Who are the Overseers of The Second City Comedy Theater in Chicago?

At first glance, you might think they’re heroes of the American Revolution.

Collage3-1 But why would the terra cotta portrait heads of Revolutionary War heroes be adorning the entrance of The Second City? 

That’s right, The Second City; Chicago’s (and arguably the world’s) greatest comedy theater.  The mere mention of its name evokes thoughts of improvisational comedy (commonly known as “improv” to us Chicagoans and anyone else who hasn’t been living under a rock the past 50 years). 

I should also mention that The Second City is second to none as a training ground for students of improv and sketch comedy.  

What has been described as “American theatrical satire” was officially born at The Second City in December 1959. 

And since then, it has been nurtured and raised to a sophisticated and entertaining “middle age.”

100_0218-1 Although these four guys may have been revolutionary in their fields, they had nothing to do with the American Revolution.  In fact, they’re not even Americans; they’re Germans!

So the question is really more like, “Who are these German guys and what are they doing at the entrance to The Second City at 1616 North Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town?”

Prior to my completing this story, if you had searched The Second City’s web site, you would have found no mention of them.  If you had asked any of The Second City’s employees about their identities, they may have had guesses, but no one "really knew."

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That’s not the Terra Cotta Head of Thomas Jefferson at Willowbrook High School

I stumbled upon it while I was Googling around, looking for images of one of my favorite, late great works of Chicago architecture - the Schiller theater and office building.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the Schiller - later renamed the Garrick - was one of Dankmar Adler’s and Louis Sullivan’s most renown Chicago structures.  It stood stoically at 64 West Randolph Street from 1892 until 1961.

It was on one of Willowbrook High School’s web site history pages - a photo of a terra cotta head with its nose knocked-off.  

Even without its nose, I immediately recognized it as one of the dozen terra cotta portrait heads which originally adorned the second floor exterior balcony of the Schiller. 

Then, I read the description accompanying the photo:

Willowhistorypic4-4 “The terra cotta head of Thomas Jefferson, stuck in the southeast wall of Willowbrook (and minus its nose), originally ornamented the Louis Sullivan-designed Garrick Theatre in downtown Chicago.  It was transferred to Willowbrook by Mike Venezia (Class of 1963).  Mike’s father and uncle were contractors for the razing of the theatre building (1961), and Mike was able to retrieve the Jefferson head for Willowbrook.”

Fascinating!  And somewhat thrilling - at least to me.  This meant I had located another one of the 12 original heads from the now-demolished theater building.  (One of my meager life goals is to find each of the 12 terra cotta heads from the Schiller/Garrick’s second floor balcony facade, as well as to determine each of their identities.)

But wait, there’s something wrong.  That’s not the head of Thomas Jefferson (minus its nose) stuck in the southeast wall of Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, Illinois.  And I think I can prove it. 

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Thoughts on Freedom, Self-Sufficiency, Dependency, and the Future of the United States

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about my daughter's future.

And since my daughter's future is inescapably tied to the future of our country, I can't help but wonder if she will experience the demise of self-sufficiency as America once knew it.

It should be clear to just about anyone who’s been around for the last half-century or so, that the attitude of many Americans has been changing from one of self-sufficiency to one of reliance on government.  Some people even have a notion that "Uncle Sam" should be their caretaker from cradle to grave.

It's disheartening to think that an American - whose very identity was once synonymous with freedom - could ever believe that the government should be responsible for taking care of everyone, rather than everyone taking care of themselves.

Unfortunately, this distorted notion seems to be promoted by certain influential intellectual elites who believe that most Americans aren’t smart enough or responsible enough to manage their own lives and make their own decisions.  It's those same elites who want the government to have more power to control and regulate our lives - for our own good, of course.

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“The Long Count” - Heavyweight Boxing’s Longest-Running Controversy

Searching through my late father’s gray metal file box, I noticed a faded brown envelope squeezed-in with a bunch of old documents and photos.   At the top of the envelope in my dad’s writing were the notations, “Dempsey - Tunney.”  I pulled-it-out, lifted the flap, and looked inside.

What I saw appeared to be a piece of old white fabric about three inches wide and folded into a rectangle.  Just a few minutes earlier, I had found a similar and equally rare keepsake in that same file box.  I immediately surmised what it was - an “armband.”  (See blog post for January 30, 2009: “Showdown at Soldier Field - The "Rock" versus the "Head Man.”) 

I carefully took-it-out of the envelope and as I touched it, I realized it was probably made using some type of silkscreen process.  As I unfolded it, the black-ink words on the stained and wrinkled white background quickly became apparent: OFFICIAL COURIER - TUNNEY-DEMPSEY BOXING EXHIBITION - SOLDIER FIELD - CHICAGO - SEPT. 22, 1927.

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If the IRS is Government’s “Big Brother,” Who does Corporate America have?

Who knows as much [or more] about your most confidential financial affairs as the IRS?  If you’ve been a user of Turbo Tax and Quicken software products, the answer could be “Intuit."

Having just finished my 2008 income tax return using Intuit’s Turbo Tax, I was exploring the program’s various sections when I noticed a “My Forms” menu.  Within that menu I found a long list of tax forms and workpapers the software had generated in relation to my tax return. 

