A Sparkling Vintage Life

Monthly Archives: March 2021

The Rose Keeper, Day 4: Dressel’s Bakery

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara’s favorite cake is a chocolate whipped cream cake from Dressel’s Bakery in Cicero.In a rather melancholy scene at the hospital where she works, “With a sigh, Clara glanced down the hallway toward the break room, then turned away, knowing her presence at the party would no longer be welcome, even though the chocolate whipped cream cake from Dressel’s Bakery was her very favorite too.” (Don’t worry; she doesn’t stay sad forever!)

I ran across this interesting article about Dressel’s Bakery in the Chicago Tribune. Seems I wasn’t the only one who loved it. I do remember the cakes being available in the freezer section of Jewel, although it seems to me the frozen cakes weren’t quite as good as the fresh variety. But they were still plenty good. And then one day they simply weren’t there anymore.

Those who remember Dressel’s cakes seem to fall into two camps: those who liked the chocolate whipped cream best, and those who preferred the strawberry.  A quick survey on a local Facebook group yielded many comments, of which the following are representative:

“I drool just thinking about that cake. Loved it! We had it for every birthday!”

“I used to walk there on Cermak to get my cakes. I loved that store.”

“Oh, man, I’m drooling I loved that cake. Very devastated when then closed the Dressel’s stores.”

“Chocolate whipped cream cake was an absolute MUST for all our birthdays.”

“My choice for birthday cake was always the yellow whipped cream cake with strawberry filling!”

There are a few recipes floating around on the internet, promising to taste just like the original. I’ve been collecting them, but haven’t gotten up the nerve to try one yet. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that’s perfect in memory only.

What was your favorite dessert as a child? Or now?

The Rose Keeper, Day 5: The Illinois Training School for Nurses

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara took her nurses’ training at the Illinois Training School for Nurses, graduating in 1915. The story shows her starting her first job at the fictional Memorial Hospital. Thirty years later, she’s still there,overseeing the younger nurses in the Women’s Medical ward.

Nursing students in a demonstration class in amphitheatre at the Cook County Hospital. “The hospital amphitheatre offers the best place [for instruction], the raised seats giving a good view to all and plenty of room.” (A History of the Illinois Training School for Nurses, 1880-1929) Photo source: Cook County School of Nursing records; University of Illinois at Chicago. Library. Special Collections and University Archives Department (Library of the Health Sciences)

The Illinois Training School for Nurses (ITS) was founded in 1880. According to an interesting history of the school written in 1929, “the purpose of the founders was twofold: first, to train young women to care scientifically for the sick, so establishing a new and dignified profession for women and at the same time making available to the public a valuable service; and second, to give patients in the Cook County Hospital care far better than that of the untrained and politically chosen attendents then employed.”

According to the archives of the University of Ilinois, ITS was “the first Nightingale-type nurse training school in the Midwest U.S. The school’s founders included such prominent Chicago women as Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson, Lucy Flower, and Margaret Lawrence. These progressive-era women aimed to improve the nursing care of the city’s sick poor while allowing Midwestern young women to prepare for the new occupation of trained nursing. The prestigious new school attracted early nursing leaders to serve as superintendents, including Isabel Hampton Robb and Lavinia Lloyd Dock. The student nurses primarily trained at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital.”

In Clara’s day the curriculum would have included anatomy and physiology, hygiene, bacteriology, surgical, medical and gynecological nursing, obstetrics, pediatrics, and care of the “nervous and insane,” and something called “materia medica” (the study of substances used for healing). as well as practical nursing and cooking. Students worked nine hours per day shift or twelve hours per night shift, with a half-day off on Sunday and one half-holiday during the week. Training in contagious diseases and tuberculosis was optional, but the superintendent at the time stated, “as evidence of the earnestness and bravery with which the average nurse pursues her course of instruction, a large per cent of the pupils … elect to pass through this trying ordeal.” Clinics offered in-depth learning of special techniques. Thus “Patients, beds, and appliances are provided and used, leaving as little room to the imagination as possible.”

