New York City skyline at night




The Architecture of Servitude in Chicago
by Robert Klein Engler

At the end of Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel, The Jungle, his character Jurgis Rudkus listens to an orator at a socialist rally shout, "CHICAGO WILL BE OURS!" This ownership by the socialists never happened, neither in fiction nor in reality. What did happen, as a reviewer in the Atlantic Monthly claimed, is the book "spoilt the entire nation's appetite for its Sunday roast beef." Commenting on his own book, Upton Sinclair himself quipped, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

Chicago did not become a socialist city for many reasons. The greed of the city's business elites is just one reason. In place of socialism we got also the Democratic Party and the Clan of Bridgeport. What happened instead of socialism is the business elites built skyscrapers with windows that do not open. When windows do not open, you can't get out and fresh air of opportunity can't get in. The infamous stockyards that inspired Upton Sinclair's novel have disappeared, but Democratic politicians in league with business elites have not.

In our time, in this (post)modern age, men are constrained to live by theories. Liberal politicians start with a theory and try to end with a policy. Some architects are no different. They architects start with a theory and end with a building. They take a sphere and by using formulas turn it into a cube. They take the architecture of forgetfulness and turn it into the architecture of servitude.

The ideas of the old Roman author Vitruvius, who wrote a 1st century treatise on architecture, are often forgotten. According to Vitruvius, a good building should satisfy the three principles of "firmitatis, utilitatis et venustatis," or durability, utility and beauty. Today, we know about utility, but often scratch our heads and grimace when asked about beauty.

The 19th century English writer John Ruskin drew upon the ideas of Vitruvius in his book Seven Lamps of Architecture. Ruskin then added some ideas of his own. He would write that architecture is the "art which so disposes and adorns the edifices raised by man, for whatsoever uses, that the sight of them may contribute to his mental health, power, and pleasure."

Ruskin argues that a building is not truly a work of architecture unless it is in some way "adorned." In Ruskin's view, decoration roots us in the particulars of life, a root we need to grow and bloom. It is this root in the natural and particular that leads Ruskin the value the Gothic style over the Classical.

The theoretical approach of modern and (post)modern architects is to go beyond Ruskin and reduce buildings to pure forms, removing historical references and adornment in favor of functional details. A building like the John Hancock tower that displays its method of construction instead of hiding it behind cultural references is now seen to be ideal.

In Chicago, one of the first architects of skyscrapers, Louis Sullivan, promoted this idea of design by claiming, "form follows function." If the function is to promote relativism and multiculturalism, then the form will be something like the Sears Tower. If the goal is to make men faceless so that they can be better controlled, then we will value the glass wall over the stone column decorated with acanthus leaves.

It is possible to visualize the transformation of Chicago from an outpost in the Northwest Territory to a modern global city by imagining three structures as symbols for that transformation. The original Fort Dearborn, the Electricity Building at the 1893 World's Fair with its statue of Benjamin Franklin at the entrance, and the soaring Sears Tower are three structures built over 200 years that demonstrate how Chicago went from an outpost of Western Civilization to a multicultural urban conglomerate.

The architecture of servitude that originated in Chicago with the evolution of the modern skyscraper is a living symbol of the decline of the United States and the fading values of American exceptionalism. A skyscraper box with glass walls and windows that cannot open emerges as a symbol for the new, international and multicultural order. This is the symbol the international elites prefer, not the American flag.

From settler to immigrant, to transnational elites, those who live and die in Chicago sum up the decline and fall of the United States. The city's elites who built the 1893 World's Fair envisioned a city that celebrated the values of Western Civilization. Little did they know their successors would abandon both the city and Western Civilization in favor of cultural relativism and sheer walls of glass.

Fort Dearborn

Fort Dearborn

Fort Dearborn, c. 1812

The original Fort Dearborn, built near the banks of the Chicago River in some of the first permanent structures at what is now downtown Chicago. This fort, built in the military style of the time with log walls and blockhouses, was destroyed in 1812. Today, just an outline of where it stood is seen on the street and sidewalk at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, some 25 feet above the level of the Chicago River.

