24 Hour Read-a-Thon Update #1: “Give The Lady What She Wants”

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Those words have more to do with a very famous man in Chicago’s history than they do with the read-a-thon taking place today.

For before Macy’s became a poor replacement for Chicago’s favorite department store, Marshall Fields was the quintessential place to shop.

If my mother didn’t sew my clothes herself, of a quality which would be hard to replicate, she bought them at Marshall Fields. We made a day of it, going to the State Street store, with layers upon layers of floors and departments. There was anything available to buy that anyone could ever want, from French perfume to evening dresses to mattresses. There was even a notions department, for sewing things, and a foundations department for lingerie.

There were men running the elevator, dressed in red coats and white gloves, turning a brass wheel when you entered, and asking, “What floor, please, Ma’am?”

And Christmas wasn’t complete until we had dined under the enormous Christmas tree in the Walnut Room after viewing the windows on the streets. Each window fit a theme for the year, perhaps Cinderella, and the windows told the story in successive rows with mechanical figures doing, or making, something to fit the theme.

When Macy’s came, my sisters-in-law and other dear friends, cut up their Fields’ credit cards vowing never to return again. And really, though I still have mine for a store now defunct, the trip to the store on State Street is no longer worth the effort.

So why this tale of shopping? Because I am reading What The Lady Wants by Renee Rosen, and it is bringing back such happy memories as it tells the story of Marshall Field and his (previously unknown to me) extramarital affair with Mrs. Arthur Caton. Perhaps the book dwells a bit too much on Delia, but I am fascinated in learning more about the man who established this magnificent Chicago landmark. One which is missed to this day.

A proper review will be forthcoming when I finish the novel.

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8 thoughts on “24 Hour Read-a-Thon Update #1: “Give The Lady What She Wants””

    1. Elaina, my friend asked me if I’d seen Selfridges on PBS, which I haven’t. But, lo and behold, near the end of the book Harry Selfridge appears, who apparently worked for Marshall Fields and gave him many good ideas (as well as headaches) for twenty-five years before he moved to London. I’ll have to look for that show, I love PBS!

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  1. For me, it was G. Fox & Company, in downtown Hartford, 11 stories high, with the toy department on the top floor. In those more innocent days we were allowed to ride the elevator up there by ourselves, and work our way down to wherever my mom was headed that day. (I always liked to stop in furniture, because they had a little suburban house, with walls and windows etc. set up to display their wares – oddly fascinating for someone who lived in a little suburban house. Maybe it just seemed like an enormous dollhouse? And ‘notions’ (I loved notions!). Twenty years later, when I was working around the corner, the store was reduced to two stories and eventually closed because so few people shopped downtown anymore. Please do tell us more…I think I’d like this book very much, even if it brings back memories a little indirectly!

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    1. I have not heard of G. Fox and Company, but it sounds so very similar to the Fields store on State Street. Maybe some of what we’re all lamenting is the quality and the service of the way things used to be. It’s so absent today; I can’t even get fragrance samples, which the companies give to be passed out with purchase on purpose, when I buy an expensive cologne. Argh!

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  2. Hi – I was so happy to read this piece. I am a Chicago native and to this day I am very upset that Macy’s took over Marshall Field’s. I too grew up with Marshall Fields and everything you mention. I no longer live in Chicago and there’s a Macys here in Houston, but I will not shop there even if I’m desparate!!! Thank you for bringing back so many memories — I cannot wait to read the book.
    I love your blog and start each day reading it – thank you — Laura G.

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    1. Laura, your comment really touches me. I’m glad that we have Chicago and Marshall Fields’ memories in common, but to say that you love my blog is so sweet. Thank you for your kind words and memories shared.

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