Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chicago: A Look Back at March 29

Found on the pages of The Chicago Tribune, these are just some of the events that occurred on this date as the city grew . . .

March 29, 1880
In a lecture at the Franklin Scientific Society in Philadelphia, Professor George F. Barker, M. D., a professor of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania, delivered his observations of Thomas Alva Edison’s electric light in its latest form.  “I know all other generators, and Edison’s is best of all.  With a resistance of only one ohm he gets 165 units of energy.  The theory upon which it is built is exactly the reverse of previous inventions of electrical generators.  Edison aims at low resistance, but high motive force.”

(JWB, 2007)
Dr. Barker spoke in an auditorium that was lit by seven incandescent lamps.  In a complicated series of experiments conducted at Menlo Park the professor determined that one could operate three electric lamps for the same cost as one gas-burner light.  “Until gas can be furnished for 60 cents per 1,000 cubic feet the electric light is cheaper,” Dr. Barker stated.

When Mr. Edison learned of the calculations and the ultimate determination, he told Dr. Barker, “If that be so, man is absolute master of Nature . . . Electricity is light and heat.  We have only to place our engines at the coal mines and transmit the heat and light wherever it is needed.”

*  *  *  *  *
The Ute Indians arrived at the Grand Pacific Hotel on the corner of LaSalle Street and Jackson this day after negotiating in Washington about ceding their reservation in Colorado to the government.  The entire party, including the agents for the Utes, numbered 22 persons.  The Tribune described the scene in this way, “When they passed through Chicago on their way to Washington they were attired in the mixed garb of the Indians and the whites, a soft hat and blue or red shirt being conspicuous, with occasionally a vest.  This time they return in all the glory of slop-shop garb . . . The average Indian doesn’t take kindly to civilized habillments, but the Utes do.  They glory in an ill-fitting frock-coat and pants, and vest.  And their white shirts swell them with pride.”

The delegation had been summoned to Washington, D. C. as a direct result of the “White River Massacre” that had occurred just a year before.  In the battle Major Thomas T. Thornburgh and 13 soldiers were killed as they advanced across the White River into Ute land, in violation of assurances that the Utes had received that soldiers would not encroach upon their territory.  A separate band of Utes attacked the White River Agency and killed ten employees and Nathan Meeker, the overseer.  Three women and two children were also taken hostage.

(JWB, 2010)
Reaction was immediate and hostile until Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz (Recognize that name?  There’s a beautiful high school in Chicago named after him.) interceded and stopped the movement of troops against the Utes until the hostages could be released.  A treaty was finally negotiated, which included reparations to the Meeker family, a payment to the Utes, and the removal of the White River Utes to Uintah Reservation in Utah.

History is amazing, and it’s often tough to find congruency in events.  But it always startles me to realize that just five years before William LeBaron Jenney saw his Home Insurance Building finished on LaSalle Street, the cavalry, homesteaders, and Native Americans were still battling it out on the western plains.

March 29, 1897
If it’s in the paper it must be true.  On this date The Tribune reported that Christopher Bettarie, a butcher, residing at No. 29 Emerson avenue, was attacked by his blooded St. Bernard dog on the previous day.  His wife came to his rescue with a revolver and began the work of trying to kill the dog.  “The first bullet fired struck her husband instead of the animal and made a bad wound in his left hip . . . The report of the revolver, which was fired from but a few feet away, enraged the dog still more.  Battarie and his wife both belabored it with their fists, but it retained its grip on its master’s arm.”

Mr. Batterie was in a fix, so it seemed.  The dog wouldn’t let go of his arm, and he understandably refused to allow his wife to fire another slug toward him.  Finally, neighbors heard the ruckus and intervened, rescuing the butcher who had badly lacerated arm and a bullet in his rear.

Arriving at the scene of the mayhem, the police arrested Mrs. Battarie, believing the shooting to be intentional.  At the station, though, she was able to prove her innocence.  Mr. Battarie was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where it was believed he would make a recovery, barring the onset of blood poisoning.

*  *  *  *  *

Chicago’s foremost citizens gathered at the Commercial Club of Chicago to hear Daniel H. Burnham outline his plan for the lake-front park system.  Virtually everyone in attendance was in favor of the system that would unite the north and south parks into a continuous band of green along the lake.  The only objection was to the selling of frontage along the lakeside for residences.  This was a legal issue as the South Park Commission had not legal authority to conduct real estate transactions of this sort.

