer weather would do the job, melting the stuff in transit.

“They sent it because they wanted to get rid of it,” A.W. Pirtle, supervisor of the Illinois Central Railroad’s Memphis depot told the Associated Press (probably rolling his eyes). And in Chicago, the ordeal made front-page news:

Tribune story with photos

Dozens of train lines followed suit, and this solution — extolled in headlines such as this — grew into a national story. It was picked up by the Associated Press, and photographs of trains carrying heaps of sooty, Chicago snow from the blizzard appeared in papers around the country as the rail cars made their way to Tennessee, Alabama and Texas.

A 1,300-mile regift, remembered

The story was even picked up by national television, and eventually reached the ears and eyes of a 13-year-old girl in the town of Fort Myers Beach, Florida.

We found that girl through the White Pages. Her name is Terri Bell (last name Hodson at the time), and, at age 61, she still lives in Fort Myers Beach.

She says after hearing the broadcast about trainloads of Chicago snow heading south, she wrote a letter to William Quinn, the president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, asking him to send her some snow because, as a Floridian, she had never seen any.

And he did.

It’s just that 13-year-old Terri Hodson hadn’t realized that all of the other southbound snow was shipped in uninsulated cars — the whole point being to melt. But Quinn, possibly sensing a brilliant PR stunt but possibly out of the goodness of his heart, had the snow shipped to Florida in refrigerator cars.

Hear Terri tell her own story of getting Chicago shipped 1,300 miles to Florida



Tour of “Hidden Union Station”


Furnished by John

November 11, 2015

The hidden Union Station: Take a tour        source


A historic photo of Union Station’s old ticket room, now being converted to a first-class passenger lounge.

Anyone who’s seen “The Untouchables,” the Kevin Costner version, has an idea of how stunning Chicago’s Union Station used to be.

The famous baby-carriage scene in the 1987 film showed some of the station’s beauty, set on marble steps flanked by brass railings that flowed into a huge room. It suggested what used to be the reality: Union Station was the O’Hare International Airport from the mid-’20s until the Korean War, the meeting place for the nation.

The famous Union Station staircase scene from “The Untouchables.”

Recently, Crain’s photographer Manuel Martinez and I got a chance to look at what is hidden behind the walls of the million-square-foot structure. And, despite tarnish and dust and soot, it’s a lot.

One of the many hidden areas of Union Station that commuters don’t see.

Tucked behind impervious walls and locked doors or accessed only by keyed elevators is a different world—700,000 or so square feet of empty but usable space, below, which station owner Amtrak is seeking partners to redevelop.


The entire west wall of the building, flanking the Great Hall, used to be a mass of men and women’s lounges, a 17-barber barbershop and three-story Fred Harvey House Restaurant, both a cafe and a fine-dining room.

Above, historic photos of Union Station’s cafe, barbershop and dining room. Below, the barbershop then and now.

The cafe closed after a fire in 1981 and is empty—except for the Christmas decorations and fixtures stored in a corner, the blackened walls and the boarded-up three-story windows.

One small room in the station has been redeveloped as a lounge with Wi-Fi, satellite and other perks, at $20 a day. But at the moment, that’s about it.

The redeveloped lounge.

There’s almost as much space on the east wall, underneath Canal Street. That used to be high-end retail, with a Marshall Field’s-esque look. Included: a false exterior wall with no ceiling (below), designed to give retailers a place to display their wares to pedestrians and to let a little more natural light enter. One section is being eyed for an indoor/outdoor cafe. Another room, once used to sell tickets, is being remodeled into a lounge for first-class passengers.

The remains of the false exterior wall today.

Lightwells are a frequent feature of the building, which was partially designed by Daniel Burham—of Burnham Plan fame—before his death. “Daniel Burnham was a pain in the butt because he was a build-forever (type of guy),” says Amtrak building manager Paul Sanders. “Well, guess what. We’re at forever.”

That’s seen even better upstairs, in the seven empty floors that used to house railroad offices and that flank the Great Hall’s glass atrium, which, miraculously, is still there.

Above, a now-empty area where a new first-class lounge could be located.

