A few weeks ago I told you I grew up in what amounted to a shtetl, an Old World Jewish town, on Chicago’s Far North Side. That’s not quite the whole story. A single point of origin never is the whole story for one of the city’s ever-evolving ethnic neighborhoods.
In the sixties my neighborhood, Hollywood Park, was predominantly Jewish but it also had a good number of Scandinavian, specifically Swedish and Norwegian, families. Danny Miller, another former Hollywood Park resident and one of the bloggers who inspires me, humorously recalls a battle between Swedes and Jews during the annual Christmas carolling at our elementary school.
There’s no doubt, however, the Swedes were there first. During the latter half of the 1800s the entire community was under Swedish rule. Horticulturalist Pehr S. Peterson owned 496 acres of what is now called North Park, an area the City of Chicago annexed in 1889. If it seems as though I’m using “Hollywood Park” and “North Park” interchangeably, I’m not. The official explanation is Chicago has well-defined communities and less well-defined neighborhoods within those communities. I didn’t know about communities growing up, but I knew neighborhoods and their boundaries.
In 1910 Chicago was home to more than 63,000 Swedish immigrants and Pehr S. Peterson was one of the best known Chicago Swedes. He and his family generously gave back to their adopted city, earmarking land gifts to the city for the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium and for the neighborhood’s elementary school, named for Peterson’s wife Mary Gage Peterson. Peterson also gave the city a statue of Swedish botanist Carl von Linneaus that was first located in Lincoln Park and later moved to the University of Chicago campus. The family well deserves the honor of having one of the city’s major streets, an elementary school and a large public park named for them.
Danny Miller’s grade school experiences notwithstanding, deep in the Swedish heart of North Park–Foster Avenue, where Swedish Convenant Hospital, North Park College and the Sweden Shop are located–the Jewish population was welcomed. At one time the bells of North Park College chimed “Sholem Aleichem” at sunset on Friday evenings to honor the community’s celebration of the Sabbath. (The Jews of Chicago, Irving Cutler, p. 238-239.)
UPDATE: “Back in the 1960s, when Douglas Cedarleaf was pastor at North Park Covenant Church in Chicago, the congregation used to go caroling in the neighborhood, led by a brass ensemble. We included “Mazur Tsur,” a Hannukah song known as “Rock of Ages” in English, as a nod to our Jewish neighbors.” — Juli Lundell Tarsney
How about your neighborhood? Did an unlikely combination of ethnic groups end up in the same place at the same time?
Next week: How my neighborhood’s Scandinavian heritage touched my life. In the meantime, Tre Kronor is a Scandinavian-influenced restaurant across the street from Old Main on Foster Avenue. It’s a fine place and a good reason to visit my old neighborhood.