Thursday, April 4, 2013

Reagan Chicago Home Epitaph: "The Hearts Got Small"

By Mary Claire Kendall

Photograph of Ronald "Dutch" Reagan (with "Dutch boy" haircut), 
Neil Reagan (brother) and parents Jack and Nelle Reagan, ca. 1914, 
shortly before the family moved to the Chicago home at 832 E. 57th Street, 
which was callously demolished by the University of Chicago, April 2-4, 2013. 

The Reagan Chicago flat will be demolished today. Thus will the last remnants of the building, in which God was cultivating the soul of a president and that uniquely winning personality, be decimated.   Young Ronald “Dutch” Reagan developed memories there, which, as reported yesterday, and Drudge re-posted, he wrote about in his 1990 autobiography, An American Life:
When I was (three), we moved to Chicago where my father had gotten a promising job selling shoes at the Marshall Field’s department store. We moved into a small flat near the University of Chicago that was lighted by a single gas jet brought to life with the deposit of a quarter in a slot down the hall.  
Jack’s job didn’t pay as well as he had hoped, and that meant Nelle had to make a soup bone last several days and be creative in other ways with her cooking. On Saturdays, she usually sent my brother to the butcher with a request for some liver (liver wasn’t very popular in those days) to feed our family at—which didn’t exist. The liver became our Sunday dinner. 
In Chicago I got a serious case of bronchial pneumonia and while I was recuperating one of our neighbors brought me several of his son’s lead soldiers. I spent hours standing them up on the bed covers and pushing them back and forth in mock combat. To this day I get a little thrill out of seeing a cabinet full of toy soldiers. 
Our stay in Chicago introduced me to a congested urban world of gas-lit sidewalks and streets alive with people, carriages, trolley cars, and occasional automobiles. Once, while watching a clanging horse-drawn fire engine race past me with a cloud of steam rising behind it, I decided that it was my intention in life to become a fireman.  
After we’d been in Chicago for less than two years, Jack was offered a job at O.T. Johnson’s, a big department store in Galesburg 140 miles to the west of Chicago, and we moved again, this time to a completely different world. Instead of noisy streets and crowds of people, it consisted of meadows and caves, trees and streams, and the joys of small-town life. From that time onward, I guess I’ve always been partial to small towns and the outdoors.
On this morning, I guess I’m partial to small towns and the outdoors, too, Dutch.  And, while I encountered wonderful-hearted folks on my visits to Chicago—I’ve never gotten more compliments on my hat!—as I told Lee Bey, “To paraphrase Billy Wilder’s classic line in Sunset Boulevard, in the end, Reagan is still big. It’s the hearts that got small.” —“Bulldozers roll on Ronald Reagan's boyhood home in Hyde Park,” Beyond the Boat Tour. 

As President of the Friends of President Reagan’s Chicago Home, I want to thank my wonderfully supportive board, including founding members Peter Hannaford and Matthew A. Rarey, and permanent members Don Totten, Dan Proft, Nicholas Hahn III and Matt. I also want to thank other members of my marvelous  “core team including true friends like Fr. C. John McCloskey, Dick Vie, Jeff Phillips, Paul Fisher, Joe Morris, John Ruberry, Sam Guard, Ann Lewis, Robert Russell, A.C. Lyles, Craig Shirley, Diana Banister—and, of course, the irrepressible late Redd Griffin, on whose behalf I took up this causeand so many others, some of whom had to work under the radar, given the “Chicago Way.” Some of my team provided only moral support, which was worth its weight in gold.  We worked hard to advance a just cause,” as Fr. C. John described it. But, it was not to be.

In front of President Reagan's Chicago home, 
832 E. 57th Street, Friday, November 30, wearing that hat that won so many compliments!
Credit: Matthew A. Rarey
And, so I return full-time to my first love—writing.  As my friend Charles Scribner III wrote me last night in this stress-melting classic line, “Monuments in words such as yours will always outlast bricks and mortar!” 

So, too, the monument Reagan constructed in An American Life has outlasted the home in which those memories about which he wrote were formed.

Mary Claire Kendall is a Washington-based writer, who was elected on March 4, 2013 to serve as president of the Friends of President Reagan’s Chicago Home by the Board of Directors.  She had been informally serving in that capacity since Friends incorporated in the State of Illinois on January 16, 2013. She began spearheading the initiative on November 30, 2012.

