Rod Sellers
Southeast Chicago
Historical Society

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 Southeast Chicago Historical Society News

July, 2005                                                                    Volume XIX No. 3

A Few Words From the President:   

It is with great sadness that I announce the death of our president, Joe Mulac.  Joe passed away at home, with his family nearby, on Thursday, June 9.  My own reflections on Joe and his life are included elsewhere in this newsletter.  This is the death notice as published in local newspapers:

  Joseph A. Mulac, age 80, son of the late August and Mildred Mulac; beloved husband and best friend of the late Dorothy A., nee Bezdek; proud dad of Carolyn, Joseph, Jacqueline, Mary, the late Louis and Laurence, Gregory (Linda), Raymond and Matthew Mulac; loving grandpa of Stephen, Lauren and David Mulac; cherished brother of the late Clement Mulac and William (Dagmar) Mulac; dear uncle of Nancy (Tim) Cochrane, Mark (Carol) Mulac and John (Glenda) Mulac; great-uncle of five; cousin of Josep (Desanka) Mulac of Rijeka, Croatia. James H. Bowen High School June Class of 1943. Aeronautical University of Chicago 1948. Veteran of United States Army Air Corps, World War II and United States Air National Guard Reserve Technical Sergeant, 108th Bombardment Squadron (L) Korean Conflict. Retired Steel Industry Executive. Mr. Mulac was noted for his paintings of Southeast Side landmarks and churches. He wrote the ''A Look Back'' column for the Southeast Chicago Observer. Treasurer and past president of Sacred Heart Holy Name Society. Lector at Sacred Heart Parish. Member East Side Lions. President Southeast Chicago Historical Society. Member of American Legion Post 1976. Member of Kankakee Valley Civil War Round Table and South Suburban Civil War Round Table. Visitation Sunday 4 to 9 p.m. and Monday 2 to 9 p.m. Funeral Services Tuesday, June 14, 2005 at 8:45 a.m. from the Elmwood Chapel, 11200 S. Ewing Ave., Chicago, to Sacred Heart Church. Mass of Christian Burial at 9:30 a.m. Interment Holy Cross Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, Memorial Masses or contributions to the American Cancer Society or the Southeast Chicago Historical Society, 3658 East 106th Street, Chicago, IL 60617 appreciated.

     Per our by-laws, I accept the office of president and promise to do my best to carry on the important work of the Southeast Chicago Historical Society.  Farewell and thanks for everything Joe.

            Rod Sellers
        President / Newsletter Editor

On Losing Our President . . .
by Kevin P. Murphy  

Unlike many organizations of our experience, the Southeast Chicago Historical Society has been rich in its line of presidents.   In fact, it has been rich in its officers in each functional position, but this commentary is concerned most specifically with our presidents.
       In the history of our organization, we have never, until now, lost a president during his/her term of office.  While that loss is an organizational setback, our bylaws provide for such eventualities and, so, SECHS will move on.    That’s the easy part.  But for those of us who knew President Joseph A. Mulac, the loss is painful. 
       Joe Mulac brought a spirit of vitality and positive combativeness to the office that it especially needed at a time when the graying of our membership raises serious concerns about our future as an organization.   To insure the administrative life of the society, he manifested the persuasiveness of the best Army recruiters in capturing for duty some of us who had sworn earnestly to never take any office again, and somehow made us feel glad to be “on the team.”
       A dedicated historian, himself, Joe was also a fine artist, a painter who captured the history of our region dramatically and warmly, giving life to many aspects of our region that can now only be found on his canvases.       Joe was one of those rarer artists who can also inspire our imagination through his use of the written word.  I always looked forward to the next SECHS newsletter, to see what visions Joe had to share with us.  And, from August 8, 2001, until recently, Joe’s “A Look Back: . .  .” columns in the Southeast Chicago Observer were always informative, filling in our community’s history with often-surprising facts about our past.   That publication will be diminished because of his loss.
       I know of society members who cried openly when they received the unwelcome news of Joe’s death, and I also know that, in at least one case, the tears represented both sadness and anger—anger at losing a new friend before the wine of friendship had been more than just sampled.   It just flat out hurts to lose Joe.  And if I, simply a friend, feel that, what must his family feel?
       Thank you, Joe, for your great paintings, your fine Journal articles, your intense enthusiasm for our regional and national history, and your rich sense of humor.  We will give our best to hold those treasures as a guide to our own performance in sustaining the historical society you so honored with your dedicated service as our President.   

