How Chicago's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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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.

The Gruesome Medieval Masquerade That Inspired Edgar Allan Poe

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In March 1849, Edgar Allan Poe published a short story with one of the most macabre dénouements in his entire body of work. Called Hop-Frog, it was the tale of an eponymous court jester who endures repeated humiliations from an abusive king and his ministers before finally exacting his revenge. Like other works of the great horror master, it may have been inspired by historical events—in this case, by a particularly grisly episode from 14th-century France.

In Poe's short story, both Hop-Frog and Trippetta are people with dwarfism stolen from their respective home countries and brought as presents for the king from one of his generals. Hop-Frog is described as having a disability that makes him walk "by a sort of interjectional gait—something between a leap and a wriggle." Forced to be the court's jester, he's the target of the king's practical jokes, and while enduring near-constant humiliations grows close to Trippetta, whose status at the court isn't much better.

One day, the king demands a masquerade, and as the evening draws near, he asks Hop-Frog what to wear. After a scene in which he and Trippetta are abused once again, Hop-Frog sees the perfect chance for revenge. He suggests the monarch and his ministers dress as escaped orangutans chained together, which he calls "a capital diversion—one of my own country frolics—often enacted among us, at our masquerades." The king and his ministers love the idea of scaring their guests, and especially the women. The jester carefully prepares their costumes, saturating tight-fitting fabric with tar and plastering flax on top to resemble the hair of the beasts.

On the evening of the masquerade, the men enter in their special outfits just after midnight. The guests are duly terrified, and amid the hubbub, Hop-Frog attaches the chain that surrounds the group to one hanging from the ceiling that normally holds a chandelier. As the men are drawn upwards, he brings a flame close to their bodies, pretending to the crowd that he's trying to figure out who the disguised men really are. The flax and tar ignite quickly and the noblemen burn to death, suspended above the crowd. "The eight corpses swung in their chains," Poe writes, "a fetid, blackened, hideous, and indistinguishable mass."

Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Rijksmuseum, Europeana // Public Domain

The gruesome scene was likely inspired by a historical event: the Bal des Ardents (literally, "the Ball of the Burning Ones"). This obscure episode took place during the reign of Charles VI of France (1380-1422), known to posterity as "Charles the Mad." His periods of illness are well-documented by contemporary chroniclers, who tell us that he ran through his castle howling like a wolf, failed to recognize his own wife and children, and forbade anyone to touch him because he believed he was made of glass. After his first bout in 1392, when delirium led him to kill several knights, his physician prescribed "amusements, relaxations, sports, and pastimes."

Meanwhile, the royal council was controlled by his brother Louis d'Orléans and his uncle the Duke of Burgundy—who both had their eyes set on the throne. It was also the middle of the Hundred Years' War, and England was seen as a severe threat to national stability. In spite of the unrest, on January 28, 1393, Charles's wife, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, held a ball in the royal palace of Saint-Pol to celebrate the third marriage of her lady-in-waiting Catherine de Fastaverin. The plan was also to entertain the king, as the royal physician had prescribed. One of the guests, the knight Sir Hugonin (sometimes Huguet) de Guisay, suggested that a group of nobles dress as "wild men" or "wood savages," mythical creatures associated with nature and pagan beliefs. The king liked the idea so much that he decided to join in as one of the masked dancers.

The six noblemen wore garments made of linen covered in pitch and stuck-on clumps of flax, so they appeared "full of hair from the top of the head to the sole of the foot," according to contemporary historian Jean Froissart. Poe preserved these details in Hop-Frog, though his characters weren't dressed as wild men, but as orangutans—an animal he had also used in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) to great effect.

Unlike his fictional counterpart, Charles VI was aware that the costumes were highly flammable, so he ordered all torch-bearers to keep to one side of the room. As they entered the ballroom, five of the wild men were chained to one another. Only the king was free. The men probably humiliated the newlyweds, howling and dancing; some historians believe the wild dance was a charivari, a folk ritual intended to shame newlyweds at "irregular" marriages. (As a widow getting married for the third time, Lady Catherine would have been a target.)

