Guest Column: Remembering downtown in the ’40s

Time to talk about autumn, the favorite season of many. I call it the bittersweet time of year, for its color and the memories it evokes.

I think back to the house I grew up in, the red brick flat on Woodlawn Avenue. It was an easy walk to downtown, just six blocks. This was our shopping center. Back then, walking was an alternative mode of transportation; its health benefits were a byproduct, not an intent. Men walked to work when possible, children walked to school, housewives walked to the grocery store, before the advent of supermarkets.

A Sunday ritual was for Dad or my brother, Ed, to go out and pick up a Chicago Tribune at the Seidler News Agency located in downtown Rockford, at 125 N. Church St., where you could choose from a variety of magazines as well as Chicago papers.

If it was the Sunday before Halloween, there, on the front cover of the Tribune MagazineM section, in glorious color, was John McCutcheon’s “Injun Summer.” There were always two cartoons, as they were called—one showing a grandfather smoking a pipe and telling his grandson the story of Indian summer, while gazing out upon a field of corn shocks. The one below showed a similar scene, except that in this, the spirits of the Indians, or “Injuns” as they were called, were dancing among the corn shocks, which had turned into tepees.

We may now call this folklore, which is not necessarily accurate or fair. In the years that John McCutcheon’s image of fall appeared in the Tribune, beginning in 1912 and ending in 2002, they may have been offensive to Native Americans. But as a young person in the late ’30s and early ’40s, I relished their appearance; it meant fall was really here, and Halloween was soon to follow. It was, after all, another time and another place.

Genevieve Sandona is a long-time resident of Rockford.

From the Oct. 25-31, 2006, issue

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