Halloween 4 & 5

4–Alice worked hard to give kids a little extra fun.  Instead of having each one choose from a display of little stuffed animals and small toys, she tied a string to each and hid the them behind a table.  Each child would choose a string and the pull up the toy like a fish.  Some learned to pull hand-over-hand instead of just taking an end and walking back.  Only about 25 kids showed up.  I especially liked the one in a wolf’s head.

Cute Vintage Halloween Cat Image - The Graphics Fairy

5–John’s story--Each October 31st,  Halloween, over 1,000 kids descend on our Ravenswood Manor area in the Albany Park neighborhood, north side of Chicago. Their families  are from the Mediterranean to Middle East to Mexico, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Cambodia, Korea and elsewhere.  Parents walk and drive in to Ravenswood Manor from the surrounding neighborhoods with kids anxious to trick-or-treat at the nearly 400 classic Bungalow and Four Square  homes that comprise this National Historic District.

Neighbors decorate their houses (some elaborately) with orange lights, ghouls, goblins, and ghosts.  There is very little doorbell-ringing, because each neighbor plops a chair at the end of the walkway in front of the house, and children queue from the sidewalk while their parents proudly and patiently watch and wait. There are witches, and devils, and Power Rangers, and Minions, and princesses, Cubs players, and Harry Potters, and rock stars, and…teenagers.  Some of the Trick-Or-Treaters are wee and parents carry them up the walkway. Some get flustered and forget the Halloween protocol. Some are terribly shy.  Some kids offer their “Trick-Or-Treat” in newly acquired English. All are terribly cute.
Each year I survey the scene at the peak hour, as Beth and I sit side-by-side with a huge bucket of candy between us. I hear none on the typical city noises – police sirens, cars and trucks– I hear only  the sounds of excited kids running and playing and shouting, “I gotta Twix!”  I see that no street parking spot is free and I see hundreds of parents and children strolling down our street  visiting as many houses as possible. In the morning the neighborhood is again quiet.  The Halloween decorations are damp and still. I’m already looking forward to next year.       jpnugent   🙂

High-Rise Honey Bees

Hives downtown help environment and attract tenants

Michael Thompson of Chicago Honey Co-op installs beehives on the roof of 540 West Madison, a downtown office building. Tenants get to enjoy the honey the bees produce. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune )

BY ALLY MAROTTI  CHICAGO TRIBUNE  5.21.17

Bill Whitney rolled up to the loading dock of a Near West Side high-rise with about 9,000 honeybees riding shotgun in his Chevy.

The pickup truck, sporting license plates that read “B SAVER,” was overflowing with the parts needed to construct three hives for all those bees on top of the 29th-floor roof of 540 West Madison, the West Loop home to firms such as Bank of America, biopharmaceutical company Shire and slot machine-maker Everi.

While human worker bees buzz about in offices below, the rooftops of some Chicago commercial buildings are becoming hubs of activity in their own right as landlords employ tens of thousands of bees in an effort to simultaneously help the environment and rope in some eco-friendly tenants.

Building owners and managers say it’s an easy formula: Set aside a few thousand dollars in the budget, contract with a beekeeper and, come autumn, enjoy fresh honey. Some have come to view the hives as an amenity, like rooftop gardens or water recycling programs. Tenants appreciate the honey and the efforts to help save the honeybees, a species under threat in the U.S. from a deadly combination of pesticides, loss of habitat and parasites.

And it’s cool, building managers say.

“It’s exciting because it’s not something you would expect in an urban area,” said Louise Harney, a vice president and group manager at Jones Lang LaSalle, the firm that manages 540 West Madison. “We’ve had people want to be here because of our sustainability program, and beekeeping is a part of that.”

Up on the roof Tuesday, Whitney orchestrated the bees like a conductor. Hive by hive, he released the bees, contained in three shoebox-sized containers, pouring them by the thousands into their new home. He stood among them as they swarmed up and around, scouting the area and creating a cloud over the high-rise.

Last year, 540 West Madison collected about 100 gallons of honey, the building’s first harvest. Much of the honey was bottled in 3-ounce jars and passed out to tenants, visitors and students who came for a tutoring program. The building managers put the jars in gift bags and handed them out around Thanksgiving and Earth Day. Slightly Toasted, the sandwich cafe on the building’s ground floor, used the honey in some of its specialty drinks.

The building expects to spend about $2,400 to maintain the hives this year, Harney said.

