One of my favorite things to do is gather weird facts about places I have never been then spot them come up in pop culture years later. We’ll be watching TV and a character will reference Ivydale West Virginia as a place where someone got murdered, and I’ll known Ivydale West Virginia as the place a truck driver mentioned getting lost on that episode of Joanie Loves Chachi. It’s a weird habit but sometimes it pays off on bar trivia nights. I’m guessing there are a few of you out there who also collect town-specific factoids, so I thought it might be fun to share the 411 on my favorite place. Home.
I live in Evanston Illinois, which is a Midwestern college town wedged between Chicago and Lake Michigan. People like me dig it because you get all the charm and conveniences of a small town with all the privileges of living near a big city. I like it here. Sometimes Chicago folks write off Evanston as a fancy place where people go when they can’t handle the city –and don’t get me wrong, there are areas of Evanston that look like the living definition of White Privilege– but there are other areas look too rough to get mentioned on Good Times. Most of it falls in the middle. My neighborhood, my block – actually, includes folks from every age, race, religion, sexual-orientation, and socio-economic strata the IRS can dish out. Which is exactly why I want to live here. Weirdly enough, I was born just a few blocks from my current home but didn’t actually live here until I was 32. And as much as I like travel, I would be totally okay to never move again. Very few people love this place as much as I do, so, with that in mind, I thought it might be fun to use this week’s Happy Monday post to share some stuff about this little town by the lake. Not everyone can come for a visit, but this can be my way of giving you a taste.
Welcome to Evanston!
Do you have March Madness on the brain? Interesting fact: The first NCAA championship game was held in Evanston. A lot of bad stuff was going on in the world in 1939 (I’m looking at you, Hitler. Side eye on you, Stalin)….so folks got together and said, “You know what we need? A distraction. Let’s distract folks with an elaborate scheme to get good looking men run around in shorts putting balls through nets. That’ll do it!” That’s a direct quote. I’m not saying that first NCAA championship game changed the outcome of WWII, but I’m not saying it didn’t.
In addition to it’s NCAA heritage, Evanston’s Northwestern University is home to Dillo Day which is the largest student-run music festival of it’s kind. The event brings in some pretty major names and takes over most of downtown each May, which the locals don’t really like, but it’s a big deal. Northwestern also boasts some pretty big name alumni, including these weird kids who once plastered my street with fliers for a missing unicorn named Yolanda. You should totally come hang out!
Last year, Evanston was voted the second smartest suburb in America. I really don’t like calling it a suburb, but yeah. Okay, it is.
Evanston is often considered the birthplace of Prohibition as it was ground central for the Temperance Movement. Their latter-day incarnation can still be found at the historical Woman’s Club of Evanston, and on a very different end of the spectrum, the newly founded Temperance Beer Company (which has a very charming tap room, btw).
Speaking of religious people over-regulating drinks…Ice cream sundaes originated in Evanston after a local ordinance prohibited the sale of ice cream sodas on Sunday. Not wanting to lose business, drugstores started selling them without the soda, called it a sunday then later sundae…and the rest is history. And by “history” I mean “in my mouth.”
Speaking of local ordinances: It is illegal to spit on the sidewalk in Evanston. People think that is one of those weird ‘You Can’t Keep Three Goats in a Truck on a Tuesday’ type of arbitrary law, but no, it’s real. If a police officer sees you spit on “any public conveyance or upon the floor or wall of any theater, hall, assembly room or public building” she can arrest your butt, take you to the station, and shake your tree until something bigger falls out. So, get your civil liberties together and whatever you do, don’t spit.
Here’s a thing! Few toys can claim to have been responsible for more architectural innovation than Tinkertoys, which were invented in Evanston in 1914.
I cannot believe I never knew this until I was
stalking watching an interview with Mandy Patinkin: The Princess Bride takes place in Evanston! While never stated in the movie, according to the screenplay, the story is told in an Evanston bedroom (remember the grandfather Peter Falk/Columbo telling the story to his grandson who is actually Baby Fred Savage?). Locals will have guessed this by the Chicago themed sports paraphenalia hanging in the room, but yeah, it’s supposed to be Evanston. Sometimes I pretend it’s my house. Shut up. You can let me have my dream. You have seen my Mandy Patinkin on black velvet painting, yes?
Also set in Evanston: the movie Mean Girls took place at Evanston Township High School, although the movie was filmed Canada.
Tina Fey (who wrote Mean Girls) knew Evanston well after working a day job at the local YMCA for years, while spending her nights on her comedy career at Second City. She goes into this quite a bit in her book Bossy Pants, which is an excellent read for a lot more reasons than name dropping her favorite Evanston landmarks (shout out to Gigio’s Pizza!).
Evanston is the birthplace to an unusually large number of seriously nifty people like, Seth Myers, Eddie Vedder, John Cusak, Charlton Heston, Bill Murray, Donald Rumsfeld, and my personal favorite: Countess Cora Crawley aka Elizabeth McGovern, not to mention a slew of Nobel and Pulizter prize winners and some nifty athletes I don’t recognize but maybe you will. Even though Marlon Brando was not born here, he considered it his childhood home.
If you watch the PBS series Mr. Selfridge you may know that it is based on a long-time Chicagoan Harry Gordon Selfridge (later of Selfridges department store in London, based on my former employer – Chicago’s Marshal Fields), and is played by Evanston’s current favorite native son Jeremy Piven, who once drunkenly goosed my ass while I was waiting on his table, but I got over it because his mom is really nice and still runs the local playhouse: the Piven Theater Workshop. Before his PBS success, Piven might be best known for playing the character of foul-mouthed Hollywood manager Ari Gold in HBO’s Entourage, which was openly based on a real guy named Ari Emanuel, who was born next door in Wilmette like his brother to Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago. That last part has nothing to do with Evanston I’m just running my Chicago-incestous Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Introduce John Hughes movies and I could do this all day.
So that is all I can think of right now, but I’m sure there are plenty more.
Do you know anything weird and wonderful about Evanston? Chime in the comments!
Do you have an idea for another person, place, or thing suitable for Happy Monday exploration? Holler. I want to hear!