Joe Mulac
by Rod Sellers
The man
    Joe was a most interesting and talented individual. His paintings had been very familiar to me even before I met him in person by way of activities at the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum.  He was an accomplished artist and writer whose primary subjects were community based.  He painted churches, taverns, homes, and other community landmarks.  Later he wrote articles for the Southeast Chicago Observer.  Joe could take the most mundane of subjects and make it interesting.  Sitting on a porch, posing for pictures in a goat cart, and other childhood stories were typical subjects for Joe.  He also called attention to little known aspects of community history like the Tom Lea murals in the Calumet Park Field House or the Frank Lloyd Wright Wolf Lake Amusement Park.  As I drove in the funeral procession from Elmwood Chapel to Sacred Heart Church to Holy Cross Cemetery I couldn’t help but think about how many of the places we passed had been subjects of a Mulac painting or a Mulac article.  Joe did history with a personal touch.  And he understood that the story of ordinary people is true history.
    Joe was an active member, vice president, and president of our own Southeast Chicago Historical Society.  He tells the story of joining the East Side Historical Society (our former name) even though he was from South Deering, “the other side of the river”.  He was supportive of changing the name of the society to the Southeast Historical Society and most recently to the Southeast Chicago Historical Society to more accurately represent the mission of the organization.  Joe was instrumental in obtaining official landmark status from the city of Chicago for the State Line Boundary Marker and for the Columbus Monument / Drake Fountain.  Joe was responsible for opening the museum on the first Sunday of each month to increase our accessibility to the public.  He was a mentor and friend to me.  He talked me into becoming the vice president of the society when he took over the office of president.  Actually I think that I missed a meeting and the next thing I knew I was vice president.  And now, reluctantly, I have become the president.  And there are some very large shoes to fill.
    Joe learned that he had lung cancer in November 2003.  He fought his battle with cancer the same way he lived his life, with strength, grace and dignity. 
    In reflecting on the life and accomplishments of Joe, three themes come to mind.  I used these themes in teaching classes in American History and Chicago History.  Strong countries are made up of strong communities and strong communities are made up of strong families.  These themes of family, community, and country apply to Joe as well.  His is a true American story.  In fact if anyone wanted to do a version of “West Side Story” set in Chicago,  Joe’s life would make an excellent storyline for a “Southeast Side Story”.  

    I first “met” Joe by way of “Wrapped in Steel” a documentary program done as part of the Southeast Chicago Historical Project. The program originally aired on Channel 11 in 1984.  In a March 1983 interview for the project his first words were significant, “My name is Joe Mulac, I’m the father...and this is our home and our family of which we are very proud...”.  Of all his roles  this was the most important one to him.   Joe was above all a family man.  Son of Croatian immigrants he was the first in his family to be born in this country.  He was born in Pennsylvania and came to Chicago while a very young child.  He married Dorothy, born in Chicago, but a Cicero resident most of her life.  Dorothy was the love of Joe’s life.  They met at a dance near Midway Airport while Joe was in the Air National Guard.  They married and had a large family.  The interview for Wrapped in Steel was done in their home and the kids were present at the time.  This was the Mulac way - they did things as a family.  Joe’s interest in history was fostered by a history he put together of his own family.  He said he did this so his kids knew who they were and where they came from.  In later years one of Joe’s favorite activities was preparing meals for the Mulac clan.  Joe was always talking about meal plans or new recipes for his cooking endeavors. 
    Joe’s story epitomizes so many of the things that are part of the history of the Southeast Side.  The family lived in Irondale on Torrence Avenue.   He graduated from St. Kevin Elementary School in 1939 and Bowen High School in 1943.  He was an active member of St. Kevin’s Church and later of Sacred Heart parish.  He worked in the steel industry as an estimator for John Mohr and later for Interlake Steel.  At the time of the Wrapped in Steel interview Joe was on lay off (he called it a “prolonged vacation”) from Interlake Steel.  He was laid off on June 25, 1982 and at the time of the interview in March 1983 he had still not been called back to work.  During the interview he said “hopefully we will be going back to work”.  In fact he would never be called back to work.  But Joe developed other interests and talents.  He was active in numerous community based organizations including the Lions and American Legion.  His love of and pride in the Southeast Side is evident from his interview for Wrapped in Steel.  He said,  “We’re different from the rest of Chicago because we’re better...they don’t know that anybody exists on the Southeast Side....we’re the best”
    After graduation from Bowen High School, Joe entered the military and served in the United States Army Air Corps (remember this was before the existence of a separate Air Force) during WWII.   He would be called to duty again during the Cold War and then again during the Korean Conflict.  Joe was stationed in France near Paris during the Korean Conflict and often remarked that he did his job well since Paris was never in danger of attack during the period that Joe was stationed there.  Joe’s son stated that he was very proud of the fact that he had three sets of discharge papers from military service.  Joe was also a Civil War buff.  He participated in Civil War round tables and painted Civil War uniform caps and unit flags.  He even wrote an article about Croatians in the Civil War, many of whom were living in Louisiana at the time.

