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tom dunmore

01 October 8:05 am

Last week, I wrote about the backstory to why a seemingly random date in early October – the 8th – is of such importance to the city of Chicago and of even more significance for Fire fans. It is, in brief, the date the Great Chicago Fire engulfed the city in 1871 and the date the Chicago Fire Soccer Club was founded 126 years later in 1997. This week, I wanted to explain exactly what is going on this October 8th with the Fire Anniversary events celebrating the Club’s 15th birthday.

Thanks in part to the urging of effervescent head coach Frank Klopas, Fire fans, former players and other distinguished guests gather together every year on October 8th to honor the Club’s history. In recent years, Section 8 Chicago has organized a big tailgate, parties in the stadium club and welcomed several past and present players join with us on October 8th.

Everybody (Everybody! Everybody!) have been welcome at those events – the Anniversary celebration is not only for the lively young things in Section 8 with their flags and crazy chants, but for the entire Club to come together and honor the founding of the badge we cherish.

Unlike so many other teams in MLS whose insignia has changed (hi, Kansas City) or who seem to have no connection to the city they play in (hi, Chivas USA), the Fire’s identity is embedded into the epic story of Chicago’s emergence from the ashes of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. We should all cherish and celebrate this together, and remember the team’s achievements that set it apart from others (hi, New York) along with the rebuilding of a city so many others in the Midwest can only look at with envy (hi, Columbus). So what better date to do that than October 8th itself?

For the Club’s 15th Anniversary, celebrations will be kicked off when Peter Nowak, Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Chris Armas are honored at the Fire-Union game this Wednesday, October 3rd at Toyota Park (TICKETS).

Peter and Chris – along with many of their former teammates - will then be in Chicago five days later on the Anniversary date itself, at a very special celebration on October 8th at a beautiful space in the Chicago History Museum, perched just west of Lincoln Park. This event has been organized and funded through a volunteer committee of fans who have been dedicating a lot of spare (and not-so-spare) time to create a fitting celebration for the 15th year.

The most daunting task for the committee has been tracking down and contacting former players and inviting them to join us for this reunion. While it was difficult for a fan-run committee to find everyone, those we have contacted have all been delighted to hear from Fire fans and a remarkable roster of names (see below) are currently packing their bags as word spread this was an event to be at in order to reminisce about past times, meet up with long lost buddies, and gather with fans to celebrate the Fire’s past, present and future.

So what exactly is happening at the Museum? The main event kicks off at 7pm in the Museum’s gorgeous Georgian Chicago Room. An expansive appetizer buffet from acclaimed caterer Blue Plate and a four hour open bar will be a (delightful) sideshow to the array of Fire legends and current players attending the cocktail reception. This won’t be a stilted seated affair, but instead is being arranged to encourage fans and players to mingle, swap stories and raise a glass together.

In addition, a silent auction with some one-of-a-kind items (such as a gameworn, signed Brian McBride Fire jersey) will be held to benefit the Chicago Fire Foundation and the Museum’s Chicago exhibition itself – including its extensive interactive display about the 1871 Great Fire – will also be open for the first 90 minutes of the event.

Reminders of Club history will be all around, from trophies to jerseys to supporter scarves and memorabilia – to most importantly, the players who brought home six titles to Chicago. Speeches will be made, music will be played, and the cf97 passion this unique gathering will have is likely to be savored for a long time to come.

How can you get a ticket? You can purchase yours online at www.fireanniversary.com (Move fast: they will only be available until Friday, October 5th at 2pm). The ticket costs $97: I’m aware this isn’t a cheap date night – I certainly broke open my piggy bank for this one – but the value of an unprecedented gathering at this fantastic location certainly made it worth spending the cash for me.

I personally cannot wait to honor Fire legends this October 8th as Piotr Nowak, Chris Armas, Lubos Kubik, Frank Klopas, Peter Wilt, Diego Gutierrez, Kelly Gray, Evan Whitfield, Dasan Robinson, Brian McBride, Jesse Marsch, Ante Razov and many others will be celebrating fifteen years of Fire in Chicago with fans – I hope you will be there too.

Where: Chicago History Museum
When: 7-11pm, October 8th 2012
Who: All Fire fans
Tickets: www.fireanniversary.com/tickets
PS: There’s even a swanky after-party at the stunning Filini Bar & Restaurant (221 N. Columbus Drive)
PPS: There might also be a chance for you to play a game with a few of the legends mentioned above from the ’98 team. Stay tuned to the Fire Anniversary website, Twitter and Facebook page for details.

Tom Dunmore is a former Chair of Section 8 Chicago and is currently an editor of XI Quarterly. Follow him on Twitter @tomdunmore

21 September 8:37 am


(Photo Credit: Conrad Akier)

We are chewing down on some quite delicious pizza at Piece restaurant in Wicker Park, and a certain silver-haired Greek-American is practically bouncing off the walls.

