The Chicagoan: A Lost Magazine of the Jazz Age

One of the most exciting things I saw at this year's Book Expo America was the promo for The Chicagoan: A Lost Magazine of the Jazz Age, a gorgeous, 400-page tribute to a long-lost competitor of The New Yorker, called The Chicagoan. This massive coffee-table book reprints the best material from the short-lived ultra-deco/ultra-stylish magazine.

I've just gotten a review copy of my own and it's even better than I'd hoped. The print quality is spectacular, reproducing cleaned-up pages from the archives of The Chicagoan at full size, in the manner of the gigantic Little Nemo book that came out a couple years ago. I had to physically restrain myself from slicing out the 80 pages' worth of color plates of the covers and sending them to the framers.

Chicago is one of the loveliest, most livable cities I've ever visited (even in the winter! I'm a Torontonian, so I'm not scared of a little snow and wind) and the vivid historical picture conjured up by this volume is pure loveliness to me.

While browsing the stacks of the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago some years ago, noted historian Neil Harris made a surprising discovery: a group of nine plainly bound volumes whose unassuming spines bore the name the Chicagoan. Pulling one down and leafing through its pages, Harris was startled to find it brimming with striking covers, fanciful art, witty cartoons, profiles of local personalities, and a whole range of incisive articles. He quickly realized that he had stumbled upon a Chicago counterpart to the New Yorker that mysteriously had slipped through the cracks of history and memory.

Here Harris brings this lost magazine of the Jazz Age back to life. In its own words, the Chicagoan claimed to represent “a cultural, civilized, and vibrant” city “which needs make no obeisance to Park Avenue, Mayfair, or the Champs Elysees.” Urbane in aspiration and first published just sixteen months after the 1925 appearance of the New Yorker, it sought passionately to redeem the Windy City’s unhappy reputation for organized crime, political mayhem, and industrial squalor by demonstrating the presence of style and sophistication in the Midwest. Harris’s substantial introductory essay here sets the stage, exploring the ambitions, tastes, and prejudices of Chicagoans during the 1920s and 30s. The author then lets the Chicagoan speak for itself in lavish full-color segments that reproduce its many elements: from covers, cartoons, and editorials to reviews, features–and even one issue reprinted in its entirety.

The Chicagoan: A Lost Magazine of the Jazz Age on Amazon, The Chicagoan at Chicago Press, Excerpted pages PDF