Wrong side of the tracks
Early in its history Bedford Park was a company town. It was sited, designed, and built for middle-management employees of the Corn Products Company, a food processor formed in 1906 by the merger of several smaller companies. Think of it as the International Harvester of corn. That merger brought my grandfather to Chicago from his old home in Southern Indiana to work in the new Argo Plant of CPC, and that was where he met Clara Markeiwicz. They married and had a son, Roy, about the time they moved into a modest two-bedroom home at 7727 West 65th Place.
Bedford (as most of us called it who grew up there) was too small for its own elementary school, so Roy went to Argo School, a fifteen minute walk from home. [Some have found it fitting that I graduated from Argo High School; that, in effect, I moved from Argo to Fargo. I don’t see the humor.] But Argo and Bedford Park were separated by a busy set of railroad tracks, so each school day my grandmother took her son—her only child—to school and each afternoon she picked him up. One fateful day, with a load of laundry unfinished, she lost track of time and failed to be there when the school day was over. Kids being who they are in most times and various places, Roy ambled toward home just as a freight train crossed his path. I never asked whether it was his idea or a dare from someone else, but he ran beside the train, grabbed the metal rungs on the side of a boxcar, and took a short ride on the shifting car. Letting go, he swung under the car where the wheel ran across his leg, just below the knee. By the time Clara got to the scene, a crowd had formed as her son was carried to a nearby doctor’s office.
I’ve never known the details; I never asked and now it’s too late. What I do know is that the infected wound developed gangrene, a nasty infection that required more of my father’s leg to be whittled away inch by inch until the knee was gone and all that remained was the stump of a hip.
Imagine. Because I can’t.
Roy became a teenager; a growing boy in a household unable to fit him with an artificial limb that might keep pace with his physical development. So Roy’s grade- and some of his high school years were spent on crutches. Nature, of course, stepped in. Compensated. Gave him astounding upper body strength. Which combined with a developing self-sufficiency to create the man I knew as father. There is more to the story, much more, but for the time being it’s enough to make this small point: it isn’t easy to tell which is the wrong side of the tracks. In fact, it may not be the side but the act of crossing, itself.
Which brings me to The Hollow
All of Agincourt’s original townsite—all of its solitary square mile—is tightly wedged in the right-angled intersection between Crispin Creek and the mighty Muskrat River. And the Milwaukee Road railway right-of-way clings so close to the creek that boundaries between haves and have-nots aren’t so obvious.
Each of Agincourt’s four quadrants is a mirror image of the others. But each developed its own profile. And the quarter where my family are likely to have lived was the southwest quad, often called “The Flats” or “The Hollow”, because of its tendency to flood each spring.
It isn’t easy to design the un-designed; to plan the random, because, of course, it isn’t—random, that is. Then I saw this postcard and thought it might be The Hollow. Could an entire neighborhood grow from such an image? I think so.