Clearly Clara had been well prepared for her duties as a nurse at Memorial Hospital. But being a good nurse requires more qualities than just technical skill. How did she fare on the “softer” skills? Read THE ROSE KEEPER to find out!





The Rose Keeper, Day 6: MacNeal Hospital

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara works as a nurse at Chicago’s fictional “Memorial Hospital,” which is loosely based on MacNeal Hospital in Cicero’s neighboring suburb of Berwyn. I didn’t use the “real” MacNeal Hospital since certain details didn’t suit the narrative, such as the date of founding. But I would have liked to for several reasons, not least of which is because MacNeal Hospital was my birthplace!

In 1919, Dr. Arthur MacNeal. a Michigan native and graduate of Chicago’s Rush Medical School, opened a clinic in his Berwyn home.  He is credited as being one of the first physicians to use a vaccine against diphtheria and also had one of the first X-ray machines in the country.

Photo source: https://whyberwyn.com

In 1924 the first 3-story hospital was constructed on the MacNeal property, with the fourth story added in 1929. Subsequent expansions and innovations have brought MacNeal to its current status as a 374-bed, well respected teaching hospital.

Today MacNeal Hospital is part of the Loyola Medicine and Trinity health systems, under the auspices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

A side note: To celebrate National Hospital Week in, I’m guessing, 1960 or 1961, I participated as a member of the “royal family” of babies born at MacNeal. I don’t remember a thing about the experience, which is probably just as well. Still, it’s a cherished photo of me and my mom.


The Rose Keeper, Day 7: Western Electric Company

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara’s neighbor Laurie gets a job at the local Western Electric manufacturing facility called the Hawthorne Works (the town of Cicero was originally named Hawthorne) or just “the Western.” Since the time period is World War II, she’s working on a government defense project that is “hush, hush.”

But for most of the twentieth century, the Western Electric Company was Cicero’s primary employer. It was the chief manufacturer of telephone equipment for the Bell Telephone System (later AT&T)  and other consumer goods, such as electric fans and refrigerators. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Western Electric “pioneered new technologies such as the high-vacuum tube, the condenser microphone, and radio systems for airplanes.”

The sprawling Hawthorne Works was considered a state-of-the-art facility when it opened in 1905. At its peak, it employed 45,000 workers.  It closed in 1984 with the dismantling of the Bell System. Today the property is the site of a shopping center, with only the water tower remaining from the original structure.


Photo source: Forgotten Chicago


Photo source: MrHarman, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


People who worked at Western Electric, including several members of my own extended family, tended to speak of it fondly of it. A 1932 company publication called “Hawthorne: A City Within a City” described it thusly:

“Physically, Hawthorne is a modern industrial plant with 86 buildings containing over 3,000,000 square feet of available floor space. One never suspects in viewing the exterior that behind these buildings is an inner court, beautifully landscaped. There are winding streets and sidewalks, and seas of green lawns dotted with floral islands. Hawthorne is, in fact, a city in itself. It has its own police staff, a fire department, a completely equipped hospital, cooperative stores, a laundry, a railroad, a power house, a gas works, restaurants, and even its own water supply. Each month enough electricity is used to illuminate 450,000 average homes—enough to take care of a city the size of Memphis, Tennessee. In the same period gas enough to supply a city as large as Dallas, Texas, is generated and consumed.”

The company provided many benefits to its employees, taking a paternalistic approach that some today call “welfare capitalism.” Perks included death and insurance benefits, home loans, social clubs, night classes, and sports teams. Even after the ill-fated picnic of 1915, the employee-run Hawthorne Club continued to organize social events like dances and trips to Riverview Park and Wrigley Field.

In 1925, Elton Mayo of Harvard University conducted well-known industrial studies at the Hawthorne Works. One lasting outcome of those studies was “the Hawthorne effect,” in which individuals adjust their behavior when they’re aware of being watched. Industrial scholars continue to debate and discuss the methodology and results of these studies.