Because Fort Dearborn remained an icon in the memory of early Chicagoans, a replica of the fort was built for the Chicago 1933 World's Fair. That replica stood miles to the south of the original location and looked out to Lake Michigan. If we follow the history of this fort, its destruction in 1812 after the Fort Dearborn massacre, and then its reconstruction at the World's Fair of 1933, we can mark many of the changes Chicago underwent along with explaining the emergence of the architecture of servitude.

Along with Fort Dearborn, the Clarke House, built in 1836 and now restored and located at 18th Street and Indiana Avenue, stands as a good example of American Revolutionary values embodied in architecture. When the early settlers to the Chicago area looked for a form to hold their frontier and American spirit they chose a Greek Revival style. They knew the origins of the American Revolution were in the Classical cultures of Western Civilization.

They say some men have visions before they die. Surgeon Van Voorhis, stationed at Fort Dearborn before the massacre, wrote to a friend about what he saw as the future of Chicago and the United States. A fragment of that letter has been preserved. Van Voorhis writes, "In my solitary walks I contemplate what a great and powerful republic will yet arise in this new world. Here, I say, will be the seat of millions yet unborn; here the asylum of oppressed millions yet to come. How composedly would I die could I be resuscitated at that bright era of American greatness."

Later, death came for him in the dunes about a mile and a half from the fort, but not with composure. Instead, it came with shot and tomahawk. And what of the era of American greatness? Has the multinational city with its faceless skyscrapers put an end to "superstition and dread tyranny?" There is nothing in the architecture of servitude that reminds us of the republic Van Voorhis saw. Maybe he just couldn't see beyond the White City of 1893.

The Electricity Building at the 1893 World's Fair

The Electricity Building

The Electricity Building, 1893

Many visitors to the 1893 World's Fair also visited the Chicago Stockyards while they were in the city. The red blood on the slaughter room floor of the Chicago Stockyards stood in stark contrast to the Neoclassical buildings of the White City, as many called Chicago's 1893 World's Fair. Upton Sinclair wrote about another Chicago many visitors did not see. "In back of the yards the dreary two-story frame houses were scattered farther apart, and there were great spaces bare—that seemingly had been overlooked by the great sore of a city as it spread itself over the surface of the prairie."

In spite of the Chicago slum to the west, the Danish-American sculptor Carl Rohl-Smith would create a sixteen foot tall statue of Benjamin Franklin to welcome visitors to the fair's Electricity Building. Could there be a better symbol than Franklin, who stood outside in a storm to attract lightning with a kite than this, to represent the power of electricity? Ironically, Rohl-Smith argued that the authorities of the fair raised his work upon a pedestal too high for the best visual effect.

A historian of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago describes the Electricity Building this way: "The 345 foot by 690 foot Electricity Building covered 5.5 acres and was designed in the French Renaissance style and cost $432,675 to build. Its pediment was created by sculptor Hermon A. MacNeil. Its nave was 115 feet wide and 114 feet high and was crossed by a transept of the same dimensions. At each corner was a pavilion with a tower 169 feet high." Seen from across the lagoon, it must have had a majesty few buildings in Chicago have today.

Later that year, Carl Rohl-Smith's statue of Black Partridge saving Mrs. Helm commissioned by G. W. Pullman, was also on display in front of the Pullman Mansion at 18th Street and South Calumet Avenue. That statue, considered by some to be a masterpiece, is now kept hidden by the powers that be because it is considered too controversial for display in this age of political correctness and multiculturalism.

The Carl Rohl-Smith statue of Black Partridge saving Mrs. Helm depicts an event from Juliet Kinzie's account of the massacre that killed many of the settlers of early Chicago and destroyed the original Fort Dearborn in 1812. More than that, the statue also represents the triumph of Western Civilization and American values over the cultures of the frontier.

In a political environment that requires multiculturalism and globalization, we cannot be reminded of the triumph of American values. Local Democratic politicians have decided therefore to hide this image in favor of the vacuity of abstract and modern art. The glorification of Western Civilization that was so evident in the White City of 1893 has given way to the simple geometry of elongated boxes that is the Sears Tower.

