Another Chicago story
3) Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
Part of this amazing story is about the life of the main character’s great grandfather, who as a child attended the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. My father’s family is from Chicago, from way back. And my father had a great grandfather who was also, in his spare time, a writer. My father’s great grandfather wrote an autobiography, which he self-published in 1917. I have a copy. And inside my copy is a ticket to that world’s fair, which was, I’m guessing, at some point used as a bookmark. The ticket is similar to the one above, but it has George Washington on it, and it’s blue. The 1893 World’s Fair was really something. It introduced the Ferris Wheel, lightbulbs, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, and a whole lot more to the world.
At one point in Jimmy Corrigan, Ware draws an image of the same ticket I have. I think one of the characters preserved it. And something about the tone of the book, the lost opportunities with fathers, the chance to look back at the childhoods of other fathers to see where things went wrong, it was all very emotional for me. So the entire flight back I was riveted there in the first class section, feeling a little bit like I was reading the story of my own life.
This reminds me that I really should reread Jimmy Corrigan. I read it when it was first published—like seemingly everyone in Chicago at that time—but can only remember Ware’s solemn illustrations and none of the words. My family, my great-grandmother and great-great aunts and uncles, also attended the 1893 World’s Fair. My grandmother gave me a few of the souvenirs and I have them … somewhere.
Just today my mom emailed that if my grandmother hadn’t died 16 years ago, she would have been 100 this week. My grandmother was insanely creative, one of those rare people as talented with words as with visual art. But she was also confined by the roles of wife, mother, teacher. When I was maybe 12, she made a scrapbook of “important women” with photos of people like Susan B. Anthony and Margaret Mead and, on the last page, me. I knew how absurd that was then (and I feel it even more now), but I understood the point and why she was making it.
My grandmother survived a rough start at life and suffered a tumultuous end, and the two are almost certainly related. Her father (my great-grandfather) was a German baron who married her German-American mother for her money. He left his wife and two daughters when the fortune somehow disappeared and returned to Germany shortly after the beginning of World War I. Around this time, my great-grandmother contracted tuberculosis and spent the next 15 years dying in various sanatoriums. Not every tale of fortune-hunting aristocrats and American heiresses ended like Downton Abbey’s.
You don’t recover from a childhood like that, of double abandonment, voluntary, then involuntary. My grandmother didn’t, and when she was in her 60s she was diagnosed as bipolar. Like many manic-depressives, she wouldn’t take her medication regularly, and my grandfather couldn’t handle her. So she bounced in and out of institutions and the end of her life was sadly reminiscent of her mother’s. But I like to think that the middle years—in which she raised children, welcomed grandchildren, created in her basement studio, spent summers at the cabin in Northern Wisconsin she called “The Little Red Schoolhouse” — made up for some of that.
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- anythingcouldhappen reblogged this from markrichardson and added:
- barthel said: I’m only allowed to read Jimmy Corrigan when I’m in particular emotional states.
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