Forty years ago, in 1974 a young, aspiring photographer with a scraggly beard got off the El train in Uptown and started taking pictures with his new Nikon F2 on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Forty years later, I’ll be “replaying” some of the memories. Beginning at midnight on the 24th, I plan to post one shot an hour from that era. The ghosts of Christmas past will last through Christmas day.
I remember those days and the people I met on the street as if they were yesterday. Uptown in that era was a poor neighborhood filled with struggling people who had big hearts.
I remember a recovering alcoholic putting a ten dollar bill (a huge sum in those days equal to a whole day’s pay) into a Salvation Army red kettle. I asked him how he could afford that. He told me that they had saved his live on more than one occasion. He couldn’t afford not to.
I remember a young Gypsy mother holding the hand of her semi-naked infant. She couldn’t afford diapers for him. Nevertheless, she invited me into her home to take pictures.
I remember a young woman who I encountered at Sheridan and Wilson. She had walked miles through the cold to do some last minute shopping for her friends and family on Christmas Eve at the resale shops that lined Wilson and Broadway.
I remember a baker, just before closing that same day. He was feeding pigeons with day old bread and handing out cookies that he hadn’t sold to people walking by. He didn’t want them to go to waste.
I remember an addict trying to stay drug free for a day. With the little money she had, she was looking for gifts for her mother and father on Wilson. It was a peace offering to her family. A desperate cry. Part of that yearning we all feel to love and be loved. She was trying to work her way back into their hearts.
I remember a little girl, playing on her apartment’s stoop in the ice and snow on Christmas day. She had no coat, only a white dress. She was shivering, but her smile warmed all those who passed by.
I remember a demolition crew taking down a store that had brought Christmas cheer to the community for decades. The irony of what they were doing on Christmas eve was not lost on them. They let me warm my freezing hands around a fire they had built in a barrel as they told stories about the glory days of the store.
I remember a Black Panther, a one-legged Jehovah’s Witness and other community activists trying to raise funds for people even poorer than they were.
The people of Uptown in that era may not have had much, but they had each other. I’m an old man now. But the memories of that poor neighborhood are some of the richest of my life.
If you know what happened to any of the people in the pictures, please email me so that I can update the captions. Merry Christmas to all!