A full house at the Evanston History Center Thursday night heard a delightful presentation about Marshall Field’s, the Chicago store that Carl Sandburg reputedly called “the cathedral of department stores.”

The speaker was Leslie Goddard, an historian who’s just published a book, “Remembering Marshall Field’s.”

She gave her audience enough Field’s trivia to mystify and impress their friends for a long time, including the fact that actress Dorothy Lamour was one of the store’s “elevator girls” and that Nancy Reagan was also a Field’s employee in her youth.

The illustrated lecture was the first of this season’s popular “Under the Buffalo” series at the History Center…so named because a mounted buffalo head stares down at the audience from its stairway perch at the Dawes House.

The author’s Ph.D. from Northwestern University in U.S. cultural history, American studies, and women’s history followed an undergraduate degree in theater, which obviously helped her breathe life into what could have been a drab subject. By a show of hands, the speaker learned that a number of people in the audience had worked at Marshall Field’s at some point in their lives. 

And when she asked people what they remember about the famous department store, it elicited such lesser known examples as the employees’ library, the children’s playroom, and the Crystal Palace ice cream parlor, as well as the more popularly remembered Walnut Room, Uncle Mistletoe, and meeting friends beneath the clock.

Actually, the store was launched by Potter Palmer of Palmer House fame in 1852 as a dry goods store on Lake Street, which was then the center of commerce for Chicago.

At the time, the city had fewer than half the inhabitants that Evanston has today. Marshall Field became associated with the store in 1865.

It was moved to its present location at State and Washington in 1868 only to be destroyed in October of 1871 by the Great Chicago Fire. Rebuilt and reopened in 1873, it was destroyed again by fire in 1877.

Goddard said that the store was noted for its elegant surroundings for shoppers, its high quality of merchandise, and its superior customer service.

Field’s expanded into the suburbs in 1928 by opening a store in Lake Forest, and added the Evanston and Oak Park stores the following year.

It opened a store in the Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie in 1956, which ultimately led to the closing of the Evanston store, at Church and Sherman, in 1986.

Field’s was sold to Batos Industries in 1982, to Dayton Hudson in 1990, to Federated Department Stores in 2005, and was rebranded as Macy’s in 2006, to the dismay of many Chicagoans.

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. “Remembering Marshall Field’s”

    This was a wonderful way to spend an evening being transported back on the historical journey of the Marshall Field's Department store.

    The presenter, historian Leslie Goddard, was enthusiastic and shared a lot of the inside trivia and interesting facts that were unknown to most of the audience. The photos shown was definitely a trip down "memory lane".

    This was a fascinating presentation I will be at the other ones is the series.

    Thank You!

    1. Goddard is a gem

      I agree.

      Leslie Goddard's lectures are informative, interesting and extremely entertaining.

      The Evanston History Center has a gem.

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