Before I ever had an appreciation for its historical importance, I loved standing at the mouth of the Chicago River. Many people do. During the most beautiful afternoons of summer or under the most bruised-skies of winter people pause and pose for photos on the Michigan/DuSable bridge.
Looking west with your back to Lake Michigan, you can see the city unfurl itself along the banks of the river. If you stand on the west side of the bridge with your belly against the rail and watch the reversed river flow west, you’ll understand.
Imagine that spot as the narthex of a cathedral. A narthex is the vestibule or front porch before you enter the cathedral proper. The river then becomes a nave, the center, dividing the skyscrapers into aisles along the north and south. Cathedrals were built to inspire awe and the mouth of the river, our inadvertent cathedral, does exactly that. Get there in the early morning before the chaos of the day begins and you’ll understand.
This is the city’s birthplace.
On the northeast corner of the bridge a statue stands commemorating Chicago’s first settler, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable. He gazes west down the length of the river too.
Fifty years ago Richard J. Daley declared the week of August 18th to the 24th of 1963 as “DuSable Week” in acknowledgement of the city’s first resident. The proclamation states, “…in the report of these British officers that there was first made mention of Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, who the British found living in a trader’s hut along the Chicago River; NOW, THEREFORE, I, Richard J. Daley, Mayor of the City of Chicago, do hereby designate the period of August 18-24, 1963, as DU SABLE WEEK IN CHICAGO and urge that our people give recognition to the fact that DuSable was the first Chicago resident of record.”
Discussing DuSable feels like the most natural way to begin this project about Chicago and this 50th anniversary appears to me the best time to do so.
In honor of this early Chicagoan, take a day this week to go downtown and see the statue in person or take a trip to the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park.
Later this week I will post more about DuSable and include more photographs. In future weeks I will examine the rich history of this specific spot, the river’s mouth, even more. I hope you’ll keep exploring with me.
Know any longtime Chicagoans? I’m looking to add interviews to future posts!