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The American Morris Newsletter

December, 2007 -- Volume 27, Number 3

 

Rising Phoenix in the Windy City

Audrey Goodman

When I first got involved with the Morris community as a typical disassociated and unconnected Angeleno, I would sometimes indulge my imagination and envision the early English Morris teams as they might have existed 'back in the day' throughout the Cotswold region of England. These idyllic little 'mind movies' I run still cause my heart to ache and yearn for something I can't quite put a word to-maybe like "Brigadoon" or something, I don't know. It's not as if I've ever experienced such a lifestyle...well, at least not in THIS lifetime (heh, heh). I could picture every village boasting its own eclectic band of dancers who were village residents, friends who lived near each other, and shared each other's good and bad events. You know-- REAL community. The thought of it seemed so darn swell, though I knew as far as life in Los Angeles goes, such a thing was naught but a pipe dream. Sigh. As much as I love my Morris friends, we are super spread out geographically and don't get to visit much aside from practices, gigs, and the yearly AGM. I figured that warm fuzzy village thing was a complete anachronism here.

 


West Coast and Midwest represent! Yo!
 

Then Andy Bullen graciously allowed me to invite ourselves (Rising Phoenix Morris that is) to come out and play with Pullman Morris and Sword for a weekend. Crediting myself with at least some degree of fair mindedness, I let him pick the weekend, and he found the perfect one in September. Yes, our very own AMN editor found an article in an old newspaper dating from 1912. This article cited, and depicted in a photograph no less, Morris dancing taking place at the University of Chicago. Then the "a-ha" moment hit, and Andy realized that our weekend would be the perfect excuse to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Morris Dancing in Chicago Illinois! So what if the newspaper's event happened only 95 years ago- Boo ya anyways!!

So, Rising Phoenix Morris arrived on a Friday night in the still muggy September autumn. We arrived pell mell and were picked up in 2 well planned expeditions to be brought back to Pullman neighborhood in Chicago and guess what? It's a gosh darned VILLAGE! Oh man. First stop, said Mr. Bullen's humble abode.
Turns out that the majority of the Pullman Morris members live in these utterly cool old houses, all within 4 blocks of each other, from the time when the original George Pullman first created the town in 1882. Andy and his wife bought theirs for something of a song (perhaps more like a symphony, but hey...) and have been painfully restoring it ever since. I felt like I was in a wonderful folk museum. And on the very top floor, they had a gorgeous stained glass skylight and a small ballroom large enough for some Morris dancing. Words fail.

The following day we were taken to the Field Museum in Chicago and danced a couple of sets right in the center of the museum's lobby, more specifically, right next to Sue, the famous T-Rex skeleton. We traded off dances and tunes with Pullman and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. Then it was on to the proverbial PUB STOP, well duh!!!!!! We were having so much fun there that we almost forgot to go to our 'karma stop', which was a local retirement home. But in our drunken stupors we managed to remember to get there and our audience was patiently waiting (where else they gonna go right?) There we continued our back and forth dance exchange with the Pullmans and a little goofy ad-libbing to the delight of the elderly residents in the audience.

 



Performances menaced by the looming presence of Sue...
 

By far, the best time of the day was our night at the evolving Pullman State Historic Site, a few doors down from where the Bullens reside. This is located in the Hotel Florence. What a swell thing it was to get a tour all through the as yet un-renovated upper floors, and imagine all the 'goings on' which could have occurred so many years ago. Andy's wife, Linda, is the curator of the site, and is part of a team that is actively working on this renovation project for the state. She knew all the nooks and crannies to investigate, plus myriad tidbits of stories about the history of the place, the invention and use of the Pullman passenger cars, and the town and its folks. We were treated after the tour to a wonderful potluck feast provided by our hosts, and followed up dinner with folk singing in one room (incredibly well led by Dave James, RPM's fiddler who also happens to know EVERY rock and folk song you can think of on guitar) and dancing in an adjacent room with live music provided by the Pullman musos.

The following morning we danced a nice little set for some locals in a park right next to the hotel/museum (Arcade Park) which was followed by hanging out at Andy's house one last time before we took our leave to get our flights. I'll tell ya, it was hard to leave. From everything I observed, our lovely Pullman Morris friends really do live the village thing I always fantasize about...well, as effectively as Yanks could pull it off I suppose. They are good friends outside of Morris activities, share their lives, their pets, their ups and downs with each other and have some serious affection and history as a group that was palpable. I savored it for every moment I was there.

 



Mass South Australia in Arcade Park