History lesson time, folks.
Irene Castle …
I had never heard of her until recently, but I suspect at least two loyal readers might have heard of her.
She and her first husband, Vernon, were among the most influential ballroom dancers in history. Shortly after they started their partnership, they toured Europe, introducing things like ragtime to Europe. In turn, they introduced things like the tango to America. They owned their own cabaret/nightclub in New York, in addition to a dance school. Before the Castles, close dancing was considered something uncouth in the higher social circles in Puritanical America. After the Castles, it was much more acceptable. They introduced the white upper crust to jazz even before the Gershwin brothers did. They moved on to Broadway, and performed in Watch Your Step, which was the first musical written by future legend Irving Berlin. Irene was a trendsetter in fashion … some credit her with “inventing” the flapper look that permeated urban America in the 1920s.
When the Great War started, Vernon trained to be a pilot … he scored two kills during the war, and returned home a decorated fighter pilot … promoted to flight instructor, he was killed in an accident shortly after.
The pair were so famous that in 1939, a film titled The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle was produced … playing the pair: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, making their last of nine pictures for RKO together. Irene Castle served as technical director for the film.
Why mention a ballroom dance legend … friends know I am not a huge fan of dance.
Irene married three more times. It was husband three of four that finally gets us to the point of the story. Her third husband was Frederic McLaughlin. McLaughlin, called “Major” because he had served in the 86th Infantry during WWI, managed to buy a franchise in a newly started sports league in 1926. The team name was easy: he named it for the 86th Infantry. But he needed a logo … a job he turned over to Irene, who drew up something that kind of looked like this:
The logo has undergone only a few cosmetic revisions since then. As recently as 2008, The Hockey News voted it the #1 logo in all of the National Hockey League. If you go hunting around for lists of the best professional sports logos, the Blackhawks are usually lurking somewhere. While teams like the Braves are rightfully assaulted for the stupid tomahawk chop, and the Indians are under fire for the grotesquely racist Chief Wahoo logo, and the Washington Redskins are under the gun to change their name to something that is not a racist term akin to “chink” or “wop”, the Blackhawks are often never singled out … their logo is a dignified rendering, and given that it historically is in reference to an army unit … and that the fans don’t do things like the tomahawk chop, nor do they have a silly Native American mascot (the Blackhawks mascot is a person dressed as a hawk (bird). Irene’s logo has passed into the hall of classic images in sport … right up there with the “CH” on the Canadiens’ sweaters or the orange “C” on the side of the Bears’ helmets …. or even the interlocked “NY” seen on a certain American League team’s caps.
So there’s the lesson folks … of how one of America’s pioneers in ballroom dance created one of the most enduring logos in a sport not often associated with ballroom dancing … unless ballroom dancing starts allowing couples to club each other with sticks, or checking them into the walls … which come to think of it might boost interest in dancing.
I had some free time this Easter evening after driving home from mom’s for dinner, and caught the Blackhawks OT win over the Hosers from Vancoover … one more win and this payoff series will go down in professional sports history.