Probably everyone knows, or at least knows about, “Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town” and “My Kind of Town.” Frank Sinatra sang both with great success. Surely no one will be surprised to learn that nearly 200 more songs about Chicago exist that no one is ever likely to sing again. But could anyone expect that the earliest published song about Chicago takes such a dim view of the place?
In 1868, Chicago music publisher H. M. Higgins found a very insulting poem about Chicago in a Pittsburgh newspaper and decided to set it to music. Musically, the piece has little interest, but I hope you enjoy the words, along with Higgins’ preface:
Some slanderous writer in a Pittsburg (sic) paper vents his spleen upon the Queen of the Lakes in a manner most disrespectful and cheeky. He must have fallen into very bad company to have formed such an unjust estimate of our city and citizens. His rhyme is good, though its sentiment is atrocious. For the gratification of our St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee friends, we have set it to music, well knowing that Chicago can “Hoe out its own row.”
I have been to the North, I have been to the South,
But in traveling a man may afar go
To the jumping-off place before he will find
A town to compare with Chicago.
If you never have altered your name in your life
Nor ever did up to the bar go,
Or else run away with another man’s wife,
They won’t let you live in Chicago.
Oh Sodom was some and Gomorrah was great,
And in Venice each man’s an Iago.
But nothing out there can a moment compare
With the sweet state of things in Chicago
Some people send on by Adams’ Express
And some put their faith in a Fargo,
But if you would go to the devil direct
You enter yourself at Chicago.
They won’t let a clergyman live in the town
On such they have put an embargo,
Unless he drinks sherry with all his young friends
And they he may stay in Chicago.
There the infants are fed on whiskey direct.
For liquor they all to their ma go.
And the muley cows give, as a man might expect,
Milk punch in the town of Chicago.
The town with fast ladies and gay gamblers
Is as full as a ship with her cargo;
And the very best men, it is truthfully said,
Fight cocks in the town of Chicago.
There all the boys play at “poker” and “cram,”
For most of them did to the war go.
And they sing that wild song call’d “I don’t care a — cent”
All night in the streets of Chicago.
Yet it cannot be said that their morals are bad
Or that they too much below par go.
For the devil a moral the folks ever had
Who live in the town of Chicago.