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Wikimedia Commons

How Chicago's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

It's often said that "Chicago is a city of neighborhoods." This may seem redundant—isn't every city a city of neighborhoods?—but Chicago really is a big, wonderful amalgamation of unique enclaves. Where do the names for all these neighborhoods come from? We sought to find out.

Keep in mind that there are at least 200 neighborhoods in Chicago. While this list is extensive, it isn't absolute. For example, some areas were left off because they were obvious extensions of other neighborhoods (hello, West Rogers Park), while others lacked reliable info (or any information at all). If you don't see your neighborhood below, please write your alderman, who will then negotiate with us and we'll hash out an under-the-table deal.

The Chicago History Museum's Encyclopedia of Chicago and the Chicago Park District's parks database were extremely helpful resources for this—be sure to check them out.

Andersonville

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After the Chicago Fire, many of the city's Swedes moved to this area on the North Side to rebuild their lives. It's believed that the neighborhood is named after Reverend Paul Andersen Norland, who was integral in attracting folks to join the community during its early years (neighborhood's pros: not engulfed in flames).

Archer Heights

Named after Archer Avenue, which itself is named after William Beatty Archer, the first commissioner of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

Ashburn

Not the most glamorous of origins, but in the 1800s, Chicago families would dump their furnace ashes in this area, and the name "Ashburn" stuck.

Austin

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Named for Henry W. Austin, the real estate mogul who acquired and subdivided the land in 1866. The area was originally in the township of Cicero. Austin held the most power in that municipality, and its politicians brought major roads and elevated trains to the neighborhood. The other Cicero citizens objected and voted to expel Austin and have it annexed into Chicago.

Un-fun fact about Henry W. Austin: He was an ardent temperance advocate and worked to ban all saloons and liquor sales within his community.

Avalon Park

This neighborhood was originally named "Pennytown" for Penny, a local general store owner who sold popcorn balls. The area's Avalon Park Community Church lobbied to have the name changed, and Pennytown—and Penny's popcorn balls—are no more.

Back of the Yards

Union Stock Yards, 1947 via Wikimedia Commons

Named for its location in relation to the famed Union Stock Yards, this neighborhood was home to most of the Yards' workers. It's where the hog butchers for the world rested their heads at night.

Beverly

There is some argument about whether this neighborhood is named after Beverly, Massachusetts, or Beverly Hills, California. It's often referred to as "Beverly Hills" because it sits on a glacial ridge that, at 672 feet, is the tallest natural point in Chicago.

Boystown

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This informal, colloquial name for the LGBT community area that stretches along North Halsted Street started being used in the 1970s, around the time of the first Gay Pride Parade.

Bridgeport

This area was a fur trading outpost named "Hardscrabble" for years until it officially became the town of Bridgeport in 1836. Some insist that it's named after a bridge that spanned a canal on or near Ashland Avenue. There are no records of this bridge ever existing, however, leaving some to doubt this explanation. 

Bronzeville

This area on the South Side was apparently named "Bronzeville" by Chicago Bee theater editor James J. Gentry because he said it reflected the skin tone of its residents.

Bucktown

Early Polish immigrants raised goats in the area and called it "kozie prery," or "goat plain." That name evolved into "Bucktown," as "buck" is the term for a male goat. No goats remain today, of course (unless they're served in gourmet tacos).

Burnside

Illinois Central Railroad built a station in the area and named it after Civil War General Ambrose Burnside (who also worked as the railroad's treasurer). Colonel W.W. Jacobs subdivided the neighborhood in 1887 and named it after the station.

Canaryville

Depending on who you ask, this neighborhood is named either for the sparrows which populated it or for roving gangs of violent teens, dubbed "wild canaries" in the late 1800s. Either way, it was wise to keep your head on a swivel.

Dearborn Park

This park and housing development was planned in the 1970s and takes its name from General Henry Dearborn, Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of War. 

