Research Rabbit Hole – Eloping in Chicago

Welcome to what may become a semi-regular feature here. Often I find myself getting hung up on a tiny historical detail that pops up while I’m writing. I go to Google thinking I’ll find a quick answer…  then 2 hours later I’ll look up and realize a huge chunk of time has been lost researching something I didn’t really need to research in the first place. The problem then is that I find myself with all of this interesting knowledge that doesn’t really fit in any of my books, and I just have to share it with somebody. So that’s you, lucky reader! For example, I found myself with a burning desire to know about marriage laws and the logistics of how an amorous couple from Chicago would go about eloping in 1939. (This relates to two sentences in book 3, by the way, and it’s taken hours of research to find the answer I was looking for. And no, I don’t think sharing that tidbit with you is a spoiler – in case you’re worried.)

If any of you read Regency romances you’re probably familiar with the oft-used trope of a couple running off to Gretna Green, Scotland to elope. (For those of you not familiar, Scotland had very lax marriage laws in the late 18th to mid 19th centuries and Gretna Green was right over the border. So English couples could dash off and be married quickly – not like in England where there were stricter laws in place.) And I think we’ve all seen the old movies or TV shows where a couple hauls a justice of the peace out off bed in the middle of the night to marry them… I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wondered if that actually happened. (Amazingly, it could have.)

Apparently, Kenosha, WI (very near where I currently live) was the Gretna Green for Chicago in the late 19th century or at least in 1894, according to this newspaper article below. Then Wisconsin added a residency requirement for a marriage certificate. Good-bye, quickie Wisconsin weddings.

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Waukegan, IL seemed to be lobbying to become the Gretna Green for Chicago residents after this. No offense, Waukeganites, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to honeymoon there like this article asserts. But things were different in 1899, I suppose.

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During Prohibition many states passed “gin marriage” laws to install a waiting period after obtaining the marriage license before the ceremony itself could go ahead – presumably so the participants had time to sober up and think about whether marriage was really the best idea. A “hygienic marriage law” was also passed in many states, including Illinois in 1937, meaning that couples needed to prove they didn’t have venereal disease (syphilis, in particular) to obtain a marriage license. No surprise that applications for marriage licenses plummeted in Cook County shortly thereafter. That’s because couples were flocking the roughly 40 miles east to Crown Point, IN* to elope since Indiana was one of the few neighboring states that still had very relaxed marriage laws (The only law in force there at the time was that you could not be a minor and obtain a marriage license. I guess everything else was fair game?)

The verdict? After all of this research, I found that the answer to my original question was, sadly, no. A couple from Chicago would not likely have run off to a local Gretna Green to get married on the spur of the moment in 1939. It seems Crown Point had quite a booming business in elopements for most of the first part of the 20th century – until January 1938, that is, when Indiana stopped issuing marriage licenses to women who did not reside in the Indiana county in question. Indiana’s own hygienic marriage law soon went into effect shutting down the “marriage mills” for good. This article from January 1909 is an interesting read about the quickie marriage business there when it was still booming.

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There were other places a Chicago couple in love could have gone to get hitched quickly in 1939 – Missouri, for example, but that was quite a drive over bumpy and unreliable roads. Might as well get your blood test and go through the waiting period and not have to travel across the entire state suffering potholes, am I right?

Ah, romance.

P.S. After I did all of this research I came upon this Post-Tribune article from June of this year that uses almost exactly the same source info. Good thing I didn’t find it first. That would have ruined all my fun. 🙂

*Incidentally, Crown Point, IN is the home of the “escape proof” Lake County Jail that John Dillinger broke out of in 1934 using a hand-carved wooden gun blackened with shoe polish. But to go into that would be a rabbit hole within a rabbit hole, wouldn’t it… ?

A Taste of Book 2 – Disturb Not the Dead

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I thought I’d share a little about Book 2 in the Viv and Charlie Mystery Series, since I’ve been asked about it a lot recently. (It’s great to hear that people are excited for #2, by the way!). DISTURB NOT THE DEAD, comes out in October 2017. It’s set about two months after the events of the first book – at Christmastime 1938. Vivian stumbles upon something that flips everything she thought she knew about her beloved (and now deceased) father on its head. Expect more radio station intrigue (especially with Vivian’s star on the rise) and more historic Chicago detail woven throughout. And of course, Charlie is roped in to help Vivian get to the bottom of everything.

