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Author Archives:Liz Reed


Chicago: My Kind of Town

Great-fire-book-coverFrank Sinatra sang My Kind of Town in the 1964 Rat Pack film (Robin and the 7 Hoods), he was joined by the crowds on the street as he walked out of the court house a free man. Mobster Robbo (played by Sinatra) had been framed and he was a grateful man that day and he was cheered on by onlokers. The song was nominated for an Academy award, but it lost out that year to another joyous tune, Chim-Chim-Chere-ee from the 1964 musical Mary Poppins.

Yet, Sinatra’s song became a beloved one, particularly to proud Chicagoans, and most of us know it. “And each time I roam, Chicago is calling me home.”

The American Library Association is headquartered in Chicago and it makes perfect sense that every four or five years the association schedules its annual conference there.

And that’s perfectly fine with me.

Despite its reputation for violence, corruption, traffic, heat and humidity, I love traveling to Chicago when ALA is scheduled in June. The light stays long into the evening after the conference events have ended, the streets are highly walkable, the restaurants are all delicious, and Chicago is just my “kind of town.”

My last trip to Chicago in June, I treated myself to a 1-1/2 hour river cruise at sunset given by the Chicago Architectural Foundation. The city is particularly stunning from the water and the history of hundreds of elegant skyscrapers comes alive with the sun to the west and the darkening sky to the east. It’s simply breathtaking.

My favorite non-fiction book happens to be set in Chicago. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson parallels the construction and events of the Columbian Exposition (or 1893 World’s Fair) with the true story of one of Chicago’s serial murderers. (There are many other true serial murders set in Chicago, including Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy and the 1940s Lipstick Killer, William Heirens.) My next trip to Chicago will definitely include a 3-1/2 mile CAF bus tour of the landscape of both the World’s Fair and the footsteps of evil Dr. D.H.H. Holmes.

But enough about Chicago and its crime. Let’s move on to one of its tragedies – the Great Fire of 1871. If you visit Chicago today, you can wander many of the same streets and imagine yourself on the banks of either of the forks of the Chicago River where the fire both started and stopped. It began in Patrick and Catherine O’Leary’s barn on DeKoven Street, jumped the South Branch of the Chicago River to the east, traveled north and then jumped the main Chicago River and burned most of Chicago along the banks of Lake Michigan. Due to rain and diligence of firefighters, the fires stopped just east of the North Branch two days later, saving the west of more destruction.

By October 10, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire caused 300 people to die, thousands of buildings to burn to the ground, and millions of dollars in damages. Over one hundred thousand more residents were left homeless. The devastation ran four miles in length along the lake and a mile west to east where it simply stopped on the banks of Lake Michigan on the east and was helped by rain on the western edge of the North branch for over 3 square miles.

In 1870, Chicago was the second largest city in the United States. It had become one of the nation’s transportation and a manufacturing and warehouse centers (both Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalog retailers made Chicago their home). Chicago was growing at a fantastic rate and by 1860, it had gained in political influence, surpassing St. Louis and Cincinnati, the other two Midwestern cities of note. In 1860 the Republican National Convention was held in Chicago and the participants elected Illinois native Abraham Lincoln.

Immigrant populations and wealthy manufacturers and capitalists flocked to Chicago after it was incorporated as a city in 1837. By 1871, Chicago was a bustling city of 324,000. Gracing and expanding on the banks of Lake Michigan it grew much like Boston did – to the west of the marshy wetlands of the waterfront. The land often flooded and for this reason there were miles of wooden sidewalks and boardwalks. In fact, Chicago was built almost entirely of wood. Some ornamental decorations in its magnificent buildings were crafted from wood and made to look like stone or granite.

Although it had a very modern fire department, there were preconditions and fatal mistakes that Sunday night of October 8 that caused the fire to spread with abandon. The city was hot, crowded, dry and windy. Some didn’t take the fire seriously; there had been a fire the night before that destroyed four city blocks. When the fire was spotted from the taller buildings in the city center, it appeared to be smoldering flames from the previous fire. The correct locations were not given more than once and fire alarms weren’t pulled.

The myth of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow – the one that knocked over the lantern and started the Great Fire of Chicago – is well known. However, Catherine O’Leary, an Irish immigrant, denied the story – in fact, the O’Leary’s were already in bed when the flames started in their barn that evening. They needed to be up well before dawn to milk their cows.  This 19th century urban legend that blamed the working class has been debunked over and over in literature in the 20th and 21st centuries.

One of my favorite books about the Chicago fire is Jim Murphy’s The Great Fire (Newbery and Horn Book award winner).  It’s a young adult book that is illustrated with original photographs and Murphy’s own maps of the fire as it progressed. Murphy’s book contains many of the same photographs and similar maps in The Great Chicago Fire in Eyewitness Accounts edited by David Lowe, 1979.

There are several other great children’s books: What Was the Great Chicago Fire by Janet Pascal and I Survived The Great Chicago  Fire, 1871 by Lauren Tarshis. Both contain stories of eyewitnesses to the fire.

