Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Missing Mayo Monkey Means Mayhem -- April 15, 1955

Bushman, the Gorilla
Have you seen this one . . .

When you pay too much for cable you feel down.
When you feel down you stay in bed.
When you stay in bed they give your job to someone new.
When they give your job to someone new he has a lot to learn.
When he has a lot to learn mistakes are made.
(Insert scene of lowland gorilla escaping cage while new keeper’s back is turned.)
And when mistakes are made you get body slammed by a lowland Gorilla.

That commercial might have been filmed, for real, 59 years ago on this date, April 15, in the middle of the Chicago Loop.  Here’s what happened, according to The Tribune.

A monkey (okay, so it wasn’t a lowland gorilla), one of six being shipped from Tappan, New York to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, got loose after a La Salle Street Station attendant (when he has a lot to learn he makes mistakes) opened the cage door for a clean-up.  Leaving his five simian companions huddled in the back of the cage (the monkey, not the attendant), “the adventurous one dashed out and leaped east across the tracks, followed by six Railway Express employees, a porter, and a fireman.”

Here it might be fun to insert a clip of some random madcap scene from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World).  In fact, I will . . .

The little guy began to monkey around on La Salle Street (sorry).  At that point pedestrians joined in the chase, which ended at 536 South La Salle at which point the monkey climbed a pipe on the exterior of the building to the fire escape and took that route up to the roof.

By the time the elevator carried the agents, the porter, the fireman and all of the individuals picked up along the way to the roof, the little guy was gone.  Vanished.  The chimp was off the old block.

The building engineer at the ten-story government office building, Marvin Johnson, said, “Everybody in the building thinks they have seen the monkey.  They have got him p to the size of Bushman now.”

No details on whether the monkey was ever recovered although I would imagine that officials at the Federal Reserve on the corner of Jackson and La Salle hardly reassured the public when they reported that there was no monkey in the bank.

Thank you and good night.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Seward Johnson in Key West

Hey, Chicagoans . . . remember Forever Marilyn, the 34,000 pound Seward Johnson sculpture that gave us Marilyn Monroe in a 26-foot-tall depiction of the memorable scene from The Seven Year Itch?

Forever Marilyn (JWB, 2011)

Remember that?

Remember all those crazy folks in front of 401 North Michigan Avenue, posing under Ms. Monroe’s nether regions, mouths open, hands against their cheeks, gaping in faux shock at that pair of undies with the six-foot waistband?

Well, the governor of New Jersey, despite all his recent troubles, has reason to celebrate this week as the sculpture now resides in Hamilton, New Jersey, just inland from Atlantic City.

Or maybe you remember a year or so before Marilyn came to Chicago, at the same location, God Bless America, another Seward Johnson 30,000 pounder that gave us a towering depiction of the same couple we can find down the road at the Art Institute of Chicago in Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

God Bless America (JWB, 2008)
Appropriately enough, God Bless America is now at the State Fairgrounds in Iowa . . . not that its most appropriate location is a provider of roasted corn on the cob and cheese fries, but rather because the house in the painting is modeled after one the painter saw in Iowa and the two subjects are his sister, Nan, and his dentist, Byron McKeeby, both Iowans.

Missing you, Miss Marilyn.  Missing you, too, American Gothic guys.

Until . . .

I found the mother lode of Seward Johnson sculpture surrounding the Custom House Museum in Key West, Florida.

In a New York Times interview Mr. Johnson has said, “I want my work to disappear into the landscape and then take a viewer by surprise.  After he gets over the shock of being fooled, it becomes an emotional discovery.  Then he owns the sculpture.  People often revisit their favorites.  They become friends.”  [New York Times, June 30, 2002]

You’re probably not going to be surprised by the pieces that we saw in Chicago.  They hardly disappeared into the landscape; you could have seen them from three blocks away.  But there is something that does give a little tingle of discovery about his smaller bronze works.  They may be what some folks label as kitsch, but on a lovely afternoon stroll following a couple Yuenglings, they are kind of fun to bump into.

Not quite as much fun as the Yuenglings, but worth a few minutes of wandering.

Here are a few new friends that I met . . .