I would like to paraphrase something I wrote when my father passed away and it applies to Joe as well many others. 
        Joe was from a generation of ordinary heroes.  They lived through the Great Depression and World War II
        and never made a big deal about it.  They went to work every day, paid their bills, raised their children and provided for their             families.  Their main concern was that their children’s lives would be better than their own had been.  They had their quirks and         eccentricities but they raised their children to be honest, hard-working individuals.  The world would be a better place if more         people followed this example today.  Their legacy lives through their children and grandchildren.  Family values was more than a         political cliche to Joe and others of his generation. 

    If a person’s legacy is whether they will be remembered or not, Joe’s legacy is secure.  His memory lives on through his family and friends.  His art work is displayed in many venues throughout the community.  His writings are in the archives of the Southeast Chicago Observer.  At the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum you cannot turn a corner or turn a page without some reminder of Joe.
    One of our family’s treasured possessions is a Mulac water color painting of our home.  Anyone who is familiar with Joe’s style is familiar with his love of detail and his ability to accurately capture the smallest details.  However the painting of our home had red flowers in the landscaping in front of the house and we did not have red flowers.  I asked Joe about this and he said that there should be some red in every painting.  Red brightened the image and brought it to life.  Joe was the red in our lives and we will miss him dearly.  And we now have red flowers in front of our house.

