Sometime in the mid 90s, I gave my Dad, Keith Blasius, a pair of fuzzy dice to hang from the rear view mirror of his 1968 Ford Fairlane 500. In an act of kind, fatherly appreciation, he hung them up for a short time, then took them down. When I asked him why he had removed the fuzzy dice, he told me that they didn’t quite ‘fit with the period’ of the Fairlane. I didn’t understand. An old car is an old car, right?
On a late 60s muscle machine like the Fairlane, fluffy plush dice make about as much sense as a bunch of deceased celebrities loitering in front of a pretend diner, in front of a pretend turn of the century main street. So many things from the past seem to be helplessly lumped into a stew of information, and those of us that choose to blow the whistle are ruining the fun.
Take for example, my beloved Reliance Building, a sumptuous terra cotta layer cake of a skyscraper that buzzed with public and academic interest even before construction was completed in 1896. The Reliance Building inspired Chicago photographer Richard Nickel in the 1960s and landmark architect Gunny Harboe in the 90s. Now, the Reliance Building’s greater purpose is as an adaptive re-use project that works, functioning seamlessly in 2011. I’m sure Daniel Burnham and Charles Atwood are looking down from that great drafting table in the sky right now, smiling as guests in the lavish Hotel Burnham use the free wi-fi to download Devil in the White City on their Kindles.
History sure is attractive, but I’ve heard quite a few tall tales regarding the Reliance Building recited as gospel. Here are a few from the cock-and-bull department:
-Al Capone had an office in the building.
-Al Capone killed someone on the roof.
-The first two floors were salvaged from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
-Everything in the interior is original.
-George Washington washed his hands in the sink of room 309.
As a historian, it is unethical for me to allow false information to be passed on to innocent fans of the past. But as the polite person I generally am, calling out trivial inaccuracies just reinforces the elitism of those that choose to study the past from an academic perspective; and history is for everyone. Is the devil really in the details, or are those pressed to always represent a completely accurate picture just getting too caught up in names, dates, and fuzzy dice?