The buildings at the fair were designed to incorporate Beaux Arts ideals. Unfortunately, most were illusions built of staff instead of marble. Principles of European Classical architecture, based on symmetry and balance, were the ones that Daniel Burnham demanded most of his architects follow. These architects were not afraid, like Protestants, of decoration. Nor did they shy away from their beliefs in the greatness of Western Civilization. Unlike the Sears Tower, which is a box that can be imitated anywhere in the world, when you stood at the Court of Honor at this World's Fair you knew there must have been an ancient Greece and Rome.

At the Chicago World's Fair the nation's elites had one last chance to celebrate American Civilization in forms that echoed back to European roots. The World's Columbian Exposition was the last flowering of Classical forms in American architecture. After that exposition, modern techniques and forms would be used to create the architecture of servitude. If Fort Dearborn was a sanctuary that kept the wilderness outside, then the modern skyscraper is designed to keep conformity inside.

Unfortunately, there is not much that remains of the 1893 World's Fair. The contemporary Museum of Science and Industry is the only building standing. It used to be the Palace of Fine Arts. Everything else from the fair has to be remembered by pictures in books. I have a friend who sometimes refuses to look at these books. "It was so beautiful," he says, "To think about its passing makes me weep."

The Sears Tower

The Sears Tower

Sears Tower Seen From the Ruins of the Wirt Dexter Building

The Sears Tower is the best example of the architecture of servitude we have Chicago. In many ways its boxed shape resembles the housing projects that used to line south State Street. Most Chicagoans now admit these projects, put in place by the city's Democrats, were a mistake. Nevertheless, the father who put the housing projects up and the son who tears them down work on without a word of judgment from the local media.

The Sears Tower is the tallest building in the United States since it was erected in 1973. This skyscraper can be seen from just about any place in Chicago. It is no accident when you look up from a Chicago street you may see the blank shrine of multiculturalism. Should we remind tourists who come here that the bathrooms on the 103rd floor skydeck, 1,353 feet above street level, are the highest in the world?

Visitors to Chicago and Chicagoans alike sometimes wonder how buildings like the Sears Tower could come to dominate the skyline. How could the architecture of servitude supplant the Classical architecture of the 1893 World's Fair?

The point of the American Revolution or even the futile hope of socialism is to protect the average man from the abuses of government and the servitude that comes with such abuses, or in Upton Sinclair's words, to protect us from a world where, "When you had once found out what it meant to get into trouble with such people (all the big politics men), you would know enough to pay what you were told to pay and shut up."

"The big politics men" are one reason why the architecture of servitude rises up in Chicago. Yet, there are others, too. The fact that new materials are available to build with, and the obvious fact that if you want to build tall instead of wide, you are limited in techniques are other reasons. Still, all of these reasons are approved by politics. In Chicago the politics in the age of the skyscraper has been Democratic politics.

Perhaps another explanation for this transformation from traditional American values to multicultural and secular ones is related to the fact that over the years many Roman Catholics have abandoned the city for the suburbs. They leave behind their European inspired church buildings who spires reach above the prairie and can be seen as you ride the Pink or Green Line "L."

In spite of the outreach of St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church at 4058 S. Michigan, the presence of Roman Catholics has not been extensive in the Black community. Created after a merger with St. Monica's, in 1924 St. Elizabeth also opened the first black high school in Chicago in 1926. Today, this Bronzeville church describes itself as "the Mother Church of the Black Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The church building itself is another piece of modern, faceless architecture and does not recall the gothic structure that was the original church. The outside walls of today's church boasts murals of ceramic tiles that celebrate the work of Father Augustine Tolton. Thankfully, he is remembered. Regrettably, the artwork should be forgotten.

Elsewhere in the inner city, just the hallow shells that held the baptisms, confirmations and marriages of the European immigrants who used to live here remain. Now, the churches are mostly empty of parishioners the same way Sinclair's The Jungle is empty of any meaningful reference to religion. The steel wheels of secularism screech their banshee cry as we roll past.

Upton Sinclair believed socialist theories explained life in Chicago better than Christianity did. Even the compassion of clergymen was false to him. Sinclair writes, "What did he know about sin and suffering—his smooth, black coat and his neatly starched collar, his body warm, and his belly full, and money in his pocket—and lecturing men who were struggling for their lives— men at the death-grapple with demon powers of hunger and cold!"

