Aural Neighborhoods
Back of the Yards Sound Trail

3.70 miles one way, about one hour and 30 minutes on foot, shorter by car or bicycle

IMAGE: View of the Stockyards at Packingtown, Chicago (1919)
Image Credit: reddit (www.reddit.com/r/HistoryPorn/)

LISTEN to highlights from the Back of the Yards Sound Trail

Audio Credit: Paige Alice Naylor

Directions to Back of the Yards and Route Overview

To get to the Back of the Yards neighborhood from the north or south, take I90/I94 to Garfield Blvd (55th St) or Pershing Rd and then head west to Racine Avenue. On public transit take the Red Line to 47 or Garfield and then board the 47 or 55 Garfield bus to Racine. From the west take either I290 (Eisenhower) to I90/I94 or I55 (Stevenson) to Ashland Ave and head south to Back of the Yards. If you are starting the Sound Trail at Sherman Park (Garfield Blvd and Racine Ave), street parking is available around the park. If you are starting at the Union Stockyards Gate, there is metered parking on Halsted St.

The Back of the Yards Sound Trail is a one way soundwalk that begins at either Sherman Park (1301 W 52nd Street) and proceeds north to the Union Stockyards Gate (West Exchange Ave & South Peoria St) or vice-versa. Points on the route include Sherman Park, St Joseph Catholic Church, The Plant (though an interesting location, you may wish to skip this site and continue north/south on Paulina to save some time), Davis Square Park, the 1919 Chicago Race Riot Site, and the Union Stockyards Gate. As the round trip is a rather long walk, you may choose to drive from one point to another, or you might wish to consider riding a bike.

Back of the Yards Sound Trail Map

Let’s Get Started – Breathing Exercise

When you get to Sherman Park, or to one of the other sonic points of interest on the sound trail, take some time to slow down before beginning your walk. Relax your body, feel your feet firmly on the ground and let your arms hang loosely at your sides. If you are comfortable, close your eyes. Breath in through your nose for five counts, hold it for five counts, breath out of your mouth for five counts, and hold for five counts. Repeat three to five times, until you feel yourself slowing down and relaxing.

Continue breathing and listen to the sounds all around you. Listen to the sounds closest to you. Are they constant or sustained, or are they intermittent? Next listen for the sounds farther away from you. Again, ask yourself are they constant or intermittent? Finally, listen for the sounds farthest away, ones you can barely hear. Are any of the sounds you are hearing unusual? Are you hearing things you don’t expect?

Take a few more breaths as you have been doing. When you are ready, open your eyes and begin the Back of the Yards Sound Trail. As you proceed, it is best to walk in silence. A soundwalk is intended to be a personal listening experience. If you are walking with someone else, save your thoughts to the end of the walk before having a conversation. The sound of your footsteps becomes part of the walk, listen to the leaves, gravel, and pavement under your feet. Pause at each of the following sonic points of interest. Listen to the sound around you, read the description, and listen to the brief recording.

Sonic Points of Interest

Sherman Park

1301 W 52nd St, Chicago, IL 60609
(bordered by Loomis Blvd, 52nd St, Racine Ave, and Garfield Blvd)

IMAGE: Sherman Park Lagoon
Image Credit: Paige Alice Naylor
AUDIO: Sherman Park

Audio Credit: Allen Moore

ABOUT: Sitting at the southernmost edge of Back of the Yards is beautiful and expansive Sherman Park. Famous landscape architects Olmsted Brothers and Daniel H. Burnham and Co. designed the park amongst other parks in Chicago including Ogden, Palmer, Bessemer, and Hamilton Parks to name a few. The park is named after Burnham’s father-in-law, John B. Sherman who was the founder of Union Stock Yards and a member of the South Park Commission for 25 years. “At 60 acres, Sherman Park was one of the largest of the parks. The Olmsted Brothers transformed its low and wet site into a beautiful landscape with a meandering waterway surrounding an island of ballfields.” (https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/sherman-john-park)

LISTEN: There is much to listen for in Sherman Park. Because most of the trail lies on the edge of the park, there is a blurring of sounds from the interior of the park (cicadas, wind blowing through the trees) and sounds from the surrounding road (conversation, car speakers, motors). The dynamic contrast between the two puts us into a unique position: to feel like we are in two places at once.


St. Joseph Parish

1723 W 48th St, Chicago IL 60609

IMAGE: St. Joseph Parish
Image Credit: Paige Alice Naylor
AUDIO: St. Joseph Parish Bells

Audio Credit: Allen Moore

St Joseph ParishABOUT: St. Joseph Parish was built in 1887 with the help of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church and was one of the first Polish parishes in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. “The area was densely populated with Polish families, the same families that worked at the Stockyards and transformed this neighborhood into the community that it is today…The trilingual community has continued to grow into a fusion of cultures, languages and backgrounds. ” (https://stjosephparishchicago.org/)

LISTEN: Although there is much exciting commotion and conversation on a Sunday morning here at the Parish, the bells have a very distinct sound. If you listen carefully, they are naturally distorted, perhaps from over-use, and create a surreal listening experience making you think, “Is this electronic?”


