Sunday, October 23, 2011

Our Erasable Chicago History - Remember Mopetown?

Mopetown Archer west of Ashland today.

I remember Mopetown, it was a tiny neighborhood squeezed between Bridgeport and McKinley Park along Archer Ave. between Ashland and Hoyne and 31st and 33rd Streets.

The huge and largely accurate Encyclopedia of Chicago has no entry for Mopetown. If you Google search Mopetown, Chicago you have the devil's own time finding anything and you get coaxed into surrendering for MOBTOWN.

Mopetown was there. There was a saloon called McGloin's at Archer and Ashland that was home to Mopetown neighbors. I would take the Archer bus from Loyola's Lewis Towers Campus and or my various jobs in the Loop and transfer at Ashland for the bus south to 75th Street. I'd duck into McGloin's when the weather was really bad. It was there that I'd first learned of Mopetown - where diversity first manifested itself. Every ethnic and racial face and religious creed lived in Mopetown.



The name, I was told came from a German family name that Irish, Bohemian, Lithuanian, Mexican, and Polish folks somehow translated to Mope. Nothing to do with the character of Mope - one prone to moping, or acting the mope. Mopes weren't dragged up in Mopetown. They worked at the Yards, Stock & Lumber, or the barrel works, or Darling Rendering at 35th & Ashland, or Wrigley's Gum at the same location.

The smell of offal, mint, and spearmint mingled in Mopetown.

History is what happened, what was, and what we allow ourselves to remember.

The late Anne Keegan was a Tribune columnist who was the goods, as the old timers would say.

She saved history and Mopetown in 1987, when she wrote about the last families still living in the shadows of the Stevenson Expressway.


The Gerrings, the Atkinses, the Starrs and the Polyaks lived there.

The Camps, the Higginses, the Kuberas and the Van Tillbergs lived there too, just north of Archer Avenue, near the railroad tracks. It was a secluded neighborhood of Chicago that outsiders couldn`t find or didn`t dare go into unless they knew somebody. The Scolios, the Forrers, the Walshes, the Verdons and their slew of kids all were once part of that tiny section of town where families were big, cottages were small, times were tough, men hard-working, women long-suffering and every third or fourth house was a ``blind pig.``

The Stevenson Expressway stands where these families once lived--their cottages gone, their trees cut down, their yards cemented over, their inhabitants moved away, their neighborhood erased forever from the map.

It is one of the Chicago neighborhoods that, over the last three decades, has disappeared as quietly as Brigadoon faded into the evening mist.

Only Russell Wilkens and his wife, Mary, remain. Living in a house along the eastbound Ashland Avenue exit where trucks rumble and cars speed by, they are the last family in Mopetown.

Mopetown. Find an old-timer and he`ll tell you.

Mopetown--when the houses were still standing and the families were living there, with all the kids racing around and everybody`s dogs sleeping on the unpaved streets--was tucked between the Bridgeport and McKinley Park neighborhoods, from Ashland to Hoyne Avenues, from 31st Place to 33d Street.

``Mopetown. No one ever really knew how it got to be called Mopetown,``
Click my post title for Anne Keegan's full history lesson.

History today is more about forgetting in order to advance an agenda.

People forget that racism did not exist at the turn of century. Negroes coming to Chicago for a better life were called Strikebreakers. Jane Addams got to Mike Donnelly of Amalgamated Meatcutters Union and the 1904 Stockyard Strike was called off, after a unanimous vote was taken to continue the strike. The union was broken and more poor blacks were shipped to Chicago to compete for jobs with the Canaryville Potato Eaters, the Bridgeport Loogans, Polacks, Bohunks, Kikes, Dagoes and Krauts.

Racism is a neologism coined in 1907, four (4) years after the Chicago Stockyard Strike and did not come into common usage until the 1930's a decade and change after the Chicago Race Riots of 1919.

The Oxford English Dictionary defined racialism as "belief in the superiority of a particular race" and gives a 1907 quote as the first recorded use. The shortened term racism did not appear in the English language until the 1930s. It was first defined by the OED as "[t]he theory that distinctive human characteristics and abilities are determined by race", which gives 1936 as the first recorded use. Additionally, the OED records racism as a synonym of racialism: "belief in the superiority of a particular race". By the end of World War II, racism had acquired the same supremacist connotations former associated with racialism: racism now implied racial discrimination, racial supremacism and a harmful intent. (The term "race hatred" had also been used by sociologist Frederick Hertz in the late 1920s.)


While racism did not exist when Mopetown was born and lived most of its life, there sure were brawls between whites and blacks in Chicago. Read Black and White Workers in Chicago's Packinghouses, 1904-54 by Rick Halpern or re-read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

We can lay racism over anything we wish and reduce history to an agenda. That is not the best thing to do, in my opinion. Nothing is easy. History ain't nothing.

Mopetown was there.

3 comments:

M said...

Thanks for the history. My family was Kuebera! Teddy and Ruth were my great grandparent and Lucille was my grandmother. She told me of Mopetown may times.

Red Beard said...

A bit of history for the history. Anne Keegan became interested in Mopetown after meeting my father, Carl Hopkins, at Engine 39 on 33rd Place during the 100 Year Anniversary of that fire company in 1986. He organized the Anniversary and during their conversations, just slipped Mopetown in. She was interested in more, and he gave her a brief driving tour, setting her up to speak to the Wilkens'. She worked on the story for a number of months, interviewing former residents, and my grandparents, Harold and Janet Hopkins. When the article was published in the Trib, her husband told her it was the corniest thing she had ever written. The second article, three years later, didn't require any prompting. I have a photo of Dennis and Ellie Starr standing on their front porch at 1831 W 31st St if you have any interest in posting that.

Some guy said...

Great Great grandparents, Michael and Concetta Scoglio, lived at 1845 w 31st pl. in the 20s and 30s. In the 30s, my great Aunt Margaret Scoglio had married Joseph Verdone, and was living at 1839 w 31st pl.

It is amazing to see these names in an article- thank you so much for sharing.