“Oak Park Neighbors”


While reading my latest biography, this one on Frank Lloyd Wright the architect, I kept seeing references to Oak Park, Illinois. Finally my brain cells woke up and I connected the book to my own genealogy studies. My maternal grandmother, the little girl on the left of the photo above, was born and grew up in Oak Park. She was one of four little girls and lived, I knew, on North Grove Avenue in Oak Park. Her dad was an attorney in Chicago, and Oak Park was a lovely suburb.

I looked up Wright’s house on Google Maps and learned that it was two blocks from Grannie’s. She was born in 1890, so she would have been the age of his children. She also lived a few blocks from the woman, Mrs. Cheney, that Wright ran off with, leaving his wife and five children. Apparently, before they decamped, they rode around Oak Park, a scandalous display flouting all social norms. My grandmother would have been 13 at the time, and I can imagine her talking about the outrage with her friends.

Her house, in fact, lies within what is now the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District, the scandal having been excused I guess. But looking at the map I also saw that Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home was on the block behind Grannie’s. Suddenly I remembered a story from years ago. She said she heard Mrs. Hemingway in the back yard yelling various boys’ names until she settled on Ernest. It seems to have been possible after all since Ernest was nine years her junior.

I wish that we had lived closer to my grandparents, but they lived 3000 miles away and we saw them rarely. I never had a chance to really gather stories from them. At my last visit, however, during the Watergate inquiry, Grannie was quick to remind me that there was nothing new about government scandals. “You wouldn’t believe the Tea Pot Dome affair!” she calmly told me. I wonder what she would make of Trump, scoundrels having been around since she was a child!


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