I was just told last week that Sourcebooks is working on the cover for #2 as we speak (using the same fabulous artist that created the cover for THE DARKNESS KNOWS, Coco Masuda). I can’t wait to see it! (And as soon as I see it I’ll be sure to share it here with all of you!)

The first chapter of DISTURB NOT THE DEAD actually appears at the end of THE DARKNESS KNOWS and opens on Vivian lackadaisically decorating the Christmas tree with her younger brother, Everett. Check there for a teaser of what’s in store for Vivian (and Charlie and Graham and everyone else)… and here’s the first paragraph of the book’s synopsis. (To share any more of it would give the story away, and I wouldn’t want to do that!) 

Rising radio star, VIVIAN WITCHELL, finds an envelope of cash and a threatening note in her dead father’s desk during the family Christmas party. Arthur Witchell, once a prominent Chicago attorney, has been dead for almost eight years. But something tells Vivian there’s something to this discovery and more to her father than she’d thought possible – especially when the money and the note disappear from the locked desk drawer. Someone had been threatening her father’s life shortly before he died, and someone wants to stop Vivian from finding out about that threat now.

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You can follow my Pinterest board for DISTURB NOT THE DEAD if you’d like a little peak into the inspiration behind the story including 30s fashions, vintage Chicago photos, and popular music of the period. It was so fun “visiting” Chicago at Christmas in 1938. I also have a relatively new Instagram account where I’ve started sharing ephemera from my (alarming large) collection of vintage magazines.

Sometimes It’s Hard to be a Woman*

I love the era my books are set in – the fashions, the music, the movies, etc. I love it, but I also think that, though the 1930s are a lovely place to visit, I most definitely wouldn’t want to live there. I’ve been doing research on Book #3 in the Viv and Charlie Mystery Series, and I found all of the following ads in ONE magazine from June 1939. It was tough to be a woman then (and especially a woman of any color/creed other than generic WASP). Basically, a woman’s sole goal then boiled down to get a man and keep him happy. And keeping him happy was, apparently, the hard part.

If you don’t have a husband it’s probably because you stink.

Colgate

Maybe you’re lucky enough to have snagged a man… But then why has your husband giving you the bums rush lately? And why are the neighborhood ladies snickering behind their hands when you walk by? Well, it’s because you stink and you’re dirty, of course.

Lux

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(If you’re having trouble decoding that Lysol ad, here’s what women were expected to do with Lysol back then.  Yes, that’s the very same Lysol you spray on your toilet today as a disinfectant.)

Or perhaps your husband is unhappy and is about to leave you because not only are you dirty and you stink, but you are underweight and moody (probably from all that laundry you’ve been doing).

Ironized Yeast

Women are still told through ads that we aren’t good enough, of course. But I’d like to think it’s done today in a subtler and less man-centric way. Or maybe I’m just kidding myself…

*Apologies to Tammy Wynette. And you reader, because now you have that song stuck in your head.

Library Love

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I’m not the first to think that writing is an isolating occupation. I sit alone, usually with earbuds in, typing out a story that exists only my head. I now have a book out there in the world, and presumably people are reading it. I can see the book’s sales on Amazon (I still haven’t decided whether that’s good or bad to know such things.) But what I get the biggest kick out of is checking the OCLC – World Library Catalog to see what libraries in the US have my book on their shelves. I can even click on each location to see how many copies they have and whether they’re checked out (I let out a little squee of excitement when I find holds placed on it).

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I heart libraries. I always have. I’ve had and used a library card every place I’ve ever lived. I have very fond memories of begging my mom to take me to the tiny Ottoville Public Library on Wednesday nights (Wednesdays because that’s the only day they stayed open later than 5 PM). It’s still located in the same building, by the way, but it looks like late hours are now on Mondays. (I’m not sure if my book’s there. Can someone local check for me?)

So it thrills me a little that people all over the country are happening upon a book I’ve written on the New Arrivals shelf, picking it, and checking it out – just like I’ve done countless times over the years.

In Case You Missed Them

I’ve recently guested on some lovely blogs and thought I’d share those links here.

I wrote about “Writing a Woman Sleuth” on the History From a Woman’s Perspective blog.

