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[Thanks much to Doug Greenberg, President & Director of the Chicago Historical Society, for contributing this review to H-Urban. It is a longer version of a review published last Sunday, February 5, in the CHICAGO TRIBUNE Sunday BOOKS section. All works, including this one, are copyrighted as soon as they are fixed. The author of this review retains the copyright and has granted H-Net permission to post this work. The author also grants permission for further distribution on the nets. We welcome copies of book reviews written for print journals for which the author of the review is the copyright holder, or the journal, if the copyright holder, has granted permission to distribute the review on H-Urban and other H-Net lists. We believe that this will allow wider discussion of the books, and will if anything draw attention to the journals in which they are published, and of which our subscribers may not be aware. -- Wendy Plotkin, H-Urban Co-Editor] Chicago Hope? Review of Carl Smith, URBAN DISORDER AND THE SHAPE OF BELIEF: THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE, THE HAYMARKET BOMB, AND THE MODEL TOWN OF PULLMAN (University of Chicago Press, 1995) by Douglas Greenberg In 1969, Norman Mailer remarked that Chicago was perhaps the last of the great American cities. Carl Smith s new book, URBAN DISORDER AND THE SHAPE OF BELIEF, suggests that it may also have been the first. This deeply researched, subtle, and complex book seeks to comprehend the significance of three events of signal importance in the development of the American urban landscape: the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the Haymarket Bomb of 1886, and the Pullman Strike of 1894. These three events punctuated the coming of age not merely of Chicago but of all urban America as well, and Smith attempts to show why. The three decades following the Civil War were the great age of urbanization in American history. As Frederick Jackson Turner pointed out at Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, the census of 1890 indicated that more Americans lived in the city than in the country. And although we now tend to think of urban life and its attendant problems as peculiar to our own century's end, American men and women of the nineteenth century regarded the city as their own special blessing and curse. And no city better symbolized and articulated the meaning of urbanism in the United States than Chicago. In a way that Boston, New York, and Philadelphia could not claim, Chicago was uniquely American, sitting as it did at the economic crossroads of the continent, facing West as much as East, distinctively itself, and largely devoid of the excessive concern with Europe so dominant on the eastern seaboard. As the Civil War came to a close, Chicago was poised for a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity. By 1900, its population of about 1.7 million was sixty times what it had been in 1850. But nothing is more characteristic of urban life than ambiguity, and Smith shows us that Chicagoans quickly discovered why. In a series of interconnected chapters on the Fire, the Haymarket bombing, and the Pullman Strike, Smith demonstrates that growth and prosperity had their price. Although he details the human suffering that each of these events embodied, Smith is actually more concerned with how each challenged Chicago's conception of itself. This book is, in other words, an exercise in urban cultural psychology as much as it is an exercise in urban history. For example, although Mrs. O'Leary's much maligned cow was innocent of any lantern-kicking arson, the Fire not only aroused ugly anti-Irish sentiment and other species of social paranoia, it also prompted a comparison with the recently ended War, an ordeal by fire from which many Americans believed their nation had emerged somehow purified. For some Chicagoans, the Great Fire of 1871 promised precisely the same thing for their city. The Fire literally seared the consciousness of the city. It simultaneously bespoke punishment for iniquity and the promise of hope for the future. No urban fire before or since (with the exception of the fires following the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906) has so utterly informed American ideas about urban life. Stretching four miles north and south and three-quarters of a mile east and west, the Great Chicago Fire made news everywhere in America and inspired powerful reactions of support and aid throughout the country. And while the Fire was a disaster of unprecedented proportions, it also offered a promise to remake the city and rebuild it on a more secure metaphorical as well as literal foundation. The Haymarket Bombing, Smith shows, was also both more and less than it appeared to be. The accused anarchists were almost certainly not guilty of the crimes of which they were accused, and the entire affair made a travesty of legal process. On the other hand, the presence of