By 1890 there were over 1 million people living in Chicago. A building boom like no other had rebuilt the city. Chicago hosted the Columbian Exposition only two decades after the fire’s devastation. After the Great Fire, Chicago rose from the ashes and was America’s Second City (second to New York in population) for over a century until Los Angeles gained the title.

In the words of Sinatra – Chicago is “my kind of town.” It’s a beautiful city worthy of its praise. Visit Chicago for yourself either in the travel guides available or the stories of the Great Fire.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the July 13, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


Lobster Phones and Melting Clocks

Salvador-Dali-museum-photoImagine a Florida vacation: calm sandy beaches on the Gulf, fruity drinks, theme parks, exotic wildlife, and long evenings spent with friends might all come to mind. Many people don’t necessarily count museum visits among their top tropical vacation things-to-do, and far fewer would list lobster phones and melting clocks. On a recent trip to St. Petersburg Florida, though, I knew that one of the things I absolutely did not want to miss was the Salvador Dali Museum.

I first became fascinated with Dali’s art completely by chance when I was studying abroad in London. While walking along the River Thames I stumbled upon a travelling exhibit, The Dali Universe. What else can you do when you see larger-than-life spindle-legged elephants and melting clock sculptures set against a backdrop of classic London attractions? You just have to explore! In the Dali Universe gallery I discovered some of Dali’s most iconic, and also less well known, paintings, sculptures, furniture, and fashion, including Cabinet Anthropomorphique and Space Elephant. I was completely unprepared for what I encountered, but I was hooked. I knew that if I ever had another chance to see Dali’s work firsthand, I’d take it.

Cut to early summer 2017. The Salvador Dali Museum, known by locals as “The Dali,” stands on the waterfront in Old St. Petersburg. The museum’s collection is largely comprised of the extensive personal collection of Reynolds and Eleanor Morse. The Morses began collecting Dali’s work in the early 1940s, and even met and became good friends with Dali and his wife, Gala. Although The Dali’s collection includes works from all periods of Salvador Dali’s long and varied career, the collection is still weighted toward those bodies of work which the Morses most preferred: Dali’s early work which was heavily influenced by Impressionism and the pursuit of highly technical skill, certain surrealist subject matter, and his “nuclear mysticism,” which featured images of religious, historical, and scientific themes. Today, the museum houses the largest collection of Dali’s work outside of Europe.

The building itself embodies the spirit of Dali’s work by combining the rational with the fantastical. The original Dali Museum in St. Pete’s opened in 1982, and this new construction was completed in early 2011. The museum is a simple rectangle, out of which flows an eye-catching free-form geodesic bubble. This glass structure is known as the “enigma,” and though it looks fanciful, the enigma is actually made up of 1,062 pieces of triangular glass, each one cut to unique and specific dimensions; no two pieces are the same. The enigma isn’t the museum’s only mathematical marvel either. The middle of the airy building features a helical staircase reminiscent of the DNA spiral, something that appeared often in Dali’s work.

So, who was this international man of mystery, Salvador Dali?  Dali was born in 1904 in Figueres, Spain. His talent was apparent at an early age, and he attended drawing school and studied art in university. He gained a high degree of technical skill, and as a young adult began to experiment with more modern and avant-garde forms of art, including Cubism and Dadaism. He is probably best known for his works as a Surrealist artist, however, with “The Persistence of Memory,” featuring the famous melting clocks, being his most well-known work. Later, Dali became fascinated with science, nature, and religion, incorporating elements of all three into his paintings. Several of the grandest of these works are housed at the Dali Museum and measure over 10 feet by 13 feet. Dali did not restrict himself to painting. He produced many works of art in sculpture, film, fashion, photography, and furniture.

Dali the man was every bit as grandiose and bizarre as his artwork. He was expelled from the inner circle of surrealist artists for his narcissism and pursuit of prominence, and was famously quoted as saying, “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali.” His pointy, long, flamboyant mustache is famous the world over, and his personal eccentricities sometimes overshadowed his artwork.

I’ve barely been able to scratch the surface of the Dali’s work and fascinating life. To learn more about the man and his art, check out these books from the Morrill Memorial Library: “The Secret Life of Salvador Dali” by Salvador Dali, “The Persistence of Memory: A biography of Dali” by Meredith Etherington-Smith, “The World of Salvador Dali” by Robert Descharnes, “Salvador Dali” by Jessica Hodge, and “This is Dali,” a partially graphic novel by Catherine Ingram and Andrew Rae. And if you’re ever in St. Pete’s, absolutely visit The Dali – you won’t be disappointed.

Liz Reed is an Adult and Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Liz’s column in the July 6th edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The weather may be crummy this weekend, but you can always get in the mood to celebrate with ebooks, movies, and more from hoopla digital! Learn more about using hoopla digital here.