When Frank Klopas is animated about something, everyone in his vicinity has little choice to not only be very much aware of it, but to embrace it: I’ve never seen one of his half-time team talks, but I can only imagine that there isn’t anywhere to hide, that Frank’s 45 minutes of side-line pacing builds into an unavoidably exuberant “talk.” Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I like to think goes on in the locker-room when Frank’s in charge.

What I do know for sure is that on this particular evening in the summer of 2009 – when, of course, he was not the Fire’s coach but instead its technical director – Frank had a real bee in his bonnet. The Ring of Fire member and Chicagoan wanted to know why we didn’t do more to celebrate the Club’s birthday on October 8th. It was a tie that could bind the Fire community’s past and present together, Frank said, and one that uniquely linked the Club to the City (OK, I’m paraphrasing; Frank’s enthusiasm is such that I’d need more words than you want to read to actually piece together the whole conversation).

You’re right, Frank, we said. Let’s do something on October 8th. We only have a few weeks (it was late August, if I recall correctly), but if there’s one thing those of us in Section 8 can do, it’s scratch together an event on short notice by drawing on the collective willingness of slightly unhinged fanatics to volunteer and pull together when the inspiration strikes.

And strike it did. Why wouldn’t we celebrate every October 8th? After all, whatever the ups-and-downs of the Club, the one thing anyone who says they are “Fire til I die” with a straight face ought to be keen to honor is the date of the club’s founding, the name of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club announced on a Fall day at Navy Pier back in 1997 on October 8th.

The date, you probably know, was not chosen by accident. It was 126 years earlier, October 8th 1871, that Chicago was set ablaze not for the first or last time, but for the defining time: a conflagration that tore a city asunder, only for its survivors to respond by building a city greater than anyone could ever have imagined possible.

“Flames! Flames! Terrible flames! What a fearful destruction they bring. What suf'fring and want in their train follow fast, As forth on the streets homeless thousands are cast. But courage! Courage! From the mid'st of the furnace we sing.”

Those words written by George S. Root come from the Chicago History Museum’s “Web of Memory,” a remarkable collection of contemporary accounts of the Great Chicago Fire. And sing Chicagoans did, of the tragedy and of survival and of reconstruction. A popular song soon emerged, one you may now hear in the Harlem End of Toyota Park, and it goes like this:

Late one night, when we were all in bed, Mrs. O'Leary lit a lantern in the shed. Her cow kicked it over, Then winked her eye and said, "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight!"

With this kind of folklore building, Chicagoans had determined that, however it really started somewhere around 12th and Halsted Streets , the Great Fire that destroyed nearly 20,000 homes, left 90,000 homeless and killed 300 people would not be forgotten – and nor would the monumental rebuilding effort soon undertaken to remake the city. Within a week, 6,000 temporary structures housed the homeless, as the Tribune declared CHICAGO SHALL RISE AGAIN.

Every year, as the city continued to expand in the late nineteenth century, Chicagoans gathered on the Great Fire’s anniversary to show this city had not been cowed. As G.W. Steevens put it: “Therefore the men of Chicago resolved that the twenty-fifth anniversary of her destruction by fire should not pass without such a demonstration as should convince the world that she is very much more alive than ever.”

The annual celebration in October became known as Chicago Day, and editorials in the Chicago Tribune were accompanied by gleaming illustrations, beams of light shining from the resurrected city. Great monuments were proposed: one never built was designed by William LeBaroney Jenney (a key developer of the skyscraper), a tall tower crowned by a female figure clutching a flaming torch to symbolize – as the Tribune put it – “the triumph of energy and enterprise” in the wake of disaster.

In some ways, it is difficult now to grasp just how monumental Chicago’s survival and growth in the wake of the Great Fire seemed in the late nineteenth century. But for city boosters – especially as Chicago’s business sector dramatically expanded – elegiac heights of almost absurd proportions were reached to describe the rebuilding effort. A poem by Edmund S. Holbrook on the tenth anniversary of the Fire illustrates this well. Chicago is reborn not by providence but by man’s Herculean effort, becoming a symbol of Civic beauty in the New World – the Garden City:

       The massive stones are laid below, the walls arise above.

       In strength that neither flame, nor storm, nor time itself shall move.

       Nor Use alone, but Beauty comes, and with deft hand adorns:

       See parks, and boulevards, and groves--see lakelets, flowers, and lawns.

       The Garden City, twice herself, sits as a Queen again--

       Not by Amphion with his lyre, but Man, stout-hearted MAN.

