Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Remembering the Eastland--July 24, 1915

Eleanor Froelich, standing on the porch of her home at
2453 Thomas Street in West Town, the only 
member of her family to survive the Eastland disaster
(Chicago Daily News archive)
By Carl Sandburg

The Eastland
Let's be honest now
For a couple of minutes
Even though we're in Chicago.

Since you ask me about it,
I let you have it straight;
My guts ain't ticklish about the Eastland.

It was a hell of a job, of course
To dump 2,500 people in their clean picnic clothes
All ready for a whole lot of real fun
Down into the dirty Chicago river without any warning.

Women and kids, wet hair and scared faces,
The coroner hauling truckloads of the dripping dead
To the Second Regiment armory where doctors waited
With useless pulmotors and the eight hundred motionless stiff
Lay ready for their relatives to pick them out on the floor
And take them home and call up the undertaker...

Well I was saying
My guts ain't ticklish about it.
I got imagination: I see a pile of three thousand dead people
Killed by the con, tuberculosis, too much work
                             and not enough fresh air and green groceries

A lot of cheap roughnecks and the women and children of wops,
    and hardly any bankers and corporation lawyers or their kids,
    die from the con-three thousand a year in Chicago and a
    hundred and fifty thousand a year in the United States-all
    from the con and not enough fresh air and green groceries...

If you want to see excitement, more noise and crying than you ever
    heard in one of these big disasters the newsboys clean up on,
Go and stack in a high pile all the babies that die in Christian
    Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Chicago in one year
    before aforesaid babies haven't had enough good milk;
On top of that pile put all the little early babies pulled from mothers
    willing to be torn with abortions rather than bring more
    children into the world-
Jesus, that would make a front page picture for the Sunday papers

And you could write under it:
Morning glories
Born from the soil of love,
Yet now perished.

Have you ever stood and watched the kids going to work of a
   morning?  White faces, skinny legs and arms, slouching along
   rubbing the sleep out of their eyes on the go to hold their jobs?

Can you imagine a procession of all the whores of a big town,
   marching and marching with painted faces and mocking struts,
   all the women who sleep in faded hotels and furnished rooms
   with any man coming along with a dollar or five dollars?

Or all the structual iron workers, railroad men and factory hands
   in mass formation with stubs of arms and stumps of legs, bodies
   broken and hacked while bosses yelled, "Speed-no slack-
   go to it!"?

Or two by two all the girls and women who go to the hind doors of
   restaurants and through the alleys and on the market street
   digging into the garbage barrels to get scraps of stuff to eat?

By the living Christ, these would make disaster pictures to paste on
   the front pages of the newspapers.

Yes, the Eastland was a dirty bloody job-bah!
                                 I see a dozen Eastlands
                                 Every morning on my way to work
                                 And a dozen more going home at night.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Telstar and Chicago--July 23, 1962

On October 27 of 1962 an obscure British musical group called The Tornadoes entered the WLS Silver Dollar Survey in Chicago with a catchy instrumental that was named after a communications satellite that had been launched in early July.  The title of the song was Telstar, and the song made it to the top spot by November 24, where it remained for three weeks.  It was still in the second spot when the year ended.

I remember that song vividly because it gained popularity exactly at a time when we were driving across the country from upstate New York to San Francisco in the family’s 1959 Chevrolet.  As we moved from state to state the song probably played twice an hour for six continuous days.

The satellite from which the song took its name was launched on July 10, 1962.  Belonging to AT&T, Telstar was the first satellite to relay television pictures, telephone calls, and the first television feed across the Atlantic. 

Telstar ceased to function long ago, but it’s still up there, somewhere between 500 and 3,700 miles above the earth, depending on where it is in its orbit.

Unlike today’s communications satellites, Telstar was placed in a non-geosynchronous orbit, which meant that it was available for transatlantic signals for only 20 minutes in each two-and-a-half hour circuit of the earth.

On this date in 1962, July 23, the satellite had been tested and found ready for the first transatlantic signal available for public viewing.  The first broadcast, aside from still pictures, was to have consisted of a short speech from President John F. Kennedy.


And if you’re a Chicagoan, you should, too.  