(JWB, 2009)
Phillip Danforth Armour stated after the meeting, “The park will be an excellent thing for Chicago.  I believe Burnham’s plan is entirely satisfactory, and there are many advantages to be obtained from such a scheme . . . I think Mr. Burnham well qualified to arrange the details of such an immense park scheme.”

Robert Todd Lincoln, the first-born son of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, added, “I certainly should favor connecting the North and South park systems.  The greatest expense connected with making this connection would be that of bridging or tunneling the mouth of the Chicago River.  It would seem to me a raised bridge would be necessary.  That would be a big item of expense.  The riparian rights could be obtained, I believe, if it was agreed that no buildings should be erected on this park property.  I believe eventually we will see the Lake-Front Park idea practically adopted.”

Harlow N. Higginbotham, who served as President of the 1893 Century of Progress World’s Fair, stated, “From Park row to Jackson Park the made land ought all to be devoted to park purposes, with drives, trees, a lagoon, walks and fountains, statuary, and everything that would make it a pleasant place.  North of Park row there ought to be a wide driveway and the Field Museum, a public library and the armory might be conveniently located in this strip.”

Frank Orren Lowden, who would go on to serve as the Governor of Illinois from 1917 to 1921, said, “We who have lived so near the lake have not thought of the esthetic development of the water frontage and the natural beauty which is lying dormant there.  I remember that when Lord Coleridge returned from a trip to this country, in speaking of Chicago and the lakes he said that the thing which struck him most was the indifference of the city toward the beauties of the lakefront.  I think we are awakening  to a realizing sense of the truth of his criticism.  Mr. Burnham’s scheme is an ideal plan, and it seems to me as practical as the World’s Fair would have been two years before we realized the gigantic nature of the World’s Fair scheme.  Such colossal enterprises cannot be grasped in a moment.  Specialists might arrange some of the details differently, but the plan itself strikes me as an ideal one.”

*  *  *  *  *

In the ongoing labor wars it was announced that the tanners of Chicago had once again gone on strike.  Despite the work of the newly created State Board of Arbitration, talks broke down, meetings were held, and “the men were full of fight and ready to go out in a body today.”

The union’s central issue, just as it had been during the labor unrest that led to the Haymarket disturbance 13 years earlier, was an increase in working hours.  Employers planned on instituting a ten-hour work day within the week while the workers were asking for a nine-hour day, paid at the ten-hour rate.  It was estimated that 500 men would strike on this day with another 1,500 more walking out on the next.

Companies were standing firm with one large firm deducting 20 dollars from each worker’s wages, a sum that would be forfeited if there were a strike.

*  *  *  *  *

The United States battleship Iowa left Cramp’s shipyard in Philadelphia for its official trial voyage before heading to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where it would be placed in dry dock and given a coat of fresh paint.  The new battleship was expected to become “the most powerful fighting machine in the new navy.”

Its main battery of four 12-inch, eight 8-inch and six 4-inch guns was complemented by 20 6-pounders and six 1-pounder rapid firing guns and two Gatling guns.  Its side armor varied in thickness from three to 14 inches with its turrets protected by steel from 5 to 15 inches thick.  With a displacement of 11,000 tons, it was expected to “in every respect equal, and will probably outclass, the lastest type of English battleships as represented by the Magnificent and Majestic.”

The new behemoth didn’t last long.  After serving heroically in the Spanish-American War and World War I, she was used for target practice and sunk in 1923.

March 29, 1915
Racing to 508 Case Street, located in “a dingy row of north side rooming houses,” James F. Bishop, the public administrator for Cook County, found “an unprotected litter of unframed age-cracked canvases reported to him as a veritable mine of old masters.”

Albrecht Durer-- Christ on the Cross
The treasure trove belonged to Louis Hellman, “septuagenarian recluse,” who died after a stroke.  When the Cook County administrator left the deceased’s apartment, he carried with him “paintings the value of which . . . was several hundred thousands of dollars.  Among them was a lost Rembrandt—Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  Another was Apollo and the Muses, variously credited to Annibale Caracci and to Rubens.  Still another was a priceless old drawing by Albrecht Durer—Christ on the Cross.

It appeared that Mr. Hellman was of a noble German family and had come to the United States “after an unfortunate love affair.”  He had begun a career as a seller of art but failed at his attempt because “he could not force himself to part with the finest pictures that came into his hands.”

“I have come into this room a thousand times before,” said one of Mr. Hellman’s few friends.  “It always looked this same way, dirty and neglected, with canvases stacked against the walls by the dozen.  Hellman—Von Hellman he used to be—told me that the paintings he had kept for himself were the cream of something like 10,000 he had handled.”