But there was an important guest missing: the king's brother, Louis d'Orléans. He arrived late, carrying his own torch, and joined the dance. While the exact sequence of events is unclear, before long his torch had set fire to one of the wild men's costumes. The fire spread quickly. Two of the knights burned to death in front of the guests, and two more died in agony days later. Court chronicler Michel Pintoin, known as the Monk of St. Denis, describes the dancers' "flaming genitals dropping to the floor … releasing a stream of blood."

Only two of the wild men survived. One of them, named Nantoiullet, had reacted to the blaze by throwing himself into a barrel of water, which spared him a horrid death. The other was the king. He was saved by the Duchess of Berry, who used her gown to extinguish his costume before it was too late.

The event shook French society. It was seen as the height of courtly decadence, causing outrage and further unrest. That the king had engaged in this extravagant amusement, and that his life had been spared only by chance, was further proof that he was unfit for the throne.

Meanwhile, the part that Louis d'Orléans played in the tragedy was subject to some debate. Most chroniclers blamed his youth and recklessness for the terrible accident; some reportedly suggested it was a prank to "frighten the ladies" that got out of hand.

Although it seems that the Bal des Ardents wasn't a planned crime, the king's brother must have felt responsible for the fatal accident, since he founded a chapel in the convent of the Célestins shortly afterwards, hoping it would buy him a place in heaven. It didn't save him from a violent end, however: In 1407, Louis was assassinated on the orders of his cousin and recently minted political rival the Duke of Burgundy, which triggered a civil war that divided France for decades. The Duke of Burgundy justified the murder by accusing Louis of having used sorcery and occultism to attempt regicide on several occasions—one of them, he claimed, during the Bal des Ardents.

Regardless of the truth behind the matter, the horror of the event filtered down through the centuries to inspire one of Poe's most macabre works. (It's not clear where the author first heard about it, but it may have been in the pages of The Broadway Journal, where he was soon to become editor, and where a writer likened it to the accidental onstage burning death of the dancer Clara Webster in London.) Today, the shocking historical event lives on in Poe's story—and in Hop Frog's memorable final line: "I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester—and this is my last jest."

Additional source: Chronique du Religieux de Saint-Denys

9 People Who Have Been Called America's Sweetheart

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The term “America’s Sweetheart” first appeared in the early 1900s, back when motion pictures were still a novelty. Over the years, it’s been applied to a vast number of celebrities—largely young, bubbly, wholesome-seeming ladies who women want to be and men want to introduce to their mothers. (The occasional man has been dubbed America's sweetheart, too, but the moniker has never quite defined famous men the way it has defined a certain genre of female celebrity.) Here are nine people who have been called "America's sweetheart" in the past.

1. THE ORIGINAL: MARY PICKFORD

Mary Pickford circa 1910
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Mary Pickford—perhaps the most iconic actress of the Silent Era and a founder of Hollywood institutions like the United Artists studio and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—was the first to hold the unofficial title of "America's Sweetheart," a nickname reportedly given to her by influential theater owner David Grauman. The title would later be used in ad copy for her films and by magazines writing about her work. In a 1918 feature in Photoplay magazine called "Women I Have Loved," actor Elliott Dexter, in enumerating all of the actresses who had served as his on-screen love interests, wrote that "Mary Pickford absolutely captivated me as she does everyone who goes near her. Her genius, her brilliancy, her charm, her beauty—oh, what's the use? All of that has only been said two or three thousand times more or less and all of it is true." Dexter played opposite Pickford in A Romance of the Redwoods, a 1917 silent Western. (To give you an idea of her comparative clout, she received top billing, while his name didn't appear on the film's poster at all.)

"In more than 200 films, including 52 full-length features, she was the brave little girl whose hair hung down in golden ringlets," The Washington Post described in her obituary in 1979. "She was scarcely 5 feet tall, but she never gave up when times got bad. She was funny and sad, tough and vulnerable, innocent and ingenious, and she always won out in the end."