The offices are empty, stripped to the walls, wheelchair accessible and ready for development, Sanders enthuses.

A walled-off area in Union Station that used to house a women’s lounge.

The area collectively is referred to as the station headhouse, and Amtrak is hoping to return it to what it looked like when it opened after 10 years of construction in 1925—and to make a few bucks off of it, too.

Union Station’s Great Hall, then and now.

Amtrak also is hoping to peddle adjoining air rights, too. If responses come in to its bid requests, the passenger rail service will get some badly needed money. And Chicago will get a piece of its history back.

Changes coming? Above, Union Station’s cafe, then and now.

Update, 12: 45 p.m. — In a somewhat related matter, two Illinois Democrats, Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Dan Lipinski, have been named to the Senate/House conference committee that will hammer out the first multi-year road and transit bill in a decade.

The bill at the moment does not include financing for Amtrak, which is expected to be funded in a separate bill. But one key item is support for freight rail, with several projects in the pipeline that would help unclog Union Station, which was built as a long-distance rail hub but now mostly houses Metra’s commuter service. There’s also some pots of money at issue that Amtrak could tap for Union Station work.

Lipinski told me in an interview that his priorities in the conference include freight rail, as well as securing the somewhat higher overall spending level the Senate wants. Lipinski said he believes funding problems involving Chicago Transit Authority projects—especially extension of the Red Line south to the city limits and rebuilding the Red Line north—appear to have been taken care of. But the situation remains flexible until a bill is enacted.

Present-day photos by Manuel Martinez; historic photos via Amtrak.

Homesick for Chicago – Beautiful HD Drone Video

Homesick Chicagoans Make Amazing Drone Video of the City, Its People

Full story on DNAinfo.

The video, called “Homesick for Chicago,” uses a drone to capture sweeping views of the city’s beaches and harbors, skyline, busy streets and Lake Michigan. But, it also focuses on people grabbing a hot dog, playing in fire hydrants, enjoying ice cream at Tastee Freez and hanging out in the park.

Ban the Pipes !


NANCY STONE/CHICAGO TRIBUNE   Here comes the god-awful sound of a bagpipe band marching down South Western Avenue on Sunday at the South Side Irish Parade.

Ban Scottish bagpipes on St. Patrick’s Day
By Elizabeth Greiwe   Chicago Tribune 3.17.15

   It happens every St. Patrick’s Day.   The bagpipers come crawling out from their whiskey-laden lairs. Dressed in tartan with tilted glengarries and jaunty sporrans, they nestle themselves into the back rooms of bars and terrorize street corners. Then, without fail, they let free the sound of a dying sheep being squeezed by a very angry elbow.   Or, as they would have you believe, the sweet sound of the bagpipes.  

I used to dread March. Both my parents played in bagpipe bands — in fact, my dad still does. As a kid, I was dragged to every St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Chicago area. St. Charles? Check. Elmhurst? Been there. South Side Irish Parade? Don’t even get me started.   Almost every parade started and ended with a bar. I developed the uncanny ability to tell down to the minute when we’d be leaving a bar based on how much beer was left in the pint glass.   I’m not sure what I hated more: the long underwear my mother insisted I wear because of the chilly weather, the long hours of the holiday or the grating sound of a bagpipe band in its prime.

   But here’s the dirty secret: Bagpipes aren’t even Irish, at least not the kind used in parades. Those are Scottish.   So I’m asking politely: Please. Ban bagpipes on St. Patrick’s Day.   The world would be a better place without them. Imagine, no more requests for the umpteenth rendition of “Amazing Grace.” No one asking what bagpipers wear under their kilts. No bizarre news stories about a man losing his pipes after a late night at the pub.   You want something Irish? Try the fiddle. Or the bodhran. Or the harp. There’s no short supply of Irish instruments.  

A full set of Uillean pipes.I’d even settle for the uilleann pipes. They’re the smaller, quieter Irish cousin of the Scottish Great Highland pipes. Most important, though, they can’t be used while marching; the piper uses his elbow to work the bellows and sits while playing, rather than standing. Did I mention they’re quieter? Americans have a tendency to mix-and-match cultures. We don’t mind when pork fried rice ends up on the same menu as shrimp tacos. Tex-Mex is in the dictionary. In most instances, America’s a la carte attitude toward culture comes as a boon.  