*  *  *  *  *

March 29,1915
From the North Shore suburb of Highland Park this day came another episode of carnage on the railroad tracks.  Joseph Leuer, who owned a garage at 136 North First Street received a call from a motorist whose car had broken down and sent his two sons, Frank, 27-years-old, and Louis, a 16-year-old, to tow the vehicle to the garage.

They hooked onto the car and sped west to Elm Street toward the railroad tracks that ran parallel to St. John Avenue.  A long line of empty passenger coaches obscured the view of the tracks, and the gates at the crossing were open as the tow truck approached.

The sound of the collision between train and truck could be heard at the Leuer garage, which was only 150 feet away from the crash.  Mr. Leuer came running to find his youngest son screaming for his legs to be amputated so he could be extricated from the wreck.  It was 15 minutes before he could be freed, and he died on his was to Lake Forest Hospital.

An angry crowd gathered around Mike Tomi, the towerman at the grade crossing, and he started to run down the track before he was caught.  “I rang the bell,” he protested.  “I range the bell!  I couldn’t see the engine for the smoke.  It was not on schedule.  I had no time to lower the gates, but I rang the bell.”

“This thing has got to stop,” said Mayor Frank P. Hawkins of Highland Park.  “At the very next meeting of the council I am going to see that drastic action is taken to make the railroad protect life here.”

*  *  *  *  *

Ten thousand people who attended the Moody Church approved a plan for a city-wide revival campaign to be led by “Billy” Sunday.  “It was the largest attendance in the history of the Moody church,” said the Rev. E. Y. Woolley, the associate pastor.

(JWB, 2011)
The Rev. George L. Robinson, professor in McCormick theological seminary, a long-time friend of Mr. Sunday’s, said, “Our faculty expect to extend to Mr. Sunday a formal invitation to come here for a revival campaign.  I would almost be willing to dismiss all the classes of the seminary in order to enable the students to get the benefit of the meetings.  Chicago is Mr. Sunday’s home city, and we need him here.”

The pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Rev. W. S. Plumer Bryan, said, “It is said that Mr. Sunday received $47,000 in Philadelphia.  He won more than 40,000 converts.  This is only a little more than one dollar a head for the converts.  Suppose the ministers of Chicago were all paid on the basis of the number of converts they gained.  Some of them would have hard work in making a living.”

“Chicago is a big city, but not too big for God,” said the Rev. James E. Walker, chairman of the west side committee which started the campaign.

March 29 1938
The will of Mrs. Kate Allerton Johnstone, daughter of Samuel W. Allerton, an early Chicagoan who was one of the founders of the First National Bank of Chicago, was entered into probate.  Mrs. Johnstone’s estate came to about $320,000, of which $200,000 was placed in trust for her only son, Vanderburgh Johnstone of Las Vegas, New Mexico.  Two grandsons, a brother, and friends were also to receive gifts of property and cash.

*  *  *  *  *

Bad news for the White Sox as Luke Appling’s fractured ankle was placed in a cast this morning and estimates of the star’s recovery went from five weeks to three moths.  X-rays revealed that Mr. Appling had broken both bones of his lower right leg.  Accompanied by Chicago White Sox Vice-President Harry Grabiner, Appling was set to return to Chicago at the end of the week.

Mr. Appling returned to action on June 18 against the Boston Red Sox.  He drew a walk.   The great shortstop went on to play in 82 games during the 1938 season, ending the year with a .303 average.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mies!

It's a day late, but here's a Happy Birthday to the genius of the modern ethic . . . a good cigar, a pretty car, and an eye for design that changed the world.

Mies van der Rohe (March 27, 1886 - August 17, 1969)

Rem Koolhaas - McCormick Tribune Campus Center
at the Illinois Institute of Technology (JWB, 2008)

Federal Center in Chicago (JWB, 2008)

Alexander Calder's "Flamingo" at Chicago's Federal Center (JWB, 2008)

Klucynski and Dirksen Federal Buildings at Chicago's Federal Center (JWB, 2008)

Exterior Detail of Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago (JWB, 2008)

Pilotis and Plaza of Klucynski Federal Building in Chicago (JWB, 2008)

Exterior detail -- Klucysnski Federal Building in Chicago (JWB, 2008)

Promontory Apartments (1949) (JWB, 2009)

Promontory Apartments (JWB, 2009)

330 North Wabash - 1971 (JWB, 2011)

Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel of St. Savior - "The God Box" (JWB, 2011)

Interior of Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapter of St. Savior (JWB, 2011)

Masonry detail of The God Box at the Illinois institute of Technology (JWB, 2011)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chicago: A Look Back at March 22

Found on the pages of The Chicago Tribune, these are just some of the events that occurred on this date as the city grew . . .