Oddly enough, Pickford proved that you didn't need to be from the U.S. to become America’s sweetheart—she was Canadian.

2. SHIRLEY TEMPLE

Shirley Temple, circa 1934.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Several decades after Pickford pioneered the name, Shirley Temple took over as "America’s Sweetheart," so effectively embodying the title that many have mistakenly called her America's first sweetheart. The dimpled, ringlet-sporting Depression-era child actor was famous by the time she was 6, singing and tap-dancing her way through more than 40 films before she retired from the pictures at the ripe age of 22 and selling millions of dolls in her likeness to American children in the process. As an adult, she went on to become a U.S. delegate to the U.N. and ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

The title of America's sweetheart stuck with Temple throughout her life. When Fox released box sets of her complete works on DVD in the early 2000s, the studio called them the America's Sweetheart collection.

3. DEBBIE REYNOLDS

Debbie Reynolds circa 1955
Keystone, Getty Images

Debbie Reynolds became America's latest sweetheart in the 1950s, starting with her star turn in Singin’ in the Rain, which debuted in 1952 when she was 20 years old. She went on to appear in multiple movies a year throughout the 1950s and had several hit songs on the Billboard charts. "Her girl-next-door looks, bouncy personality and energy in a string of comedies and musicals quickly earned her the title of America's Sweetheart," The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana explained in 1988.

Unfortunately, Reynolds's position as America's sweetheart was often juxtaposed with the sex-symbol status of her close friend Elizabeth Taylor. Reynolds's husband Eddie Fisher (himself an American sweetheart) divorced her to marry Taylor in 1959, a scandal that garnered tremendous media coverage at the time and still appears in headlines today. Reynolds died in late 2016, and nearly every obituary referenced her years as America's sweetheart.

4. MARY TYLER MOORE

Mary Tyler Moore, circa 1969
E Milsom, Getty Images

In the 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore took over the title of America's sweetheart—though there was often a caveat. "Just as surely as Mary Pickford was America's sweetheart, Mary Tyler Moore is the viewers' sweetheart," a UPI newswire story about The Mary Tyler Moore Show declared in 1972, not quite giving her the full title. Moore became a household name in the early 1960s while playing Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and went on to star in her own eponymous show between 1970 and 1977. In 1977, the New York Daily News called her "America's TV sweetheart." But in other publications, there was no descriptor required. Both Esquire and Rolling Stone labeled her "America's sweetheart' in cover stories in 1977 and 1980, respectively.

And yet, America can't focus on one sweetheart for too long. Already, her title was already at risk of being passed off to someone else. In 1979, The Pittsburgh Press wrote that Donna Pescow of Saturday Night Fever, who was then starring in the ABC show Angie, "may replace Mary Tyler Moore as America's sweetheart." (That one didn't quite come to fruition.)

5. MARY LOU RETTON … AND NUMEROUS OTHER FEMALE OLYMPIANS OF THE 1980s

Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Olympics.
STAFF/AFP, GettyImages

Not all of America's sweethearts have been actresses. Walter Cronkite bestowed the honorary on gymnast Mary Lou Retton following her wins at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Olympic runner Mary Decker occasionally donned the label in the 1980s, too, as did tennis star Chris Evert and swimmer Janet Evans. Just about every successful female athlete of the 1980s was at one point deemed to be America's sweetheart. The trope continues today, too—more recent Olympic gymnasts like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, and Aly Raisman have all been called America's sweethearts, too.

6. MEG RYAN

Meg Ryan circa 1993.
MYCHELE DANIAU, AFP/Getty Images

Meg Ryan became America’s sweetheart thanks to roles in a string of romantic comedies, starting with When Harry Met Sally… in 1989 and continuing throughout the 1990s. In one typical article of the time, a Detroit Free Press story in 1996 called Ryan "she of the giggle in the voice and the sparkle in the eye." Another, published by The Age in Australia, called her "cinema's intoxicating, decent-hearted sprite." But she fell out of Hollywood favor in the early 2000s after an affair with Russell Crowe brought about the end of her marriage to Dennis Quaid, a scandal that captivated the tabloids. If there's one rule to being America's sweetheart, it's that you have to keep your image scandal free—extramarital affairs are definitely not allowed.