Time for Fun (JWB, 2014)
Lunch Break (JWB, 2014)
Day Dream (JWB, 2014)
Monet Our Visiting Artist (JWB, 2014)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dever Traction Plan -- April 7, 1925

Streetcar in front of the Leiter Store on State Street, 1927
Chicago Daily News Archive
On October 1, 1947 the City of Chicago got into the public transportation business, assuming ownership of the assets of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company and the Chicago Surface Lines streetcar system.  It took another five years to negotiate the rights to the Chicago Motor Coach Company.  Today, of course, the system is known as the Chicago Transit Authority.  But what I didn’t know was that the same thing could have been done nearly two decades earlier by a simple vote.

Wiiliam Dever
Mayor William E. Dever, who served as Chicago’s mayor from 1923 to 1927, proposed a plan that could have accomplished virtually the same thing in 1925.  Described as a “municipal ownership project,” the proposal was the bedrock of Mayor Dever's campaign.  It provided for “the purchase of existing surface lines as well as for the purchase of the elevated lines, and also provided a vast scheme of street railway and elevated railroad extensions and subway construction, all to be financed through the issuance of the so-called ‘Schwartz certificates.’”  [Public Ownership League of American, 1926.  p. 84.]

These certificates would have been issued under the restriction of the municipal ownership law of 1913, outlined in a United States Supreme Court decision, Springfield Gas & Electric Co. v. City of Springfield.  The court stated,

The private corporation whatever its public duties is organized for private ends and may be presumed to intend to make whatever profit the business will allow. The municipal corporation is allowed to go into the business only on the theory that thereby the public welfare will be subserved. So far as gain is an object it is a gain to a public body and must be used for public ends. Those who manage the work cannot lawfully make private profit their aim, as the plaintiff's directors not only may but must . . . The municipalities can exercise their power to make all needful rules and regulations only by ordinances and resolutions as in other public action. [ulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/US/

In order to protect “the public welfare” the Dever plan placed operation of the public transportation system under a “Board of Control” in which banks holding the certificates that financed the operations would have equal representation with the city.  It got the plan paid for, but it also gave the financiers equal control in the system’s operation.  This meant, for example, that for a period of 40 years (at which time the certificates would expire) the banks would hold the power to go to court in order to fix fares at whatever rate was necessary to keep the whole thing from defaulting.  The lenders would receive equal voice in managing the system and in determining public transportation policy.

Two former mayors, Carter Harrison and William Thompson, opposed the plan while the utility czar Samuel Insull encouraged citizens to vote for it.  On this date in 1925 the ordinance was defeated by a three-to-one margin.

The next day The Tribune editorialized, “[The traction ordinance] offered Chicago, as we believe, a sound method of unifying and developing the existing transportation lines and of building subways at once.  The city is not likely to obtain a better bargain than was contained in the Dever ordinance.  Yesterday’s defeat may mean that a generation must pass before the city’s needs are met.  If that is true, the news on the front page this morning is bad news, indeed.”  [Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1925]

A fairly accurate assessment of the situation as it turned out.  Chicago’s first subway, along State Street, was completed on time in 1943.  The next link in the system, the Milwaukee-Dearborn line, would not be completed until 1951.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Michigan Avenue Runaway -- April 6, 1900

The route of Charley Adams -- Michigan Avenue as it appeared in 1902,
two years after the race to Monroe
Big excitement on Michigan Avenue on April 6, 1900 as Charley Adams, a horse owned by three-year-old Barbara Belle Muller, created havoc on the street, dashing without direction from the Logan Monument in Grant Park all the way to Monroe Street.  The Tribune described the horse as a “beautiful sorrel, with long, flowing tail and mane” with a “most intelligent head” and “eyes . . . full of good nature”.  [Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1900]

Little Barbara Belle had received the horse from her grandfather on her first birthday.  When he was a small colt Charley Adams “showed signs of being a pet, and the older he became the more of a pet he became.”  When he arrived in Chicago from farm country 60 miles south of the city, Barbara Belle’s daddy decided to make a “theater horse” of him and by the time April of 1900 rolled around the horse had roles in at least four plays in the city.