Or entertain the kiddos to give mom some well-deserved R&R:

Funny movies

Audiobooks in the garden



Friends of the Library Book Sale

Stack-of-booksFriends-only preview sale: Friday October 20th, 2017 from 1:00 – 4:45 pm

Saturday, October 21st, 2017 from 9:00 am – 4:45 pm

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017 from 2:00 – 4:45 pm

The Friends of the Library Semi-Annual Book Sale will be held on the third weekend in October. The Friends-only preview sale will take place on Friday 10/20, and if you’re not already a Friend, you can sign up on the day of the sale for only $5. The Book Sale is open to the general public on Saturday 10/21, and again on Sunday 10/22. Sunday’s sale will be a Bag Sale – fill a whole bag with books for just a few dollars.

Some particularly exciting additions for this fall’s sale include donations of vinyl records, jigsaw puzzles, and complete sets of Time-Life Book Series.  Ask a volunteer for details and prices.

If you have any questions about donations, helping with the sale, or general book sale questions, please contact the Friends at


Make it Work

Queen-Elizabeth-1-Ditchley-portrait“Everything old is new again.” We’ve all heard variations of this famous line, usually applied to fashion. We’re supposed to change our wardrobes seasonally, and seasonal staples change from year to year. All fans of Project Runway know that the fashion world moves quickly; as Heidi Klum says, “In fashion, one day you’re in, the next day – you’re out.”

Well, yes. But, in all deference to Heidi, in fashion you may be out one day, but you’ll eventually be back in again. I’m not referring to ultra-hip vintage-hunter fashionistas, or to hipsters ironically wearing an old outfit dug out of their aunt’s attic. I’m taking a long view of fashion history, and believe me, everything comes around again. You never know when a fad from Renaissance Europe or ancient Egypt might pop up again.

Think I’m barmy? Let’s look at a few examples. Picture King Henry VIII of England. Are you imagining a full-body portrait of Henry striking an aggressive pose, hands on hips and glowering? Go ahead and do a Google image search for Henry VIII – almost every portrait of his looks like this. See those puffy upper sleeves, and slightly less puffy lower sleeves? And the shirt fabric covering his chest? You’ll probably notice lots of little bits of white fabric poking out of the shirt and sleeves. These white bits are a voluminous white undershirt sticking through slashes intentionally cut in the outer layer of clothing. In Tudor England, these artful slashes in one’s clothing were the height of fashion. Hmm, intentionally slashed clothing? The most expensive clothing in the kingdom coming pre-ripped? Sounds familiar – think 80s’ hair metal bands, or the jeans purchased by today’s teenagers. See parents, your teens are just emulating British royalty!

Speaking of the 80s: shoulder pads. We can trace this interesting moment in recent fashion history back to Renaissance Europe. While variations existed from country to country, the general silhouette for women was characterized by wide shoulders, an extremely narrow waist, and very broad hips. The look was achieved with architectural undergarments like the corset and the farthingale, which was an early precursor to the hoop skirt, or crinoline, of the Victorian 1800s. For a prime example of the silhouette achieved with a corset and farthingale, look up a painting of Queen Elizabeth I. The corsets of the era made a woman’s upper body look quite conical, almost like an inverted triangle. Queen Elizabeth’s shoulders are even further accentuated by big puffy sleeves, wider at the shoulder and narrower at the wrist. These were called leg-o-mutton sleeves, and I do not look forward to the day when they come back into vogue. Anyway, the accentuated shoulder look for women was popular again in the 1980s, though to a much less dramatic degree, vis a vis shoulder pads. If Lady Gaga has any influence on modern fashion, we may see a resurgence of the shoulder pad.

I, like many people, use a staple of ancient Egyptian fashion in my daily routine: eyeliner. Men and women alike used kohl to outline and enhance their eyes. In fact, many modern grooming routines can be traced back to ancient Egypt: shaving, moisturizing, pedicures, deodorant, and many varieties of makeup, just to name a few.

Tracking fashion fads through history tends to be easier for women’s fashion than men’s because, at least in Western cultures, men’s basic fashion hasn’t evolved much since Beau Brummell. I’m speaking of course, of suits. Men’s suits owe absolutely everything to this fashionable gentleman from the Regency Period. Streamlined fitted pants, linen shirt, trim waistcoat or suit jacket – minimal, simple, and a classic look that has defined business wear for about 200 years.

Tim Gunn knows what I’m talking about. For a fun, quirky, witty, and practical look at fashion history and its influences on your own closet and fashion choices, check out “Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet.” We have a copy in the Norwood Library up in the fashion history section, which you can peruse by visiting the 391 call number section on the mezzanine level. For a slightly more academic perspective with great color photographs, try “The Complete History of Costume & Fashion” by Bronwyn Cosgrave. If you own more pairs of shoes than you can count off the top of your head, you need to flip through “Shoes, an Illustrated History,” by Rebecca Shawcross; the large color photos are amazing, and you won’t believe some of the historic shoes.

We define so much of our personal identities with our clothing and fashion, yet pretty much everything in fashion has already been done somewhere, sometime. There’s something comforting in the thought that even something as mundane as deciding what to wear today has indelible ties to the past and our predecessors. Remember, just be yourself – but you can also be Cleopatra, Twiggy, Madonna, and King Henry VIII at the same time. And they said I’d never use that Costume History class…

Liz Reed is an Adult Services and Information Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Liz’s column in the March 30th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


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