A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 21, 2016
“Chicken in the car and the car won’t go” (Chicago spelling rhyme)

"A chicken in the car and the car won’t go, that’s the way to spell Chicago” is a popular Chicago rhyme that has been cited in print since at least 1926. The children’s rhyme was used in games and activities, such as jump rope and hopscotch.

“A knife and a fork, a bottle and a cork; that’s the way to spell New York” is a similar rhyme.


Old Fulton NY Post Cards
1 April 1926, Harlem Valley Times (Amenia, NY), pg. 1, col. 6:
F. D. Philip With Chicken
In Car Has Narrow Escape

“A chicken in the car and the car won’t go; that’s the way to spell Chicago,” according to the rhymes which the kids pass out.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
29 December 1937, New York (NY) Sun, pg. 23, col. 1:
JINGLE BELL INFLUENCE.
Foolish Rimes That Pop Into a Head Occasionally.
What Do You Think Editor—Sir: In addressing a letter to Chicago, recently, there flashed into my mind a saying which I used to hear in my childhood—“A chicken in the car, the car won’t go; that’s the way to spell Chicago.” For New York there was a similar verse: “A knife and a fork, a bottle and a cork; that’s the way to spell New York.”
(...)
W.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
11 August 1947, Nassau Daily Review-Star (Freeport, NY), “Spelling Big Bugaboo To Many Teen-Agers” by Betty Jane Foster, pg. 6, col. 4:
Also the spelling for Chicago—"a chick and a car and the car can’t go and that’s the way you spell Chicago.”

A Rocket in My Pocket:
The Rhymes and Chants of Young American

Compiled by Carl Withers
Illustrated by Susanne Suba
New York, NY: Henry Holt
1948
Pg. 101:
A knife and a fork
A bottle and a cork
That’s the way
To spell NEW YORK.
Pg. 102:
Chicken in the car
And the car won’t go
That’s the way to spell
CHICAGO.

Fun in American Folk Rhymes
by Ray Wood
Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott Company
1952
Pg. 9:
Chicken in the car and the car won’t go,
That’s the way to spell C-H-I-C-A-G-O!

Knife and a fork and a bottle and a cork,
That’s the way to spell N-E-W Y-O-R-K.

11 September 1952, Greensboro (NC) Daily News, “The Goose Drank Wine” (editorial), sec. 1, pg. 8, col. 1:
As an example of the kind of poetry she thinks most children might like better than “Simple Simon” and “Little Miss Muffett,” she cites: “Chicken on the car and the car won’t go. That’s the way to spell Chicago,” and “Way Down Yonder on the Plankatank.”

OCLC WorldCat record
Chicken In The Car
Author: Milton Drake; Ralph Flanagan; Steve Benoric; Band; His Orchestra
Publisher: Rca Victor [19--]
Edition/Format: Music : 78 rpm : No Linguistic Content

Google Books
14 July 1956, The Billboard, “Reviews of New Pop Records,” pg. 40, col. 4:
Chicken In the Car
This might be subtitled “Chicago Mambo” and il has the typical grunts to go with the rhythm style. Gal’s vocalists need smoothing. (Harman, ASCAP)

Straight Dope Mesage Board
Chicken in the car and the car can’t go
njk8
06-14-2000, 02:51 PM
Does anyone know the origen or purpose of the saying, “Chicken in the car and the car can’t go,” and i believe it also has “and thats how you spell chicago.”

Ezstrete
06-14-2000, 06:05 PM
This won’t help too much but it was also a rhyme used during jump rope.

My first aweareness of it was about 1926 +/- a year or so.

OCLC WorldCat record
Chicken in the car and the car won’t go : nearly 200 ways to enjoy chicagoland with tweens and teens
Author: Melisa Wells
Publisher: Bristol, Va. : : Little Creek Books, 2011.
Edition/Format: Print book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Chicken in the car and the car can’t go : that’s how you spell Chicago!
Author: Howard Schrager; Sarah Madsen
Publisher: Monterey, Calif. : LemonTree Press, ©2011.
Edition/Format: Print book : Juvenile audience : English
Database: WorldCat
Summary:
Collection of riddle rhymes, each of which tells how to spell a city’s name.

Posted by Barry Popik
Nicknames of Other PlacesWindy City, Second City, Chi-Town (Chicago nicknames) • Sunday, August 21, 2016 • Permalink