In spite of Sinclair's wish for socialism, religion was more important to the Lithuanian, Polish, Irish and Germans who settled in Chicago. The rise of the Democrats and the Clan of Bridgeport to political power masks a more subtle struggle between Irish Catholic and German Catholic immigrants in the early 20th century. Even today, many German Catholics remain conservative and live on the north side of the city, while Irish Catholic politicians live south and have embraced the tenants of political liberalism.

Senator Simpson of Arizona was fond of saying there are two political parties in the United States, the evil party and the stupid party. It is the transformation from a political party of ideals to one of expedience that makes the Democratic Party in Chicago evil. They will hold on to power no matter what moral issue they must deny or religious ideal they must ignore. This is why those who support them are also either evil themselves or duped. Of course, some will answer the Republicans are just as bad, but at least the Republicans can be used as a thorn to remove another thorn.

How Catholic politicians in Chicago have come to embrace the liberal agenda of abortion on demand, gay marriage and divorce in face of the Church's conservative opposition to these causes remains a question many liberal journalists are afraid to investigate. It seems the architecture of servitude builds a room in the soul as well.

To Forget or to Remember

There are politicians who wish to promote Chicago and resent attempts at a critical history of the politics and men who shape our urban landscape. There are others who prefer peace over truth in their neighborhood. Nevertheless, the building of contemporary Chicago as a multicultural metropolis raises questions of meaning for everyone who lives here. Even if they are ignorant of the city's history, their lives are channeled by a grid of streets, a wall of buildings and a city council fumbling in the dark.

Some believe no one can be truly human without remembering the past, nor can he be truly human without a moral view of what was done in the past. Yet to say this is to appropriate the values of Western Civilization and the religious beliefs that shaped that civilization. The faceless architecture of (post)modernism leaves them as disturbed as when they view a man without a face. In spite of this, forgetting does have political advantages for those who wish to gain and keep power.

At the core of remembering the Fort Dearborn Massacre and the monument set up to commemorate it is the desire to affirm a way of life and a civilization. From this point of view, the New World is really an old story in the clash of other civilizations with the West. The Americans who set up the statue to commemorate the Fort Dearborn massacre understood that tolerance is fundamentally different from multiculturalism.

There is an old copy of Daniel Goodwin, Jr.'s 1832 book Dearborns; A Discourse Commemorative of the Eightieth Anniversary of the Occupation of Fort Dearborn, in the University of Illinois library at Urbana. Goodwin wrote a dedication for the book in his own handwriting to the Chicago Literary Club, "For whom the Dearborns was written and before whom it was first read by one who wishes to be kindly remembered by his contemporaries."

Old men hope to be kindly remembered, but history and our contemporaries may do otherwise. Certainly, those involved in the Fort Dearborn Massacre have blood on their hands. That's hardly a kindly remembrance. Those who try to remember this event today do so looking back through a stream of time that is muddied by politics. It is in the interest of Chicago's politicians to bleach the world.

The bleaching of history by politics was a gradual process in Chicago, but it seems to be a steady one. Kenneth E. Foote discusses in his book Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy, how the gradual emergence of the Fort Dearborn Massacre became a symbol for Chicago's growth and vigor. Later, as the city attempted to absorb the black migration from south and as the multiculturalism of the '60s began to influence public education, the symbol of Fort Dearborn began to be displaced. White settlers triumphing over the wilderness did not serve the political interests of the Democratic Party that would control Chicago for more than fifty years.

Foote writes, "After 1893 the Fort Dearborn Massacre was framed as the birth of Chicago and gradually received increasing public attention and support, particularly among the city's elite...The massacre became a conveniently heroic anchor point for civic history. In many respects the Fort Dearborn Massacre has been recast in the same mold as the Great Fire. Both events expressed Chicago's 'I will' spirit..." Today, the Fort Dearborn Massacre is more an expression of "I Will Forget" instead of an affirmation of Western values. What began as an anchor point for civic history has become a political dividing line.

