A Stadium and Its City
Sports fans nationwide know Soldier Field as the home of the Chicago Bears. For decades its signature columns provided an iconic backdrop for gridiron matches. But few realize that the stadium has been much more than that. Soldier Field: A Stadium and Its City explores how this amphitheater evolved from a public war memorial into a majestic arena that helped define Chicago.
Chicago Tribune staff writer Liam Ford led the reporting on the stadium’s controversial 2003 renovation—and simultaneously found himself unearthing a dramatic history. As he tells it, the tale of Soldier Field truly is the story of Chicago, filled with political intrigue and civic pride. Designed by Holabird and Roche, Soldier Field arose through a serendipitous combination of local tax dollars, City Beautiful boosterism, and the machinations of Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson. The result was a stadium that stood at the center of Chicago’s political, cultural, and sporting life for nearly sixty years before the arrival of Walter Payton and William “The Refrigerator” Perry.
Ford describes it all in the voice of a seasoned reporter: the high school football games, track and field contests, rodeos, and even NASCAR races. Photographs, including many from the Chicago Park District’s own collections, capture these remarkable scenes: the swelling crowds at ethnic festivals, Catholic masses, and political rallies. Few remember that Soldier Field hosted Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr., Judy Garland and Johnny Cash—as well as Grateful Dead’s final show.
Soldier Field captures the dramatic history of Chicago’s stadium on the lake and will captivate sports fans and historians alike.
List of Figures
Introduction Chicago Challenges the World
Part 1 Getting It Built
Chapter 1 Born Republican, Adopted by Democrats
Chapter 2 Soldier Field and the Democratic Ascendancy
Part 2 A Stadium for All Chicago
Chapter 3 A Game for Our Youth: Amateur Football at Soldier Field
Chapter 4 Chicago’s Olympic Legacy
Chapter 5 A Stage for Acceptable Dissent
Chapter 6 The City’s Altar
Chapter 7 Military Marches, Music, and an Arsonist Cow
Chapter 8 Americans All: Culture in an Epic Space
Chapter 9 A Family Place
Chapter 10 New Religious and Political Movements in a Classic Space
Part 3 The Fall and Rise of Soldier Field
Chapter 11 Celebrations in an Era of Decline
Chapter 12 Amateur Sports Founder at a Fading Stadium
Chapter 13 Professional Sports in a Changing Era
Chapter 14 The Bears, the Stadium’s Savior
Chapter 15 A New Century, a New Stadium
“Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park may attract more attention, but neither has hosted as many historic events as Soldier Field. Ford’s Soldier Field reveals how Chicago’s iconic amphitheatre is more than a football field; it serves as a unique portal into Chicago’s social, political, and cultural history.”
“Soldier Field is a true page-turner. Liam T.A. Ford covers all the bases in this in-depth narrative on the history of one of America’s landmark sports stadiums.”
“Liam Ford, Chicago journalist, has unearthed an ancient Chicago formula in the story of Soldier Field: the lords of the political machine seizing upon grand public works projects to perpetuate their control of the city, and co-opting the reformers in the process. Thoroughly researched and well-written, Soldier Field: A Stadium and Its City will be fascinating reading for anyone interested in the real history of the Chicago machine.”
“Ford (who writes for the Chicago Tribune) has written an excellent biography of Chicago’s Soldier Field, depicting it as a product of patriotism, urban boosterism, the City Beautiful movement (of the turn of the 20th century), and machine politics. . . . Excellently written, beautifully illustrated, and nicely documented, this book places Soldier Field in the context of the national appetite for construction of municipal stadiums in the 1920s. . . . Recommended.”
Illinois State Historical Society: Illinois State Historical Society Award