The signal from the satellite was acquired earlier than expected, and the President was not ready to go on the air.  So to fill time the feed was transferred for a short time to Wrigley Field where the Chicago Cubs were playing the Philadelphia Phillies.

The feed lasted for exactly one-third of an inning.  Tony Taylor of the Phillies hoisted a fly ball from Cubs pitcher to right field, where George Altman caught it for the out.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor, who actually started his major league career with the Cubs in 1958, was into his seventh season in the bigs in 1962.  He played for Philadelphia in all but two games that year, driving in 43 runs and banging out 162 hits.  According to Wikipedia he was involved in one of the strangest plays in Major League history.  According to the online source on June 30, 1959 the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Cubs.  Stan Musial was at the plate with a count of 3-1 when Cubs pitcher Bob Anderson threw a pitch that Sammy Taylor couldn't corral behind the plate.  It rolled all the way to the backstop with the umpire calling ball four, a ruling that immediately prompted Anderson and Taylor to protest, claiming that Musial had hit a foul tip.  The argument continued with a live ball resting against the backstop, prompting Musial to try for second base.  Alvin Dark, the Cubs third baseman, ran all the way to the backstop to get the ball, which at that point had somehow ended up in the hands of Pat Piper, the Cubs' field announcer.  Dark got it back, but by the time he did the umpire had handed a new ball to Taylor, who, noticing that Musial was headed for second, promptly threw the new ball over Tony Taylor's head and into the outfield.  Dark, in the meantime, threw the original ball to shortstop Ernie Banks, who tagged Musial on his way to third, where he was headed after seeing the umpire-issued ball sail over Taylor's head into the outfield.  The out stood.

George Altman
Poor George Lee Altman, except for one-year stints with the New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals, played his entire major league career with the Cubbies, a team that compiled an ugly record of 475 and 634 in the years that Altman suited up at Wrigley.  He was an All-Star in 1961 and 1962 and hit a pinch homer in the 1961 All-Star game.  He led the National League in triples in 1961 with 12 and on August 4 of that year became the first player to hit two home runs off Sandy Koufax.     

Cal Koonce
Cal Koonce was drafted by the Cubs in 1961 out of Campbell University in North Carolina.  In 1962, his first season, pitching for a team that finished with a record of 59 and 103, Koonce had a 10-10 record and a 3.97 E.R.A.  He was soon converted to a reliever and never won more than seven games again although he did burn the Cubs after they traded him to the New York Mets in 1967.  In the fateful 1969 season Koonce was the senior member of a relief corps that consisted of Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw, who backed up as fearsome a line-up of young starting pitches as has played the game.

We were just beginning the 60’s back then.  There were no Beatles, at least not that we knew about, no assassinations, and Vietnam was still a country that had a name we couldn’t pronounce, much less pick out on a map. 

I remember that song by The Tornadoes, I remember that satellite, and I remember that awful team that played in a park in which they didn’t even bother to open the upper deck on game days. 

But . . . in that historic transmission across the Atlantic back on this date in 1962, at least the Cubbies got the out.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pinkerton Agents Return to Chicago after Homestead

Found in The Chicago Tribune, this event occurred on July 9 of 1892 . . .

Lake Shore Depot (Wikipedia Photo)
At 2:45 in the afternoon on this date in 1892 a special train of five coaches pulled into Chicago’s Lake Shore depot on Van Buren Street.  A dozen men emerged from one of the coaches and headed south.  One man had his arm in a sling, another had welts and scars on his face, a third was missing his coat.  They did not stop to chat.

The train was secured by the Pinkerton Agency, and it carried 85 men returning from New York City after the horrific confrontation at Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead steel mill just three days earlier.

The trouble at Homestead had been brewing for awhile, but tension began to increase in May of 1892 as Andrew Carnegie headed off for a summer in Scotland, leaving operation of the Carnegie Steel Company in the hands of his partner, Henry Clay Frick. 

Henry Clay Frick (Wikipedia Photo)
The nation’s largest union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, had been negotiating for better working conditions and higher pay throughout the spring, but on June 29 Frick closed the mill and locked out 3,800 steel workers.  The union reacted by taking over the plant and encircling the town to block strike-breakers from entering.

