On my trip to Chicago to give a talk about Joan and her diary Home Front Girl at the Schaumburg Township District Library in Illinois, part of the greater Chicago area, I stayed with a dear college friend, Phil. We undertook an exciting and unexpected treasure hunt to find out where my mom, Joan, lived in the 1930s and 1940s. You can read about the first part of this scavenger hunt here.
I know that in 1932, Mom lived at 214 S. Throop Street. We didn’t get to visit there. But soon we did go to her home for many years in the 1930s in the Lakeview neighborhood, north of the Loop at 821 West Cornelia Avenue.
While here, she attended Louis Nettlehorst Elementary School
and then Horace Greeley. She writes about her school newspaper work while at Horace Greeley when she is 14.
Monday May 3, 1937
….At [the school paper’s] reporters’ meeting, I was commissioned to write up Horace Greeley School’s exhibit at the library oh – phooey – I think I’ll spring a poem on them. Just for punishment, you know…..Got my hair set today. In my opinion, if I had hollower cheeks, I’d be a perfect double for Garbo…..
Greta Garbo does share Joan’s Swedish heritage, but they didn’t look alike! Joan jokes as usual…..
Joan then attends Lake View High starting in the fall of 1937.
She loves to write, and in her diary talks about her writing prospects–she is a bit dubious.
Monday November 15, 1937
Lake View had an Open House Friday night and Mrs. Turner, my ex-English teacher, told Mother I’d be a great writer someday —- Hm…hm….
Here is the yearbook from the year she attended.
This is before she transferred to “U-High” (University Laboratory Schools) for junior and senior years of high school. You can read more about that wonderful experience here.
U-High sits right next to the University of Chicago–many miles away. So Joan was chronically late to class for two years. This diary entry she wrote at age 15, almost 16.
Monday October 3, 1938
Well, I’ve started at University High! I got there late as usual but I’ve resolved—never again. It was all on account of the “L”, you see. The Jackson Park Express doesn’t stop at Belmont in the morning—only I didn’t know that. Waited patiently, the ”L” came…I brightened up…L passed by…I stormed up to guard who was already explaining to an irate young man. He told us what “L” to take to Chicago Ave. We got on very crowded train. Finally reached Chicago Ave. Me and irate young man (no longer irate) got off. We were way at the end of funny platform. We began to walk, slowly, puzzledly. Did you ever walk in perfect harmony, without talking. We did. Finally “L” came. Got on. He got off the stop before me. I was 15 minutes late…..
Almost every subsequent entry about school indicates she was late.
Finally, her parents moved south to Hyde Park, the neighborhood where U-High and the University of Chicago are. That way she could easily walk to school–though she was still always late!!
She lived at 4950 Blackstone Ave. in 1940 and 1941. Though my friend Phil drove me there, the apartment she lived in had long been replaced by something from the post-war period. I know my mom lived here, because she had written her name and address on the title page.
Joan wrote the following dates and events in various inks on page 763 of her history textbook, which was Ferdinand Schevill’s A History of Europe from the Reformation to the Present Day (NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1940).
This page concludes chapter 44, “Distracted Europe: Outstanding Factors of the Current International Chaos.”
May 5, 1940—Norway gives up
May 13, 1940—Holland conquered
May 28, 1940—King Leopold gives up
June 10, 1940—Italy invades France
June 14, 1940—Paris taken
June 17, 1940—France surrenders
Oct. 15, 1940—First Conscription Day
March 9, 1941—Passage of Lend-Lease Bill (HR1776)
Phil and I did manage to visit 5629 Dorchester Ave. where I know she lived in January 1942.
And of course I couldn’t visit Chicago without the obligatory pilgrimage to the corner of 55th and Woodlawn in Hyde Park. My grandparents lived here for many years in my memory.
And kitty-korner is a watering hole of great importance to family lore.
I’m so grateful to my dear friend Phil for exploring on this adventure with me and to my mom for leaving all these clues so we could undertake this treasure hunt to find her homes from when she was young!
Today is the 72nd anniversary of my parents’ wedding. I would like to commemorate it by telling about a lovely trip I recently took to Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago where my dear college friend, Phil, is organist. He and I were so excited to find out that where he works is also where my parents were married on June 19, 1943. You can read more about my recent adventures at the Chapel here.