Museum News
       We have some new items and projects at the museum that might be of interest to our readers. 
     While doing a walking tour of Calumet Park recently, Rod Sellers received several pictures of early trolley cars on the southeast side.  They were sent by Lou Gerard who gave permission to scan the photos and return them.  There were pictures of the Hegewisch trolley and other routes as well.  Jim Ostarello, museum volunteer, brought in additional photos of trolley cars and a search began for materials relating to public transportation history.  We found pictures in old CTA Historical Calendars and others in a book at the museum. We found descriptions and maps of trolley and old bus routes.   These materials were organized into an album entitled “Public Transportation on the Southeast Side”.     
       A web site at Indiana University has a collection of color slides taken by amateur photographer Charles Cushman between 1938 and 1969.  URL for site is:
There are a number of wonderful scenes from the southeast side depicting the steel mills in their heyday and some other scenes along the Calumet River.  We have assembled an album of these photographs which may be viewed at the museum.
     We recently received a box of color slides in the mail.  There were slides of our area that were taken in July 1942 and August 1954.  None were identified.  Further investigation revealed that they had been purchased at a garage sale and sent to the museum by a person who recognized their historical value.  Included are scenes of steel mills (Illinois Steel and Youngstown) and boats on the Calumet River.  The people who took the slides in 1954 were apparently owners of a small boat, the “Nautilus”, and took the pictures during a couple of trips down the Calumet River.   There is a picture of the life saving station located on U. S. Steel property near the South Slip, the old lighthouse, one of the Material Service yard near the 92nd Street bridge, and one of the U-505 submarine, dated August 15, 1954, on the shore near the Museum of Science of Industry prior to being moved across Lake Shore Drive.  Check out other photos of the U-505 at our web site:
     New life member Marilea Zajec brought in some interesting photos of the St. Elmo Hotel formerly located at 9921 Ewing and other street scenes of 99th and Ewing.  These are interesting because this was the location of the original main shopping district of the East Side.
       We have revised our web site photo album page to make it easier to access the photos you want to see. The link to the photo albums is:
You can then click on various sets of photos.  The link takes you to the Kodak Easy Share Gallery (formerly Ofoto).  You must register your e-mail address with them and select a password to view the photos.  You may purchase copies of photos in any of the albums from Kodak.  Photos are copyrighted by Rod Sellers but there is no user fee for personal use.  There is a fee for personal or commercial use of the photos.  My own experience with this site is very positive.  Photo quality is great, price is reasonable,  and they do not overburden you with spam.
       A student from Columbia College in Chicago, Mike Stellato, gave us a copy of a 25 minute video documentary he created for a class at school.  It is entitled “Fallen Giants” and discusses the decline of steel mills in our region.  Mike did research at our museum and used numerous images from our collections in the finished production.  The program includes excerpts from interviews with former steel workers, still pictures, and video clips.  This interesting and well done documentary is available for viewing at our museum.
       We are currently working on several transportation related projects at the museum.  Jim Ostarello has been working on creating a collection of navigation maps of the Calumet River from different years.  These would show changes and improvements in the river itself as well as businesses that were located along the river at various points in time.  Although we have many individual items related to railroads in our area, we do not have a systematic collection of materials about southeast side rail history.  We are working to create such a collection.  Railroads were extremely important to the development of this region and numerous railroads passed through the area.  The first railroad, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, reached the southeast side in 1848 and shortly thereafter numerous railroads  crisscrossed the region.   Rail history is very complex due to the large number of railroads in the area and the many name changes that occurred as railroads went out of business or merged.  Among the railroads prominent in our area were the New York Central, the Pennsylvania, the B & O, the EJ&E, the Nickel Plate, and so many more.  We recently received pictures, documents and other materials from Jim Rice by way of Alex Savastano and Clarence Wigsmoen related to the Chicago West Pullman & Southern Railroad and Wisconsin Steel.  We welcome donations of materials or information that would help our railroad history project.   Maps, timetables, and photographs are particularly important. 

News and the Southeast Side
       Recent articles in Chicago papers had relevance to the southeast side. 
       The Chicago Sun Times ran a five part series (June 20-24, 2005) about the “Blues Brothers” movie filmed in Chicago 25 years ago.  They called it, and I agree, “the greatest movie ever made about Chicago”.  By the way, I think that the movie sequel  “Blues Brothers 2000" is the worst movie ever made about Chicago that was not filmed in Chicago (it was filmed in Toronto which does not look like Chicago at all).   Several memorable scenes from the original movie were filmed on the southeast side.  Who can forget the scene where Jake and Elwood jump over the opening 95th Street Bridge?  And what about the scenes of Pilgrim Baptist Church used in the film?  The series concluded with a Blues Brothers Tour which included the following sites on the SE Side: the 95th Street Bridge (although the article called it a swing bridge it is a trunnion bascule bridge commonly called a “Chicago bridge”), 9500 block of Houston Avenue (who remembers what happened there in the movie?), and the Triple Rock Baptist Church (Pilgrim Baptist Church).  The “Blues Brothers” movie has achieved cult status.  If you do not believe me do an internet search on Blues Brothers and check out some of the many sites that appear.  And how could a recent televised program about the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest movie quotes of all time not include at least one quote from the “Blues Brothers” movie? (“We’re on a mission from God” or others).  Do any readers have any other SE Side scenes or stories related to the “Blues Brothers” movie?  What about other movies filmed in our area?
       An Associated Press article which appeared recently in the Daily Southtown and the Illinois Times talked about the decline in the number of taverns in Chicago.  The article stated that Chicago had 7,600 taverns in the early 1900's, 3,300 in 1990 and 1,300 at present.  This is no surprise to southeast siders.  The same pattern is obvious on the southeast side.  The closings of area steel mills had a negative impact on many neighborhood businesses including taverns.  One intersection that reflects this pattern is 107th and Green Bay.  At one time there were four taverns located on the four corners of the intersection.  Only one is still operating as a tavern.  The others have become a residence, a beauty shop, and a church.  Do you have any fond memories or interesting stories about your favorite tavern or saloon?  Drop them off at the museum or e-mail them to the newsletter editor and we will try to include them in our next newsletter.

