George Ade was a wide-eyed boy of five near Kentland, Indiana in 1871 when the city of Chicago, in extraordinary fashion, cast out its lure to him. “That one night in October, just as far back as I can reach in the past, we sat on the fence and looked at a blur of illumination in the northern sky and learned that the city, which we had not seen, was burning up in a highly successful fashion.”
Ade began at the customary bottom in 1890 as a weather reporter for a major Chicago newspaper. He shared a room in a seedy rooming house with his Purdue University Sigma Chi fraternity brother, John T. McCutcheon, who was something of a writer himself, but more of an artist. Ade’s journalistic skills were apparent early on, and he was given the plum assignment of covering Chicago’s colossal coming of age party for the world, the Colombian Exposition of 1893. After the success of his descriptive pieces entitled “All Roads Lead to the Fair,” with pen and ink illustrations by John T. McCutcheon, he was given a permanent column and became one of Chicago’s first roving reporters, free to cover anything he wished. “Stories of the Street and of the Town,” once again illustrated by McCutcheon, was masterful, as was his book, “Fables in Slang” published in 1897.
He tried his hand at writing for the stage with resounding results: three smash hits, The County Chairman, The Sho-Gun and his most popular and successful work, The College Widow, ran simultaneously on Broadway in 1905. Now wealthy, he purchased a farm near Brook, Indiana, built his estate home, Hazelden, and hosted visits by Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Will Rogers, Douglas MacArthur, Tom Mix, Gene Tunney and other celebrities.
The esteemed critic, H.L. Mencken said, his writing was “as thoroughly American in cut and color, in tang and savor, in structure and point of view as the works of Will Dean Howell. . .or Mark Twain.” His name and estate established, he was freed up and of a mind to start a Society.