March 22, 1879
The Chicago Tribune for this date reported the principal actions at city hall.  First, the school janitors would finally be paid a part of their January salaries sometime during the afternoon.  Secondly, two cases of scarlet fever and one of diphtheria were reported.  Thirdly, the Bell Telephone Company applied to the Public-Works Department for permission to erect upwards of 2,000 poles “to conduct wires along the principal streets of the city.”   And finally, attention was called to the fact that some of the limestone blocks in the brand new City Hall had split.  It was concluded that “the cracks are due to the frost and have effected no injury to the structure, as was feared in some quarters that they would.”  The explanation for the cracks in the building was that the stone was taken out of the quarry at the end of the season and was used in the building in haste in order to get the first story finished before winter came on. 

County Building Demolition -- 1904-5
What actually happened was that the structure, designed by city architect James J. Egan, was structurally unsound from the beginning.  Taking more than a dozen years to build at an extraordinary cost of five million dollars, its two-story base with 35-foot tall Corinthian columns couldn’t support the elaborate superstructure.  After standing for less than 20 years, the building was torn down to make way for the present City-County building, designed by Holabird & Roche, across from the Daley Center at Washington Street between Clark and La Salle.

March 22, 1887
Under the headline Lawyer Story Stops Yerkes’ Work, The Tribune on this day reported that attorney Allan C. Story “was awakened yesterday morning in his house at the corner of North Clark and Schiller streets by the noise of several hundred men working on the North Side cable road.” 

(Note to Mr. Yerkes . . . try never to awaken a sleeping lawyer)

The workmen were busy tearing up track and digging the trench where the cable was to run in Mr. Charles Tyson Yerkes’s new north side cable system.  At least 2,000 men were already at work and “Mr. Story, not being an early riser, was not yet awake.  Although Mr. Story usually takes breakfast before going to his office, he was in too much of a hurry yesterday morning, but hastily putting on his clothes hailed one of Mr. Yerkes’ yellow barouches and rode down to his office.”

At the office Mr. Story notified Mr. Yerkes’ retained attorneys, Goudy & Green, that he would have an injunction before Judge Tuley before 1:00 in the afternoon.  After much discussion, a hearing was set for the following Wednesday and Yerkes’ company was ordered not to tear up the street directly in front of Mr. Story’s house.

Gov. Peter Altgeld (JWB,  2009)
Mr. Yerkes’ attorney, Mr. Green, fought the injunction with three arguments.  First, that it would be a rather harsh action to put 2,000 men out of work, waiting for the resolution of an injunction with little merit.  Secondly, that the whole cable project would have to be stopped if this part of it were halted.  And, finally, that Mr. Yerkes’ company really had no control over the men working on the project.  They were employed by another contractor.

A little more than seven years later Mr. Yerkes would leave Chicago for London, having offered Governor Peter Altgeld between one and two million dollars for his help in guaranteeing the traction baron lifetime contracts in Chicago.  Altgeld refused the bribe; Yerkes left the city.

March 22, 1903
On this date The Tribune reported that the Western Electric company had purchased 109 acres of land at 22nd Street and 48th Avenue.  The company planned to spend $1,200,000 immediately in buildings and nearly as much more for equipment as the site.  No fewer than 1,200 men would be employed in what would become the largest industrial facility in the southwest section of the city.

The plans included a one-story cable factory with floor space of 150,000 square feet.  An extensive machine shop and foundry would also be erected on the new Belt Line railroad. At the center of the property would stand a water tower over 46 feet square and 174 feet high.  Four artesian wells would supply the tower and the cisterns for the plant’s sprinkler systems with a combined capacity of more than 1,500,000 gallons. 

The Hawthorne Works Facility (
The main building would be of “artistic design, in the style of the castellated towers of the fifteenth century.  A red tile roof will surmount the tower and upon one of its corners will be a circular turret, from which a flagstaff 60 feet high will be raised.  This building will also serve as a clock tower, clock faces ten feet in diameter being shown on the four fronts.”

