A simple, stick-figure drawing of a bicycle sits above the address, 1856 N. Kostner, where bikers and families alike could see it before walking into the plethora of bikes. The abandoned Schwinn Bicycle Factory sits just outside the limits of Logan Square, the majestic red brick and industrial-grade windows hiding the history within.
While some of the factual history might remain hidden forever, author Michelle Cox tries to unearth the contextual histories behind the buildings and people of the 1930s Logan Square area in her murder mystery novel, A Girl Like You.
Book two in the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series, A Girl Like You follows 26-year-old Henrietta as she works in a fictional corner bar in Logan Square to support her depressed mother and seven younger siblings after her father’s suicide. When she finds a new job as a taxi dancer in a local dance hall, she gets swept up in a murder case and agrees to go undercover for Inspector Howard.
While some aspects of the book and the neighborhood are certainly fictionalized, some are part of those golden nuggets of personalized history. Having worked in a nursing home, Cox would spend much of her youth listening to the stories of men and women who spent their younger years living and working in Logan Square and other areas on the Northwest Side.
The Schwinn Bicycle Factory is one of those real places included in the book. Mostly set in Palmer Square, Cox says the oval track around the park was due to the nearby bicycle shop – apparently, biking was always a Logan Square speciality pastime. Because Schwinn was so close, according to Cox, there were plenty of bicycle clubs in the area.
Aside from Schwinn, another real-life Logan Square destination included in the novel is Saint Sylvester’s Church (2915 W. Palmer St.). The Sulzer Electrics factory, which is supposed to be on Western Avenue, was tweaked just slightly to make more sense within the plot. Poor Pete’s, the corner bar where main character Henrietta works, is based on city favorites such as The Levee (4035 W. Fullerton Ave.) and The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.). In the novel, the fictional favorite is supposed to sit on Mozart Street in Logan Square.
While Cox adores hearing stories of the past and imagining what a 1930s Logan Square life would look and feel like, she enjoys present-day Logan Square just as much. Cox currently lives in the suburbs, but enjoys any excuse to come into the city and explore new hubs in the neighborhood.
“This is more of a city neighborhood now, people working, living here,” Cox said. “I’ve been impressed with it, there seems to be a lot of community spirit. There’s just a lot going on here. It’s a really neat neighborhood.”
In order to keep up with characters and stories outside of the books, Cox maintains a blog, “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” where she writes one story a week based on the adventures she would learn about from her friends at the nursing home.
“I think that just talking with them and spending that time with them every day, it sort of just sinks into you, and if anything it just increased my love of the past,” Cox said. “I wanted to know more and more about that world that they were in.”
Using real-life history to inform her present-day writing, Cox has finished up book three of the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series, and she is moving on to a fourth. While not all of these books take place in Logan Square, Cox isn’t soon to forget about the neighborhood. If she had her way, she’d come right back to Logan Square herself.
“If I had my choice, I think I would live in the city. Probably Logan Square to be honest, either here or Lincoln Square,” Cox said. “I just love those areas of the city because they’re so rich in history and such a tight community feel. I love that.”
A Girl Like You is available for purchase online and in local bookstores around the city. On July 13, Cox will be at City Lit Books (2523 N. Kedzie Blvd.) along with a panel of other local mystery writers. More information can be found here.