Chicago’s Union Stockyards Gate

Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago, Illinois

August 9th, 2017, morning

~ Dedicated to Tracy Runyon 

This July and August, I’ve toured the United States for about three weeks before crossing the seas to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve driven north from Oakland, California to Spokane, Washington and zigzagged my way east to Chicago, visiting places as far north as Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota to as far south as Hannibal, Missouri. It’s been an absolutely exciting and glorious journey, and I’m not at all ready for it to end.

Yet today’s my last day in Chicago; I fly out headed for Europe this evening. There’s plenty of time to make a couple of stops today at interesting historical sites besides taking care of last minute details (donating my tent and other things I don’t want to lug with me to Europe to a thrift store, returning the rental car, etc). My first stop is a special request from a dear friend, who also generously helped sponsor this trip.

On June 1st, 1865, a crew of workmen began work on what would be the first example of modern industrial production of food on a massive scale. The Union Stockyards opened on Christmas Day that same year: ‘The Union Stock Yard & Transit Co. of Chicago received its first bellowing arrivals on Christmas Day 1865. …[It] covered a half square mile west of Halsted Street between Pershing Road and 47th Street- Anderson … [and] held on until 1971, when it closed forever…’, wrote Jon Anderson for the Chicago Tribune.

The Great Union Stock Yards of Chicago, ca. 1878, by Charles Rascher. Published by Walsh & Co of Chicago. Public domain via Library of Congress

I’m standing here in front of a pale limestone gateway at Exchange Avenue and Peoria Street. This gateway was built around a decade and a half after the work on the stockyards began, but my sources differ as to exactly when. One source says 1875, another says 1879, yet another says the exact date is unrecorded and therefore unknown. I do find an illustration of the stockyards by Charles Rascher published in 1878 and a gate like this appears to be included in it: if you look closely at the top of the quarter-circle formed by the curved railways and straight roads along Transit Park in the lower half of the picture, you’ll see a three-arched light-colored gateway represented there. However, the top of the gate in the illustration is flat across the top while this is not; it’s hard to say whether it’s the same gate represented a little inaccurately, or an earlier gate at the site. The current gateway was almost certainly designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Burnham and Root, who designed other buildings at the stockyards.

Another view of the Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago. According to the City of Chicago’s Chicago Landmark website, ‘The limestone steer head over the central arch is traditionally thought to represent “Sherman,” a prize-winning bull named after John B. Sherman, one of the founders of the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company.’

Leslie Orear plaque at the Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago, Illinois

The 320-acre expanse of land that the stockyards occupied at its largest, like the site of our nation’s capital, was once conveniently-located but hard-to-develop swampland, and therefore available for builders visionary and determined (crazy?) enough to transform it. The stockyards were built because for many years, livestock traders and meatpackers thought that operating scattered yards and plants was far less efficient than one unified, or ‘union’ stockyard would be. Civil engineer Octave Chanute designed the grid layout which would make it possible to process live animals into fresh and packed meat products at a rate incredible at the time: down from 8-10 hours for a single butcher, even with assistants, to 35 minutes per animal passing through a Union slaughterhouse’s assembly line. John B. Sherman, who had owned one of Chicago’s earlier largest stockyards, oversaw all this efficiency, managing the Union Stockyards and the Transit Company for many years. According to tradition, it’s the head of a bull named after him that’s sculpted above the center arch of the gate.

Stock Yards National Bank Building near the Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago, IL. It was built in 1925 and its design inspired by Independence Hall in Philadelphia

Stock Yards National Bank Building near the Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago, IL. The words inscribed in the arched niche in the low wall marking the old rail line read: ‘In Honor of Those Who Traveled this Path to Toil at the Union Stockyards’

Even more than for their size and efficiency, the Union Stockyards are likely most often brought to mind today for the horrific scenes described by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 book The Jungle. Sinclair, a socialist, wanted to demonstrate that unfettered capitalism did not, as it was so often claimed, result in more good than harm for working people, or reliably produce safe, quality products. His novel described the exploitation of desperate immigrants working for obscenely low wages in dangerous and filthy conditions; poorly fed, overcrowded, and sickly livestock; diseased livestock and other animals not legal to butcher for food processed into meat;  rotten meat and extremely poor quality offal disguised by heavy processing and spices in packed meat products; and so forth. While many protested that Sinclair’s novel was just that, all fiction, the public outcry reached many public figures and worker’s rights activists ready to receive his message, including Progressive President Theodore Roosevelt. He immediately sent out an inspection team who found that the very same conditions that Upton described so graphically were, in fact, rampant at the stockyards. Sweeping legislation protecting worker and consumer health and safety followed soon after.