Douglas Park

Named after Stephen A. Douglas, who is most famous for his participation in the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Dunning

Cook County originally purchased this property in 1851 to build a "poor farm," insane asylum, and tuberculosis hospital. After the Civil War, a man named Andrew Dunning bought a tract of land to the south of this area to plant a nursery. In 1888, the hospital and asylum were bought by the city after they found gross mismanagement. The entire area, including Dunning's plot, soon took his name as redevelopment began.

East Garfield Park

The park that this neighborhood is named after was originally called "Central Park" when it was built in 1869. After President James A. Garfield's assassination in 1881, the city changed that, and the area to the east developed into East Garfield Park.

Edgebrook

The "brook" that this area edges is actually the North Branch of the Chicago River. Edgebrook was plotted in 1894 to be a golf course-adjacent suburb. The course remains, although the suburb has long since been absorbed by Chicago.

Edgewater

This North Side neighborhood hugging Lake Michigan was dubbed "Edgewater" in 1885 by John Lewis Cochran, a tobacco salesman from Philadelphia who purchased and subdivided much of the land. (Remember that name — old John Lewis Cochran comes up a lot when talking about the origins of Chicago's North Side.)

Edison Park

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Etiquette states that you should wait for someone to die before you name your town after them, but in 1890, the citizens of Edison Park eschewed manners and named their village after the very-much-alive inventor. Given that nobody loved Thomas Edison more than Thomas Edison, he gladly gave the township his blessing.

Englewood

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This neighborhood was originally named "The Junction" because of its railroad crossing. But after Henry B. Lewis, a wool and grain merchant, moved to the area in 1867, he and his wife convinced residents to start calling the neighborhood "Englewood," inspired by the New Jersey town.

Fernwood

Fernwood Village was founded by Dutch farmers and they named it after the surrounding woodland. (You see, it was full of ferns.) The village was annexed into Chicago in 1891.

Fuller Park

Named after Melville Fuller, a Chicagoan and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1888 to 1910.

Gage Park

South Park Commissioner George W. Gage died in office in 1875 while developing this park. The city soon honored his memory by naming it after him, and the surrounding neighborhood eventually followed suit.

Garfield Ridge

A section of 55th Street, which runs through the neighborhood, was renamed Garfield Boulevard to honor President Garfield after his assassination.

Gladstone Park

Named after British Prime Minister William Gladstone. Gladstone served in the office a record four separate times which, in Chicago, is considered short-term.

Gold Coast

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This North Side area along Lake Michigan was originally called "The Astor Street District," taking the name of John Jacob Astor. Astor didn't actually live in Chicago, but the residents so desperately wanted to project an air of wealth that they used his name anyway. It worked, and when a section of Lake Shore Drive opened in 1875, rich families began building homes in the neighborhood. The community officially became known as the "Gold Coast" at the turn of the century. 

Goose Island

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Goose Island is an actual island located in the North Branch of the Chicago River. It was created when William Ogden, Chicago's first mayor, built an auxiliary canal to facilitate shipping routes. The name "Goose Island" comes from a separate, smaller island in the river, but the name was soon attached to the man-made land mass when Irish squatters moved from the old island to the new one. The term comes from the abundant geese they hunted.

Grand Boulevard

This area is named after the former moniker of its main thoroughfare. The road was briefly changed from Grand Boulevard to South Park Way before being renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in 1968.

Greater Grand Crossing

This area has its roots in a railroad company dispute, or "frog war." Both Illinois Central and Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroads laid claim to the real estate. Roswell B. Mason, a future Chicago mayor and executive for Illinois Central Railroad, secretly put tracks over some of Lake Shore & Michigan Southern's rails using an illegal connector. In 1853, two trains crashed, killing eight and injuring 40. During the aftermath, real estate developer Paul Cornell came in and used the site of the deadly intersection to build a new suburb.

Greektown

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Greek immigrants came to Chicago in the 1840s as ship captains and started selling food and opening restaurants in this Near West Side neighborhood. The Eisenhower Expressway displaced the community in the 1960s, but it regrouped a couple blocks north and retained the name "Greektown."

Hamilton Park

This park was designed by the Olmsted brothers and planned by Henry Burnham. It opened in 1904 and was named after Alexander Hamilton.

