Essanay Studios

I recently read the 5 Love Languages book by Gary Chapman and found my main love language is Quality Time. While I doubt this is true, I’m a bigger believer in Acts or Service or Gifts myself, I’ve been trying to make more of  an effort to spend time with M with the TV off, the phones on silent, and really hanging out.

After supper last night, he suggested we go for a walk to walk by the old Essanay Studios instead of turn on the TV. Seeing as I had a library book to return, I assented.

Essanay Studios is one of the old sound stages in Chicago and it were several famous silent movies were made between 1907 and 1915, before the industry moved out West. Charlie Chaplin got his start at Essanay and much of the original building is still in tact.

We got there and I made M take my picture. Then we were approached by the handyman, and I thought for sure that we were in trouble! But no, he asked if we wanted to see a painting of Chaplin inside.

We said yes, of course!

He led us in from the cold and when I heard him start to describe the room to use a mix of English and Spanish, I simply replied in Spanish. I told him I spent a semester at a university in Spain and thanked him so much for showing us this space.

Then the flood gates opened! He pointed out the in-tact rigging above the sound stage. You could use it to hang lights and make a picture today. Seriously.

Then, he showed us to the value where they kept the films, down in the basement. These huge iron racks are now being used to store paperwork, but it was so fun imagining what it looked like in its heyday. There were two heavy, original iron doors that protected the vault, partly because they were so flammable and partly because they were so valuable. The first door had a combination lock and the second required a key. The space between them was so big, I could have gotten stuck there!

Next, we were escorted to the processing room (now a home for ancient computer parts) and the drains and storage holes for the chemicals they used to process the film were over 30 feet long! It would have taken several people to process the film without damaging it. There was a long slooping part of the floor where they would roll out, and literally cut and paste, the film together to then spool it.

It was such a wonderful surprise to be invited in and given a private tour. Studying Spanish in high school and college, I thought about all the career doors it would open for me. And it has, I taught in Spanish and I’ve translated before in my place of work. But I didn’t think of all the other kinds of doors it could open. I never dreamt of being able to see a small part of Chicago, and the film industry’s, history because I could chat up a handyman in his native language. Just incredible.

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