The Plant (optional)

1400 W 46th St, Chicago IL 60609

IMAGE: Inside The Plant
Image Credit: Allen Moore
AUDIO: Inside The Plant

Audio Credit: Allen Moore

The PlantABOUT: The Plant is a repurposed industrial meatpacking facility that was previously the former Peer Foods plant. Built in 1925, the building functioned as a pork-processing facility for almost 85 years until Peer Foods moved out. A USDA-grade facility, it was acquired by Bubbly Dynamics in 2010 and converted it into an incubator for food and farming businesses, bringing much-needed jobs back to the Back of the Yards community. This 100,000 sq. ft. facility is a collaborative community of small food businesses committed to material reuse and closed-loop systems. Inside the building you can see that many of the features of the original meatpacking facility were preserved.

LISTEN: Tucked away in a nested corner, the outside of the building is covered with beautiful graffiti. As you enter, pause and pay attention to the tranquil sounds of running water. Pay close attention to the modern interior and the remaining touches from the original meatpacking facility.

For more information visit:
https://www.insidetheplant.com/


Davis Square Park

4430 S Marshfield Ave, Chicago IL 60609
(between Hermitage Ave, 44th St, Marshfield Ave, and 45th St)

IMAGE: Davis Square Park looking southeast
Image Credit: Paige Alice Naylor
AUDIO: Fountain and Playground Bells at Davis Square Park

Audio Credit: Paige Alice Naylor

Davis ParkABOUT: Davis Square Park is 8.88 brimming with recreational activities for families and the surrounding community close to the center of the Back of the Yards neighborhood. A few of these amenities include two gymnasiums, an auditorium, a fitness and boxing center, baseball fields, basketball courts, a turf field, a playground, and a unique fountain with an interactive water spray feature. Special events occur here as well such as holiday events and Movies in the Park. The park opened in 1905 and designed by landscape architects D.H. Burnham and Co.  and the Olmsted Brothers. Important to note, inside the classically designed fieldhouse is a mural created by African American muralist, William Edouard Scott titled “Constructive Recreation: the Vital Force in Character Building.”

LISTEN: What you will hear at Davis Square Park really depends on when you go, who is there, and what activities are happening. During our visit, we chose to listen to the rhythmic patterns of the interactive fountain accompanying others’ conversation and playground bells being played by children nearby. However, each visit will introduce you to a unique sonic profile of the Back of the Yards community.


Site of the Killing of Joseph Schoff, 1919 Chicago Race Riot

43rd and Ashland, Chicago IL 60609

IMAGE: Ashland and 43rd looking northeast
Image Credit: Allen Moore
AUDIO: Street Traffic at Ashland and 43rd

Audio Credit: Allen Moore

ABOUT: A racial conflict occurred at this location between Joseph Schoff (white, 33 years old) and Jose Blanco (Mexican, 22 years old) during the 1919 Chicago Race Riot in which, in self defense, Blanco stabbed and killed Schoff at this intersection on July 30, 1919. The Chicago Race Riot, also known as the “Red Summer” of 1919 took place between July 27th and August 3rd during which 38 people died (the majority being black) and started by white citizens against black citizens primarily on the south side of Chicago.

LISTEN: Standing and listening at this intersection is an activity of holding space, of absorbing the history of what has occurred not so long ago. This recording acts as a suspension of time and meaning. Perhaps the eerie silence gives us room to think: how much have things changed and how have things stayed the same racially and socially on this side of the city? How can we transform this meditation into concrete action?

For more information visit:
https://chicago1919.org/


Union Stockyards Gate

West Exchange Ave & South Peoria St, Chicago IL 60609

IMAGE: Union Stockyards Gate looking west
Image Credit: Paige Alice Naylor
AUDIO: Wind and Flagpole at Union Stockyards Gate

Audio Credit: Allen Moore

ABOUT: The Union Stockyard Gate stands as the last surviving structure of the historic Union Stock Yards. It was built in 1879 most probably (not confirmed) by John Wellborn Root who is known for designing other structures in the Yards and marked the eastern entrance which stretched for several hundred acres to the west. The Stock Yards were once the center of the meatpacking industry in the city. It is built of limestone and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1981. In the plaza surrounding the gate is a memorial dedicated to Chicago firefighters lost during the Chicago Union Stock Yards Fire.

LISTEN: When standing at the Union Stockyard Gate, one is still inundated with sounds of industry: cars, the Metra, planes. Because the plaza sits between both sides of Exchange Ave, you receive a rather balanced stereo experience. If you close your eyes, perhaps you can imagine the hustle and bustle sounds of the once thriving industry that resided here. This recording captures this history along with the gentle “ping” of the Chicago flagline hitting its pole.

For more information visit:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Stock_Yard_Gate

• • •

At the end of the Back of the Yards Sound Trail, take a few moments to relax before getting back in your car and driving away. Take a few deep breaths as you did before the soundwalk and think about what you heard and witnessed. Think about the sounds and sights of the neighborhood. What is unique about the sound of the Back of the Yards neighborhood and how does sound reflect or give the neighborhood its character? If you have walked or if you will walk the Logan Square Sound Trail, does it or would you expect it to sound different? How is it different and why? How does economic investment or de-investment affect the sound of a neighborhood?

We welcome your thoughts and reflections on these questions and on your soundwalk experience. If you would like to share them with us and with others, you may comment below or on the Aural Neighborhoods blog page. If you would like to share audio, video, or still images from your soundwalk, please contact us.

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