On May 21, 1881, twelve years before Pullman's statue was put up in the park near his mansion, a memorial was placed at the site of the Fort Dearborn block house. The Honorable John Wentworth, one time editor and publisher of the Chicago Democrat newspaper, and once a member of Congress, delivered a speech. Before that speech, in a gesture that may be embarrassing to us these days, Eugene J. Hall was called on to read his original poem, "Fort Dearborn." Speaking of Chicago, Hall proclaimed, "Long may she live, and grow in wealth and beauty, / And may her children be in coming years / True to their trust, and faithful to their duty / As her brave pioneers."

John Wentworth then spoke. He must have wondered who would remember his words. Yet "regardless of a...wind blowing directly in his face, and the whistling of the tug-boats numerously passing through the Rusheet bridge, not one hundred feet from him, Mr. Wentworth, in the open air," delivered his address.

In March 1893, the "ambivalent icon" Simon Pokagon of the Pottawatomie attended the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He was disappointed to discover that no American Indian had been asked to serve in any official capacity at the fair. Then, according to a report by C.C. Marble, "Pokagon was honored on Chicago Day at the World's Fair by first ringing the new Bell of Liberty and speaking in behalf of his race to the greatest multitude, it is believed, ever assembled in one enclosure. After his speech, Glory Hallelujah was sung. Later, Simon Pokagon would claim, "When whites are killed it is a massacre; when Indians are killed, it is a fight."

In 1928 The William Ferguson Fund and William Wrigley Jr. presented to the city of Chicago four carved limestone bas-reliefs to commemorate the early settlers of Chicago and events in Chicago history. These sculptures, "The Discoverers, The Pioneers, Defense, and Regeneration," by James Earl Fraser may be seen today at the four corners of the Michigan Avenue bridge. Below the relief depicting "Defense," are the words, "Fort Dearborn stood almost on this spot. After an heroic defense in eighteen hundred and twelve, this garrison together with women and children was forced to evacuate the fort. Led forth by Captain Wells, they were brutally massacred by the Indians. They will be cherished as martyrs in our early history."

In 2007, the limestone on this monument is worn down like an old memory. The words "cherished as martyrs" seem to ring hollow in today's world of political correctness. If we are to cherish the memory of these early Chicagoans, then why is there such objection to restoring the statue George Pullman commissioned that stood once at the spot where these events occurred? It seems these early Chicagoans are no longer cherished martyrs, but instead are seen as obstacles to globalization and multiculturalism. When history is the stunted child of politics, we can count on politicians to hope Chicagoans will no longer look nor read.

It was not until 1939, just as the seeds of multiculturalism were being sown in Chicago politics that the Fort Dearborn Memorial Commission persuaded the city council to add a fourth star to the flag of Chicago. That star, first from the left, commemorates Fort Dearborn and Chicago's "brave pioneers."

Today, a building like the Sears Tower represents an act of forgetting just like the forgetting that surrounds the history of Fort Dearborn. We have witnessed a bleaching of classical references from from the facades of our buildings in the same way we have seen the bleaching of American ideals from our politics. This is the face of multiculturalism—the secular equivalent of community by hypnosis. So it goes, the conflict between liberal and conservative. It is one of the ironies of our history that Western Civilization has always been at war with itself while it was at war with the rest of the world.

The bones of those killed on August 15, 1812 were bleached clean on the sand. They were fewer in number than all the bones from the Union Stock Yards. Is the New World and the nation that shines from it a good thing in spite of these bones? To answer that question is to stand on one side of a line that divides the West from the rest of the world. We know the bones of the early settlers at Fort Dearborn were found by men who returned in 1816 to rebuild the fort. These remains were taken up and buried near the shore where Madison Street heads towards the lake, today. From there they disappeared, to leave a line in the sand we must imagine.

From Stockyard to Bone Yard

Obviously, something happened by the western shore of Lake Michigan as the structures men built changed from the logs of Fort Dearborn to the glass and steel of the Sears Tower, with a stop at the 1893 World's Fair along the way. Whatever did happen was a human process and not a natural one. The explanation offered here is a social process that unites ideas, desire, materials and politics.

Watch the families from Chicago's neighborhoods at Navy Pier. They line up to ride the giant Ferris Wheel. But before they ride they stand for a photograph together. They want a record of being here, a record with a human face. The architecture of servitude wipes away the record of a human face with its blank walls of glass and steel. Even the air in these buildings is not free.