Over time, as transportation became more efficient, it also became more efficient and much cheaper for meat producers to process livestock where they were raised. The shrinking Union Stockyards closed for good in 1971. Its arched limestone gate was declared a public landmark on February 24th, 1972.

See below for links for more excellent introductory sources to the history of the Union Stockyards, and scroll down to see the two signs I find at the site which also provide a brief history.

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Sources and inspiration

Anderson, Jon. ‘The Chicago Stockyards Open‘, Chicago Tribune 

Bramley, Anne. ‘How Chicago’s Slaughterhouse Spectacles Paved The Way For Big Meat.’ NPR: The Salt, Dec 3, 2015

Chicago Landmarks. ‘Stock Yards National Bank (Former)‘ and ‘Union Stock Yard Gate.‘ Website published by the City of Chicago

City of Chicago Landmark Designation Reports #210: Union Stock Yard Gate. City of Chicago, 1976.

Gregory, Terry. ‘Union Stockyards.’ Chicagology website

Rouse, Kristen L. ‘Meat Inspection Act of 1906.’ Encyclopædia Britannica

Twa, Garth. ‘The Jungle.Encyclopædia Britannica

Wilson, Mark R., Stephen R. Porter, and Janice L. Reiff. ‘Union Stock Yard & Transit Co.‘ The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Photobook: Three Surveyors and One Other Guy

‘Three Surveyors and One Other Guy’, from a historical plaque in downtown Springfield, Illinois, spotted during my journey here following the life and ideas of Abraham Lincoln

National Surveyor’s week this year will be March 18-24, 2018. Happy National Surveyors week!

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

My Great Year for National Parks, Monuments, and Forests

A Joshua tree in bloom at Joshua Tree National Park

June 2016 through August 2017 has been an incredible one year and three months for me for visiting United States’ National Parks, Monuments, and Forests. The National Parks and Monuments are managed by the National Park System, the National Forests by the United States Department of Agriculture. They are all among our nation’s national treasures and I am so grateful that we decided, as a nation, that there are some things too beautiful and rare to be despoiled for short-term material gain.

I’ve also been to many National Historic Sites over the course of this same period, but the journeys I’m focusing on here have been all about enjoying my country’s spectacular and incredibly varied natural beauty in just these few of the greatest of our natural preserves…

1 – Zion National Park, Utah. Panoramic view from Observation Point which overlooks the Virgin River canyon from 6,507 feet, June 2016

The Narrows, Zion National Park, is a slot canyon formed by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Most of the hike through this amazing formation is done by wading through the river. It’s wonderfully refreshing on a hot day but it’s also hard on your feet, hiking on and among slippery rocks while your feet are continuously soaked

Enjoying cold milk (it’s a very good thermos) and salty bacon at after the hot, steep hike to Observation Point, Zion National Park

2 – Bryce Canyon, Utah, a panoramic view, June 2016

A windy day at Bryce Canyon. The evening before we were to return home from that trip to Zion and Bryce, my companion and I heard that it was going to be a clear night. So we packed up our Zion campsite that evening and returned to stargaze from above and among the rock turrets and canyons at Bryce, a prime place for viewing the night sky nearly free from light pollution. We ran into a trio of night sky photographers, and they let us look through their cameras and see the starlight they had captured throughout the night.

3, first visit – Yosemite National Park, California. Tenaya Lake from Tioga Pass, June 2016

Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Valley, still gushing in June. When I return later that year, it will look very different

