Monday, October 05, 2020

Going way back in time and memory

Photo by Marc Monaghan

A great blast of nostalgia hit me when I read my email this morning. One message from the Hyde Park (Chicago) Historical Society contained an article about Promontory Point, the scene of many of my happiest high-school memories, although in retrospect they are tinged with a bit of adolescent awkwardness.

Better known as just “the Point,” it is a finger of land that juts out into Lake Michigan from about 55th Street on Chicago’s South Side. Daniel Burnham, the architect behind the city’s recovery from the Great Fire and the man still, all these years later, responsible for much of Chicago’s architecture, envisioned a city park in a thin strip along miles of the waterfront. The 40-acre Point made entirely of landfill and completed in the 1930s, long after Burnham’s death, was the southern most part of what became Daniel Burnham Park.

Aerial view 1940
Chicago Public Library

Along with an abundance of native trees, two things mark the Point in my mind. One is the pavilion, partly open shelter and partly one large enclosed room. Sometimes our church youth group reserved the pavilion for a picnic supper or some such, and I think maybe I went there with the Girl Scouts. I know we all used the smelly restrooms (I hope today that feature has seen improvement.)

The other feature emblazoned are my memory are the revetments or retaining walls of huge blocks of stone that kept the Point from dissolving back into the lake. When I was in high school, my friends and I rode our bikes to the Point where we spread our blankets and unpacked our snacks, radios, and suntan lotion on the grass above those rocks. If you wanted to swim, you jumped in off the rocks, watching carefully for those that were submerged. The water was cold and deep.

I was probably as good a swimmer as any of the others, but I had learned to swim on the sandy beaches of the Indiana dunes where the caution was always, “Be sure your foot can touch the bottom. Never get out over your head.” The big fear was the undertow which could drag you out too far to swim back. So I swam, always parallel to the shore, always touching my foot down. No way I was going in that deep water with nothing to hold on to but slippery, moss-covered rocks. I was always afraid the other kids would think I was chicken—and they would be right.

A family on the stone revetments
photo by March Monaghan

The kids I met at the Point mostly came from my church youth group, but my friend Eleanor Lee and I were kind of the hangers-on with the group, most of whom were older. We knew them all well because frequently when they weren’t at the Point, they gathered at Eleanor Lee’s house, thanks to her older sister Elizabeth. Neither a raving beauty nor an accomplished flirt, I felt like a bit of an ugly duckling and longed to be “cool” enough to be casual with those kids, probably high school seniors.

Years later, when I actually dated one of those older boys fairly regularly, we must have outgrown the Point. I don’t recall that we ever went there. I think too by then it was less safe than in our day, when there were people spread all over it on weekends. I think by today it has been reclaimed and residents feel free to go there, stare at the lake, sit on the stone benches.

It is such a place of strong memory for me that I managed to work it into my new mystery, Saving Irene. Henny and her next-door, good-looking, not-interested-in-girls neighbor, Patrick, ride bikes to the Point and picnic.

This morning it was like magic to see those scenes again. I hope you’ll like these pictures from the Point.

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