Articles in bold italics were either written (one co-written) by, or quote, 
Mary Claire Kendall, President, Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home:'s-Home-in-Chicago,0,3481356.story

April 6, 2013—Correspondence with financial supporter:  

“You fought hard Mary Claire. You did your best and will be remembered for that.”  

“Thank you, Ed. And, thank you for your support. This week’s events cast a big neon light on the fissure in America today. Of course, Reagan’s Chicago home should have be saved—that was a no-brainer. That it wasn’t says nothing about Reagan but about how small the hearts have become, as I commented in my summary statement to Lee Bey in this piece. On the other hand, as one distinguished friend commented, it showed how much we cared. And if our effort accomplished anything, it accomplished that. Now we just need to translate that passion into winning the battles Ronald Reagan cared so deeply about.”

And, finally, here’s the link to our first blog, December 14-January 19.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chicago Tribune op-ed: "Save Reagan's Chicago Home"

Time is short... only a miracle will save President Reagan's Chicago home... the same kind of miracle that saved Reagan when an assassin's bullet felled and nearly killed him 32 years ago Saturday, when wrecking and demolition equipment showed up on the site of Reagan's Chicago home... and the same kind of miracle that saved him when he survived near-fatal pneumonia at the very home that is now poised to be demolished...,0,3481356.story
By Mary Claire Kendall
April 1, 2013

President Reagan is publicly sworn in for his second presidential term by Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger on January 21, 1985. Since January 20 was a Sunday that year, the official swearing in of Ronald Reagan took place privately in the White House. (Mike Sargent/AFP/Getty Images/January 21, 2013)
Here's a portion of President Reagan's speech that historic day.

The city of Chicago has given the go-ahead to Heneghan Wrecking and Excavating Co. to demolish, on behalf of the University of Chicago and its medical center, President Ronald Reagan's boyhood home on the South Side at 832 E. 57th St.

He lived there the year of the Eastland disaster. Occurring July 24, 1915, it was Chicago's most lethal calamity — deadlier than the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 — killing some 844 people.

Word has it that Reagan reminisced about this steamship catastrophe on the Chicago River as a vivid early memory, recounting how he was left home when his father took his older brother "Moon" across town to see it.

While a source recently declined to "confirm or deny" this reminiscence, one thing's certain: Ronald Reagan, at age 4, lived in Chicago the day of the Eastland disaster. And it's good bet he didn't witness it since, if he had, that memory would surely have figured into his writings and speeches. Little Ronald "Dutch" Reagan must have resolved then to never again to be far from the scene of the action.

Right now, the action is at the home where Reagan once lived. It's all that's left of the entire block between Maryland and Drexel avenues on East 57th Street. The rest of the block was demolished in early January to make way for a hospital and research facility, across the street from the recently inaugurated University of Chicago Medicine's new Center for Care and Discovery. In the ultimate irony of history, these facilities will feature state-of-the-art Alzheimer's research.

That the Reagan home is still standing is a bit of a miracle. We all know the "Chicago Way."

The Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home has worked doggedly to save it, agreeing with the Commission of Chicago Landmarks in 1986 that it is "noteworthy due to historical associations," which gives it "landmark potential."

While the current crop of Chicago bureaucrats couldn't find it in their hearts to landmark the home, make no mistake, this home where Reagan lived is a landmark, which completes the Ronald Reagan Trail in Illinois, including the landmarked Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon (1920-23).

Later, Reagan had long-distance ties to Chicago. He broadcast Cubs games for WHO-AM in Des Moines and courted and married Nancy Davis, who hailed from the Near North Side.

One of Reagan's biggest successes as president was the 1986 tax bill, a product of an after-hours friendship with Chicago's principal ambassador to Washington, House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski. They knew each other as fellow Chicagoans.

All of that was inconceivable when little "Dutch" looked out his window on East 57th, after surviving near-fatal pneumonia, longing to be at the center of the action.

If we demolish the physical context of his formative years, we extinguish an essential part of Reagan's story — a youngster who despite being the child of an itinerant, alcoholic, frequently unemployed shoe salesman, grew up to become the global symbol of freedom from tyranny and triumph over communism.

President Barack Obama, the second U.S. commander in chief with a home on Chicago's South Side, is likely justly proud of the improbability of his own story.

The two homes, blocks apart on different sides of the University of Chicago — one a spacious Kenwood home, the other a humble Irish working-class flat near Washington Park — work together to tell all Americans who we are now — and who any one of us might become.

It's the story of America. Reagan's boyhood home is worth preserving.

Mary Claire Kendall is president of the Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home.

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