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.

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