Of course, this was the plan for what would become the Hawthorne Works, which at its height would employ 48,000 workers.  Today a shopping center stands in its place.  Among other things, it was at this plant where George Elton Mayo’s 1927-32 experiments led to his description of “The Hawthorne Effect.”  Mayo proposed that improvements in production occurred not in response to actual improvements in working conditions but because employees perceived that management was interested in those improvements.  []

*  *  *  *  *

“The greatest nomadic race of the present day,” said a foreign writer once, “are the Chicagoans.”

So began a Tribune article on this date in 1903.  “In accounting for this it may be said that the great bulk of the residents have not lived in the city long enough to develop homes in the English sense that generation after generation has been born there.”

“There is nothing about the surroundings of seven rooms and a bath which would bring tears in his eyes were he to think of leaving them,” the article continued.

So spring found a great number of Chicagoans searching for more commodious apartments with more modern conveniences.  When the location was the problem, and the house was comfortable, the solution was to move the whole structure to a more suitable location.

Traditionally, most leases in Chicago expired on May 1.  As a result for the first week or two of May the city was filled with moving drays of all sizes as the great relocation took place.  Companies became so good at moving goods and, quite often, whole buildings that the city became the center of engineering expertise in the movement of structures.  This is the business in which George Pullman got his start.  This was the expertise that enabled the developers of the brand new Reliance building to jack the old structure up, place a new ground floor underneath it, and wait for the leases to expire before leveling the upper floors, all while doctors and dentists were still practicing on those soon-to-be-demolished upper stories.

March 22, 1929
The Tribune on this date featured a headline that read Fears Disaster if City Airport is Not Expanded.

The article continued, “Chicago’s ‘one track airport’ with its congested airplane traffic and crowded runways will be the scene of an airplane disaster this summer unless the city heeds the plea of aviation men for expansion of the Municipal field, Lester D. Seymour, consulting engineer of the Chicago aero commission and general manager of National Air transport, predicted yesterday.”

Mr. Seymour pointed out that while smaller cities were spending millions on developing their airfields, Chicago in 1928 spent just $160,000 and had appropriated only $60,540 for 1929.  “This situation,” he said, “is a disgrace to the second largest city in the country where 11 air mail, express and passenger lines operate 40 planes in and out daily on a regular schedule in addition to sightseeing and training planes.”

Just the previous Sunday 600 passengers were carried in and out of the airfield with about 400 arrivals and departures of planes.  “Big planes carrying from twelve to fourteen persons landed on the runways in quick succession,” Mr. Seymour said.  “If this condition is permitted to continue, a major tragedy will surely occur here this summer, and it may be of a nature directly chargeable to the city’s failure to provide funds for an airport suitable to the needs of the busiest air terminal in America.”

*  *  *  *  *

The Merchandise Mart (JWB, 2010)
Also on this day James Simpson, Jr., the son of the president of Marshall Field & Co., drove the first rivet in the steel framework of the new Merchandise Mart, which, when finished just into 1930, would be the world’s largest building.  Mr. Simpson wore overalls and a shirt as a member of the project superintendent’s force.  It was projected that the new building would house 2,000 manufacturers, wholesalers and importers.

March 29, 1944
On the evening of March 29, The Tribune reported, DePaul center Geroge Mikan, at 6’ 9”, would oppose 7-foot Bob Kurland as DePaul took on Oklahoma A & M in the semifinal round of the National Invitational Tournament.  It was forecast that this game, played in Madison Square Garden, would totally overshadow the opening game, which pitted St. John’s of Brooklyn, the defending champion, and Kentucky.

The St. John’s Redmen ended up defeating DePaul in the final round of the tournament by a score of 47 to 39.  Mr. Mikan was named player of the year in 1944 and 1945 and led DePaul to the national title in 1945.  He went on to play professional basketball with the Chicago American Gears of the National Basketball League and the Minneapolis Lakers of the newly created National Basketball Association.  Mr. Mikan ended his professional career in 1956, scoring close to 22,000 points with 4, 267 rebounds and 1,245 assists.

*  *  *  *  *

Bad news on the home front as The Tribune announced “Beer industry spokesmen reported yesterday that there will be no bock this year because its production, from a special carmelized malt, would necessitate a change in operations, a slower, longer process.”  Along with that, handling bock beer, which matures during the winter months, required extra deliveries, additional help, and more extensive trucking facilities, which were limited due to war time restrictions.

In a further bit of bad news, reports from New York confirmed that the alcoholic content of civilian beer was down to 3.31 per cent by weight, as compared to 3.56 in 1940.  Frank Wetzel, secretary of the Illinois Association of Brewers, scoffed at the report.  The paper reported, “And beer drinkers, interviewed at bars, were undecided.  Some, who identified themselves as experts, said they thought they had noticed a change in beer.  Others said no.”