Enduring symbols of Chicago continued to be shaped by the Great Fire. It imbued the spirit of the 1893 World’s Fair: the “I Will” maiden’s bust was topped by a phoenix that, naturally, arose from the ashes. Indeed, the entire Fair – commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas – was planned by the city’s elite to showcase Chicago’s remarkable transformation into a great metropolis following the Fire. Twenty-seven million visitors duly passed a number of statues that referenced the Fire in the White City, such as Karl Bitter’s “Fire Controlled.”            

Chicago Day’s commemoration of the Great Fire at the Fair saw the presentation of a “monster concert,” a “grand chorus,” “the most gorgeous display of fireworks ever seen in America,” all forming “the Most Significant and Grandest Spectacle in Modern Times.” Actually held on October 9th (rather than the 8th), over 750,000 citizens crammed in to the gleaming White City to celebrate the city’s emergence from the Great Fire’s disastrous wake, almost triple the Fair’s record attendance.

(In a terrible irony, White City itself was left to be destroyed by fire in the coming years.)

The Great Fire would not be forgotten as the decades rolled on. In 1921, the Great Fire’s 50th anniversary was commemorated in the city as all high school soccer and football games played on October 8th were made part of the “Semi-Centennial Games.” Songs were created, pageants were held, and a play called The Seven Fires: A Masque of Chicago was held in Humboldt Park. When Chicago held its next World’s Fair in 1933, the “I Will” maiden was still adorned on top by a phoenix rising from the flames, and Chicago Day was held again in October (though not with the fanfare of its predecessor in 1893).

By 1946, at the 75th anniversary, the Fire Department itself was involved in a week long “Fire Show” held from October 4-11, with “thrilling exhibits and demonstrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.” In the local press, the spirit of the city’s rebuilding from the Fire was brought up as civic leaders were urged to tackle the post-war issue of homelessness with the same dedication that homes had been built with after the 1871 disaster.

The 100th anniversary in 1971 was topped by a gala dinner: the menu included “Mrs O’Leary’s Baked Beans,” and in 1996, a “FireBall” was held to mark the 125th anniversary in October. But it would be the next year that a new, lasting monument to the Great Fire would be announced:  the Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

The news that Chicago’s new Major League Soccer club would be known as the Fire was kept a secret until it was unveiled on Navy Pier that October 8th in 1997: the club’s General Manager Peter Wilt fooled the media by feeding rumors that the team was to be called the Blues, sending invitations out to media for the event featuring a pen drawing of the Blues Brothers.

Fortunately, the club’s name also didn’t end up being the Rhythm either, as Nike – who shaped the identity of numerous late ‘90s MLS teams whose names have now been changed or disappeared into the history books – had wanted. It took a high-level intervention to ensure that the Chicago Rhythm was never born, as Peter Wilt explains:

“To the joy and relief of many, we avoided a lifetime of misspelled team references, bad Catholic birth control method jokes and just plain poor branding when at my urging Phil Anschutz intervened at the highest levels to Nike and told his counterpart Phil Knight that it was his team and he was going to name it whatever he wanted, but it sure as sheep sh*t wasn’t going to be “Rhythm”.  OK, he probably didn’t say “sheep sh*t”, but he wasn’t happy.”

And so we in Chicago have been able to embrace a Club called the Fire that speaks to the City’s greatest achievement, its restless, pounding energy, its desire to do – just the kind of spark I saw in Frank Klopas that night three years ago at a pizza restaurant, one that inspired us to hold a celebration every October 8th since.

On October 8th this year, we mark 15 years of the Chicago Fire and in the tradition of grand Chicago Day events, you are invited to a major celebration to commemorate the founding of the Club on a date unparalleled in significance for Chicago.

A Committee of volunteers, fans from around the stadium from the first Barn Burner Don Crafts to current ISA Chair Joel Piktel and numerous other old-timers, has been working round the clock to ensure the celebration is a fitting one. The choice of venue was key to this: it was on October 8, 1871 that the Chicago Historical Society’s building was burned to the ground. Their collection was lost.

Like Chicago generally, that building was not just replaced, but reborn grander, and is now the marvelous Chicago History Museum at North and Clark adjacent to Lincoln Park. Inside there is the Museum’s major exhibition to the Great Chicago Fire, one that will be open to attendees as we gather at the Museum and honor Club heroes scheduled to attend including Piotr Nowak, Lubos Kubik, Ante Razov, Peter Wilt, Frank Klopas and many, many more.

Please join us there and celebrate fifteen years of Chicago Fire and 141 years since the city we love rose unbowed and restless from the ashes.

Click here to order your tickets to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club 15th Anniversary Celebration on October 8th 2012 at the Chicago History Museum or head to FireAnniversary.com to learn more about the celebration.

Tom Dunmore is a former Chair of Section 8 Chicago and is currently an editor of XI Quarterly. Follow him on Twitter @tomdunmore.