There is a century-old ghost walking Larabee Avenue between Division Street on the north and Chicago Avenue to the south. Not many of us around anymore to spot him, oh but he’s there. Every summer night. You see, more than gangs hit our summer streets.
This particular ghost was both saint and sinner during the 20th C. Sinner… for this neighborhood was known to the police as “crime central” because of the way the Sicilian Black Hand ruled the immigrants housed here. Saint…because here loomed the grand old St Philip Catholic Church which relived the neighbors’ faith with frequent street festivals and saints’ parades [“The Godfather” faithfully recaptures many of those very scenes].
By the 1960s, the ill-fated Sicilians were gone and the ill-fated Cabrini Green was built in their place. Now the area, like so many, is being re gentrified. Still, the saintly sinner ghost can still be heard and felt if you know just how to find him on a warm summer night there.
Why speak of gangs and ghosts…? Because each in their own way helps explain one of the great conundrums to 21st C urban life. Its discontented summertime rage.
The majority of Americans now live in cities. And cities are known for their anonymity. People living next door to people they don’t know nor wish to. Yes, peace & privacy is one of the desirables. But no, isolation is not. And so while most of us most of the time busy ourselves with our television options, computers, smartphones,. and iPads INSIDE, the ancient tribal instinct to rub the flesh with others can still lure us OUTSIDE.
For those who are young and angry — street gangs! For those older and isolated — street festivals! Chicago alone has over 500 every year from block-parties to food-fests to music-bashes to religious commemorations. Loud and lusty, boisterous and buggy, we love them. And the city loves what they can do to reconnect angry and isolated lives.
As for the gangs — they remain a crisis to be resolved. As for the ghost — he remains a chance to re-discover what we still have in common.
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