v26-3 Edgewater Teaser #29

Vol. XXVI No. 3 - FALL 2015

In the last issue of the newsletter we wrote that Roger McCabe, in the Spring/Summer 1992 issue of the Scrapbook, related a story his father told him about Gloria Swanson. His father claimed that she was born on Ashland Avenue between Foster and Balmoral Avenues and that as a young girl she often visited the first fire station at Balmoral and Ashland to pet the horses. We asked: How accurate is this story?

Answer: EHS board member Marsha Holland extensively researched Gloria Swanson’s early life and here is some of what she found: Gloria Swanson was born in June 1899 to Joseph Theodore and Adelaide Mae (Klanowsky) Swanson. According to what Gloria was told (presumably by her mother) she was born in an apartment at what is now 3703 N. Kenmore. A Chicago Tribune item dated March 31, 1933 has her visiting Chicago with her husband Michael Farmer and showing him where she was born. The address was the same. The 1900 census shows her living with her parents at 885 (now 3124) Seminary. The 1900 City Directory confirms this address. Thus, it is clear she was not born in Edgewater.

But what about the story that she visited the fire house on Balmoral and Ashland? Is this story true? Unfortunately, unlike a place of birth, the story cannot be proven or disproven based on documentary evidence. Sometime in 1908, according to her autobiography, she and her mother moved to Florida and then, in 1910, to Puerto Rico. (Her father was in the military and had been transferred several times.) Before then, none of the places where they lived was in Edgewater. Sometime in 1913 (again according to her autobiography) she and her mother moved back to Chicago, but where they lived in 1913 and 1914 is unknown. However, the 1915 City Directory shows her mother living at 4215 N. Leavitt, along with Gloria herself, with her occupation given as “actress.”

According to her autobiography she graduated from Lincoln School in June 1914. In January 1916, at age 16, she and her mother moved to California, and neither of them ever again took up residence in Chicago. What happened after that made her a legend.

But there is an Edgewater connection… sort of. Herman Klanowsky, Jr. and his wife Nannie (Johnson) lived at 745 (now 1615) Foster (Edgewater’s southern boundary) in a two-flat which they shared with Nannie’s parents and Nannie’s younger sister Inga, with each family living in one of the two apartments. Herman Klanowsky, Jr was Gloria’s mother’s brother, and thus Gloria’s maternal uncle. He had lived at 1615 since at least 1904, when Gloria was five. It is very probable that Gloria and her mother visited the Klanowsky family at this address and on more than one occasion. (Herman and Adelaide were less than two years apart in age, and thus presumably close). Since 1615 Foster is just a few blocks from the fire station at Balmoral, it is not improbable that she visited the firehouse during her visits. Supporting this story is the recollection of long time Edgewater resident Dick Gengler who, in a 1986 interview, mentioned that Gloria Swanson used to come to his father’s tavern on Clark Street to take her father home when she was 12 or 14 years old. If true, it was not her father but rather her uncle, as her father was in the military at the time and stationed elsewhere – not in Chicago.

We will, of course, never know for sure, but it’s nice to think that Gloria Swanson set foot in our museum (even before it was a museum and even though it was the earlier fire house, not the current one). But it at least makes the ground sacred!

Herman Klanowsky, Jr later moved to the Los Angeles area in the 1920s and died there in 1957. His father, Herman Klanowsky Sr, is buried in a mausoleum in Rosehill Cemetery, as is Gloria’s father Joseph Theodore, who died in California in 1923.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, City Directories, Census records, Swanson on Swanson, and James Craig’s blog, Under Every Stone

Teaser #30

Where was the first public grammar school in present-day Edgewater located? And what was it called?