At the depths of the Great Depression, in 1935, the Federal Writers Project, under the Works Progress Administration, employed over 6000 writers, artists, and photographers. They recorded and documented many aspects of American life during a time of extreme financial distress, natural disasters and a looming war in Europe. Many believe the most lasting contribution of the Writers Project was the American Guide Series, which mapped, in words and moderate pictures, the highways and by-ways and city streets of a struggling nation.
Many of the writers are lost to history, but some very famous writers went on to become household names. Among them, Ralph Ellison, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Conrad Aiken and Richard Wright.
Over the years I have traveled the Midwest, and at times I have taken a copy of the American Guide for that state or states. It was interesting and fun to follow the tours and to see what landmarks survived from a very dark and turbulent time in our country’s history, and a glance at how a country survived and took care of each other and how it eventually overcame what was thought of then as end times. To see what survives to this day in the city and country, and to see the changes gives pause for thought at the terror of those times and the will to endure.
A Look at the Old Chicago Post Office
Here is an excerpt from the Illinois Federal Writers’ Project of 1939, which reads in part:
The New Post Office (tours by arrangement), Van Buren Street from Canal Street, to the river and extending to Harrison Street…completed in 1934 at a cost of $21,500,000. The building is constructed over railroad tracks, which allows for one-third of the daily mail…On May 15, 1938, and autogyro landed on the roof of the two-block long structure, with mail from Municipal (Midway) Airport, in a test flight of transfer service…
The Old Chicago Post Office has been sitting empty now for many years, but there are plans for its redevelopment into residences.
The Old Chicago Post Office connects us to the past and asks us to remember it.