NEWS COLUMNS

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2014

HISTORY AND CHANGE IN THE NEW YEAR

By James Johnson

Originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
January 11, 2006

Sixty years ago, Chester Gould opened his “Dick Tracy” strip by poking fun at advertising. His daily strip from Jan. 1, 1946, showed B.O. Plenty standing outside a department store window, shivering in the cold and looking at the display. A loudspeaker over the sidewalk played the store’s jingle, “A Happy New Year will be yours, if you do your shopping at Blottsis Stores.” B.O. had just been released by the captain of a tramp steamer for which he had been shanghaied as a crew member. “Clear to China and back” he had gone. At the time, B.O. was a suspect in a murder, so he was happy to lay low for awhile. Back at headquarters,, Chief Brandon toasted the arrival of 1946 with Dick Tracyt, Tess, Junior and Pat Patton.

Blottsis Stores, if it ever existed, is long gone. So also will be Marshall Field’s this year. Chicago’s premier department store identity will join departed names like The Fair, Robert Hall, Rothschilds, Montgomery Ward, Wieboldts, The Boston Store and many others. The Macy organization is even taking away the name of the venerable Hecht’s department stores in Washington, D.C. The Macy’s name dates back to Rowland Macy’s first New York City store in 1857, but to Midwest residents, it is just a store in an old Christmas movie. Stop & Shop is gone, as are High-Low Foods, National Tea and Krogers.

Famed restaurants also disappear. The Berghoff will join the Como Inn and Trader Vic’s in closing; others like Red Star Inn, Henrici’s, Su Casa and Le Petit Gourmet are long gone. In Woodstock, the loss of the wonderful Jailhouse Restaurant has impacted the community directly. Woodstock is fortunate to have other good restaurants, but residents will miss this local favorite.
The McHenry County Historical Society’s newsletter for winter, 2005 mentioned that in 1920, Woodstock had four meat markets, three hardware stores, four clothing stores and numerous other small establishments. Retailing methods change; consolidation and cost-cutting gradually replace personal service for most customers.

Museums, of course, are in the business of preserving his history. Just as a town’s historical preservation commission tries to save the landmark structures that define a community, a museum preserves the creative processes and products of industry, agriculture, art and other aspects of American life. The Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum house hundreds of examples of Gould’s lifetime of creativity. His earliest boyhood drawings and cartoons, through his 46 years of drawing Dick Tracy are all here. Gould’s artistic talent combined art, literature and technology into a unique entertainment and educational product. It sold newspapers, launched merchandise spin-offs and encouraged development of movie and TV drama.

Follow-up note: Change continues, Kiddieland disappears after this year, the Sears Tower is renamed, Circuit City and other retail chains close in bankruptcies.

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“They said he was a smart crook, but who ever heard of a bullet being afraid of brains?”
- Chester Gould
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