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Sleeping and Bathing in Douglas Park


Young Bathers in Douglas Park. Postcard published by Acmegraph Co. of Chicago.

Trying to sleep on hot and humid summer nights in the 1920s and 1930s was unbearable at times for my grandfather and his eight siblings who resided in a tenement house in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood. While some nights the family would sleep on the floor to cool down, other nights they would head to Douglas Park to sleep under the stars. 

This wasn’t an uncommon practice at the time, as many other people would gather in the park on hot nights. It also offered an opportunity to have a little fun and play games outdoors before going to sleep. 

My grandfather would also talk about a bathhouse at the park. At the time, I really didn’t understand what a bathhouse was, nor was I interested in learning more about it. I did, however, recently find some beautiful postcards of a Roman-style bathing area in the park. The first postcard here shows the bath and people bathing in the water. 


The Exterior of the Douglas Park Boat House.


The 161-acre park near Ogden Avenue and Sacramento Drive was established in 1879. It was named after Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who also ran against Abraham Lincoln for U.S. president. The park’s designer, William Le Baron Jenny, used sand and manure from the Chicago Stockyards to add to the marshy land there, according to the Chicago Park District. 

At the turn of the century, the park had many amenities, such as an outdoor gymnasium and a swimming pool. It was about 1905 when the park district’s General Superintendent and Chief Landscape Architect Jen Jensen focused on creating a Prairie-style landscape at the site. He designed one garden with a monumental garden shelter and a reflecting lily pool. A conservatory building was built but razed soon after so that the park district could focus on constructing a larger and grander conservatory at the nearby Garfield Park. The beautiful field house at Douglas Park was constructed in 1928. 

 The park today includes a miniature golf course, five playgrounds, an outdoor swimming pool, soccer fields, basketball courts and a running track. The park has been the home of the Riot Fest music festival since 2015. All postcards except for the first one were lent to me for educational purposes from the Chicago History in Postcards website at https://chicagopc.info/.


A playground and outdoor fitness area at Douglas Park.


The pavilion and boat house at Douglas Park.


A monumental garden shelter at the pergola and lily pond at Douglas Park



The Douglas Park Conservatory was razed a few years after the turn of the 20th century.

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