The tragedy of the Democratic Party today is that it pretends to liberate those families it must keep in chains. This is evident in the public art its supports and the poetry it encourages. It is most evident in the architecture it commissions and the buildings it approves. Look around, the skyscraper with windows that cannot open is for the twenty-first century what the stockyards were for the twentieth.

What is significant about Chicago's current business elites and Chicago's Democrats is that they are both willing to sell out traditional American values to become rich or to stay in power. The political slogans of multiculturalism and diversity are nothing more than propaganda for increased profits to multinational corporations or more votes to local politicians. Both businessman and politician give their blessing to the architecture of servitude and the abstract art that clutters its plazas.

The disappointment of the virtuous seems to be a condition of those who live in Chicago. In the same way, Upton Sinclair's character Jurgis Rudkus ends as a disappointed man. Rudkus is a man who put his trust in socialism but was only used by it. So, too, members of the succeeding generations, who trusted in the Mayors Daley, will come to discover they were used only to keep the Democrats in power.

Some wonder if things have changed much in Chicago politics over the one hundred years since Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. This is how Sinclair describes the political situation in Packingtown: " there were two rival sets of grafters known as political local elections the Democratic Party always carried everything. The ruler of the district was therefore the Democratic boss, a little Irishman named Mike was his boast that he carried the stockyards in his pocket."

Upton Sinclair is quick to add that Scully owned a brickyard and sold bricks to the city, something like the hired truck scandal of the day. Looking down at the remains of Packingtown from the height of the Sears Tower, you see not much has changed in this city from 100 years ago. The bosses still use Chicago's immigrants as workers and the Democrats still use them as voters. Perhaps the only thing different in Sinclair's era from our time is that the elites of Chicago had not yet abandoned American cultural ideals. The politicians and businessmen had not yet decided to buy shares of multiculturalism.

As the memories of the Fort Dearborn Massacre and the 1893 World's Fair fade from history and the multicultural, global city takes its place, so too, traditional American ideals will fade. Individuality as an American ideal is a bourgeois illusion from the perspective of socialist theory. In an ironic denouement, Chicago's elites, in union with the city's Democrats, succeeded in bring to form the very idea their enemies imagined. The Sears Tower is the best example capitalism offers of a drab and faceless conformity any socialist could dream.

If Upton Sinclair were alive today, is there an image he would understand about the rise of the architecture of servitude in Chicago? If there is, then perhaps it would look something like this: From the surrounding suburbs, commuter trains pull into Union Station. A human tide flows out, and spills across the bridge that spans the south branch of the Chicago River. Men and women are on their way to work. They file into Sears Tower like sheep to the slaughter.


Robert Klein Engler




Robert Klein Engler lives in Chicago and New Orleans. He is a writer and artist whose work is sometimes characterized as politically incorrect. Born on the southwest side of Chicago, Robert taught many years at Richard J. Daley College, until he was banned by the chancellor. Robert holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana and the University of Chicago Divinity School. He has received 2 Illinois Arts Council awards for his poetry. Just google his name to find his writing on the Internet.

Michael Morgan writing in the Comstock Review says that Robert Klein Engler " a poet of the first rank." Another reviewer on disagrees. This reviewer says that Engler's book, A Winter of Words, is trash and that "Engler is a conflicted, sad man who likes to sulk in his book." He then adds, "Mr. Engler you are a Eurocentric nutcase and need to go to a mental hospital."

Larry Winfield of Los Angeles, CA writes that "...I must admit my grievous lack of artistic judgment (sic) in publishing Engler's poetry in past issues of Liquid Glyph"...Engler is "the poetry scene's version of Dinesh D'Souza."

C. J. Laity, editor of claims, "I too published this hateful bag of slime...little did I know I was helping to create a nazi monster who was bent on destroying me and all my friends...There are literally thousands of poets in Chicago who are better writers than Engler...he is simply a rotten human being that I prefer not to associate with." These comments are echoed by Ramsin Canon's assessment in Gaper's Block where Canon refers to Engler's writings as a "sublime banquet of bullshit."