4 – Grand Canyon, Arizona. View from South Kaibob Trail, August 2016

On the South Kaibob Trail on the way to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. This was a whirlwind trip: I had just been in Southern California to visit family and had only a few days off work. I took the last two days of this precious time off to go to the Grand Canyon because I’d never been, an unacceptable state of affairs. I woke up very, very early in the morning, drove from Southern California to the Grand Canyon. I arrived about 3 pm, and chose this quicker, steeper hike to the canyon floor, which I reached not long after sunset. After a scolding from a fox, whose den I had stumbled into while exploring in the half-light, I spent a rather hot, buggy, restless night with just a ground tarp and sleeping bag, arose very early, and hiked out of the canyon via Bright Angel Trail. It was gorgeous, and fortunately, the first third or so of the trip followed the course of a creek where I was able to bathe my hot head, arms, and legs from time to time. I arrived at the rim around noon, and once the bus returned me to the car, I began the drive straight back to Oakland, with one break at a truck stop to take a shower. I arrived home very early in the morning, took a nap, and reported to work as usual at quarter to eight, stiff, sore, and glowing with adventure. By the way, in ordinary circumstances, I don’t recommend a hike into and back out of the Grand Canyon immediately succeeded by a twelve-hour, straight-through drive. Straightening and moving my limbs became far more difficult each time I got out of the car, and by the time I got to work, I could hardly manage a hobble. But we had been understaffed at work for a long time and I needed to break away and do something fantastic, so it was well worth it.

View of Grand Canyon walls from Bright Angel Trail, September 2016 Amy Cools

View of Grand Canyon walls from Bright Angel Trail

3, second visit – Yosemite National Park, California, a view featuring Half Dome from the Yosemite Falls – El Capitan Trail, September 2016

At Yosemite Falls overlook. The Falls had dried up by this time.

Panoramic view from the El Capitan Trail, September 2016. What a beautiful hike! Long and steep in places, but great places to rest. Be sure to bring plenty of water and a filter in case you need more, there’s none to be had up here. I was pretty thirsty by the time I finished.

5) Canyonlands National Park, Utah, December 2016

A view of Canyonlands National Park, December 2016 Cools

A view of Canyonlands National Park

6 – Colorado National Monument, Colorado, panoramic view, December 2016

At Colorado National Monument, December 2016

Bighorn sheep at Colorado National Monument, December 2016

7, first visit – Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. Lochsa Lodge on the day of my arrival, January 2017. I was on a literary retreat and had decided to keep my camera put away and enjoy nature thus undistracted this time. It was beautiful here, covered in snow, and the natural hot springs by Warm Springs Creek were glorious

8, first visit – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. At the north gate’s Roosevelt Arch, Montana, January 2017

Canary Spring with Mount Everts in the distance and bison near the lake below, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Bison at Yellowstone National Park. During my visit, despite the cold and deep snow, I saw plenty of wildlife, including elk, many species of birds, deer, and a red fox

9 – Joshua Tree National Park, California, panoramic view of Hidden Valley, March 2017. This park is especially dear to my heart

Joshua Tree, pencil cholla, yucca, and blue blue sky, in the Mohave Desert portion of Joshua Tree National Park.

A natural sphinx among the sun’s rays and above the yucca plants

10 – Pinnacles National Park, California. I was here this year in March 2017, but I didn’t take any pictures during that visit. I was on another one of those literary retreats, and I decided to repeat my no-cameras-in-nature policy from last retreat. My companions and I saw many more California condors on this trip than I had seen during my earlier visits here, and since it was early in the year before the heat of the summer, there were many wildflowers. I took this photo and the next during one of my earlier visits, in July 2013.

At Pinnacles National Park, July 2013

11 – Olympic National Park, Washington. A view of its stunning mountain peaks, May 2017. Excuse the shadow in the corner, I keep my mini tablet in a sturdy case since I carry it hiking and just about everywhere else with me; I can take great photos with it as well as write on it comfortably. The case offers better protection than any other I’ve found, but its camera opening is a little misplaced, requiring I nudge the tablet over before I take a photo. I forgot this time, as I all too often do

At another overlook in Olympic National Park, May 2017

Panoramic view of Olympic National Park from Hurricane Hill. You can see the ocean near Point Angeles in the distance to the left

7, second visit – Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Idaho, in the Bitterroot Mountains. A view from a trail not far from Wendover Creek’s West Fork, July 2017. This time, I camped near Lochsa Lodge at Powell Campground, then hiked, or attempted to hike, the Wendover Ridge trail that the Lewis and Clark expedition trekked over this mountain. I got in a very hood hike indeed, but lost the trail. It’s not often used and I had no guide who is familiar with it, so I ended up off-trail quite a bit. I was not disappointed, however: it was a glorious adventure.

Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, a view from near Wendover Ridge, July 2017

8, second visit – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming, July 2017

At the summit of Mt Washburn, Yellowstone National Park. My elation is pretty evident in this photo

12 – Custer-Gallatin National Forest, view from the high point of Beartooth Highway near the Wyoming/Montana border, July 2017. They closed the high point of the pass late night through early morning, and since I was driving through a little after midnight, I pulled off to sleep. So glad they closed the road. I saw the most incredible array of stars before I went to sleep, and I woke up to this view.