*  *  *  *  *

In a sad bit of war news The Tribune on this date reported that since the preceding October Sgt. Robert K. Bell’s letters to his parents in Denver, Indiana had a lot to say about his little black cocker spaniel named Flak.  Sgt. Bell paid $50 for the dog, and each time the aviator left on a bombing run, Flak would stand near the runway, barking a good luck farewell.  Each time the crew’s plane returned, Flak was there to greet his master.

Then one day, as happened so often during the long air war, the plane did not return.

Sgt. Bell’s sister, Marietta, a 21-year-old student nurse at Michael Reese Hospital, wrote a letter to General Henry Arnold, the head of the army air forces.

The letter said:

“Robert, my brother, was killed in action.  He had been awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.  Flak, his dog, is five months old.  I am appealing to you for my parents’ sake.  They are quite elderly and my mother is not well.  She made the statement, ‘If we only had Robert’s dog here with us so that we could look after it, as he would if he were living.’”

“’I know it would receive the best of care, as we live on a small country farm.  This would be all we would have to remember him by.  We will pay anything that is asked.  But please try to return Flak to us.’”

On March 21 Miss Bell received her reply.   The Army would begin working to bring Sgt. Bell’s faithful companion to the farm he would never see again.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Panama's Biodiversity Museum

Since January I have been down in southern Florida, soaking up the sunshine with the gal who is most generally wiser than I.  Had a go at deepening the tan again this afternoon on a beautiful sky-blue day.  But I’m starting to miss the Big City – all the more this week since the temperatures in Chicago have rivaled or exceeded the temperatures down here. 

It makes you look forward to summer, doesn’t it?

Summer offers so many different opportunities in Chicago, but one of our favorite outings involves climbing on the old 151 with a couple of lawn chairs and a picnic supper and heading down to the Pritzker Pavilion for a Grant Park Symphony evening.  There really is nothing like it – the Michigan Avenue streetwall just to the west, surrounded by thousands of people, under the stars and Frank Gehry’s magnificent trellis.

I know, I know, New York City has its Great Lawn.  And it’s great.  But it’s a lawn, as great as it is. 

(JWB, 2008)
In Chicago we have not just a lawn that can accommodate 7,000 people, but an unbelievable stainless steel colossus designed by one of the world’s greatest living architects, Frank Gehry.  And a pretty darned good symphony, too.  As far as I know, the Grant Park Symphony orchestra provides the largest free symphonic schedule in the country, reaching over one million people a year through its concerts and community outreach programs.

Speaking of Mr. Gehry, I had a chance to see a brand new Gehry design a month or so ago as Jill and I cruised slowly down the west end of the Panama Canal.  With shiny, silver spires of Panama City shimmering in the background, Mr. Gehry’s Bridge of Life, or Biodiversity Museum, presents a contrast, both in form and color.

Frank Gehry's Biomuseum nearing completion in Panama City (JWB, 2012)
Due to open during summer a year from now, the Biomuseum will use four million square feet and eight showrooms, split in two levels, to show the geological emergence of the Isthmus of Panama and the subsequent creation of the Caribbean as a closed sea.

The idea for the Biomuseum originated over a dozen years ago when the United States handed trusteeship for the canal to Panama.  In fact, the museum is located on what is know as the Amador Causeway, which was created during construction of the canal and which served as the grounds for two large U. S. military bases until 1999.

During the original construction of the canal waste material, especially that excavated from the Culebra Cut, was dumped in a desolate area east of Panama City known as the Balboa Dump.  As work continued, backfill was used to create a large breakwater, a project completed in 1912.  The largest of the two U. S. military bases on the Amador Causeway was Fort Amador, which was the primary infantry and support base.  Manuel Amador Guerrero was the first president of Panama.  The headquarters for the Amador Foundation, the controlling body for the Biomuseum, is located in the old Officer’s Club on the grounds of the former Army base, next to the new Gehry-designed campus.

The Biomuseum on the Amador Causeway with Panama City in the background (JWB, 2012
The Biomuseum is the first building in Latin America designed by Mr. Gehry, whose wife, Berta Isabel Aguilera, is a Panamanian.  Originally conceived as an Aquarium,  it morphed into a 60 million dollar behemoth and a dozen years after Mr. Gehry’s original plans were unveiled is still only about 70% complete.  When it is finally completed its close proximity to Panama City, Sovereignty National Park, and the cruise ports on the west end of the canal should make it a prime tourist destination.

