It dangled from a branch for days, wrapped with bright ribbons and studded with large nails and oversize safety pins.
It weathered and hardened from gray-black to a leathery brown. From a distance, as professionals and students walked past the tree at the west end of Palmer Square Park to trains and buses each morning, it could have been mistaken for a hanging length of bark. But within 10 feet, it was clearly something else: a footlong tongue.
Why was a tongue, likely a cow’s, so carefully disfigured and displayed near the luxury apartments and condominiums in rapidly gentrifying Logan Square? In a neighborhood that’s now home to loads of 20-something hipsters, it could be an elaborate performance art piece or a joke.
But Logan Square and nearby Humboldt Park have much longer histories as working-class enclaves filled with first- and second-generation immigrants, so another possibility presents itself.
Tongues have long played roles in Afro-Caribbean religions like Santeria. The symbolic engine of speech, a tongue can be used in many such faiths to try to get someone to remain silent, according to Lisa Poirier, an assistant professor of religious studies at DePaul University.
“Often it has to do with a court case,” Poirier said. “You can take a tongue and bind it up to get someone to shut up.”
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