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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, June 23

Gapers Block

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Chicago by the Numbers

This is my 100th column for Ask the Librarian. Tradition, or maybe just conceit, demands that I acknowledge that fact. Writing the 100th column, after all, is neither less nor more difficult than writing the first or the 99th. But, numbers do have meaning.

My colleague Ramsin, whose political voice will be sorely missed in Revenge of the Second City, celebrated this milestone not too long ago. Like him, I rejected several ideas for ways to mark the occasion. For example, I barely spared everyone a list of 100 books about Chicago I have acquired in the past 28 months in the name of "research."

Instead, as I wondered about the significance we attach to numbers, I also began to think about the numbers that can define a place. One can reduce a city and its history to numbers in an infinite variety of ways. The numbers might inform, educate or just entertain. Here is a very brief list of some of the great, small or the merely interesting numbers that describe the people, history and environment of Chicago.

Chicago by the Numbers

4,470: Population of Chicago recorded in 1840 census.

3,620,962: Chicago's highest population, recorded in 1950.

2,896,016: Population of Chicago recorded in 2000 census.

6,000: Estimated number of Confederate soldiers buried in Oak Woods Cemetery on Chicago's South Side.

2: Swans given to park commissioners in 1868, founding Lincoln Park Zoo.

17,450: Buildings destroyed in Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

90,000: Estimated number of people left homeless by the fire.

200 million: Cost of damages inflicted by the fire in 1871 dollars.

2.9 billion: Cost of damages in 2005 dollars.

10: Percent of city area burned in the fire.

1997: Year Mrs. O'Leary and her cow were exonerated from blame of starting the fire by the Chicago City Council.

17,355: Books in collection of Chicago Public Library in 1874.

130: Height in feet of the Montauk Building, the world's first skyscraper, completed in 1882.

1902: Year Montauk Building was demolished.

1,729: Height in feet of the Sears Tower, including antennas.

1,450: Height of Sears Tower without antennas.

291: Numbers listed in Chicago's first telephone book, issued in 1885.

82: Percent of meat consumed in the United States that was processed in Chicago stockyards at turn of Twentieth Century.

282: Known brothels in Chicago in 1911, according to official reports.

844: People killed in sinking of the Eastland on July 24, 1915.

20,000: Barrels of bootleg beer consumed in Chicago every week during Prohibition.

7: Members of Bugs Moran's gang killed in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929.

150: Bullets used to kill the seven men.

162: Weight of the "Chicago Picasso," in tons.

0: Times Picasso visited Chicago.

35: Restaurants that participated in first Taste of Chicago in 1980.

64: Food vendors at 2005 Taste of Chicago.

1,208: Acres of land comprising Lincoln Park.

24.5: Acres comprising Millennium Park.

7,300: Estimated total acres of parkland under jurisdiction of Chicago Park District.

552: Parks in Chicago.

17: Age of Chicago blues musician Muddy Waters when he started to play guitar.

28: Age of Louis Joliet in 1673 when he, along with Father Jacques Marquette and others, explored the area that would become Chicago.

48: Age of Al Capone when he died in 1947.

55: Age of Studs Terkel when he published his first oral history collection, Division Street: America.

Thank you for reading and supporting the column these past couple of years, with special thanks to everyone who has submitted questions for the column. Here's to hoping we're all still around for the 200th column.


Join the Gapers Block Book Club! Just sign up for the email list for news, announcements and more. And, visit the book club forum to discuss the book online. This month we are reading Division Street: America by Studs Terkel. We will be meeting to discuss the book on Monday, February 13, at The Book Cellar, located at 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. The meeting will begin at 7:30pm.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a Chicago librarian. She welcomes questions and topic suggestions for her column at . Due to the volume of email received, she may not reply to every query, but you may be contacted if your question is selected for the column.

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