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Honorary Chicago Catalogs People Celebrated With Street Signs

The Honorary Chicago guidebook and website catalogs the stories of people given honorary street signs in the Windy City. Created by Linda Zabors, Honorary Chicago is designed to help people find out more about the more than 2,000 honorees and inspire other Chicagoans to do good. The book, Honorary Chicago: The Who, Where, and Why of Chicago’s Brown Honorary Street Signs,” was born out of a futile search through Chicago’s museums and libraries to discover more about the names posted around the city.

Photo Courtesy Honorary Chicago  

“I just found these [people] really inspiring, that it doesn’t have to be a rich and famous person,” Zabors told Block Club Chicago. “There are all kinds of ways to do good in the world and make a difference, and that’s part of what these signs honor. Let’s collect these stories so people can be remembered.”

Zabors was initially inspired when she looked up and saw the sign for Woogm Alley in Lakeview. In the search for what or who a “Woogm” was, Zabors realized the stories behind most city street signs were a mystery. She wanted to make sure Chicago residents and visitors alike had the opportunity to understand why and how the streets got their names.

“I was walking and saw the sign” for Honorary Woogm Alley, she told the Chicago Tribune. “I learned that it stood for Wellington Oakdale Old Glory Marching Society, a wonderfully homegrown parade that had been going on for more than 50 years. And I was hooked.”

Photo Courtesy Honorary Chicago
 

The city of Chicago formalized the process of honoring people with signs in 1984. Since then, thousands of signs have gone up. Visually similar to historical markers, these street signs are brown street signs with the title “Honorary” and four six-point stars, symbols borrowed from Chicago’s municipal flag. 

Those memorialized are people who have done something good for the city. Honorees are nominated by people and organizations and approved by the city council. 

Examples include Edward Brennan, who received his honorary sign because he rallied to organize Chicago’s streets in its well-known grid system; Sam Bell, a fundraiser; Amanda Calo, a mother involved in Safe Kids Chicago; and Lula Navarro, a Latina community activist in the

Little Village neighborhood. Each person had a positive impact on their street, neighborhood, and city, and the community wants them to be remembered. A full list of names can be found on the Honorary Chicago website.

Honorary Chicago provides the largest collection of honorary street names. In the book and online, Zabors writes about each person’s life and explains how they got a sign.

Photo Courtesy Honorary Chicago 

“It’s just a good sense of Chicago’s place in history,” Zabors said to Block Club Chicago. “It really is a Chicago and local honor — the neighborhoods get to pick who their heroes are.”

 “There’s lots of twists and turns, and even the misdirected stories are the best ones sometimes,” she continued. “It’s not always who you think it is.”Honorary Chicago also offers tours throughout the city for those who want to visit these signs in person.

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