An absolute dial-tone of a day, enhanced by wonderful sun rays beating the snow to death. The downside: ice by nine. The picture above is a typical suburban parking lot these days; they’ve heaped all the snow to the margins, where it gets dense and shiny, holding its cold in reserve, defying us with its persistence.

Usually I like Mondays; return to order, new things to do - or rather slightly different versions of the old things - but this is the year of repressing all the constant screaming, what with August’s departure coming up. I’ve been toying with writing a novel that takes place in 1929 and 1954 - another newspaper novel, of course, with the usual murder, but with a hook I doubt anyone’s used before. That’s all I’ll say, except the Foshay (thank you, autocorrect, for realizing that’s what I meant, and not substituting Fishy, although it would have been hilarious if Wilbur Foshay had been Wilbur Fishy, and the tower said FISHY on four sides in enormous lit-up letters. Is there another skyscraper in the land that has the name of the man who commanded it into being on all four sides at the top? I can’t think of one) Tower plays into it.

I went back to take pictures of the exterior of the Fishy Tower today DAMMIT, no, Foshay. This:

. . . and I walked through an old building beloved to locals, even if they don’t know it: the Midwest Federal Building. It’s where Mary Tyler Moore worked. The bottom two floors used to have a big Barnes and Noble, where I loved to browse. It closed a year or so ago, another gaping retail failure, and the owners of the building wisely decided to reconfigure the space instead of letting it sit vacant waiting for a swain to come a’courtin’ for a space that large.


This used to be a bookstore.

The original lobby has been opened up to two stories, and a skyway passage built on the second that keeps the windows open. I had to laugh when I got to the lobby area, and said to myself: THANKS A LOT.


There was a newspaper / gum / cigarette stand in the lobby when I worked in the building, and the owner - who was always there, always - said THANKS A LOT after every transaction in a voice that was just a bit too loud, but not so loud as to sound sarcastic. I thought “there’s just two people in the world who probably would stand in this lobby and think THANKS A LOT after and I just got a tweet from the other one.

The lobby used to have a bank - the building was originally Midwest Federal, which flamed out in the S&L crisis - and it had a 70s swank that aged better than most, since it inherited the Classy White Marble look. Now it looks modern in the Apple Aesthetic sense, and there’s not a bit of the old character left. That’s okay.

But here’s the thing. For a few years, the aroma of the lobby was Coffee, since there was the obligatory Starbucks in the B&N, burning the beans as usual. (I’ve never found the smell of a Starbucks enticing. It always smells like a break room where someone left the pot on the burner for six hours.) Before that, it was food from the Brothers Deli down the hall, with fried potatoes. Maybe a hint of cigarettes in the early days when you could still smoke in restaurants. It was a human smell. It was the perfume of inhabitation.

I’d prefer getting notes of woodsmoke or pine, piped in by hidden infusers, to be honest. I’m not saying the old smells are better, only that I remember them, and it seems slightly important to note that. We have pictures, but never the ephemeral details everyone takes for granted as part of the way the world is. I wonder if old people got in the elevators in the 70s and thought “it doesn’t smell like stale cigars and body odor anymore.”

I suspect not.

There's a walkway that leads to Nicollet Mall. Let's guess the decade:

This was built as a B. Dalton's bookstore, and it, too, went under. Oh, that brown-brick arch was your symbol of modern design and up-to-date thinking. The space was later occupied by a drugstore, and here we see some late 90s design revealed by renovation:

Makes you nostalgic for the sound of a CD-ROM whirring in the drive if your computer, doesn't it?









A couple of things from recent TV viewings.

“The Alienist” is an interesting show that seems unwilling to put the pedal down when it comes to exposition and seems uninterested in advancing its characters beyond what we learned right away. The woman: anachronistically spunky! The newspaper illustrator - hot tempered! The titular character - intensely focused! Anyway, Sean Young shows up, and she has become Kathy Bates.

Netflix has a Jack Black movie in which Jack Black plays a guy who acts like Jack Black, except with a Polish accent. The story of a polka musician who ran a Ponzi scheme. It’s fun but slight, and you’re astonished to find it’s the third movie made about Jan Lewan.

Anyway, there was this shot of his office.

I had to freeze it and go back to see if I’d misread it - no, that’s his name. How many people today instantly recognized what that logo references?

I had the logo on a button, which I wore with pride in college. It was not entirely popular on the left. The centrist liberals were pro; the others were a bit muted, because those people were unhelpful. They might have a point, but the larger point was the need to stop Reagan, and anything that bolstered his views on the USSR was counterproductive. Overall, though, I remember a lack of interest in the matter.

Those were also the days when an Islamic fascist could shoot the Pope and you didn’t have to wade through a lot of Twitter bilge commending the effort because Catholicism was oppressive.

Finally: another reboot, and frankly it doesn’t look bad. Listen for the reference to the theme at the end.