As I scanned the list, I spotted something called a “tax history report.”  I didn’t recall ever seeing this report before - and I’ve used Turbo Tax for quite a few years, so I decided to print-it-out. 

The report turned-out to be a five-year tax history for my wife and I, and it was quite comprehensive.  For each year from 2004 through 2008, the history reflected such things as my filing status, total income, adjustments to income, tax expense, interest expense, charitable contributions, miscellaneous deductions, exemption amounts, taxable income, tax, credits, payments, refunds, effective tax rate and tax bracket.

Suddenly, a question came to mind.  How was it that Turbo Tax had five years’ worth of my tax return information? 

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The “Perfect Person” - How to Perfect Your Life


You never really have understood the word until you think about how you are the exact opposite.


Everyone wants to be perfect.  Is it their own insecurities?  Are they worried no one likes them, or do they want everyone to like them? 

Face it, you’ve wished it before.  The perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect body, and perfect personality.  I’ve done it, too.  It’s hard not to.  The real question is, how desperate are you?

Just want to be a kind person, or do you want the perfect body?  Would you go through the thought, work, and money? 

What if I told you there was a way to perfect yourself?  And it’s totally painless. Would you do it?Come on, I know you’re hooked now.

So I guess you are insecure, and you want to be perfect.  Here’s to you for wanting to change! But enough about you.  Let me tell you how to perfect your life . . .

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“Roland Burris?” I thought he was dead!

When I first heard the news [on December 30, 2008] that our recently arrested Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, had appointed Roland Burris as Illinois’ next U.S. senator, my first thought was, “I thought Burris was dead.”

No, the word “dead” wasn’t intended to symbolize a lack of meaningful political activity on Burris’ part - I actually thought he was deceased.

(By the way, in the event you weren’t aware of now ex-Governor Blagojevich’s escapades, Rod was initially charged in a criminal complaint with mail and wire fraud conspiracy and acts of public corruption.  One of his most audacious acts was his alleged attempt to sell [the appointment to] the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by then-President-elect Barack Obama.)

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What's That They Say About Crime?

It was the 1970's.  Traditional organized crime in Chicago - variously known as the “Mob,” the “Outfit,” or the “Syndicate” - was near its pinnacle of power.  Police payoffs, crooked politicians, corrupt local government workers, labor union control, and business “fronts,” enabled the Mob to successfully execute its business plan - to conspire together and make money through any means possible - regardless of legality.  And the mobsters made money, although some made a lot more than others. 

The RICO statute (i.e., the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) was still in its infancy and it would be years before the Federal government was adept at snaring the Mob’s vast criminal enterprises with RICO’s formidable jaws.  Even so, some of the government’s first Mob busters had been chasing down mobsters one-by-one since the days of Al Capone.  (No, not the Federal Bureau of Investigation - FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover refused to even acknowledge the existence of the “Mafia” until 1957 when the New York state police broke-up the largest-ever Mafia meeting in upstate Apalachin.)

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Showdown at Soldier Field - The "Rock" versus the "Head Man"

Squeezed-in with a bunch of old documents and photos, I noticed a faded brown envelope in my late father’s gray metal file box.  At the top of the envelope, in my dad’s printing, were the notations, “N.D. - S. CAL.”  I pulled-it-out, opened it, and looked inside.
The first thing I saw appeared to be an "Irish" green banner folded into a rectangle.  It looked old, and the words on it were not immediately apparent.  I carefully took-it-out of the envelope and as I touched it, I realized it was probably made using some type of silkscreen process. 

As I unfolded it, the black-ink words on the green background quickly became apparent:  OFFICIAL COURIER - NOTRE DAME vs SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA - SOLDIER FIELD, CHICAGO - NOV. 26, 1927.  

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Where the Famous Congregate in Chicago

I know a place in Chicago where some of the most famous people in the world congregate. 

No, I’m not talking about some celebrity restaurant where a bunch of over-hyped professional athletes and entertainers gather to eat and drink. I'm talking about a place where you can find some of the most accomplished human beings who've ever walked the streets of Chicago (or the world, for that matter).

A Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Olympic athletes, civil rights activists, judges, doctors, soldiers, and politicians.  People of different sexes, races, and ages.

James Cleveland Owens, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, William “Big Bill” Thompson, and Enrico Fermi, just to name a few.

Do you recognize any of those names?  How’s your knowledge of recent history?  As you were reading their names, did you say to yourself, "I thought he [or she] was dead"?

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What’s in a name? A lot, to a new blogger.

When I finally decided I was interested in blogging, my first big decision [after choosing TypePad as my blogging service] was to come-up with a catchy blog name.  Having come late to the party so-to-speak, I quickly realized that just about every name I could imagine was already being used (including every variation of my relatively common birth name). 

Probably like a lot of other new bloggers, I initially thought about having a name which incorporated the words, “rantings of . . .,” “ramblings of . . .,” or “musings of . . .”  But, after some Googling, I quickly realized that all the potential “rantings,” “ramblings,” and “musings” were already being exploited - along with just about everything else I could think-of as being creative or unique to me. 

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