At one o’clock in the afternoon on April 6 the horse was sent to the Logan statue, in the guardianship of two young men, both dressed in full jockey regalia.  Alas, “the man with the camera was slow, and the jockey made Charley Adams nervous by insisting upon his remaining in one spot.”

Supposition quite removed from journalistic investigation takes over the story at this point.  Barbara Belle’s father had “one drawer in his office in the barn filled with sugar, from which Charley Adams helps himself when his sweet tooth needs filling.  The horse has the freedom of the office, making himself at home there much as a dog would.”

“Perhaps,” reported The Tribune, “Charley Adams thought of the white lumps in the desk.”

Tired of the photo session, Charley Adams “whirled suddenly, and . . . dropped his head and started north in the street.  He ran as if a pair of spurs were being thrust into his flanks.”

For nearly a mile Charley Adams “at race track speed” scattered “people on foot and on wheels” while “drivers turned their horses to the curb to give a clear course.”  Although his mouth was bleeding, the show went on and Charley Adams, a lifetime stage hoofer, returned to the Logan statue after his run to freedom “like a respectable theater horse, and never winked while his picture was being taken.”

Friday, April 4, 2014

Board of Trade -- April 4, 1903

Chicago Board of Trade -- April 4, 1903
Photograph by George H. Lawrence (Library of Congress Photo)
Anyone who does even the most basic research about the history of Chicago’s Board of Trade will come across the above photograph.  It was taken on this date, April 4, in 1903 at the height of the day’s trading session.  I always thought it was a really cool piece of work, capturing the hustle and bustle of the floor and the magnificence of the pits in which the traders were at work.

The photograph was the result of a really impressive piece of engineering on the part of the photographer, George Raymond Lawrence.  As The Tribune described the effort on the following day, “The largest amount of flashlight powder that has ever been used in taking one picture was used by George R. Lawrence yesterday when he took a photograph of all the traderings clamoring in the pits.”

Mr. Lawrence used twelve pounds of flash powder, distributed to 350 lights that were draped from the balconies of the trading room.  The lights were all discharged “simultaneously by electricity.”

George Lawrence came to Chicago at the age of 20, having attained an eighth grade education in the farm country around Manteno.  At an early age he showed a genius for tinkering and at his first job in Chicago – at the Abbott wagon factory in Auburn Park, he invented a system of attaching iron rims to wooden wheels that allowed the company to employ one employee to do a job that previously required eight men to complete.

Following his marriage to Alice Herenden in 1890, Lawrence opened the Lawrence Portrait Studio at Yale Avenue and Sixty-Third Street.  By 1896 he had a shop on the corner of Van Buren and Wabash, advertising the business in this way, “The hitherto impossible in photography is our specialty.”  [Petterchak, Alice.  “Photography Genius:  George R. Lawrence & ‘The Hitherto Impossible’”]

Always the tinkerer, he began to experiment with the flash powder that would make the Board of Trade photograph a reality.  He endured “numerous explosions which burned off his hair, his eyebrows and mustache, and burst his eardrums.”  [Petterchak]  In one unfortunate experiment he blew up a building on the South side.

Eventually, though, he found a magnesium formula that worked.  But he went much farther, developing a panoramic camera weighing 1,400 pounds with a bellows that extended 20 feet, a monster that required 20 assistants to operate.  The photographic plate on which the image was captured measured five feet by 8 feet.

San Francisco Panoramic Photo -- George Lawrence, photographer
(Library of Congress Photo)
Later he developed the ability to take aerial photographs, first by a balloon and then by a system of kites with special rigging to hold the camera steady.  It was this last innovation that allowed Lawrence to capture the images that come to mind when we think of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.  That same year he assembled 28,000 pounds of photographic equipment and headed for Africa where it took 400 natives and 64 oxen to get the stuff into the jungle.

That was enough.  He quit photography and took on a new interest in aviation, which he followed closely until he died on December 15, 1938.

George Lawrence wasn't done when he exploded all that flash powder at the Board of Trade.  In the same week he headed for the Union Stockyards in Chicago where he took the following panoramic photo, an amazing shot that captures what an enterprise that must have been.

Chicago Union Stockyards -- George Lawrence, photographer
(Library of Congress Photo)