Now for some photos from the 1940s! Joan’s engagement photo dates from early 1943.
Here are treasured photos from my parents’ wedding on June 19, 1943. Bob Morrison and Joan Wehlen get married at Rockefeller Chapel!
Now it is 72 years since that auspicious day. Joan and Bob were married 66 years and died within 2 months of each other. We miss them profoundly, but we grateful for having had them as wonderful parents! Happy Anniversary!
I was invited to give a talk about my mom, Joan, and her diary Home Front Girl at the Schaumburg Township District Library in Illinois, part of the greater Chicago area. Joan grew up in Chicago, so I was thrilled to be able to share her story with natives of the area.
The trip consisted of more than giving a talk. As I was staying with a dear college friend, Phil, we undertook an exciting and unexpected treasure hunt to find out where my mom, Joan, lived in the 1930s and 1940s.
Phil and I were thrilled to find out that his job as an organist at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the University of Chicago campus which Joan attended had personal resonance. Joan and my dad, Bob, were married there in 1943!!
Joan was certainly aware of the namesake of the Chapel. When she was 14 years old, she wrote a poem in response to the death of Rockerfeller (that’s how she spelt it!).
[1937; John D. Rockerfeller [sic] died May 23, 1937]
To Mr. Rockerfeller
I’d rather be myself
With broken shoes and dirty face
And keep my youth and joyous hopes
Than put myself into your place.
For I am young and you are old,
Mine has just begun and yours is cold,
I’ve all the world before me yet–
While you have lived — can but forget
I’m hungry now — and tired, too,
But still I’m happier than you,
The only thing that time can hold
For you is death. For you are old,
And I am young
And life is yet unsung
Within my heart,
I’ve only just appeared on Earth
While you depart.
I took many photos in the Chapel while Phil brilliantly taught his super talented musican students.
I took a video inside the chapel.
Here is some lovely music played by my friend’s student as I wandered and wondered in the Chapel in 2015.
Joan writes about hearing the President of the University of Chicago speak well after the war has begun in Europe, but before Pearl Harbor. She is 18 years old when President Hutchins talks from the Chapel.
Sunday March 30, 1941
Hullo. Heard Hutchins today on the radio—spoke from [Rockefeller] Chapel. I meant to go and hear him but didn’t arise early enough. He was good, he was wonderful. He was right. “The proposition is peace.” Probably most people won’t agree with him—again…
 Here is a copy of Hutchins’ speech that Joan heard: http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1941/1941-03-30a.html.
Little did she know when she wrote those words that in less than two years she would be married to my dad there! I’ll be posting photos from that event in a few weeks.
Here are more photos from my talk in Schaumburg.
The mysterious ways of time passing and people connecting in unexpected ways…..
My mother Joan sketches many charming doodles throughout her diaries.
Her granddaughter, Liz Morrison, is the child of Jim and Ruth Morrison (Jim’s my older brother). She is a brilliant artist. I think Joan would be the first to admit that Liz’s art far exceeds her own!
After Joan’s death in 2010, Liz created a series of gorgeous illustrations in honor of her beloved grandmother. Here are some of them.
My parents loved to canoe, sharing that passion with their children.
This series by Liz also includes a beautiful one of Joan’s granddaughter, Sarah–my daughter!
Sarah loves art too–her specialty is art history and art conservation and restoration which she is learning about now at college. So Joan’s legacy–art creation and art appreciation–lives on in her granddaughters.
Here is a passage from Joan’s diary where she is puzzling over a piece of “new” art at the Art Institute in Chicago at age 15.
Wednesday, June 22, 1938
I went to the Art Institute for the afternoon. Had a lovely half hour contemplating Chemist Lifting with Extreme Precaution the Cuticle of a Grand Piano. Modern art [Salvador Dalí]. There was a curly blonde fellow sitting next to me. We both considered the picture for a long time. Then I got up to look again to see I wasn’t crazy. I sat down. He got up. Ditto. We looked at each other. A woman came into the room, looked at the picture and started back (it has that effect). Then, thinking we were together, she started to discuss the picture with C.B. [Curly Blonde] and me. No decision, though we nodded solemnly.
