Gapers Block has ceased publication.

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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Saturday, March 2

Gapers Block

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  • Which 19-story building on West Monroe Street was the first tall building built downtown after the Great Depression?
  • What happened at 459 E. 31st Street on July 8, 1922?
  • How do you get to the Clybourn Corridor, and what do you do when you get there?

Three Chicago-themed decks of cards can answer these and hundreds of other questions about the city.

I'm not a collector. I don't even have an eBay account. But I do confess a weakness for decks of cards. The best decks are pocket-sized works of art, attractive examples of graphic arts, printing and design. Then, given my interest in all things Chicago, that I would be drawn to Chicago-themed card decks seems almost inevitable.

Mapping Chicago History

My most recent acquisition is the "What Happened Here? Chicago" deck, part of the "What Happened Here?" series of cards from Pomegranate Communications. Each card in this cleverly designed set features a detail of a map of Chicago, with a date and a location marked to show where a particular event took place. Then, the opposite side of the card includes a brief description of the event indicated by the map and date clues.

So, what happened in the city on July 8, 1922 on East 31st Street? Musician Louis Armstrong played his first Chicago concert at the Lincoln Gardens.

"What Happened Here? Chicago" was developed with the help of the Chicago Historical Society, so the event descriptions are compellingly written and well researched. This card deck is great fun for Chicago trivia buffs and map lovers.

Great Buildings, Great Photographs

Also published by Pomegranate is the "Great Buildings of Chicago" deck of cards. These cards are the same size (3 1/4 x 4 in.) as the "What Happened Here?" deck, and they have a similar feel.

The front of each card features a photo of a Chicago structure. The back of the card contains historical and architectural information about the building featured, including its location, the date it was completed, the architect or firm responsible, and details about the design.

Like the "What Happened Here?" set, the "Great Buildings of Chicago" cards were also compiled by the Chicago Historical Society, so the quality of information here, too, is top notch.

The real attraction of this deck, however, is the beautiful black and white historical photos that decorate each card. Architecture and photography enthusiasts will love this unique deck of cards.

And the first tall building constructed downtown after the Great Depression? The answer is the Inland Steel Building, completed in 1958.

A New Adventure Every Week

"52 Adventures in Chicago" is part of the 52 Deck series published by Chronicle Books, which was conceived by Lynn Gordon. Other entries in the series cover different U.S. cities, such as San Francisco and New York, but the series also includes decks with titles such as "52 Fun Things to do on the Plane" and "52 Rainy Day Activities."

The Chicago deck is distinguished by the brightly colored, whimsical illustrations by artist Susan Synarski featured on the front of each card. On the reverse side of every card is printed a short "adventure" or walking tour. Most of the tours are grouped around a theme, such as sculpture in the Loop or the Clybourn Corridor, and each tour generally can be accomplished in an afternoon.

Heed the following words of caution, however.

Remember when the 312 area code covered the whole city? When the El had A and B trains? When it only cost $5.00 to visit the Field Museum and Wednesdays were always free? "52 Adventures in Chicago" does!

The deck was published in 1995 and has never been updated, as far as I know. While much of the information is still relevant, the city has changed over the last 10 years. Shops and restaurants listed on the cards may have closed. Buses may have changed routes. And museums certainly have increased admission prices.

In other words, do your homework before following the trip advice on one of these cards. Otherwise, you may end up with more adventure than you bargained for.

For more information about the "What Happened Here? Chicago" and "Great Buildings of Chicago" decks, visit Visit to find out more about the "52 Adventures in Chicago" cards. And, if anyone knows of any other Chicago-themed card decks, write me at librarian[at]gapersblock[dot]com, because I may become a collector yet.


Join the Gapers Block Book Club! Just sign up for the email list for news, announcements and more. This month we are reading The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. We will be meeting to discuss the book on Monday, January 9, 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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