Tag Archives: South Side


“The Witch fell down . . . and . . . melted away to nothing, . . . Dorothy . . . being at last free to do as she chose, she ran out to the courtyard to tell . . . that the Wicked Witch of the West had come to an end, . . . There was great rejoicing. . . .” — L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz

If memory serves me right…in 5th grade…

Sister Mary Dolorita (a pretty face, all the flesh that showed–except for two hands–and a smile) taught my classroom of 5th and 6th grade boys and girls.

I liked our school on the South Side of Chicago. The building faced Honore, near 72nd Street. The structure, mostly one story, in a U-shape, was built around a beautiful church.

saint justin photo 2Saint Justin Martyr School and Church

Near the front of the building (at the south end), a stairway made its way up to a landing, with a second-floor classroom and the principal’s office. At the top of the stairs, on each side of the building, a door led to the choir loft. The church organ was situated in the center of the loft.

From 1949-1955 (my 8th grade graduation), a considerable part of my life was bound to these structures. Much I remember, yet so much I have forgotten.

However, I will never ever forget standing in front of church, lined up by grade, standing outside in the rain “Until there is quiet!” The principalshouted at us from under her umbrella. That year, my 5th grade, was the year from hell with her as principal, with


She was in absolute charge of the school. Nevertheless, we endured.

With the School Year nearly over, including nice Chicago weather, school activities included packing unused schoolbooks to be sent off to the missions. One morning, while we were quietly doing our seat-work tasks, Sister called upon me (always the acquiescing “Go-for”) to bring boxes from storage. Where was the storage for boxes?

Next to the choir loft. Of course….

Leaving my busy classmates, I entered the Silence of the Hall, looked both ways, and then headed to The Stairway.

(“Abandon hope, all ye who climb these stairs….”)

Looming at the top of the stairs, “Door Number One [left]: Choir Loft.” “Door Number Two [ahead]: Storage.”

Quickly–and softly–I moved to the top of the stairs, one linoleum-covered step at a time. I saw: “Door Number Three [right–and open]: Sanctum Sanctorum Principal.”

I opened Door Number Two. Absolute Darkness. Yet from the light of the open hall area surrounding me, I saw inside. Certainly, against extant Chicago fire codes, cardboard and corrugated boxes of all types and sizes were stacked un-neatly in this small storage facility.

And the one naked light bulb, in a socket, hanging down from the ceiling on a dark black fuzzy cord, with a barely-visible chain hanging across the bulb.

light bulb fotosearchLight Bulb. Credit: fotosearch

I pulled the chain, turning on the light bulb. At that very instant, the pump motor for the church organ began to run. The organist had begun to practice. With the light on, I could now see the green metal-mesh cage over the large black belt connected to a motor and flywheel. This motor ran the pump to operate the bellows–making the church music we so liked to hear. Noise and light nearly overwhelmed me in my Quest-for-Cardboard. So which one box would be perfect, would show my Dear Sister Dolorita I could do the job?

Of course, The Beautiful Perfect Cardboard Box on top of a pile near the back of the small room.

Behind me, while I made my way to the boxes-taller-than-I-was, The Voice of Principal shrilled: “What are you doing?” Frozen, I turned and blurted out, “Getting a box for Sister.” Then, something like, “Well, get on with it. Go on!” I pointed and tried to reach. “Never mind!” Pulling a step stool, then reaching for…all in slow motion (of course): She reached. She fell. She tumbled. She went down. Down. Down. Screaming. She screamed: “Oh!” as she went down, down, down into the depths, behind the metal cage.

Then I saw two laced high-top black shoes, pointing upwards, connected to two skinny lower legs, and ankles covered by dark black nylons.

“Help me! Help me!” she cried out, behind the running motor. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” (Turn what off?)

So I reached for and grabbed onto the bulb socket and chain, receiving a shocker! I pulled the chain. The motor kept running. Music continued from the church organ.

I barely saw the legs as I turned and ran to the classroom on the landing. I pulled open its door, shouting to the nun-like silence inside, all eyes on me: “Hurry! Sister fell into the organ!” In a flash, the good nun was pushing me aside, out of her way–and making headway to the space emitting music and motor sounds.

“JESUS! MARY! JOSEPH!” (They would certainly come to help when they heard their names shouted out in helplessness.) “Get Mr. Joe [the janitor]!” He would come for sure when I found him. I found him somewhere. Wherever he had his hangout. I went with him, but was told to go back to my classroom.

I arrived there empty-handed, but memory-traumatized. Forever. I retold the story–tearfully (almost). Lunchtime bell. Dismissed for lunch. Saved by the bell.

Adults running. Rumors. Ambulance. Congratulations.

Congratulations? Yes, I was to be congratulated. I was a childhood hero–to my schoolmates. “You tried to knock off the Old Witch. Is that true?”

Of course, it was true.

More likely, however, I probably did cry, knowing how fragile I was then.

The Principal never returned. Summer came. Then 6th grade. No mention of The Fall. I entered 6th grade, like all my other classmates, hearing from Sister Mary Georgine:


freshly roasted coffee beans in a jute bagBeans in the Bag Open

And we were now happy in school, lining up in good weather, a few times a week.  I was never again sent to find another storage box. Besides, they moved them–and, as far as I know, locked forever that Dantesque Doorgate.

(I bet Mr. Joe and the organist could get in if they wanted….)