I discussed research and “Writing an Authentic Historical Mystery” for the Recipe for Murder blog.

And finally, I related a favorite anecdote from my travels and The Magic of Coincidence (or Avoiding Jail Time in Rome) on the Dear Reader blog.

And here’s a bonus photo of THE DARKNESS KNOWS awaiting prospective readers on the New Arrivals table at my local Barnes & Noble (just because). Doesn’t it look pretty?

On the Shelf at BandN

 

A Very Brief History of Old Time Radio in Chicago

(I wrote this brief history of Chicago radio for my publicist at Sourcebooks, and I thought I’d share.)

Radio Tattler

Chicago was a major player in radio from the beginning of the medium in the early 1920s. AM band stations (which was all they had at the time) were and are known for their strength of signal. Because of the flat geography of the Midwest, it was possible tune in a Chicago broadcast from the east coast all the way to the Rockies. Chicago was also a central switching point for transcontinental network lines (like NBC, CBS), and production facilities in Chicago fed programming to the various time zones in the days before pre-recording technology. The networks were committed to 19 hours of original programming a day and a good portion of that came out of Chicago.

National favorite programs originating from Chicago included Fibber McGee and Molly and Amos ‘n’ Andy (both eventually moved production to Hollywood).  One of my personal favorite spooky shows Lights Out originated in Chicago.

The soap opera format was pioneered in Chicago by Irna Phillips on WGN in the early 1930s. Many soaps were produced in Chicago, among them one of the most popular soaps of the radio era, Vic and Sade. The Guiding Light started in 1937 in Chicago and played on radio for 15 years before moving to television to become the longest running soap opera of all time (72 years!).

There were live radio remotes from Chicago nightclubs like the Empire Room, the Edgewater Hotel, etc… that showcased sets from the top bands of the day like Benny Goodman (who was born in Chicago). “Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge” was a popular national musical quiz show broadcast live from Chicago’s Blackhawk restaurant.

Radio guides and fan magazines in the 1930s had three distinct gossip columns focusing on New York, Hollywood, and Chicago. That’s a screenshot above of a Chicago gossip column from a December 1938 issue of Radio Guide.

There were three major stations/networks in Chicago in the late 1930s. (WCHI – The station in The Darkness Knows is completely fictional. J)

  • WGN – CBS/Mutual Broadcasting (broadcast from the Wrigley Building)
  • WMAQ – NBC Blue Network (broadcast from the Merchandise Mart)
  • WLS (Standing for World’s Largest Store – aka Sears) was famous for its programming aimed at the farmers of the rural Midwest. The station was famous for The National Barn Dance with the “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry

Chicago itself was also a major stopping point for those traveling from NYC to LA. They had to change trains and stations while in Chicago. That meant a lot of celebrities stopped, at least briefly, in Chicago during that era and were interviewed on the radio and had their photos taken for the newspaper.

Comedian Jack Benny was from Waukegan (where I lived briefly) and mentioned it often on his popular radio program.

Chicago’s heavy involvement in producing original radio content petered out by the end of WWII. Most shows were produced in LA or NYC after this time. And radio, as a medium of original content anyway, died out with the growing popularity of television in the 1950s.

In Honor of #AudioDramaSunday

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It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of old time radio… I’m writing a mystery series around it after all. But the problem with old time radio is, well, it’s old. It is a finite resource. New episodes of shows like Lights Out, Jack Benny and Gunsmoke stopped being produced sometime in the 50s or 60s (or in the case of Lights Out, the 40s). The good news is that audio drama is experiencing something of a resurgence with the rise of podcasting in recent years. In honor of #AudioDramaSunday I’ve made a list of my current favorites below (and as you can see, I like to be scared). Check them out if you get a chance. Happy Listening!

Thrilling Adventure Hour – A stage show and podcast in the style of old-time radio

The Black Tapes – A serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.

Tanis – A serialized docudrama about the myth of Tanis (tangentially related to The Black Tapes above)

Campfire Radio – Original horror

No Sleep – Original first person horror that originated from the nosleep forum on Reddit

Suspense – A revival of the classic old-time radio anthology with all new stories

Manor House – Original horror

Fireside Mystery Theatre – An old-fashioned, live radio show with a modern horror twist. Recorded live in Manhatten.