anarchists and the anarchist press in Chicago was a concrete challenge to the established order and unashamedly threatened to destroy it. In coming to terms with the Haymarket events and their aftermath, Chicago tried literally to define itself and its social institutions. Smith observes, moreover, that much of this self-definition took the form of attempting to decide who was a foreigner and who was not. This was no easy task in Chicago in 1886 since about 80 percent of the inhabitants of the city were either born outside the United States or were the children of people born in other countries. And the participants in the Haymarket tragedy, on every side, were almost all from somewhere else. Indeed, not only the defendants but all twelve jurors, the judge, and seven of the eight lawyers were born outside Chicago. Thus, the Haymarket Bombing inspired that most American of pastimes: deciding what (and who) is American by determining what (and who) is not. As the citizens of California have noticed in the aftermath of Proposition 187, this attempt to define ourselves negatively frequently has the perverse effect of confusing more than it clarifies by revealing a mean-spirited side to the American character. In no period of our history was this more the case than in the late nineteenth century when immigration from abroad (and opposition to it) were arguably the most broadly influential trends in American society and culture. As in other things, Chicago's experience was the experience of the country, writ small. The third of Smith's catastrophic triad, the Pullman Strike of 1894, also contained within it strains of thought and experience that reached beyond the immediate events and spoke eloquently to the deepest themes in American life. George Pullman s model town was an exercise in ego and power, but it was also an attempt to realize a utopian dream. As innumerable historians have pointed out, one might say the very same thing about the United States in this era. Pullman's model town sought somehow to join collective life with individualism, and it failed. Throughout the Western world, not only in the United States, similar projects, some actual, some theoretical, and some on the verge of transformig the world, were attempting to come to terms with the complex relationship between capitalism and democracy. The failure of Pullman's experiment was not unique; and yet it did open to view some of the deepest contradictions life in the United States, where the ethic of individualism and a commitment to political democracy ran most sharply against the corporatist utopianism that Pullman had tried to achieve. Following so closely upon the Columbian Exposition, the Pullman Strike challenged the triumphalism of the Fair and suggested that the gorgeously ordered fairgrounds, themselves now in ashes, had been more dream than reality in any case. This otherwise excellent book lapses too frequently into literary and historiographic references that will be of no interest to the general reader, and Smith's prose is denser than one would like in a book on so naturally dramatic a theme. In addition, despite passing references to Jane Addams, the book could do with a more nuanced approach to the role of gender in shaping belief. Similarly, race, along with immigration the great social obsession of the era, receives virtually no mention in Smith's account of urban disorder. By 1890, the African American population of Illinois had reached about 60,000, most of it in Chicago. Yet these people seem mostly to have absent from the urban imagination that Smith otherwise portrays so effectively. It is difficult not to wonder why. But these may be complaints that will bother no one but a reviewer. The fact is that this fine book delineates many of the ambiguities of urban life in the late nineteenth century by immersion in rich textual and pictorial sources of civic memory many of which, I cannot forebear adding, are to be found in the research collections of the Chicago Historical Society. This volume revels in contradiction, and it gently reminds us that perceptions of disorder, which abound in our city today, are the nothing new in Chicago. We reveal as much about ourselves as about our fellow citizens when we focus too obsessively on how others have overthrown the social order. Smith's portrait of this city's sense of itself in its greatest period of growth and change is fascinatingly complex. This book will reward the patient reader with absorbing stories and beautifully textured vignettes of great meaning, even today, 100 years after George Pullman's dream came crashing down upon him and the remnants of the Columbian Exposition burnt to the ground. Douglas Greenberg is President and Director of Chicago Historical Society -- Douglas Greenberg Phone:312 642 5035 President and Director Fax:312 266 2077 or 312 642 1199 Chicago Historical Society e-mail: U27777@uicvm.uic.edu 1601 North Clark St. firstname.lastname@example.org Chicago Il 60614 email@example.com