Many artifacts and documents pertaining to the Western Electric Company can be viewed at the Hawthorne Museum operated by Morton College in Cicero, Illinois.

The Rose Keeper, Day 8: Cermak Road



Cermak Road, also known as 22nd Street, is a 19-mile-long, major street that runs east and west from Chicago through the city’s western suburbs. The portion that concerns us runs through Cicero, Clara Janacek’s town in THE ROSE KEEPER, whose border smacks right up against Chicago’s western boundary. It’s where Clara and her neighbors do all their shopping, banking, and other errands. On a trip to downtown Chicago, she reflects, “She didn’t travel to the Loop often. Even though it wasn’t far from Cicero, it felt exotic and strange, like she imagined a foreign capital must feel, having never actually traveled to one. She preferred doing business at the friendly, family-owned shops of Cermak Road to State Street’s elegant department stores and boutiques, where she felt frumpy and out of place.”

Cermak Road was named after Democratic politician Anton Cermak, a Czech citizen who served as Mayor of Chicago from 1931 until his untimely death in 1933. On February 15, 1933, Cermak was shot dead by an assassin who was aiming for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The portion of 22nd Street than runs through the Chicago neighborhoods of Pilsen and Lawndale and the suburbs of Cicero and Berwyn was renamed Cermak Road in his honor, because they were heavily Czech-American at the time. In THE ROSE KEEPER some of the old-timers are still in the habit of calling it 22nd Street. Old habits die hard.

Author Norbert Blei, who grew up in Cicero, described Cermak Road this way in his book Neighborhood: “a river of restaurants, savings and loan companies, bakeries, butcher shops and bargain stores … engulfing everything and everybody. Other nationalities continue to thrive here, but the temper is Bohemian.” He went on to say, “When the old babickas [grandmas] in paisley babushkas, carrying brown paper and black cloth shopping bags, went to the stores on Cermak, they came from the basements, bungalows, two-flats, and small houses north and south of Cermak Road … the meat markets, milk stores, bakeries, fruit and vegetable stands, building and loans, banks, small department stores, shoemakers, many with names they could relate to: Pavlicek’s Drug Store, Ruzicka Kobzina, Sekera, and others for furniture. Sebesta, Shotola, Verners, and many more for meat. Pancner for Bohemian books, Bohemian greeting cards, stationery, Czech crystal, and funeral homes like Clasen, Cermak, Chrastka, Marik, and Svec.”

During Prohibition, notoriety came to Cermak Road in the form of Al Capone, who headquartered his gangster activity at the Hawthorne Inn in 1924. According to an article on moon.com, “During the 1924 municipal elections, Capone turned the town of Cicero into a war zone: he bullied voters, kidnapped pollsters, and threatened news reports into voting for the people who supported his criminal behavior.” An altercation ensued with the cops that killed Al’s brother, Frank. Capone also warred with the North Side gang run by Dion O’Banion. According to Wikipedia, “On September 20, 1926, the North Side Gang used a ploy outside the Capone headquarters at the Hawthorne Inn, aimed at drawing him to the windows. Gunmen in several cars then opened fire with Thompson submachine guns and shotguns at the windows of the first-floor restaurant. Capone was unhurt and called for a truce, but the negotiations fell through.” More years of gang warfare ensued, culminating in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater on February 14, 1929.

By World War II, the main time period of THE ROSE KEEPER, Capone was long gone from the neighborhood. After serving a prison sentence for tax evasion in the 1930s, he was released in poor health, suffering complications from syphilis. He died in 1947 at his Florida mansion.

Nonetheless, his reputation lingered, as did Cicero’s reputation as a rough-and-tumble town. In THE ROSE KEEPER, our heroine awakens to a loud bang. “Clara shot straight up in bed, disoriented, jerked out of a sound sleep by the sharp retort of a pistol. Land sakes, was the Capone bang back in town, trading gunfire in the middle of Cermak Road?”

