My famous Chicago mothers list - not all of them are human

Famous Chicago mothers – whom do you think of? Michelle Obama? Gloria Swanson? Betty Ford? Here’s my alternative list.

Bertha Palmer, helped give birth to the chocolate brownie – Mrs Palmer was a well-known Chicago socialite and wife to Potter Palmer, owner of the Palmer House Hotel. During the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, Mrs Palmer asked her chefs to create a cake-like dessert that could be eaten easily from a lunch box by ladies attending the fair. The original recipe used one pound of chocolate to one pound of butter and was glazed with apricot jam. Mrs Palmer’s other ‘creations’ were Honoré and Potter Palmer II. But I’m sure they were never covered with apricot jam.

The Mother Road, also known as Route 66 –  this mother retired in 1985 after 59 years of parenthood. She started out life in Chicago and ended up in Los Angeles, helping thousands find their (high)way in life. She still gets visits. The name, by the way, is thanks to John Steinbeck in his 1939 novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ .

A mother's love Source: Lincoln Park Zoo

A mother’s love
Source: Lincoln Park Zoo

Bahati and all the mama gorillas at Lincoln Park Zoo – the zoo welcomed its 52nd baby gorilla this February, when Bahati gave birth to little Bella, much to the delight of the world’s press. The first Chicagorillan was born 45 years ago – her name was Kumba and she was only the 14th gorilla born in any zoo.  Bella’s home, the Regenstein Center for African Apes, is true Lincoln Park – indoor landscaped gardens, numerous decks and an exclusive lakeshore view. Her extended family moved into their new den in 2004 – it was a new build at the time, with a price tag of nearly $26 million.

Sidebar: before the apes took up residence, the zoo asked a group of (human) climbers to test it out to make sure it was escape-proof. Perhaps it wanted to avoid a repeat of the Great Sea Lion Breakout of 1889 when 18 sea lions escaped from the not-quite-finished sea lion pool. They were found safe and sound in a restaurant in nearby Clark Street; 17 were returned home and lucky no 18 was last seen diving into Lake Michigan.

The mother with the pram heading down the stairs during the shoot-out in ‘The Untouchables’filmed on the steps of Union Station, this is a classic scene which should not have happened. In the original script, the fight apparently took place on a train. But the studio decided trying to find and stage the shootout on a 1930s train would be too expensive. Plus we then would have missed out on the ‘Naked Gun 33 1/3’ spoof version.

The Original Mother’s on Division St (and no comments about an Irish gal writing about a bar) – serving mothers, mothers’ sons and mothers’ daughters since 1968. This also has a movie reference, featuring in ‘About Last Night’ with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. Mother’s has nurtured bands such as The Velvet Underground, Cream and Chicago as well as, according to the venue’s website, ‘nursing house music out of its diapers’.

Old Mother Leary (and another lovely Chirish connection) – as in Catherine O’Leary, Irish immigrant and mother of 3 children, whose claim to fame is that she owned the cow that knocked over the lantern that started the fire that burnt down Chicago in 1871. Sounds like a children’s rhyme? Well, according to the ditty sung by thousands of children around camp fires, it apparently went like this…

Late one night, when we were all in bed,

Old Mother Leary left a lantern in the shed,

Well, the cow kicked it over, winked its eye and said,

‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!’

Then again, maybe not. For the Chicago City Council exonerated her of any guilt in 1997, saying Mrs O’Leary (and her cow) had both been unfairly maligned. Guess that’s the end of the camp song, then. Or what about one more time. Altogether now….

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  • Thanks for the salute to Mrs. Palmer. I'm glad the apricot jam's usually left out, though!

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    I was going to try the original recipe Margaret, apricot glaze included, but decided the old family favourite of Chocolate Rice Krispie buns was so much easier.

  • Regarding the Union Station steps, the scene also gave DePalma a chance to insert an homage to the Odessa Steps scene in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. DePalma was a huge fan of the homage.

  • I'm going to suggest Eisenstein's film Floyd the next time the youth says he wants to watch something similar to the Naked Gun movies...

  • In reply to Chirish Chatterer:

    Excellent idea! Maybe even subversive!

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