Though she has been out of the spotlight for several years, Ryan recently discussed her time as America's sweetheart with Gwyneth Paltrow at a Goop conference, saying she never liked the title. "When you get labeled anything, like America's sweetheart—I didn't even know what that meant," she told Paltrow. "I remember thinking, 'Is that good?'" She went on to say, "It doesn't necessarily imply that you're smart or sexual or complicated or anything. It's a label. And what can a label do but guess at you?"

7. JULIA ROBERTS

Julia Roberts in ‘Runaway Bride,’ 1999
Getty Images

Julia Roberts got her start in Hollywood with films like Mystic Pizza (1988) and Steel Magnolias (1989) and became a true international star when Pretty Woman came out in 1990. In 1993, The Boston Globe called her "the closest thing there is to America's Sweetheart." Throughout the '90s, both she and fellow sweetheart Meg Ryan regularly made the top of lists like Harlequin's Top 10 Most Desirable Women and Men's Health's list of the top stars to "take home to Mom." And yet by the mid-1990s, some writers were already moving on to someone else. "Sandra Bullock emerged as the likely successor to the fading Julia Roberts as America's Sweetheart," the South Florida Sun-Sentinel announced in its end-of-year coverage for 1995. But she was soon back on top—after My Best Friend's Wedding came out in 1997, the Orlando Sentinel wrote that she "hardly seems ready to relinquish her title as America's Sweetheart." In 2003, National Enquirer released a biography of the star called Julia Roberts: America's Sweetheart.

8. SANDRA BULLOCK

Sandra Bullock talks on a cell phone while shopping for laundry detergent in 1999’s ’Forces of Nature.'
Getty Images

Anyone with a few hit romantic comedies under their belt is sure to become America's sweetheart, and Sandra Bullock was no exception. Bullock made her name starring as the plucky heroine in movies like While You Were Sleeping (1995), but when she tried to stretch her dramatic legs, she wasn't quite so beloved. "Sandra Bullock and Clint Eastwood are popular because of their personalities and looks, not necessarily because we want to see them perform," a Knight Ridder newspaper critic snarked in 1999. Bullock wasn't particularly invested in being America's sweetheart, however, and she certainly understood the rules of the game. "There's a different 'America's Sweetheart' every time they have to promote another romantic comedy," she told The Orange County Register in 2005.

9. JENNIFER ANISTON

A promotional image of Jennifer Aniston with her arms crossed, 1995
NBC Television/Getty Images

Even more fool-proof than romantic comedies, the quickest way to become America's sweetheart is to link up with another all-American celebrity. While Jennifer Aniston hit sweetheart status thanks to the massive popularity of her character on Friends—one Entertainment Weekly labeled as a Top 10 greatest pop-culture characters of the last 20 years in 2010—her romance with noted Hollywood heartthrob Brad Pitt definitely sealed the deal. When that ended in 2005, she got to keep the title, except she became "America's jilted sweetheart" (compared to the "superhumanly sensual" Angelina Jolie), as a writer from The Arizona Republic called her in 2005. (Another rule for these superfluous titles? Women must be pitted against each other, whether they like it or not.)

Even though Aniston no longer appears in our homes every Thursday night as she did during her run on Friends, she'll always be the country's sweetheart for many. "Look at Jennifer Aniston: she's America's sweetheart for a reason," fellow actress Allison Williams observed while talking about red carpet styles in Elle's 2014 Women in TV issue. "You know what she's going to look like when she shows up to something, and there's something so comfortable in that."

Maybe that's the key. If America's sweetheart is anything, it's comforting.

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