Hegewisch

Adolph Hegewisch, president of the U.S. Rolling Stock Company, aimed to develop a workers' utopia and established the community in 1883. He also moved his factory to the area to facilitate growth.

Your daily Adolph Hegewisch fun fact: During WWII, Hegewisch's first name started to appear as "Achilles" in texts and histories, either as an honest mistake or as a deliberate attempt to distance the man's legacy from Hitler.

Hermosa

In 1889, the city of Chicago annexed this area, which was part of Garfield, and changed the name to Hermosa, Spanish for "beautiful." No one knows why, but everyone agrees it's very nice.

Hollywood Park

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John Lewis Cochran, our friend from Edgewater, named Hollywood Avenue after that Hollywood (he lived in California for part of his life).

Humboldt Park

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In 1869, area residents requested that the newly built park in their neighborhood be named for Prussian scientist, explorer, geographer, writer, and celebrity Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, who was born 100 years prior. (Fancypants Heights was another option.)

Hyde Park

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In 1853, Paul Cornell (the cousin of Cornell University founder Ezra Cornell) bought 300 acres of land by Lake Michigan and named it "Hyde Park" after the location in London.

Irving Park

Charles T. Race, who bought the land, named it after Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Island

The Island is actually a metaphorical island. When the neighborhood was built, there were three rail lines that made up its north border. To the south and west are suburbs (Cicero and Oak Park, respectively), and to its east is an uninhabited factory area.

Jackowo

Jackowo gets its name from the Polish spelling of Saint Hyacinth's Basilica (Bazylika Św. Jacka) at the center of the neighborhood.

Jackson Park Highlands

Named for the hill that overlooks Jackson Park (which itself was named after President Andrew Jackson). Originally named "South Park," Jackson Park was home to the World's Columbian Exposition.

Jefferson Park

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Originally called "Jefferson Township," this independent area was named after Thomas Jefferson and was separate from Chicago until 1889 when it was incorporated by the city.

K-Town

This part of North Lawndale gets its name because of all the streets in the area that start with the letter "K"—Karlov, Kedvale, Keeler, Kenneth, Kilbourn, Kildare, Kolin, Kolmar, Komensky, Kostner, and Kilpatrick, to name a few.

Kelvyn Park

The park was named after the surrounding subdivision, which was named for British physicist William Thomson Kelvin. Kelvin is most famous for calculating absolute zero (-273.15 Celsius), which comes in handy in Chicago quite often.

Kenwood

Dr. John A. Kennicott, one of the first homeowners in the neighborhood, named the area after his family's territory in Scotland.

Kilbourn Park

Named after Kilbourn Street, which honors a city in Wisconsin that is now more commonly known as water park dystopia Wisconsin Dells.

Kosciuszko Park

"The Land of Koz" was dedicated to Thadeuz Kosciuszko in 1916. Kosciuszko came from Poland to assist the Americans during the Revolutionary War and became a brigadier general.

Lake View

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Named for the Hotel Lake View, which was built in 1854 on what is now the convergence of Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive.

Lakewood Balmoral

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John Lewis Cochran—of Edgewater and Hollywood Park fame—purchased the land in 1885 and named the streets after train stops from outside his home town of Philadelphia (hence "Balmoral").

Lincoln Park

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Lincoln Park was originally a cemetery for cholera and smallpox victims. Shallow graves located so close to the city's water supply rightly raised some alarms, so Chicago began converting it into a massive park called "Lake Park" in the 1860s. After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, the park was renamed in his honor.

Lincoln Square

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This area was originally known as "Celeryville" or "Pickletown" in the 1800s. At the time, proud farmers claimed that it was the celery capital of the United States (woohoo!). Eventually, the cluster of neighborhoods around Celeryville and Pickletown took the name of the main commuter road that ran through it, Lincoln Avenue.

Little Italy

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This area (also known as University Village for the UIC campus) was once home to nearly all of Chicago's Italian immigrant population.

Logan Square

A square located at the center of the neighborhood is dedicated to John A. Logan, a Civil War general and politician who is credited with popularizing Memorial Day.