Joan ended up marrying a chemist–but he never lifted the cuticle of a grand piano!
Joan’s diaries end before anyone in the public knew about Bletchley Park in England.
There M16 code breakers attempted — and succeeded — in figuring out German code and winning the war. Well, that’s one way of interpreting history. Certainly no one can deny the importance of this work.
A recent Hollywood movie focuses on Alan Turing, brilliant mathematician.
His story is also controversial for his being prosecuted for homosexuality after the war in 1952 (he was pardoned in 2013). Tragically, two years later in 1954, he committed suicide. Here’s the trailer for the film that examines Turing’s life.
During the war, his work was key for England’s ability to resist the Nazi onslaught.
You can read this article in The New York Times and view its fascinating slide show with images of Turing’s desk and notes.
Follow the links on this page to read more about the secret history at Bletchley Park.
But that was not the only secret work being done during WWII. My parents say that on their first date, they visited Jackson Park in Chicago and “played spies.” But I think Joan would be the first to admit that her spy work–if she had been a spy–would not have involved cypher work. Math was not her best friend.
At age 14, Joan expresses antagonism towards math.
Monday, November 22, 1937
Geometry is awful!
Phooey to Euclid—(he invented it)
Phooey to Mrs. Uhlir—(she thinks she teaches it)
Phooey to me—(I don’t know it)
A few days later, she continues her lament.
Sunday, November 28, 1937
I came home and said, “Don’t disturb me—I’m going to do Geometry,” and proceeded to read a Conan Doyle book—(not on Geometry). I guess I’ll do the Geometry tomorrow—maybe—I hope, I hope. Well, Geometry we have always with us. .
Geometry just won’t go away.
Now at the elderly age of 15, Joan writes,
Tuesday, January 4, 1938
We’re doing circle theorems in Geometry and Burton, who sits behind me, hums music from Wagner’s operas all through it—it’s very bad for my concentration which isn’t so strong naturally anyhow.
Miracles do happen.
Tuesday, January 25, 1938
Hello! To all awful things there must come an end—test week is over! Hooray! We had a Geometry test yesterday—et surprise (!) I got 94!—which is marvelous for me!!!
 Joan often uses Latin for simple words, such as “and” in this sentence.
The math adventures continue.
Wednesday, February 2, 1938
There was the handsomest boy(s) in my Latin class and most of the kids in Geometry are even dimmer than me—goody.
Joan jokes about her math skills — or lack of them — but she’s clearly very bright.
Monday, May 16, 1938
I’ve won the Scholarship for the University of Chicago Jr. College. Am I thrilled! Whoopee!!!!!
Today a girl, Shirley Schuerman, asked me to tutor her in Geometry! Whew! Was I surprised! However, she seemed serious and I like her so I said I would. She asked me if I’d start tonight at her house, adding that she had a nice brother (do I look like that kind of girl?). So I went over tonight and we did Geometry for 1½ hours. The brother was in some vague upper portion of the house writing a thesis for a Master’s degree—he’s already completed four yrs at Northwestern—whew! These sweet brothers. I feel awfully inferior. I didn’t see him but I saw his picture—he’s got grey eyes—!! But the main point is that someone asked me to tutor [her] in Geometry! Whoopee!
 Now called the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.
The next day, the news about her scholarship hits the school rumor mill.
Tuesday, May 17, 1938
Of course it got around school that I had won it and everyone congratulated me and so forth. But they all seemed so awfully surprised—do I really seem that dumb? And my Geometry teacher, Mrs. Jarvis, heard about it and asked me about it in class. She seemed so dubious about it that I had to laugh. I’m afraid she hasn’t a very good impression of me for she went away shaking her head and saying, “I can’t understand it.” Evidently my Geometry record is not so hot. . . . Mrs. Hellman made me read my letter in class—I blushed so sweetly. . . .
Well, I’m slowly realizing that I’ve won the scholarship! Do I feel queer. All day people were making cracks. You see, I don’t look like the smart type, I’m afraid.
Thankfully, the end of the year comes.
