June 2, 2009

Neighborhood tour retraces Leopold and Loeb’s footsteps

The story of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb begins on the corner of East 49th Street and South Ellis Avenue, the exact corner where Bobby Franks, son of the wealthy vice president of the Sears Corporation, disappeared after school one afternoon in May of 1924.

In a series of 90-minute walking tours called “The Pocket Guide to Hell,” English graduate student Paul Durica presents this and other South Side stories with a crime and social justice twist.

In his thoroughly researched tour, Durica recounts the tale of the U of C students who abducted the young Franks before brutally murdering him. With well above average I.Q.s, wealth, and social status, Durica said Leopold and Loeb thought “perhaps they could pull off the perfect crime.” Winding around these blocks, he pointed out the former estates of Leopold and Loeb, and the still-standing Franks home. Durica also called attention to the mansions and estates of Rosenwald, Ryerson, Swift, and other influential, wealthy former Kenwood families whose names are now synonymous with buildings on the University’s campus.

“Babe Leopold and Dicky Loeb became fast friends,” Durica said. The pair grew up blocks apart and went to the same school. Having deemed themselves Nietchze’s ideal super-men “and also having read a lot of detective magazines,” Durica said, “they decided to test the limits of the law.”

Durica, who runs the free tours on his own, spends hours digging up details and laying out his stories. “Maybe I should start working on my dissertation,” Durica said in an interview.

The series’ name comes from quote by the British journalist John Burns. “Chicago is a pocket edition of hell,” he once wrote in a review of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. After spending time in the crime-ridden city, he was asked about his famous wittisicm. “Hell is a pocket edition of Chicago,” he responded.

Durica’s past tours include “The Working Man’s Guide to the Columbian Exposition,” which focused on the economic impact of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Durica used the Regenstein Library to research the details of the Leopold and Loeb murder. “I use a lot of research that uses primary sources, which means looking through newspapers and magazines from the period but also, when possible, letters and scrapbooks, maps and guidebooks, materials like that,” he said. All of these contribute to the “first-hand accounts,” that are the basis of his tour.

Durica noted he doesn’t omit “all those kinds of false leads and red herrings” that others tours leave out. Explaining away these dead ends helps demystify the events, he said.

The series of tours began as a programming idea from the Experimental Station. Durica described the idea as “guerilla walking tours [that] were never meant to be published.” Despite its humble intentions, the tours have grown to be very popular among Hyde Park residents and students, with Durica capping his tours at around 30 people. Though he doesn’t charge a fee, Durica accepts donations.

Durica’s upcoming tours include a jazz and blues tour with possible musical accompaniment this summer, as well as a “secrets of the U of C” tour slated for the fall.