But for most peaceful citizens of Cicero, Cermak Road was just a bustling, thriving neighborhood thoroughfare of butchers, bakers, banks, and babushkas. Clara and Jerry enjoy hot pancakes on a cold winter day at Seneca Restaurant. For a special occasion, she buys a dress at DeMar’s Dress Shop, which was one of my grandmother’s favorites as well.

Tune in again tomorrow when I’ll share another behind-the-scenes story or fact as we count down to THE ROSE KEEPER!


The Rose Keeper, Day 9: What in the Heck is a Two-Flat?

I was well advanced in years before I realized that not everyone outside of the Chicago area understands what a “two-flat” is.  “Two-flat,” like “forest preserve” and “decent pizza,” seems to be an unfamiliar concept to much of the world. So here’s your handy primer to All Things Two-Flat.

The Chicago Tribune amusingly defined a two-flat as “a residential, two-story brick building with a common front entrance and separate residences on each floor. One floor is often reserved, reluctantly, for mother-in-law. Common source of extra income/aggravation for Chicagoans.” In other parts of the world, this sort of arrangement might be called a “duplex,” but in Chicago a duplex means two side-by-side residences connected by a common wall, while two-flats are vertical. The floor of the top unit is the ceiling of the bottom unit.

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara and Jerry live in a two-flat, surrounded by other two flats. Here’s an idea of what their street looks like. (The taller building is a three-flat, the others are two-flats):

Jerry, who owns the building, occupies the top floor and Clara, his tenant and friend, rents the main floor. They share a common front door and entryway. Clara’s apartment opens off the entryway, while Jerry’s is up a flight of stairs.

In addition, Jerry has built a small third apartment in the spacious basement. You see, it’s World War II, and with workers flooding in to work in nearby defense plants, the industrial town of Cicero is experiencing a housing shortage, so many homeowners are taking in boarders. When Jerry rents the basement apartment to a vivacious young factory worker and her precocious daughter, well, that’s when things really get interesting.

The units in a two- or three-flat are also connected at the back by a conglomeration of stairs and landings that technically serve as a fire escape, but are often euphemistically referred to as the “back porch.” Here’s an idea of what that looks like:

The basement apartment is only accessible through the back. There’s also a small backyard, where Clara keeps a vegetable garden, and a small one-car garage. Her beloved rosebush is in the front.

If you’re interested in learning more about the iconic–and apparently endangered–Chicago two-flat, here’s an interesting article on Curbed Chicago.

Tune in again tomorrow when I’ll share another behind-the-scenes story or fact as we count down to THE ROSE KEEPER!




10 Days Until THE ROSE KEEPER releases! Here’s how the cover came to be

As we count down to the highly anticipated March 15 release of THE ROSE KEEPER, I thought it would be fun to share a behind-the-scenes story or fact for each day. Today we’ll look at where the cover came from.

In the 1915 part of the story, Clara is a fresh-faced graduate of the Illinois Training School for Nurses, starting her first job at the fictional Memorial Hospital. When I looked for images of nurses from that era, I stumbled upon a wonderful image of a Red Cross nurse, not only from that decade but from that exact year–1915! She even resembled Clara in my imagination. And the image was in the public domain, being over 95 years old. So I ordered the magazine cover–yes, the real, actual, worn-and-torn magazine cover–from an Etsy shop and sent it to my designer, who worked her magic to make it cover-worthy.

I also wanted an image from the real-life Eastland disaster at the heart of the story. The Chicago History Museum came through for me, and I purchased the rights to this image from them and, again, sent it to my patient and talented cover designer to place in the background.

Finally, I wanted the cover of THE ROSE KEEPER to resemble the first book in the series, MOONDROP MIRACLE. I think the designer succeeded at doing that, using similar image placements and fonts. I think she did a great job, don’t you?

(PS: Readers have asked me whether they should read Book 1 before Book 2 in the series. I’m happy to say … no! The books are essentially standalones, tied together by theme more than story or character. So they can be read in any order.)

So that’s how the cover came to be! Stop by tomorrow when I’ll post another behind-the-scenes story.

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