The Loop

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Chicago's main business district is named for the circular route taken by the L lines that service it.

McKinley Park

This park was under development in 1901 when President McKinley was assassinated. The park and the neighborhood that surrounds it took his name.

Mount Greenwood

In 1879, George Waite developed Mount Greenwood cemetery and planted dense plots of beautiful trees. The surrounding area became known as Mount Greenwood too, and the neighborhood was annexed into Chicago in 1927.

New City

This neighborhood gets its name from University of Chicago sociologists who drew up boundaries for new community areas in the 1920s. Why "New City?" Because they're sociologists, not poets.

Noble Square

Named for civic leaders Mark and John Noble. The square that was built in the area was part of a controversial Department of Urban Renewal development that displaced many residents.

North Lawndale

Shortly after Cicero was incorporated into Chicago in 1869, Alden C. Millard and Edwin J. Decker quit their stationery business to develop real estate in this new area. They chose the name "Lawndale" and pumped money into the neighborhood by building a hotel, shops, and housing. The two were bankrupt by 1876.

North Park

The "park" this area refers to is Peterson Park (named after Swedish community leader Pehr Samuel Peterson), which was purchased by the city and turned into the Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium in 1911. While it doesn't sound like it'd be beautiful, the city purposely preserved the area's natural features to use as a buffer between the patients and the rest of the city. What is currently the Nature Center served as a Sanitarium building until the 1970s. The area remains lush because community activists successfully fought a plan to turn it into bland strip malls and condo buildings in the 1980s.

Norwood Park

This area—incorporated into Chicago in 1874—was named after Norwood, or Village Life in New England, a book by Henry Ward Beecher. You can read the novel here (feel free to leave your book report in the comments).

O'Hare

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O'Hare International Airport (and its surrounding neighborhood) was named after Edward "Butch" O'Hare, a Chicagoan and WWII Navy aviator. O'Hare received a Medal of Honor in 1942 for single-handedly attacking a squadron of advancing Japanese bombers while defending the Lexington. He was killed in battle a year later during a night interception mission. The city renamed Old Orchard Depot Airport for him (that's why the airport code is still "ORD").

His father, Edward J. O'Hare, was one of Al Capone's lawyers and advisors. The elder O'Hare eventually turned important information over to the government that helped send Capone to jail for tax evasion. In 1939, Edward J. was assassinated by two shotgun-wielding henchmen on the West Side, near Douglas Park.

That info should give you plenty of small talk fodder for your next delay at O'Hare.

Old Town

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During World War II, the triangle made up by North Avenue, Clark Street, and Ogden Avenue was designated as a "neighborhood defense unit" by Chicago's Civil Defense Agency. After the war, the residents stayed closely bonded and threw community art fairs, calling them “Old Town Holidays.” The name "Old Town" stuck.

Palmer Square

This tiny area located within Logan Square is named for Potter Palmer, a successful early Chicago businessman who opened a dry goods store in 1852 and eventually sold it to Marshall Field.

Pill Hill

This rhyming South Side enclave was named for all the doctors who called the neighborhood home.

Pilsen

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Manufacturing jobs brought thousands of immigrants to this area in the 1870s. Many were Czechs, and they came to call the area "Plzeň" after the second-biggest city in West Bohemia. The name soon morphed into "Pilsen," which persevered.

Polish Downtown

Polish Downtown essentially served as a capital of sorts for Polish immigrants soon after they started moving to the United States. During WWI, the movement to create a free Poland was started and ran from this neighborhood.

Portage Park

Originally a park district (the park in the center of the neighborhood remains), this area is named for the nearby portage routes used by fur traders and Native Americans between the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers.

Printer's Row

Printing and publishing houses dominated this area for a century, starting in the late 1800s. Most of the remaining buildings have since been converted to residential use.

Pulaski Park

This neighborhood within West Town is named after its park, which was dedicated to Casimir Pulaski, a Polish nobleman and cavalry commander who fought and died for the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Pulaski is a name that comes up a lot in Chicago, so study up on him.

