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Henry and Mathilda Utz

Henry Utz stands casually in the entry of his delicatessen-cum-bakery on Chicago’s south side; at least I think it’s on the south side, because the U.S. Census for 1910 puts his residence at 2973 South Cottage Grove Avenue. Much farther south Cottage Grove forms the west edge of the University of Chicago campus, but his old neighborhood was urban-renewed during the 1960s and LeCorbusi-fied with repetitive slab-like apartment blocks at a jaunty angle with the urban grid. Presumably this place of business was somewhere nearby.

Henry Jacob Utz was born in Germany in 1874 and emigrated to the United States in 1893, just in time for the World’s Columbian Exposition. His wife Mathilda was a NYC native, but also from emigrant German stock, and six years his junior. They had (at that time) one child, a son Clarence, aged three. Their sister-in-law Florence Spitznagel (age 17) lived with them and was a domestic, probably in another household.

Cottage Grove is a Chicago section-line street, running north-south, probably lined with party-wall row houses or low-rise apartment blocks; the census puts two other families at the same address. To live a block or two east or west would have put the Utzes in a single-family or duplex home and a comparably upscale neighborhood. Cottage Grove enjoyed the convenience of a streetcar line, with frequent service and the shriek of steel wheels on steel rails throughout the night. Wouldn’t it have been fortunate if the Utzes had craved the quieter life of a smaller town, a place where his skills as a baker might have been more fully appreciated? I’ll see what I can do to change his mind.


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