If it ever gets finished.

If and when it is finished, the museum will consist of eight galleries that tell the historically accurate story of Panama as a bridge for life moving from one continent to another.  The display galleries are called:  Living Network, Oceans Divided, The Human Footprint, the Great Exchange, The Bridge Emerges, Panamarama, and Biodiversity Gallery.

Close to the western entrance to the Panama Canal and its port facilities, the new Biomuseum should
become a popular tourist destination.  That's the hope, anyway.  (JWB, 2012)
The Great Exchange will feature 97 sculptures of giant wildlife that cross from one continent to the other three million years ago.  The Human Footprint will show 15,000 years of culture in the Panmanian isthmus.  Oceans Divided will include two aquariums, representing the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

It should be a spectacular museum, when completed, in an extraordinary location, a location combining both beauty and history.  Maybe in ten years she who must be obeyed and I will return to Panama.  And maybe, by then, Frank Gehry’s plans will be complete.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chicago: A Look Back at March 15

                                                                                                                                                          (JWB, 2008)
Found on the pages of The Chicago Tribune, these are just some of the events that occurred on this date as the city grew . . .

March 15, 1877
The Chicago Tribune reported that “It is the general opinion, that, before the lapse of much time, the problem of shipping fresh meat in good condition from the farthest Western points to the Eastern seaports will have been solved, and that the shipments of live stock will continue to decrease until it ceases altogether.”  Within ten years the paper’s prediction became fact, and Chicago’s southwest side was changed forever.  Since it was calculated that the average head of beef lost from fifty to sixty pounds in weight from the range to its final destination, the development of the reefer car was an important one.

March 15, 1886
With labor unrest brewing in Chicago, The Tribune turned to happier news in reporting that one of the oldest citizens in Illinois was a Douglas Country resident, John Hawkins, “a colored man living near Hindsboro, who is 105 years old.”  The paper also reported that Mr. Hawkins had a wife who was 84 years younger than he was and who “recently presented him with an heir.”

March 15, 1912
Big announcement in this day’s Tribune:  “The realization of the city plan commission’s ideas on the Chicago harbor seems probable as a result of a new agreement reached by fourteen of the large railroads entering Chicago, announced yesterday by Attorney Will H. Lyford following a conference with Lieut. Col. George A. Zinn of the army engineers.”

The major project included a six-track belt line and two large clearance yards, the largest of which would encompass 1,000 acres extended from 63rd to 71st Streets.  (Today Clearing yard is a massive double hump yard that is the largest and probably the busiest in the entire Chicago area.) The four railroads not entering into the agreement were the Northwestern, the St. Paul, the New York Central and the Baltimore and Ohio.

It was estimated that approximately 30,000 carloads of freight, averaging 20 tons apiece, came into the city each day.  The new arrangement would provide for a more efficient transfer of through freight, tonnage that previously had to travel through the heart of the city.

The portion of the plan that was never completed called for the development of a Chicago River harbor for local freight and passenger service.  The Northwestern ran a railroad spur all the way to the end of the north bank of the river and was “vitally interested” in the completion of a plan that never made it off the drawing board.

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(Google Photo)
From the Tribune’s sports pages came a story from Waco, Texas, the home of the White Sox spring training camp and “a boy of 20 years who has more grit than the manager of any other player on the squad knows.”

The boy’s name was “Buck” Weaver who “at the same time he [was] using every bit of his energy to get a place as a regular in the big league he [was] grieving over his mother’s death, which happened suddenly on the day he left to join the team.”

Before the summer of 1910 Buck Weaver had never left his home in Stowe, Pennsylvania, but he came west to play ball in San Francisco and over the winter worked at a California ranch to make a little money and keep in shape.  On the day that he was to travel to camp in Waco, his father’s telegram arrived informing him of his mother’s death.  Rather than take a long train ride back to Pennsylvania for the funeral, Buck hopped the train for Texas and training camp.

According the reporter in Waco “Weaver came in here the day the main squad arrived, and, without mentioning the death of his mother to Manager Callahan or to any of the players, he got into his baseball suit and started after the job as shortstop for Comiskey’s team. Not a man on the squad displayed as much enthusiasm in the work.”

As the most promising recruit on the roster, Buck Weaver went about his business, later confessing “when he was alone in his room he couldn’t help but weep over the matter.  However, he knew he could do no good by going home and he was determined to make good as a ball player . . .”

