The Hidden History of the University of Chicago
Fresh off his first two walking tours-—Leopold & Loeb and Working Man’s Guide to the World’s Columbian Exposition—self-made tour guide Paul Durica is leading his third exploration into the secret past of the University of Chicago on a recent drizzly late-summer Sunday. Durica, owner and operator of Pocket Guide to Hell Tours, was commissioned by the Hyde Park Historical Society to orate tales to several society members. Along with me, history geeks (much like Durica himself), students and some adorable senior couples join him.
Our quirky, egghead guide dresses for the occasion in old-timey academic regalia. He begins and ends the tour in character as Thorstein Veblen, a U. of C. economics professor back in 1916. “Welcome peanuts,”—that’s freshmen to us modern folk—“the Woodrow Wilson Club meets today,” Durica starts, as we are thrown into the past while hovering inside our meeting place, the Gothic Revival student center.
Durica impressively recalls some key historical figures without a script—including the school’s founding president, Dr. Harper; student Charles H. Williams; and the first female undergrad, Demia Butler—and he occasionally holds up photocopies of historical documents. Amateur theater and the archaic banter are well received with laughter.
His saga favors modern big-city business, politics and commerce to the more fun, expected college topics such as crazy coeds or underage drinking. Durica schools us on the economic collapse of 1893, the rich merchants who financed the school, the renowned educators who backed Harper’s relentless quest to make the university a premier institution and, even, those who opposed it.
While some tours merely scratch the surface, Durica digs deep and presents an abundance of physical information, including a copy of J.D. Rockefeller’s pledge of $600,000, plus pics, students’ journals and cartoons spoofing the faculty. He admits his journeys are geared more toward Chicagoans than tourists in search of popular attractions and cheeky storytelling. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean the tours lack entertainment: The next jaunt includes live-band accompaniment.
Meet at Reynold’s Club, 57th Street and University Park. Spring and Summer only. Sunday 4 at 1pm. Free. Register online at Pocket Guide to Hell tours via Facebook.