But what is the benefit from bagpipes?   They’re rarely in tune — but the casual listener can’t tell anyway because their sound is so god-awful. I’ve often heard the word “bleating” used to describe the sound of the bagpipes.   Plus, they’re loud. Really loud. They’re louder than a jet taking off if you’re standing close enough. True. Even the members of the band wear earplugs when they’re playing, and many of them end up with some amount of permanent hearing loss.   Bagpipes also can play only nine notes, which means every song sounds pretty much the same. And, no, pipers can’t take requests for “Free Bird.”   On a day where “everyone is Irish,” the Scots should keep their instrument to themselves.   Leave the Scottish bagpipes where they belong — on the battlefield or the burial ground.   Or better yet, never take them out of their case.  Elizabeth Greiwe is the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board coordinator.


I sent a note to Ms. Greiwe this morning, telling her I had enjoyed this piece, thanking her, including the lines below.  She answered thanking me for the note, saying that others had not been so kind.

More on pipes.


Now come the sturdy kilted pipers, striding up in strict formation,

pumping tartan bags with elbows–music of the arm-pit calls,

bleating come-do-battle, leading farm boys into slaughter,

dry, derisive hoots, striking drums that pound my bowels to paper;

I am bone-racked as they pass.   We had crepe and toilet paper floats

to promise life and peace and progress–                  

Come now the skirring stone-eyed pipers, silver daggers in their boots.

From “Fourth of July”,   rjn


400′ building mural


 Before & After
 Screenshot_2015-03-07-05-40-26 (2)
Cityscapes                                               Chicago Tribune 3.6.15
Mural puts riverfront high-rise on the map
Blair Kamin

   How do you put your building on the map? You put a map on the building, of course. A really big map.   That’s what you see at the once-forgettable 300 S. Wacker Drive office building, where a megamural map covers a formerly blank concrete wall along the Chicago River.   The mural map, a vertical sliver more than 400 feet tall, portrays the bending river, the crisscrossing street grid and (naturally) 300 S. Wacker. It’s the star of the map, represented by a bright red rectangle that looks like a flat-roofed version of a Monopoly hotel. At night, the rectangle is lit from within by LED lights.


You wouldn’t use this map for directions. But it communicates a clear message, and it does so without descending into garish, self-aggrandizing display, like a certain enormous sign (first letter “T,” last letter “P”) that blights the riverfront near the Wrigley Building.   The idea was to “highlight the building’s connectivity to the city and the river, and to elevate its presence, literally and figuratively putting it on the map,” said Maria Rizzolo, the lead designer on the project for New York-based ESI Design.  


Shaped by Chicago’s A. Epstein & Sons (now known as Epstein) and located kitty-corner from Willis Tower, 300 S. Wacker was a typical product of the early 1970s. The generic steel-and-glass high-rise turned its back on the river, ignoring the forward-thinking precedent of Marina City, which visually addressed the river with its corncob-shape high-rises and further engaged it with docks beneath the towers.   At the center of 300 S. Wacker’s riverfront wall was a tall shaft of concrete that enclosed the building’s elevators. If the idea was structural drama — steel-and-glass wings hanging from the concrete core — it fell flat.   “That building was pretty nondescript,” said Constance Rajala, assistant director of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise tour. “I don’t think most of the docents covered it.”   Indeed, the high-rise was so banal that there is no place for it in the 550 pages of the American Institute of Architects’ “Guide to Chicago.”   300 S. Wacker was literally not on the map, at least the architecture map.  