Pullman

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Industrialist George Mortimer Pullman purchased 4000 acres of land south of Chicago to develop a town for the men and women who built his company's luxury railroad sleeping cars. Pullman Town was an initial success, offering workers affordable housing and providing a safe, private community away from the distractions of the city.

Soon, Pullman's paranoia took over, and residents were subjected to random house searches and draconian limits on free speech and worship. According to the Pullman State Historical Site, employees took to saying, "We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell."

After Pullman cut wages but kept rents at the same levels, workers went on strike and the Illinois Supreme Court ordered that Pullman Town be annexed into Chicago in 1898. George Mortimer Pullman died of a heart attack shortly thereafter.

Ravenswood

This neighborhood began as one of the city's first suburbs in 1868 when the Ravenswood Land Company, a group of businessmen and developers, started buying up land for residential use.

River North

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This area along the north branch of the Chicago River was known for years as "Smokey Hollow" because of the factories that linked to the waterway and nearby railroad tracks. After the area's main port moved in the 1920s, this riverside district became a seedy hub. Still, the location was desirable enough for eager developers, and in the 1970s, real estate mogul Albert Friedman thought to rename the area "River North." It worked, and yuppies eventually followed.

Riverdale

In 1835, George Dolton settled in this area alongside the Calumet River near a Potawatomi Indian reservation. He built a toll ferry, which became known as the "Riverdale Ferry." A bridge soon followed, and the area was called both "Dolton" and "Riverdale" for years as it became an industrial epicenter.

Rogers Park

Early settler Philip Rogers bought this lakeside land in 1836 for $1.25 an acre. His son-in-law Patrick L. Touhy developed the area and started its rise to the bustling residential community that would eventually be incorporated into Chicago.

Roscoe Village

While not 100 percent verified, it's assumed that this neighborhood name comes from John Lewis Cochran, again. Like Balmoral, Roscoe Street was probably named after a train stop outside of Philadelphia because Cochran's creativity was boundless—within the limits of Philadelphia train stations.

Roseland

Settled by Dutch farmers, this fertile and lush area full of flowers was dubbed "Roseland" in 1873 by James H. Bowen, the president of the Calumet and Chicago Canal and Dock Company.

Sauganash

Potawatomi chief Sauganash was born in Canada in 1780 to a Wyandot mother and an Irish father. Sauganash means "The Englishman." He moved to Chicago in 1820 and became a prominent citizen during the city's early days and was elected a justice of the peace. The government granted him a 1200-acre reservation along the Chicago River, and part of this area bears his name to this day.

Sheridan Park

Sheridan Park was named in honor of Civil War hero Philip Henry Sheridan in 1912. Sheridan was a successful Union Army cavalry commander and was the subject of Thomas Buchanan Read's poem "Sheridan's Ride."

Smith Park

Named for 32nd ward Alderman Joseph Higgins Smith in 1929 (who was the alderman of the area from 1914 to 1933).

South Deering

This area was originally named "Irondale" for its many steel mills. The village was bought up in 1902 by the International Harvester Company and further developed by the Deering Harvester Company, who inspired the new name.

Streeterville

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"Cap" George Wellington Streeter was a boat captain along the Mississippi River and a classic, big-time jerk. Legend has it that he and his wife "Ma" Streeter were cruising in their boat around Lake Michigan in 1886 when they hit a sandbar. (Others maintain Streeter deliberately crashed his boat into the shoreline.) Perfectly comfortable in their precarious position, the couple decided to stay put.

Silt accumulated around the ship and soon a land bridge connected them to Chicago. At that time, the city was filling in the lake in that area to build Lake Shore Drive. Cap Streeter was having none of Chicago's crap and he defended the swampy dump around his boat with a shotgun. Aided by the liquid courage he was known to pull from liberally, "Cap" had multiple standoffs with authorities before finally being arrested and tried.

Despite having the land stripped from him by the court, Cap had the last laugh: The neighborhood is named after him to this day.