Ah, but which theme is it? The first or the second? It’s the second. It’s the only TV show that had two themes, I think. I loved them both as a kid and was also meh on the show itself.

The idea that the same composer is still writing music for science fiction is quite astonishing, isn’t it?





It’s 1892.

The Greatest Electrical Medical Discovery of the 19th century! Not, in retrospect, a particularly crowded category.

They were popular in Butte City, that’s for sure.

Probably a Pulvermacher.

The Pulvermacher chain, or in full as it was sold the Pulvermacher hydro-electric chain, was a type of voltaic battery sold in the second half of the 19th century for medical applications. Its chief market was amongst the numerous quack practitioners who were taking advantage of the popularity of the relatively new treatment of electrotherapy, or "electrification" as it was then known. Its unique selling point was its construction of numerous linked cells, rendering it mechanically flexible. A variant intended to be worn wrapped on part of the body for long periods was known as Pulvermacher's galvanic chain or electric belt. The Pulvermacher Company attracted a great deal of antagonism from the medical community due to their use of the names of well-known physicians in their advertising without permission.

“It is not only a national but a universal remedy.” I’m not sure what that means. Works in Maine, and on the liver! Something like that.

It’ll work on bowel torpidity? Grand. Spread the word via string-based speaking cans:


Sold everywhere. Cleans everything. Pleases everyone. Are you telling me you can please everyone all of time if you use Gold Dust?

Mr Fairbank was quite the industrialist.

Nathaniel Kellogg 'N.K.' Fairbank (1829-1903) was a Chicago industrialist whose company, the N.K. Fairbank Co., manufactured soap as well as animal and baking products in conjunction with the major meat packing houses of northern Illinois.

I like this:

Fairbank was the original owner of the land that currently comprises Streeterville in downtown Chicago; now some of the most expensive real estate in the city. Despite unanimously winning several court cases, Fairbank, along with the Pinkertons and the Chicago Police, were unable –for 28 years– to remove the squatter and Chicago legend, George Streeter, from the property. As a testament to the long running feud, a street running near the outside (western) edge of Streeterville is named Fairbanks Court.

The Egyptian Luck Board! “The most interesting, remarkable, and mysterious product of the 19th century.” After the galvanic belt, that is

These things spooked me as a kid. They were supposed to. What gave the Ouija board at the farm additional spookiness was its age. It was probably from the 20s, which might as well have been a thousand years ago.

Urhm . . . wha?

In 1982, poet James Merrill released an apocalyptic 560-page epic poem titled The Changing Light at Sandover, which documented two decades of messages dictated from the Ouija board during séances hosted by Merrill and his partner David Noyes Jackson. Sandover, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1983, was published in three volumes beginning in 1976. The first contained a poem for each of the letters A through Z, and was called The Book of Ephraim. It appeared in the collection Divine Comedies, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1977. According to Merrill, the spirits ordered him to write and publish the next two installments, Mirabell: Books of Number in 1978 and Scripts for the Pageant in 1980.

Excerpt here. It seems exhausting. This review seems about right.

No one would take out an ad to advertise tacks today.

Here’s something: Hiram W. Hayden was a prolific inventor. In addition to his "thirty-some" lamp and lighting patents, Hiram Hayden's other patented inventions include a breech-loading rifle, a breech-loading cannon, a magazine rifle, patents & designs for buttons, medals, and a machine for making solid metal tubing, which he sold to manufacturing concerns in Pittsburgh.

Yeah, yeah, you say, another flinty entrepreneur. The country was full of ‘em. Well:

One of his greatest discoveries was the development of the daguerreotype, an early photographic process. This lead to his development of a process of taking a picture on paper. He holds the honor of being the independent discoverer of the photographic process, having produced three paper photographs of landscapes and delivering them to the Waterbury American Newspaper in 1851. His future work in the photographic area led him closer than anyone else of the era to producing a colored photograph.


In 1851 he claimed to be the first to successfully take direct positive photographs on paper. The Waterbury American Newspaper reported the event as “Mr. Hiram Hadyen, ingenious artist of this village, has shown three landscape views taken by the unusual Daguerreian apparatus upon a white paper surface, all at one operation…”



  More absolute BS. The miracle of rubber!



A national ad for a regional store:

Let's take a look at that building:

Well, would you look at this:


On the death of Hugh O'Neill in 1902, his heirs were unable to continue running the business, which was sold and merged in 1907 with the Adams Dry Goods Store immediately to the north at 675 Sixth Avenue. The combined business did not succeed and, like all the department stores in the Ladies' Mile, was gone by the advent of World War I. The building was converted to manufacturing lofts, and then back into offices around 1969.

Key line: like all the department stores on the Ladies’ Mile, it was gone. Retail churn isn’t anything new.

There! ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? See you tomorrow. Don't forget to check in on our friend Scoop.


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