Janet Messenger’s newly released book, “The ABCs of Evanston,” is, like her earlier book, “The Streets of Evanston,” a collection of stories from the history of Evanston. Well-researched and -selected for broad interest, most of which originally appeared in the Evanston RoundTable in “Once upon a Time in Evanston,” the column that Ms. Messenger began in 2001 and continues to write.
The book is fun. Ms. Messenger’s style is a happy combination of journalist and storyteller, at once casual, informative and slightly academic. Her tone embodies her enthusiasm and affection for her subject and the book contains many photographs that add life to the accounts. The author is also adept at pointing up aspects of each story of interest to both Evanstonians and those from foreign parts. For example, M: “March Madness started here! NU hosted first NCAA title game” (Who knew that? Or that James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, “actually came to the game”?) and O: “Olympic Trials, 1932: Babe’s one-woman track team stunned fans and opponents,” about Mildred “Babe” Didrikson, who won gold in 1932 and then went on to make a name for herself in golf.
Other items that make for engaging reading are V: “V-8 Juice: Peacock’s V-8 Cocktail among juices he sold as ‘health in a nutshell’ and R: “Rudolph: That Red-Nosed Reindeer was born right here!” And some more serious subjects are included as well. G: “Graveyard – Sunset: Digging six feet under in Glenview for our African American history” is one; W: “Educator [Francis Willard], became world-wide advocate for temperance and suffrage” is another and C: “Camp Good Will: Reaching out to Chicago’s poor with fresh-air camp, 900-1917” yet another.
Though “Automobiles: America’s first car race in 1895 went from Chicago to Evanston and back” seems fitting for “A,” the events, people, places and things the author has chosen to represent the letters of the alphabet appear arbitrary for the most part. This does not affect the pleasure to be taken from a read-through of Ms. Messenger’s little book, though thankfully, there is a table of contents to refer to.
The book is published by Ms. Messenger’s Purple Line Press. She has another Evanston-focused book in the works: “The Parks of Evanston.” “Parks” will contain “name derivations from Ackerman to Twiggs” and “pages of fascinating facts about our wonderful open spaces.” A reader of “Once upon a Time in Evanston” or the two Purple Line books will have no doubts that “Parks” will perform as heralded.
“The ABCs of Evanston” is on sale in the following stores:
860 Chicago Ave.
Evanston History Center,
225 Greenwood St.
2912 Central St.
Perennials, 2022 Central St.
next to the North Branch library
Warm Wishes Gift Shop
at Evanston Hospital
One may also email PurpleLinePress@gmail.com to arrange shipment of a copy.