It was then that Frick summoned 300 Pinkerton Detectives from Chicago, many of them brand new to this line of work, in an effort to protect the new hires that he planned to recruit in order to break the strike on July 6. The plan was to assemble the Pinkerton agents on two barges that would float down the Ohio River to the point where it joins the Monongahela River, at which point the agents would re-take the heavily-guarded mill from the river.

No plan ever totally works out the way it is drawn up, and this one went to pieces in a hurry.  Strikers had gotten news of the plan, and a company of strikers aboard a steamboat met the barges, verified their intent, and alerted the strikers at Homestead.  At 2:30 in the morning the mill’s whistle was sounded, and thousands of individuals made their way to the bluffs along the waterfront to meet the planned invasion.

The Pinkertons attempt to land (Google Image)
The Pinkerton men attempted to land at about 4:00 a.m.  It will probably never be known who fired the first shot, but once the firing started two strikers and two Pinkerton agents were killed within ten minutes, and another 11 strikers and 12 agents were wounded.  More than 5,000 strikers and their families occupied the high ground.

The agents attempted to make another landing at about 8:00 a.m.  Four more strikers were killed in the attempt even though the Pinkerton men did not make it ashore. 

“The noise that they made on shore was awful, and it made us shake in our boots,” one agent said.  “We were pinned in like rats and we went at the fighting like desperate wild men . . . All of our men were under the beds and bunks, crying and trembling.”  [www.pbs.org]

By the evening 5,000 additional men had arrived from steel mills in the vicinity.  At 5:00 the Pinkerton agents raised the white flag, the fourth time they had tried to surrender during that long day.  They were in a terrible position.  They were being picked off, one by one, on the barges and on shore there were thousands of angry steel workers who had watched as the agents killed and wounded their fellow laborers. 

On shore, but hardly safe
(Wikipedia Photo)
But the Pinkerton men did come ashore, were stripped of their weapons, and then walked a savage gauntlet on their way to the Opera House, the temporary jail, in Homestead.  Men were spat on, had rocks thrown at them, and were beaten. 

Finally, at 12:30 a.m. on July 7 a special train arrived and carried the defeated agents to Pittsburgh.  It wasn’t until 10:00 a.m. on July 7 that the train began its trip to New York City and from there its trip back to Chicago.

One of the crewmen on the train that rolled into Chicago on July 9 described the men in The Tribune’s coverage of the story.  He observed, “They were a badly scared set of fellows—the worst scared lot I ever saw, in fact; and as they claim they had gone to Homestead not fully understanding what their duties were to be I felt rather sorry for them.”

He continued, “So far as I noticed there wasn’t a sound man in the lot.  Every one of them appeared to have been caught in the shuffle and hurt in some way or other.  Blackened eyes were most popular in the party, with broken or bruised heads a close second.  Some of the poor fellows limped, while others were unable to use their arms and hands on account of cuts and bruises.  A number of the men had lost their coats and hats during the assault made on them.”

Many of the men were fearful that a mob would be waiting for them in Chicago, and the closer the train got to the city the more uneasy they became.  Men got off the train from South Chicago all the way to Twenty-second street, any place where the platforms were empty.  If they saw a crowd on a train platform, they crouched down in their seats.

Homestead Steel on the Monongahela (Google Image)
The biggest casualty of the events at the Homestead Works was the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers.  From a membership of 24,000 in 1891 the union lost over 14,000 workers by 1894.  And the Carnegie Steel Works remained a non-union shop for another four decades.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Navy Pier at War

United States Navy Planes over the Pier
in 1942 (Tribune Photo)
Just short of two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy began its occupation of Navy Pier in Chicago.  The process of acquiring the pier began in August of 1941 when the Navy leased both upper levels and the eastern half of the lower levels of Navy Pier from the city, paying $120,000 for the first year and $60,000 for the second.

On October 20, 1941 the first group of 184 sailors and 75 marines took up quarters at the pier.  The plan was to increase that number to 6,000 by January 1 and to 10,000 by the middle of 1942.

