During the second decade of the twentieth century, Chicago was an extraordinary hub of cultural activity. Art, architecture, literature politics, music, and sports all contributed to the city’s vibrant landscape.

Chicago Grand Opera Company program and Mary Garden (Herman Mishkin, Library of Congress)

The Chicago Grand Opera Company—the city’s first resident opera company—opens its first season on November 3, 1910, at the Auditorium Theatre. Cleofante Campanini conducts Verdi’s Aida with Janina Korolewicz in the title role, Nicola Zerola as Radamès, and Eleanor de Cisneros as Amneris. The fourth and final season of the company comes to a close on January 31, 1914, with a matinee of Février’s Monna Vanna starring Mary Garden and an evening performance of Flotow’s Martha with Jenny Dufau and Ralph Errolle under the baton of Arnold Winternitz.

Fine Arts Building (V.O. Hammon Publishing Company) and Rue Winterbotham Carpenter (Paul Thevenaz, Collection of the Arts Club of Chicago)

In 1912, Ellen Van Volkenburg and Maurice Browne establish the Chicago Little Theatre, performing Greek classics, works by contemporary writers, and puppetry at the Fine Arts Building. Founded in March 1916, the Arts Club of Chicago also moves into the Fine Arts Building on the fifth floor, and charter members include Rue Winterbotham Carpenter and her husband, composer John Alden Carpenter, along with Frederick Stock.

Ravinia Park and Poetry: A Magazine of Verse

During the first season of the Ravinia Opera Company in 1912, Gustav Hinrichs leads the Orchestra in acts and extended scenes from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and La bohème; Verdi’s Aida , La traviata, and Il trovatore; Massenet’s Thaïs; Gounod’s Faust; Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; and Wagner’s Lohengrin. On August 21, the company presents its first full-length production: Masagani’s Cavalleria rusticana with Jane Abercrombie as Santuzza and Henri Baron as Turriddu.

Founded by Harriet Monroe, the first edition of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse is published in Chicago in October 1912.

Roosevelt in the Auditorium Theatre (Moffett Studio, Library of Congress)

The 1912 Progressive “Bull Moose” Party Convention culminates at the Auditorium Theatre on August 6 with Theodore Roosevelt, president from 1901 until 1909, proclaiming, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!” He had attempted and failed to wrangle the Republican nomination from his successor and incumbent president William Howard Taft, so Roosevelt’s supporters declared their independence and formed a third party behind their candidate, who boasted he felt “strong as a bull moose.” Democratic New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson won the November 5 election in a landslide against the divided Republicans.

In April 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art is mounted at the Art Institute of Chicago, introducing local audiences to the works of Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky, and Pablo Picasso, among numerous others. Students at the School of the Art Institute hold a mock trial of “Henry Hair Mattress” (Henri Matisse), finding him guilty of “artistic murder, pictorial arson . . . and contumacious abuse of title” and burning copies of his Blue Nude, Luxury II, Red Madras Headdress, and The Red StudioThe articles are here and here.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s subscriber card and Morton’s Jelly Roll Blues William and Frederick Starmer, Will Rossiter Publishing)

An occasional Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscriber, Frank Lloyd Wright also has an office in Orchestra Hall from 1913 until 1916. (It has long been rumored that he skipped out without paying his final months’ rent.)

While living in Chicago, Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton publishes his Jelly Roll Blues in 1915, widely acknowledged as the first published jazz composition.

On October 14, 1917, composer and pianist Ignace Paderewski gives a speech to over 40,000 people— “the largest Polish assemblage ever seen in Chicago,” according to the Chicago Tribune—at the Dexter Park Pavilion (a horse racing track located next to the Union Stock Yards) advocating for a Poland free of Austro-Hungarian rule. The article is here.

“King” Oliver and his band  (Frank Driggs Collection)

In early 1918, Joe “King” Oliver moves to Chicago, bringing his New Orleans brass and dance band style with him. To win over northern audiences, many jazz bands played up their southern roots while drawing on stereotypes made familiar through minstrel shows, as can be seen in this image. Oliver’s style also was called “hot jazz,” later inspiring the name of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven bands of the 1920s. By the end of the decade, Chicago develops a style all its own, emerging as an important center for the genre.

Geraldine Farrar (Bain Collection, Library of Congress) and Carl Sandburg (National Park Service)

Geraldine Farrar is the star of the Chicago Opera Association’s first season opening in November 1915, appearing in the title roles in Puccini’s Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Bizet’s Carmen, and Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust.

In 1916, Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems is published. He is soon awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Cornhuskers, published in 1918 and written while he lived in Evanston and Elmhurst, Illinois.

Chicago White Sox (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

The Chicago White Sox win the 1917 World Series on October 15, defeating the New York Giants in game six. The winning team included outfielders “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Shano Collins, Happy Felsch, Eddie Murphy, and Nemo Leibold.

War Exposition (Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

The U.S. Government War Exposition travels to Grant Park and nearly two million Chicagoans visit between September 2 and 15, 1918. Designed to encourage public support of the war, the exposition includes displays of new technologies, trench warfare and weaponry, and medical treatments.

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A Time for Reflection—A Message of Peace—a companion exhibit curated by the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library—will be on display in Symphony Center’s first-floor rotunda from October 2 through November 18, and the content also will be presented on CSO Sounds & Stories and the From the Archives blog.

This article also appears here. For event listings, please visit cso.org/armistice.

This exhibit is presented with the generous support of COL (IL) Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), Founder and Chair, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, through the Pritzker Military Foundation.

Additional thanks to Shawn Sheehy and Jenna Harmon, along with the Arts Club of Chicago, Newberry Library, Poetry Foundation, and Ravinia Festival Association.

TOP: Assembly on Parade Ground at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Kauffman & Fabry. (United States, 1918) | Image: Pritzker Military Museum & Library