Wednesday, June 15, 1938
When Mrs. Uhlir was bragging about me to the class, she looked at Lorraine who had been standing sorta in background and said, “What are you getting in Geometry?” Lorraine said she was promised an S. Then to me, “And you,” confidently. Oh did I feel terrible when I said G. Of course, I may get an E but G is a surer guess. Anyhow, Mrs. Uhlir looked quite shocked. And the class grinned its head off (query: does a class have a head?).
 The grades seem to have been E (excellent), G (good), and S (satisfactory).
Math doesn’t disappear from her life. As she writes at age 18,
Friday, October 10, 1941
Hello, well, I should be speaking French to you after a week of that delightful language, but unfortunately (or fortunately) all we’re having is pronunciation. Lord help us all. It’s fun—though—I like all my classes—fairly well though I get rather bored in MVC although it’s an intermediate course.
Phy Sci turns out to be rather unboring so far but I fear I am no genius in math. We have Dean Smith and he’s just swell, you know, but I just don’t know square root!
Germans say Russia is conquered and they appear to be getting on to Moscow.
 Methods, Values, and Concepts.
 Physical science.
 Hitler told Germans on October 3, 1941, that the Russians were vitually defeated.
Fortunately, the Germans were wrong.
Little over a month later, Joan writes,
Thursday, November 13, 1941
. . . Just think, I’ll be 19 in a month, getting old, gramma! I got the highest mark in our last French test—94—but we have another tomorrow so woe be unto me—also highest in Poetry on Milton. I don’t like him—and Mr. Bond had me read my paper aloud. I was quite embarrassed. . . . Passed Math in Phy Sci too—with the lowest C. Was quite happy! Whee! . . . We’re on astronomy now. . . .
So, Joan was not a math whiz like Alan Turing. But she was an astute and subtle writer. For which we are all grateful!
Five years passed; England had entered the war; her men enlisted; a March offensive was being pushed along the front; several companies were sent out. The drive succeeded, but not a few English “Tommies” lay dying on the field when it was deserted by the victors. Two lay near each other, waiting for the dawn. One was grey-eyed and in the mist of early morning he seemed very pale. The other was blond and blue-eyed and white with pain. The only color to him was a gradually spreading red stain over his chest. They looked at each other and the grey eyed one spoke painfully.
“Hello, fella,” the words shot out, “nice – day, isn’t it.”
“Yes,” said the other, as though his lungs would burst, — “lovely.”
“Oh, you too. I’m sorry; I didn’t know,” replied the other seeing the red stain. “I hope I — we — don’t — uh — go — before dawn. I should hate to – uh – go – without the sun.”
“Yes,” said the other, “so should I. It’s odd you know – like this, I mean. I was going to do so much while I lived – and here I am – dying in this –!” He coughed painfully and could not go on.
The grey-eyed one watched the bright-haired one sympathetically. Then:
“You know, if I live till the sun comes up I’ll be exactly 23 years old. It’s my birthday. Funny – dying on your birthday.”
The bright haired one controlled his coughing and looked with wonder at the other as he groped haltingly for words, “That’s funny. I’ll be 23, too, if I live. I was …. I was born at dawn. I hope, “– a spasmodic cough — “I live to see….. the sun.”
A few minutes passed. Then:
“You know,” this from the grey-eyed one, “I seem to know you. What’s your name?”
“Charlie,” said the blue-eyed one between coughs.
“Guess I was wrong,” said the other, “I can’t know you. Mine’s Tommy.”
“H’dy’a do, Tommy,” said the bright haired one reaching out a blood-stained hand.
“Very well, thank you, “ said the grey-eyed one, taking it.
“D’ya know, now, we’re dying,” gulped the bright-haired one.
“Yes,” said Tommy.
An interval of a few minutes, then, “Man, look,” cried Tommy, “here comes the sun! Look at ‘er, man. Red as blood!”
“Yes, said Charlie, “red as blood.”
The bloody sun came up through the mist and cast long blue shadows as it looked at the two, lying side by side, even as they had lain twenty three years ago, side by side, the fair-haired and the dark, beneath the same sun. And as they lay, their faces seemed to become the same again, and their countenances were those that had been, and it might have been before, instead of this twenty three years later. And then the mist closed in upon them.