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In Memory of the Willowbrook Ballroom

By Micah Lee Mowbray

The Willowbrook Ballroom burned down a year ago October 28, 2016. The special vibe of Haunted Archer Avenue will never be the same. I drove up to Chet’s Melody Lounge hoping to write a Bloody Mary infused reminiscence of what the Willowbrook meant to me.

Chet’s is a throwback, early morning blue collar bar that serves Boilermakers alongside breakfast and figures prominently in the Resurrection Mary legend. That morning it was closed.

Seeing activity in the beer garden, I found two blowzy, artificially tanned wenches tying orange and black balloons to the chain link fence. They gave me uncalled for South Side chick attitude for crashing their biker wedding decorating party. Maybe itching for a cat fight to kick off the festivities.

So I took a drive around Resurrection Cemetery. The oldest part by the road across from Chet’s has eerie Crucifixion statuary, blackened by lichens, very Transylvania / Eastern European. All names are carved in Polish. I drove to the newest part in back where I’d never been before.

So many people decorating graves, I asked a lady carrying water if something special was going on. She said the chapel had 10 funerals that day. The headstones in that section had strange curves and geometric shapes and were heaped with colorful flowers of plastic and paper, tinsel and whirligigs.

Not just one grave but ALL of them competitively decorated in a garish yet sweet pact to honor their dead. The lady with the water said it’s a Polish and Mexican social thing. As Southwest jets flew low overhead on their final approach to Midway, the air was split with loud wailing and crying over a freshly dug grave. I took that as my cue to leave.

Not really wanting to, I drove past the remains of the Willowbrook Ballroom. Almost a year since the fire, I was glad not to see melted rubble or smell the funkiness that goes with an old building burned.

Just concrete behind construction fence, limestone chimney stacks, and some seriously charred trees. Luckily, the old Willowbrook marquee still stands, perhaps waiting to welcome back The Teddy Lee Orchestra one future, cold, New Year’s Eve night.

Zapraszamy, Zimne Piwo!

The illustrations are my stained glass and neon art.
Micah Lee Mowbray / CURIOUSARTGLASS.com

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