Buck Weaver grew up quickly, switching from shortstop to third base in 1917.  He was the only third baseman in the league against whom Ty Cobb refused to bunt.  In the 1919 World Series he batted .324, banging out 11 hits and playing errorless ball at third base.

Based on his record in the 1919 series, he was almost certainly falsely accused of participating in the “fix” that became the Black Sox scandal. Banned from baseball for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, he filed for reinstatement six separate times before dying at the age of 65 on January 31, 1956.

From this time one when I hear about the Black Sox scandal of 1919, the first thing I will think of will be the 20-year-old kid from Pennsylvania who wanted to play in the bigs so bad that he put on the uniform and went out to field fungoes while his mother’s funeral was taking place back home.

March 15, 1936
Also on this date it was announced that invitations to the electrocution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann would be mailed over the weekend.  The execution for the convicted killer of the Lindbergh baby was also scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31.

Charles Lindbergh, Jr. was kidnapped on March 1, 1932 from his parent’s home at which a ransom note demanding $50,000 was left.  The young boy’s body was found on May 12, 1932 about four miles from the Lindbergh home.  Subsequently, $14,500 of the delivered ransom was found in Hauptmann’s garage.  Eight handwriting experts testified at Hauptmann’s trial, pointing out the similarities between words and letters in the ransom note and the defendant’s own writing.

Hauptmann was executed on April 3, 1936 although there is still controversy concerning the fairness of the process that was followed to secure his conviction.

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(JWB, 2010)
On the sports pages of The Tribune for this date came breathless coverage of the Chicago Backhawks, “. . . neat, orderly young men who enjoy having everything shipshape, will roll up their sleeves tonight at Boston in the opening chore of a four game spring cleaning campaign which they hope will bring them first place in the American section of the National Hockey league.”

With four games left in the season the Hawks had played 44 games, won 24 and racked up a total of 50 points.  The team trailed Detroit, the league leader, by just one game at this point.  Unfortunately, the Hawks did not get to the championship.  Detroit, in its second appearance in the championship series, ended up beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in the finals, 3-1.

March 15, 1961
On the editorial page of The Tribune came a piece concerning the development of Chicago’s Calumet Harbor.  In words that sound eerily prescient, the editorial began, “The Kennedy administration has had a good deal to say about spending billions of tax dollars to provide jobs and end the business recession.”

The opinion piece went on to point out that the harbor development program would create 3,000 jobs during the construction period and 1,000 full time jobs after the program was completed.  In the project the last mile of the river would be straightened and two old center-pier bridges would be removed.  A new bridge would also be built to replace the two that would be demolished.  Once the river was straightened and the bridges removed, the proposal was to deepen the river channel from 21 feet to 27 feet.

The project was first proposed in the early 1930’s, and Congress approved the project in 1935.  The piece ended with this thought, “Chicago is the logical terminal  of the seaway route.  The city’s officials and representatives n Congress should see to it that all the facilities are provided to let Chicago take advantage of its geographical position.”

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And on the sports pages it was announced that Zeke Bratkowski was traded to the Los Angeles Rams.  The deal completed a transaction begun in January in which Bill Wade, the Los Angeles quarterback, was signed by the Bears.  Under the agreement Los Angeles was due a high draft choice or a player from the Bears roster.

“The Brat” had excited Bear fans in his rookie season of 1954 when he took over for the injured George Blanda.  He led the Bears to five wins in their last six games.  The following year he enlisted in the Air Force and in 1957, when he returned, he struggled to find his earlier form.

It was William James Wade who led the Bears to their 1963 championship season.  In his 15 year N.F.L. career Zeke Bratkowsi passed for 10,345 yards and 65 touchdowns.  After three years with Los Angeles, Vince Lombardi brought him to Green Bay for the 100 dollar waiver fee. 

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(Google Photo)
Also on the sports pages of The Tribune came news of a legitimate Cubs hero, the five-foot nine-inch second baseman for the team, Don Zimmer.  After the Cubbies fell behind Los Angeles on a three-run home run by Ted Kluszewski, Don Zimmer hit a single and four home runs to lift the team to a 9-5 victory.

In addition to Mr. Zimmer’s offensive outburst, Al Heist and News Mathews hit triples, Ron Santo hit two doubles and Billy Williams and Ed Bouchee each hit doubles.

The Cubs went on to finish the season with a 64 and 90 record, settling into a comfortable 29 games out of first place, edging out the Phillies club that finished 46 games behind league-leading Cincinnati.