But things changed after Beacon Capital Partners, a Boston-based real estate investment firm, bought the building for $112.5 million in 2013, then bought into ESI’s map idea, which called for painting the blank wall with a mix of colors — a brownish gray matching the original concrete, and dark and light grays for the river and city streets.   “I can tell you they were nervous about it. It was a big surface. There was some risk to doing this,” Rizzolo said.   That risk was not unprecedented. In the early 1980s, for example, artist Richard Haas turned the walls of an old apartment hotel at 1211 N. LaSalle Blvd. into an homage to such legendary Chicago architects as Louis Sullivan. On the building’s south wall, Haas painted Sullivan’s arched “Golden Door” from the Transportation Building at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, plus the round, richly ornamented window from Sullivan’s famous bank in Grinnell, Iowa. In between, on painted windows, Haas added a “reflection” of the Chicago Board of Trade skyscraper, 2 miles to the south.   While the 300 S. Wacker mural map doesn’t rise to Haas’ level of artistry, it is still a positive addition to the cityscape.   That’s because the map gives 300 S. Wacker a face, rather than a back, along the river.   And while that face is playful — it isn’t every day that you see a map superimposed on an office building with 35 floors — the design, by virtue of its palette and proportions, is respectful of the building’s sober modernist language.   With the exception of the red rectangle, there are no shrieking colors. The river is gray, not blue, and there is no name or building address present. The map is at once noticeable and understated, which is not an easy balance to bring off.  
True, there are weaknesses. At night, despite the LED lighting, the map fades into the sky. The designers also took artistic liberties by erasing certain features, like the railroad yards that flank Roosevelt Road, to eliminate visual clutter.   And you have to wonder whether the paint will hold up for more than 10 years, as the designers predict.   Nevertheless, the map can be pronounced a success, and its presence is nicely echoed in the building’s lobby. There, another ESIdesigned map, this one fabricated with water jet-cut steel, portrays a view looking west from the building to the horizon line. Adding visual interest, the streets are labeled, the river is colored blue and backdrop lighting changes over the course of the day.   Although it’s a tad cluttered, the lobby map, like the one on the river-facing wall, shows how bold graphic design can help freshen a tired modernist building.  
Tenants have responded favorably to the changes, which were part of a $13.87 million capital improvement plan.   The building is now 86 percent leased, up from 80 percent when Beacon bought it, according to a spokeswoman for the firm.   Even if Chicago Architecture Foundation docents don’t mention the big mural map on the river cruise, they are now expected to know about it.   “I guarantee you,” said Rajala, the assistant river cruise director, “that someone will ask you about it when the boat docks.” Twitter @BlairKamin 
 Click here for many More cleverly decorated buildings
Image result for chicago trompe l'oeil building

Why ‘Touch’ Triggers Pleasure And Pain


Fingertips To Hair Follicles: Why ‘Touch’ Triggers Pleasure And Pain

Fingertips, David Linden explains, are filled with different sorts of sensors for detecting different types of touch, including one that notes texture and fine little bumps. Another type perks up at vibration.iFingertips, David Linden explains, are filled with different sorts of sensors for detecting different types of touch, including one that notes texture and fine little bumps. Another type perks up at vibration.  Laughing Stock/Corbis

The rate at which someone strokes your hair can cause feelings of pleasure or annoyance — too slow is repulsive, too fast is annoying, and just right soothes.

There’s a scientific explanation for this: People have special nerve endings (wrapped around the base of hair follicles) that detect the deflection of the hairs.

“In turns out, remarkably … that hairy skin has a special caress sensor,” neuroscientist David Linden tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “If you actually record electrical nerve endings long before they get to the brain, they send more signals to the caresses that feel the best.”

In Touch, his latest book, Linden writes about this and the “weird, complex and often counterintuitive system” of touch circuits involving the skin, nerves and brain that create pleasure and pain.

The two sensations are inextricably linked, Linden explains.


“Part of what we know is that when pain ends, that is pleasurable,” he says. “Think of taking off your ski boots after a day of skiing — it feels really good. But there’s something more complicated than that: What I think it is, is that both pain and pleasure are emotionally salient. They mark experiences that are important for your life and, in terms of memory, they’re the signal that says, ‘This is important; write this down and underline it. Don’t forget it.’ ”

So what else can be emotionally salient? Chili peppers.

“They’re a bit painful,” Linden says. “Why should we want to put something painful in our food? I think it is because it is rewarding to eat something that is a little bit of a threat.”

