THEIR TOWN: People We Like and the Places They Love

You Go, Studs

By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 23, 2002

Studs Terkel remembers his first glimpse of Chicago as if were yesterday, even though he was 8 years old at the time, and 82 years have passed.

Terkel grew up to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, famed social commentator and a Chicago icon. During his decades-long talk show, he interviewed most of the major American minds and talents of the 20th century. But it's the moment his train pulled intoChicago's Union Station that looms largest in his mind.

"I'll never forget the excitement. Going West! A city of dreams. It was the Chicago of Carl Sandburg," says Terkel, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

From memory, he quotes from Sandburg's poem "Chicago": "Hog Butcher for the World/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler/Stormy, husky, brawling/City of the Big Shoulders."

In the past few years, Chicago's reputation as a cultural center has steadily grown, with art exhibits drawing worldwide acclaim, with the rejuvenation and growth of the city's theater district, with the longstanding blues and jazz joints.

Downtown's Grant Park and other open spaces are scheduled all summer with concerts, both classical and popular, with festivals of every ethnic hue, fireworks, air shows and other special events.

But even in 1920, when Terkel's parents came to open a hotel on the northeast corner ofWells and Grand, the city inspired awe, and hope.

"Kids in the Deep South would be in the fields picking cotton, a train would go by and whistle, and someone would look up and say in wonder, 'I know where that train's going. Chicago!' " says Terkel. "That's what Chicago means to me. I wouldn't think of living anywhere else."

Terkel, who agreed to guide me around his town a bit, is the first to admit that Chicago has dramatically changed not only in the past 82 years, but in the past few. Yet it's never lost its power, he says. These days, the migrants who heed its siren song are just from different places, mainly Spanish-speaking, Middle Eastern or Asian, instead of from Europe and the American South.

The day I arrive in town, I call Terkel to make sure we're still on for the next day. He answers the phone in the home he bought25 years ago.

"Oh, Cindy," he says. "Hello. You want to talk to Gloria Steinem?"

Uh, sure.

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