© James F. O’Neil 2014

By: James F. O’Neil

“Riding the Subway as Therapy”– Jared Keller (

On a recent trip to Minnesota, I rode the tram in the Minneapolis airport.  Carry-on bag with me, I stepped onto the tramcar, moved away from the doors which were about to close (as I was warned), and sat down to the right in a senior seat.  I had a perfect front view of the tracks, and a view of how I was going to travel to Concourse C.


In a moment-flash-to-the-past, a recurring moment, I was transported to Chicago, the Chicago L, the Englewood Line, then called The “A” Train.


(The CTA ‘L’ is sometimes written as “L” or “el,” short for “elevated.)  My little brother and I were travelers of the CTA rails.  My small companion, five years younger, and I went for L rides, for something to do.  What a cheap date!  When we rode the transit system, from bus to L, the fares were 12¢, and then rose to 20¢ in the late ‘50s.  (In 1957, the base fare was raised to 25¢.)

Our route was the walk from 67th and Marshfield, to the bus on Ashland, then north to 63rd, transfer to 63rd to Loomis, where the Englewood Line ended/began. 

 Tom and I--Forever Bound

63rd and Loomis

Through the station and up the stairs we went.  (See the 1995 romantic comedy film While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman for a view of fare-collecting and L train stations.)  Almost running to the front of the waiting “train,” the two of us pushed into the first car, sitting in the front across from the motorman.  We’d share turns on the single seat by the front window. 

As the train went underground, becoming the subway under the Chicago Loop and farther north, the journey under the city thrilled us both–and a greater thrill when the motorman opened his door, propping it open with a foot or leg, allowing us front-row seats to the controls of the machine.  We drove with him.  We were in command. 

Lights and rails and signals raced by; then we slowed for each underground platform stop.  As we came to daylight, we saw and felt the climb up the rails to over two stories above the city.  We were always able to look down at porches and cars and people, or look into third-story windows.

From 63rd and Loomis to the end of the line at Howard Street, we delighted.  Then everyone off, down the stairs to the exit to the street.  We would walk around, finding our favorite stop for a Coke, then looking in the showroom window of the Mercedes-Benz dealer on Howard and State Street.  In the showroom, we walked around, transfixed–really–looking at the new gull-wing Mercedes-Benz,


1955_Mercedes-Benz_300SL_Gullwing_Coupe_34Pic of that Mercedes in 1955

Then we’d make our way back home, looking forward to the ride, but somewhat let down, of course, for the trip was over.  But at the same time, what a trip, nearly from one of the city to the other.

As we grew older, the trips became less frequent.  Yet like Holden Caulfield protecting his sister Phoebe (in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye), I was my brother’s savior on one unforgettable L ride. 

We were traveling underground.  I was in the single seat (my turn…), facing the motorman compartment, but able to turn face-front.  My brother was in the first double seat, next to the window, looking forward and left.  Both of us thought nothing of the old man who came from a crowded platform and made his way to sit down with us in the empty place.  Next to my brother.  Small talk (as I look back), about our ride and us. 

From the corner of my eye, I saw the man move his hand slowly from on his left leg towards my brother’s little right leg covered by brown corduroys.  I mean, this guy was some kind of pervert and all…  Honest to God!  And I got excited and all.  And nervous.  I mean, what was I supposed to do?  I’m not kidding.  I kept worrying, in slow motion and all, about what the pervert was going to do–and all.

I looked him in the eye: “Don’t touch my brother or I’ll kill you, I swear to God I will!”  He stood up and moved.  There I was, sliding away from the window, sitting down next to the little guy.  There I was, the catcher in the rye and all.  I caught him before he was swept over the cliff.  I saved him and all.  I swore then and there that I would NEVER let harm come to him–and all.

 * * *

From Wikipedia: The Chicago rapid-transit system is officially nicknamed the ‘L’.  This name for the CTA rail system applies to the whole system: its elevated, subway, at-grade, and open-cut segments.  The use of the nickname dates from the earliest days of the elevated railroads.  Newspapers of the late 1880s referred to proposed elevated railroads in Chicago as ‘”L” roads.  The first route to be constructed, the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad gained the nickname “Alley Elevated,” or “Alley L” during its planning and construction, a term that was widely used by 1893, less than a year after the line opened.

In discussing various stylings of “Loop” and “L” in Destination Loop: The Story of Rapid Transit Railroading in and around Chicago (1982), author Brian J. Cudahy quotes a passage from The Neon Wilderness (1949) by Chicago author Nelson Algren: “beneath the curved steel of the El, beneath the endless ties.”  Cudahy then comments, “Note that in the quotation above … it says ‘El’ to mean ‘elevated rapid transit railroad.’  We trust that this usage can be ascribed to a publisher’s editor in New York or some other east coast city; in Chicago, the same expression is routinely rendered ‘L.'” The Chicago Tribune style guide also uses ‘L.’

As used by CTA, the name is rendered as the capital letter ‘L’, in quotation marks.  “L” (with double quotation marks) was often used by CTA predecessors such as the Chicago Rapid Transit Company; however, the CTA uses single quotation marks (‘) on some printed materials and signs rather than double.  In Chicago, the term subway is only applied to the sections of the ‘L’ network that are actually underground and is not applied to the entire system as a whole, as in New York City where both the elevated and underground portions are called the subway.


Note: The Website is found as Chicago “L”.org

© James F. O’Neil  2013

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