“The Skull”      
       Alex Savastano and Clarence Wigsmoen called our attention to a very interesting piece of local  history.  On the northwest corner of the intersection of 104th and Muskegon in front of the former Sully’s Tavern in “Slag Valley” there is a large bowl shaped piece of iron sitting on the ground.  It is a “skull” and it came from the ladle cars that dumped slag, the waste from iron ore, from Wisconsin Steel.  After a period of time iron built up on the bottom of the ladle cars.  The ladle car was then taken to the skull yard, tipped on its side and a crane swung a huge steel ball against the ladle car to “pop” the skull out.  The skull was then recycled into the steel making process.   Do any readers have any information about how that artifact of the steel industry came to rest at that particular location?  How about any information regarding any other unusual neighborhood artifacts or items of interest?

Labor Trail Map
       The Chicago Center for Working Class Studies provided us with a copy of their recently published Labor Trail Map.  The map depicts several neighborhood tours related to working class life in Chicago.  One of the neighborhood tours is “South East Chicago” and includes several area locations  including Calumet Park and our museum, as well as area churches, parks, and the site of the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre.   The map is available for viewing at the museum and also on line at:

Local Newspapers
       In updating our files of local newspapers we noticed that we are missing a few copies of the Southeast Chicago Observer.  If any readers have extra copies of the following editions please bring them to the museum.  We are missing December 2000, July 2001, November 2001, and June 12, 2002.
       We recently acquired a copy of an original issue, Volume 1 Number 1,  of the Hegewisch News Weekly which was published April 24, 1936.  The paper was in reasonably good condition and has been laminated to prevent further deterioration.  It includes articles about a couple of WPA projects, one tearing up the sidewalk at 133rd and Buffalo and another paving 135th Street in “Arizona”.  There is a brief history of Hegewisch and numerous announcements of community events and occasions.  An ad from a local grocery offers 24.5 pounds of flour for 95 cents and 2 boxes of Kelloggs Corn Flakes for 13 cents.  We also acquired a 1940 street map and a Rapid Transit route map from 1946. 

    Two additional donors to the raffle at our recent  installation dinner are the East Side Lady Lions and Fair Elms Cleaners.  The list of life members should include Luci D’Mari and George Michko.

SE Chicago Historical Society Calendar

July 30, 2005        Saturday    10:00 am - 12:30 pm    Down in the Dumps Bus Tour
See how Chicago deals with garbage, sewage and waste treatment.  Sponsored by Southeast Environmental Task Force and Citizens for Landfill Alternatives.  Meet at Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve exit off Bishop Ford X-Way (I-94) at 134th Street. $7 per person.  Call 773-646-0436 for information or to register.  Advance registration required.

August 13, 2005        Saturday    9:00 am - 12:00 pm    Tour of Three Calumet Rivers
Sponsored by the Calumet Study Committee.  Limited reservations.  Call Captain Vic at 773-785-1594

August 29, 2005        Sunday        11:45 am - 7:00 pm     Lake Michigan’s South Shore Train Trip
Take a leisurely afternoon train ride on America’s last surviving inter-city electric commuter railroad.  Leave from Randolph Street station, Kensington, or Hegewisch.  Narrated tour through southeast Chicago, Hammond, East Chicago, Gary, Indiana dunes, Michigan City, and South Bend.  Brief tour of Notre Dame campus followed by entertainment and light refreshments on the return trip.  Sponsored by the Southeast Environmental Task Force. Limited seating; $35 per person; call to register 773-646-0436. 

September 17, 2005    Saturday    9:00 am        5K Wolf Lake Run
One of Chicago’s best and most scenic 5Ks.  Post race party with great food, refreshments and entertainment.  Sponsored by Hegewisch Chamber of Commerce and William W. Powers Fish & Wildlife Area.  Pre-register and more information at 773-646-6880.

September 25, 2005     Sunday        1:00pm-2:30pm Calumet River Historical Walking Tour
Join local historian Rod Sellers for a walking tour of the north portion of the Calumet River. The tour begins at the 92nd Street Bridge over the Calumet River and will end at the 95th Street Bridge. Tour will take place on Sunday, September 25, 2005 and will last from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm.  Wear comfortable walking shoes.  E-mail if any questions.

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