Custer-Gallatin National Forest, view from Rock Creek Vista, Montana, off Beartooth Highway

13 – Black Hills National Forest, entering Black Elk Wilderness on the Black Elk (formerly know as Harley Peak) Trail, July 2017

View of the Black Hills with a Rocky Mountain goat from Black Elk Peak, July 2017

14 – Badlands National Park, South Dakota, July 2017. I passed through this park on a long drive and didn’t get to spend much time, but admired what I did see greatly. I will be back!

Passing from the Badlands into the Pine Ridge Reservation, July 2017

15 – Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, overview of Kabetogama Lake from Blind Ash Bay Trail, August 2017

On some very ancient rocks at Voyageurs National Park. The exposed rocks at this park date as far back as 2.8 billion years, over half the age of the Earth itself.  Such ancient rocks are exposed here because the park contains the edge of the Canadian Shield, an ancient volcanic bedrock that’s been exposed in places by glaciers that passed through here then disappeared around 11,000 years ago. The rocks I visited are not that old, but they are very old indeed. Grace, a geology enthusiast and employee of the National Park Service, was excited at my inquiry about the geology of the park (her fellow National Park Service employee watched our interaction with an ‘oh no, here we go again! look), and she took me on a tour of some nearby ancient formations. The one I’m sitting on is one of those.

A garter snake sticks out its red tongue on an ancient rock at Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

16 – Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, panoramic view of Painted Canyon, August 2017

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, another view of Painted Canyon. Unfortunately, I also got to spend only a very little time in this park since I needed to hurry on to my next destination, but I had to get myself over here for at least a peek and to pay tribute to this man who did so much for conservation efforts in the United States. Thanks, Theodore Roosevelt!

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Margaret Sanger NYC Sites, Day 1 Part 3

roosevelt-hotel-exterior-view-manhattan-nyc-photo-by-amy-cools-2016

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016, continued

I continue north to the Roosevelt Hotel at Madison Ave and E. 45th Street. Margaret Sanger attended the Conference on Contraceptive Research and Clinical Practice that met here on December 29th and 30th, 1936. She delivered a welcoming speech on the 29th and spoke on a panel the next day which discussed technical and medical birth control issues. While The New York Times reported optimistically on the effectiveness of birth control methods available at the time and Sanger spoke proudly of the ‘56,000 women who have voluntarily appealed to us for help’, she and many of the attendees knew that the lack of access to and effectiveness of birth control remained big problems. It was still fairly expensive; anti-obscenity laws were barriers to access and information in those pre-Griswold years; and too many of the methods were only moderately effective since they were not always easy to use correctly, especially in well, you know, the heat of the moment…. Read the written version here:

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Why So Much Hatred for Margaret Sanger?

Margaret Sanger, photo probably taken Jan 30th 1917, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Margaret Sanger, photo probably taken Jan 30th 1917, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

There’s been a widespread and concerted effort to vilify Margaret Sanger and remove her name from the public roll of great contributors to human rights history. In my research for the Sanger project I’m working on, I find scores of examples of this effort every single time I do an internet search using her name.

Last year, for example, Ted Cruz and other conservative senators called for her portrait to be removed from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, where her portrait bust is included in the Struggle for Justice exhibition. In justification of his campaign, Cruz used part of a quote lifted from its original context and presented it as saying something nearly opposite of what it was originally meant to say. In a letter to a friend, Sanger expressed her worry that her birth control clinic project in the South might be misperceived and misrepresented as racist; Cruz lifted a few words from this letter to ‘prove’ that it was. He may have borrowed this idea from Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican Party, and Ben Carson and Herman Cain, one-time Republican presidential hopefuls. These three influential conservative men, in turn, received this bit of distorted wisdom from Angela Davis and some others in the black power movement who, concerned that the reproductive justice movement might have ill effects in the long run on the empowerment of black people, (mis)represented Sanger’s words, works, and character in the worst possible light…

….So let’s first consider Margaret Sanger’s [actual] beliefs and whether they justify her inclusion among the great freedom leaders. Then, let’s consider her beliefs in the light of her own time and whether they deserve admiration today, on the whole, or are at least understandable given the circumstances of her time…. Read the written version here:

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!