Stills from a “Lost” Chicago Movie

August 10, 2009 · Print This Article

I’ve been having one of those Alice in Wonderland-type afternoons on the Internet where you happen upon something that fascinates you and whooosh! down you tumble, lost to the rest of the world for hours. Where did I fall? Into the Library of Congress’ Flickr photostream, which boasts a particularly compelling trove of color images from the 1930s and 1940s. I was looking for images from Chicago from that period, and as I started sifting through the search results I was struck by how incredibly cinematic some of them they are. I even began to construct an imaginary narrative by pulling certain images out of the stream and mentally rearranging them like film stills from a lost movie about the Chicago trainyards in the 1940s. Kinda like this…

The cast of characters:

Roy Nelin, box packer in the Round House at the Proviso Yard

Roy Nelin, box packer in the roundhouse at the Proviso Yard

L. Logan, boilermaker at the roundhouse at the Proviso Yard

L. Logan, boilermaker at the roundhouse at the Proviso Yard

James Lynch, a roundhouse worker, Proviso Yard

James Lynch, a roundhouse worker, Proviso Yard

The main sets:

Locomotives in the roundhouse at Proviso yard, Chicago



Wonder what this guy is up to?:


There’s definitely a steampunk vibe to my imaginary film, but you can fill in your own narrative blanks. (Click on each image to be taken directly to its respective Library of Congress flickr page, where you can get the real historical details on each image.) All of the above photographs were taken by the amazing Jack Delano for the Farm Security Administration, established by FDR to aid small farmers and restore damaged land and communities ravaged by the Depression. Delano, in particular, is known for his compositionally striking photographs documenting the country’s train system.

Visit the Library of Congress’ Flickr stream to see many more incredible historical images from this period, many of which, like the above examples, are in vibrant color.

2 thoughts on “Stills from a “Lost” Chicago Movie”

  1. I am totally into your fantasy narrative, the images are so cinematic, so archetypal in character. Certainly compelling .I am thinking very Spielberg like – you think?

  2. Paul Germanos says:

    Locally, Daiter put out a fine book: Wayne F. Miller: Photographs 1942-1958

    The story-in-pictures [similar to Jack Delano’s] follows Miller’s documentation of migrant farm workers, to Naval service under Edward Steichen, to Japan after the bomb, to post-war Chicago.

    For some things, big pieces of fine-grained film are hard to beat.

    It’s [I think] about $40 on Amazon; but in libraries too.

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