Stony Island

Tens of thousands of years ago, glacial runoff formed Lake Chicago, which spread over the entirety of the modern-day city. Stony Island was an actual rocky island that eventually poked to the surface when the waters began to recede. In the 1920s, the "island" (which was just a boulder-covered hill) was destroyed to make way for drainage systems and a road, which is all that remains.

Tri-Taylor

The triangular convergence of avenues at the western end of Taylor Street gives the area the name "Tri-Taylor."

Ukrainian Village

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After the Great Fire, this area was mainly inhabited by German immigrants. In the early 20th century, Russian, Ukrainian, and other European residents started to call the neighborhood home, and by the end of WWI it was primarily an enclave for Ukrainians. In 1983, Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne designated Ukrainian Village as an "official neighborhood," the first such location in Chicago to receive this honor.

Uptown

For most of Chicago's early history, this neighborhood was the northern terminus for commercial rail lines. It became a popular shopping destination, and wealthy Chicagoans soon flocked to the area and bought up residential property.

Wacławowo

Like its neighbor Jackowo, Wacławowo is named for the local parish, St. Wenceslaus Church (Kościół Świętego Wacława in Polish).

West Lawn

Real estate developers James Webb and John F. Eberhart founded West Lawn on sprawling marshy lands in 1877. The village was annexed to Chicago in 1889.

Wicker Park

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Brothers Charles G. and Joel H. Wicker owned a subdivision in Chicago and in 1870 they gave a small area of it to the city. It was sectioned off so cattle couldn't graze on the fertile land, and soon a neighborhood sprouted around the park, which took its name from the men who donated it.

Wrigleyville

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This neighborhood is named after Wrigley Field, which was itself named after gum magnate and Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley in 1926. While the area is known for its crowded bars and young, rowdy revelers, the Cubs themselves are all business and signs point to this being their year.*

*This will not be their year.

We're slowly working our way across the country. See how the neighborhoods in other cities got their names.

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Marie Antoinette's Jewelry Is Up for Sale
Michael Bowles, Getty Images for Sotheby's
Michael Bowles, Getty Images for Sotheby's

Rare jewelry that once belonged to Marie Antoinette and hasn't been seen in public for 200 years will be heading to the auction block this fall, according to The Adventurine.

A diamond parure (jewelry set), three-strand pearl necklace, and other gems that once adorned the last queen of France will be sold on November 12 in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of Sotheby's "Royal Jewels from the Bourbon-Parma Family" auction. The family in question is related by blood to some of Europe's most important rulers, including former kings of France and Spain and emperors of Austria.

A diamond jewelry set
Courtesy of Sotheby's

Although Marie Antoinette was known for her opulent fashion choices, her jewels have scarcely been seen since the French Revolution, The Adventurine reports. The Smithsonian owns a pair of earrings that are believed to contain diamonds from the queen's collection, and a diamond necklace that appeared at a Christie's auction in 1971 "hasn't been seen since." The jewelry magazine notes that many of Marie Antoinette's jewels were dismantled, but a few—like the ones featured in this latest collection—managed to survive.

A pearl necklace
Courtesy of Sotheby's

According to Sotheby's, Marie Antoinette placed all her jewels in a wooden chest in March 1791 and shipped them off to her nephew, the Austrian Emperor, for safekeeping [PDF]. That following year, the royal family was imprisoned, and in 1793 Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVII were executed by guillotine. Their only surviving child, Marie Thérèse de France, retrieved the jewels and later passed them along to her niece, since she had no children of her own. They ultimately ended up with Robert I, the last ruling Duke of Parma in Italy.

The most valuable piece, a pearl pendant featuring a bow made of diamonds, is expected to fetch between $1 million and $2 million, according to the auction house's estimates. In the late 18th century, pearls were just as coveted as diamonds because of their rarity. Marie Antoinette, of course, wore them often.

A diamond and pearl pendant
Courtesy of Sotheby's

"It is one of the most important royal jewelry collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history," Daniela Mascetti, of Sotheby's European jewelry division, said in a statement.

[h/t The Adventurine]

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12 Facts About James Joyce
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

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