WMU News

Alumna co-authors history of Chicago's Maxwell Street

June 19, 2003

CHICAGO -- Western Michigan University graduate Lori Grove is co-author of a new pictorial history of Chicago's famed Maxwell Street.

Grove, a scientific illustrator at Chicago's Field Museum since 1981, and Laura Kamedulski, a former public historian with the Chicago Historical Society, have co-authored "Chicago's Maxwell Street." The 128-page history contains more than 200 black and white photographs and was published in 2002 by Arcadia Press as part of its "Images of America" series.

Both authors serve on the board of the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition. Through her association with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Grove created and directed the Historic Maxwell Street Neighborhood Tour, which ran from 1998 to 2001.

The neighborhoods surrounding Maxwell Street were the Ellis Island of the Midwest and the first American home to many immigrants from Canada, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Greece and Bohemia. In the 1880s, Eastern European Jews began arriving, giving Maxwell Street a distinctively Jewish flavor. They were the largest and longest-standing ethnic group to reside in the area, and were in place when the Maxwell Street Market was officially established by city ordinance in 1912. Still later, the neighborhood became home to African American and Mexican American migrants.

Through a century of evolution, the Maxwell Street Market was the place where all of Chicago's races and ethnic groups could mingle and shop for bargains. It was said that on Maxwell Street, "the only color that mattered was green."

Dr. Fred W. Beuttler, associate university historian for the University of Illinois at Chicago says that Grove and Kamedulski have done "a great job narrating the sense and history" of the market.

"You can almost smell the grilled onions and hear the electric bass beat," writes Beuttler in his review of the book, which traces Maxwell Street's history from its days as a push-cart market, through its modernization in the 1940s, to its transformation into the birthplace of Chicago blues music and to its demise in the 1990s to make room for expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"[The book] is not just for Chicagoans," writes Beuttler. "Anyone listening to late-night TV can hear infomercials about food gadgets like the Dial-O-Matic products popularized by Maxwell Street pitchmen Sam and Ray Popeil and by Sam's son, Ron, founder of Ronco."

Ron Popiel was 21 when he first appeared on television, in 1956, and uttered the famous words, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to show you the greatest kitchen appliance ever made... all your onions chopped to perfection without shedding a single tear." From that day on, the timbre of the Maxwell Street pitchman became part of the shared national experience.

The market's role as the birthplace of Chicago electric blues was memorialized in the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers," in which Aretha Franklin sings in Nate's Deli on Maxwell Street, says Beuttler.

"Chicago's Maxwell Street" (ISBN: 0-7385-2029-2) retails for $19.99 and is stocked in many Chicago-area bookstores. It can be ordered through major bookstores or through most online vendors, including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

The book is also for sale through the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition, and proceeds from those sales support the MSHPC. For online orders of the book, or to learn more about the work and goals of the coalition, visit the MSHPC Web site at www.maxwellstreet.org.

A native of Detroit, where she graduated from St. Mary's of Redford High School, Grove earned a bachelor's degree in art education from WMU in 1978. She completed a master's degree in art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2002.

Media contact: Thom Myers, 269 387-8400, thom.myers@wmich.edu

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