In 1926 a colorful new magazine appeared on newsstands and in magazine racks across Chicago. The Chicagoan was the Windy City’s attempt at an arts and culture magazine to rival the sophistication of the New Yorker, whose first issue was published only months before. But while the New Yorker would grow to reach a national audience, maintaining a wide circulation even in today’s anti-print climate, after nine short but exciting years that straddled “prohibition, the depression and the jazz age,” the Chicagoan folded and was forgotten—until now. Enter Neil Harris’s new book The Chicagoan: A Lost Magazine of the Jazz Age—a fascinating collection of articles, photographs, and illustrations that, as a recent review in the UK’s Spectator magazine notes, brings the heyday of the publication—and the city—back to life:
Think quiz. ‘A crescent-shaped town, 26 miles by 15, along a great lake. An unchallenged murder record—a splendid university—hobo capital to the country—and the finest of grand opera. Altogether the most zestful spectacle on this earth.’ Where are we? In case of doubt, the city’s short-lived house magazine spelled out the answer in 48 point type, ‘Chi – CA – go.’ Actually the emphasis should have been on the Chic, because as demonstrated by this elegant collection of covers, illustrations and stories from the Chicagoan, in its heyday Chicago was the most stylish, exciting and quintessentially American of all the cities that encircle the United States landmass. New York looked over its shoulder to Europe, New Orleans pretended to be French, San Francisco was a rootless amalgam of Spanish mission and Pacific piracy, but Chicago sucked pure Americana out of the corn, cattle and railroads of the mid-West to create a culture that was unique to the continent. Forget Al Capone and the stench of the stockyards, this is where Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman made an art out of jazz, where Frank Lloyd Wright created modern architecture, where skyscrapers, city parks and suburbs were born.
Even the New Yorker itself has published a brief review acknowledging its long-lost counterpart’s return to the stage.
Also, see this special website for the book featuring a gallery of sample cover images.