Interview Highlights

On why life without touch is so problematic

Touch is so central to our humanity that it’s hard to even imagine [life without] it. For example, if a child is born blind, they can grow up and have a completely full and normal life. They will be cognitively normal, psychiatrically normal and not have profound problems — the same if a child is born deaf. However, if a child is born into a situation, like a Kurd in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s and ’90s, where social touch is deprived because there are not enough caregivers around, then that child will develop terrible psychiatric problems, attachment disorders, mood disorders, and also physical problems — problems with the digestive system and immune system, higher incidences of diabetes. And, amazingly, these problems are not just problems of childhood, but persist throughout life.

David Linden is a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and is a former chief editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology. He also wrote The Compass of Pleasure.David Linden is a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and is a former chief editor of theJournal of Neurophysiology. He also wrote The Compass of Pleasure.  Jacob Linden/Courtesy of Viking

On how pain can actually protect people

There are a number of different relatively rare cases where you can lose different aspects of touch, and one of them … is called “congenital insensitivity to pain.” Folks who have this inherited syndrome — if they whack themselves on the thumb with a hammer — they’ll feel the pressure and the thumb will swell up, but they won’t feel any pain at all.

There’s a famous case of a boy in Pakistan who jumped off of a high roof to impress his friends. He hit the ground, got up and said, “I feel fine,” and he went home and he promptly died because he had no pain to realize that he had broken bones and sustained massive internal injury.

So we think, “Oh great, a life without pain! That would be idyllic!” But if you don’t have pain, then you don’t have the protective reactions that are so crucial.

On why a caress against the grain of hair can feel strange

There are sensors that wrap around the base of the hair follicles that only wrap around one half of the base. If you looked in a microscope, you would see that they don’t make a full 360-degree circle; they cover about 180 degrees of the base. And that means that they are tuned to detect deflection in one direction versus the other.

When we think about the way we speak in our lives, if we had interaction with someone we might say, “He or she rubs me the wrong way.” Someone who is socially clumsy we call “tactless” — literally they lack touch. I think it’s important — it’s telling us something that so many of our common expressions in English refer to the tactile sense.

On why fingertips are so sensitive

Fingertips are endowed with a number of different sensors for mechanical stimuli. There’s one sensor called a “Merkel ending,” which is good for feeling texture and fine little bumps.

There’s a different one that is good for vibration. So if you are driving your car and there are subtle vibrations that come from the road up through your tires up through the steering, through the wheel that you use to detect how slick the road is … or what the texture of it is — if it’s pebbly or smooth — that is being detected by what are called “Pacinian sensors” in your fingertips and in the palms of your hands.

On why you can’t read Braille with your genitals

The key point is that the word “sensitive” is really too broad. So it can mean two different things: areas like the fingertips and the lips and the tongue not only can respond to tiny deflections, but they can precisely localize fine special features on objects or sense textures, the sort of thing you would need to read Braille.

Other parts of the body, like the cornea of the eye or the tip of the clitoris or the tip of the penis are very sensitive in the sense that they can detect very fine deflections of the skin, but they’re not very discriminative. They lack the Merkel-type nerve ending. And, as a consequence, it will fail if you attempt to read Braille with your genitals.

On the connection between anxiety and pain

We don’t entirely understand why depression leads to chronic pain, but it’s part of a larger phenomenon in which pain perception is modulated by all kinds of situational factors having to do with mood and expectancy and surprise.

So it turns out that the emotional pain centers are richly interconnected with regions of our brain having to do with cognition and anxiety and anticipation. So this is why many people who suffer from chronic pain can get partial relief from anti-anxiety medication. It’s not that the anti-anxiety medication directly affects pain-perception — what it does is it breaks this horrible positive feedback loop between anxiety and chronic pain. So if you have chronic pain, then you become anxious about, “When is it going to stop? When is it going to recur?” And that anxiety seems to trigger more chronic pain. If you can interrupt that … then often times that can bring at least partial pain relief.


An earlier book, Touching; the Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montague is readable, sometimes touching, and still instructive though written before brain-scanning and other such wonderful tools were developed.  I have a copy to lend.  rjn