The staff at Everi’s development center on the 24th floor devours the honey every time building management brings it around, said Bradley Rose, senior vice president of game development. They usually drop some off around holidays or when they give building visitors a tour of the company’s office space.

“It’s so good it usually never makes it home,” he said. “We’ll go to town on it.”

Rose remembers the honeybees being part of the sales pitch when he was searching for office space for Everi’s 60-person staff. After looking at dozens of spaces, it was the amenities at 540 West Madison that helped him decide, he said. Though at the time he was more impressed with the building’s gym than the bees, the occasional honey deliveries work wonders in making the staff feel welcome, he said.

Whitney, a veteran beekeeper and owner of City Bee Savers, also rears queen bees and mentors budding beekeepers.

“I was more interested in, How will bees do 30 stories up in the air, right downtown in the concrete jungle?” he said. “Can they really thrive and survive? The answer is yes.”

But there are precautions Whitney must take to make sure the hives stay healthy. With the thousands of bees he had driven from a farm near Savannah, Ga., just days before, Whitney brought straps and bricks to put on top of the new hives to help secure them, protecting them from the strong winds that can blow above the city.

He’ll come back throughout the summer and maintain the hives, watching for signs of strain from a mite inflicting damage on beehives across the country. The mites don’t kill the bees directly, but they latch on to them, wearing them down and causing stress that becomes deadly.

Come winter, the bees do their best to keep the queen warm, with little activity outside the hive. Though a bee lives only four to six weeks in the summer, a healthy hive will survive the cold.

Nestled in a mostly shaded area of the roof, the hives face north. Visible from their new home is the building that houses Google’s Midwest headquarters, 1KFulton, where more bees that Whitney maintains reside.

The hives stayed when Glendale, Calif.-based American Realty Advisors bought the newly developed building last summer from Chicago developer Sterling Bay, said Rachael Bruketta, assistant property manager at 1KFulton. The company set aside about $3,000 this year to spend on the bees.

“(It’s) cool to say they do this. This is an amenity at the building,” Bruketta said. “Tenants like that we care, that we’re helping bee populations.”

The building’s two hives are on the seventh-floor roof deck. While tenants also have access to the deck, the bees aren’t aggressive and generally keep to themselves.

Hopefully, the green space will encourage the bees to stay closer, Bruketta said.

If not, they’ll seek out the city’s flowers, darting to the blooms along Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park’s trees, or weeds springing from sidewalk cracks and vacant lots. The bees have a foraging range of about 11/2 miles, Whitney said, though the distance they travel depends on the availability of food.

Hotels were early adopters in Chicago’s rooftop beehive business. Tended by hotel chefs and contracted beekeepers, the hives produce honey served to guests in their morning granola or tea.

At the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop, an old-fashioned walk-in cooler is full of tiny jars of honey. The golden hues of the sugary substance change each harvest, depending on what flowers the bees pollinate, said executive chef Stephen Henry. It’s usually a beautiful gold, he said, though last year it was darker, more like the color of iced tea.

The Palmer House has been keeping bees for about five years on its 25th-floor rooftop garden, which it populates with bee-friendly flowers such as marigolds. Henry incorporates it into recipes, replacing the apricot glaze on the top of the hotel’s famous brownie with honey.

The bees at Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile produce so much honey that the hotel collaborates with a brewery to make a honey wheat ale out of it.

Several blocks south on Michigan Avenue, Chicago Honey Co-op maintains hives on top of the Chicago Cultural Center. The urban beekeeping cooperative also works with three other buildings.

Another company, The Best Bees Company, has installed hives atop other Chicago commercial buildings like AMA Plaza, 1 North Dearborn and 515 N. State St.

Unlike cities such as New York, Chicago does not regulate beekeeping, besides limiting a property to five hives. The state requires beekeepers to register with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Sometimes, new hives aren’t as accommodating to bees as the city is to keepers. On top of 540 West Madison on Tuesday, Whitney had to entice the bees to stay in the hive and claim it as their own.

He gave them a start with used honeycomb, pampering them with pollen and a few drops of sugar water while he watched them zip back and forth around the hive. Honeybees are rarely vicious, especially without an established hive to defend. They were memorizing their new home, Whitney said.

“They’re memorizing that pole; they’re memorizing that building,” he said, pointing to the top of a nearby high-rise. “They’re memorizing their spot here. They wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t think this was going to be their hive.”

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

Related image

 

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

crains-tours-hidden-union-station.jpg

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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