The City of Chicago was incorporated on March 4, 1837, and the world has never been the same since. Chicago helped shape American history. No one in Chicago actually celebrates this birthday, but true Chicagoans are always aware when March 4 comes and goes without any fanfare.
The City of Chicago Seal was adopted officially in June of 1837. I will try my best to explain the symbols in the seal. I will rely on my memory, which isn’t always very accurate, to recall facts and myths I have heard or read. I remember a little from the Chicago History course I had to take way back in the fourth grade. The Lithuanian nuns at Holy Cross School were just crazy about Chicago History. I’m not sure if there’s even an official explanation of the seal anywhere, but I will try my best to explain its symbolism.
The shield represents the United States of America. The colors of the American flag are represented as are the original thirteen American colonies by the thirteen stripes. The sheaf of wheat represents our abundant agriculture and fertility. The ship represents either Columbus, the Europeans, or the Pilgrims arriving in the New World. The ship is seen and/or greeted by a Native American. In the fourth grade they were called Indians, but we all know that Indians is a misnomer because Columbus never did reach the East Indies as he had planned. Well, Native American isn’t a very good term either. After all, America was named after Amerigo Vespucci who did a better job of selling and publicizing the New World to the Spanish Catholic Monarchs.
The baby in the seashell represents a new beginning. I suppose it also has echoes of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. I remember during Mayor Harold Washington’s reign, some of the African-American alderman wanted to get rid of the white baby because it was a racist symbol. The baby might have been legislated out of the seal, but then someone projected the cost of removing the white baby from every place it appeared in Chicago into the millions of dollars. And so, the City of Chicago still has a white baby. We have learned to live quite well with the white baby.
At the very bottom is the Chicago motto: Urbs in horto, which means city in the garden in Latin. Well, we are a city, but we are no longer in the middle of a garden. And you can thank urban sprawl for that!
I’m often amazed at what my sons can talk me into doing for them, but when I really think about it, I’m not really all that surprised. My father used to ask me for suggestions for things to do when he would pick up my brothers and me for visitation. I always suggested things that sounded wild and farfetched to my father, but for some reason he always took us wherever I suggested. I once suggested going camping even though I never thought my father would take us. But he did! And now, because of that, I take my sons wherever they want to go. In such instances, I realize once again that I’ve become my father.
Once my oldest son suggested that I take them to Skatopia for our summer vacation. Of course, I had never heard of Skatopia. Have you? Besides, it sounds like a made up name anyway. Well, I partly planted the idea of Skatopia in them when I bought them the Tony Hawk video game as a Christmas present. There’s a little film clip of Skatopia in the video game. They showed me the clip, but I said that didn’t mean Skatopia existed. I wanted to know where Skatopia was geographically, but they didn’t know. Later, they told me they saw Skatopia on the cable TV show Viva La Bam starring none other than Bam Margera. My sons are really into skateboarding and they have all kinds of skateboards so I’ve taken them to several skateboard parks in Colorado, Arizona, and Illinois. However, they don’t actually skateboard once we get there. They are too intimidated by all the good skateboarders. Anyway, they asked me again to take to Skatopia when school was over. I still didn’t believe such a place even existed, so I said to them, “Okay, find their website and then I’ll believe you!” I was sure they wouldn’t have a website. That’s the funny thing about me, though. I really don’t believe that anything exists unless it has a website. I was really surprised when my sons called me over to the computer and yelled in unison, “See! There’s a Skatopia!” Okay, where is it? It was in this little town named Rutland in the southeast corner of rural Ohio.
Well, when I go on vacation with my sons, I don’t just go to one place. I try to cram in as many sites and activities as possible. So the plan was that we would go to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, first. Cedar Point is famous for all of its roller coasters. I remember going there years before with my friend Jim Harmon. For some strange reason, I can no longer ride on amusement park rides without getting nauseous. However, I can ride roller coasters all day long and not get sick. Perhaps because the roller coaster ride resembles my driving. Anyway, since we were in Ohio, I told them I wanted to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even if they didn’t like idea. That trip was for me. After all, wasn’t I taking them to Skatopia? But once we got there and they saw all the musical exhibits, they loved the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And as long as we were in Cleveland we went to a Cleveland Indians baseball game who just happened to be in town for our visit. For some fortunate reason, whenever I’m on vacation I’m extremely lucky with timing. We also went to the children’s museum there before heading out to Skatopia in Rutland.
As I was driving south in Ohio, I saw signs for a the Football Hall of Fame in Canton. This was so fortunate! But, alas, my sons were too tired to go to another museum and soon fell asleep. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I got to Rutland, but there were no signs for Skatopia. I stopped at a pizza parlor to ask if anyone knew where Skatopia was. Yes, they did! And they gave me directions, but it was already dark and I had to drive on a gravel road for miles before I got there. Just when I finally beginning to believe that Skatopia actually existed, the road ended and there was nothing but trees in front of me. I thought for sure that we would all die victims to the hatchet murderer you always hear about in Chicago. Suddenly, I wished I was back home in Chicago where I know how to deal with muggers and drive-by shootings. As I was driving around, I saw a man walking in the dark. He looked kind of dirty and he was drinking beer out of a bottle. He also had the remainder of the twelve-pack in a brown paper bag under his arm. I asked him if he knew where Skatopia was and he said that’s exactly where he was going. I don’t know what possessed me at that precise moment, but I told him we were going there, too, and I offered him a ride. I’m so used to doing these types of things when I’m by myself, but this was the first time I ever did anything like this with my sons. Needless to say, we all arrived safely at Skatopia.
Everyone there greeted us cheerfully even though it was already 11:00 p.m. They showed us around even though it was too dark to see very much. I really liked the skateboard museum they had. This museum consisted of skateboards from every era since their invention to the present day. They were hanging on the walls, from the ceiling, stacked up in the corner. There were skateboards everywhere! I even saw a skateboard like the one I had in the 1960s! Skatopia was a very appropriate name for this museum and the rest of the place. Whenever they traveled, they bought whatever skateboards they saw at yard sales and antique shops. I was truly impressed.
It was late and we were all tired, so they offered to let us stay on their land for the night. Unfortunately, we didn’t have tents and sleeping bags, so we went to a nearby motel. We returned the next day and spent most of the day there. They taught my sons some tricks on the skateboard. Yes, I actually saw my sons skateboarding! Even I tried skateboarding. But I kept falling down. Then I remembered why I stopped skateboarding as a kid. I was amazed by how many people stopped by because their kids wanted to see Skatopia. We got to see half-pipe where Bam Margera filmed his show. They were so happy that we had visited them that they sold us the very same skateboard that Bam Margera used for the video for a mere $60. All in all, we all had fun and still recall that summer vacation fondly.