Chicagoan ready for round two of roaring 20s
by Mat Cohen
The 1920s was a decade unfamiliar to most. But Wanda Bridgeforth remembers it well.
Bridgeforth saw the Great Depression, World War II and lived in Chicago when the tallest building was eight stories high.
As the year 2020 begins, she’s ready to welcome the changes that a second shot at the ‘20s will bring.
Bridgeforth, 98, takes a writing class at the Chicago Cultural Center but has more stories to tell that aren’t on paper.
“My life has been different than average,” she said. “But I’m still a kid at heart.”
Bridgeforth grew up in Bronzeville and has lived in Princeton Park, the Loop and now Hyde Park for the past 16 years.
As a kid in the 1920s, Wanda’s family visited downtown Chicago once a year to see the Christmas decorations.
“We got dressed up to come downtown with gloves and hats,” she said. “Once a year we came down to Marshall Field’s to see the tree. Then we went up to the eighth floor to look down on it.” She said although the Christmas setup is still the same, most things have changed drastically.
“Downtown is so different than what it was,” she said. “ The department stores, the theaters, all the high-rises. Sometimes I just have to suck in my breath and go with the flow. Everything is moving so fast these days with all of this technology. It’s just amazing to me.”
As a kid, she saw neighbors stick together through thick and thin.
“The Depression came when I was about six or seven,” she said. “That’s when everybody’s life turned upside down. We had a closeness and a strong community spirit that we don’t have now.”
This tightness helped during World War II when her husband was stationed overseas.
“When he went overseas it was 56 days from Chicago to India,” she said. “I didn’t know he was in India, I just knew he was away from home.”
Beth Finke, who leads the writing class, has grown close to Bridgeforth.
“(Wanda) is profoundly deaf and I am totally blind,” she said. “Maybe we connect because both of us acknowledge our disabilities without letting it de ne us. We both are resourceful and have to figure out ways to do certain things that others do with their ears and eyes.”
Bridgeforth said there was another reason she was drawn to Finke.
“We clicked immediately,” she said. “Primarily through (Finke’s guide) dog because I love animals.”