In preparation for this major effort 40,000 feet of pipe was installed for a half-mile of showers, a heating plant, toilet facilities, and kitchens.  Work was begun on a theater that would seat 2,500, a gymnasium, a 12-chair barber shop, a tailor shop, a cobbler, and a hospital to be manned by nine physicians and a dozen dentists.

Getting the grub ready for hungry sailors at Navy Pier (Tribune Photo)
When the kitchens and dining rooms were up and running, 3,000 sailors and marines would be fed every hour.  The operation would be run by 250 cooks, 50 bakers, and 300 ship’s cooks.  Among other things eight coffee urns with a total capacity of 480 gallons would be kept brewing.

When the facility opened, there were 2,102 triple deck beds, 6,304 mess kits, and 6,303 lockers.  Enough showers had been created to bathe 6,000 men in 90 minutes.

Contrary to modern-day opinion, the purpose of the converted Navy Pier was not to train aircraft carrier pilots.  (That training did take place on Lake Michigan, using two converted lake steamers as flat-tops, but the planes, for the most part flew out of Glenview Naval Air Station).  Navy Pier was responsible for the education of aviation mechanics with courses in everything from welding to parachute folding.

Airplane assembly at Navy Pier (Tribune Photo)
During the course of study for an aviation machinist’s mate, for example, a trainee would be educated in simple arithmetic, blinker and semaphore signaling, hand tool and bench work, rope and fabric technique, cable splicing, airplane wheels and brakes, propellers, plane structure, airplane electrical equipment and accessories, gunnery and airplane engines. 

By July of 1942 Navy Pier was the largest training school of its type in the world, a place where thousands of sailors and marines trained to become metalsmiths, aviation mechanics, and diesel operators.  Most of the instructors were furnished by Chicago vocational schools through the cooperation of the Chicago Board of Education.

Navy Pier Abandon Ship Drill (Tribune Photo)
By August of 1942 student swimmers were being taught how to slide down a 65-foot rope into the sea and how to protect themselves against sharks and barracudas.   “Our chief aim is to remove fear of water from the minds of the men,” one instructor said.  “Thousands of lives will be saved if they know how to swim and take care of themselves in the water.” [Chicago Tribune, August 28, 1941]  Sailors were also trained in how to prepare for a gas attack in a specially constructed chamber in which they donned gas masks as part of the training.

Navy Pier was one of seven major and 35 smaller training stations that the United States Navy established for maintenance men, ground crews, and technicians.  Chicago was the center of the network.  Rear Admiral Cushing Read, who supervised the Navy’s technical schools throughout the country, said of the Chicago operation, “Heroes from the war fronts are returning to the Navy Pier school and the training center at 87th and Anthony Avenue to become better prepared to keep planes, bombs and guns in fighting trim.  Others will instruct younger men in the work of keeping air supremacy under battle conditions.”

The massive gymnasium at the pier (Tribune Photo)
By November of 1942 the longest swimming pool in the city, measuring 75 by 164 feet, had been constructed in a building adjacent to the pier.  By March of 1943 the galley at Navy Pier was using 7,500 pounds of meat at a meal, 9,000 pounds of potatoes, 1,400 pounds of bread, 1,700 pounds of milk and 1,500 pounds of onions.

From the middle of November until December 3 of 1944 more than four million people visited the Navy’s Pacific Theater exhibit at Navy Pier.  Mounted to spur sales of War Bonds, the exhibit included landing craft, ordinance and other war material, along with celebrity appearances, and an opportunity, for two days, to tour the U. S. S. Wolverine.  Over the two weeks, further north, at least a half-dozen “invasions” of the Foster Avenue Beach were staged.

Keeping them airborne, the purpose of the WWII Navy Pier (Tribune Photo)
In the space of a year the war was over.  The U. S. S. Wolverine and the U. S. S. Cable, the two converted aircraft carriers, were retired after training 14,595 carrier pilots and conducting 136,428 landings.  In one month alone, November of 1944, on the two ships 889 carrier pilots passed their qualification tests.

By August of 1945 Navy Pier was being used primarily as a Separation Center as returning veterans made the transition to civilian life although this operation was soon quickly transferred to the Great Lakes Navy Training Center to the north.  In the middle of 1946 the Navy returned the pier to the City of Chicago after graduating 60,000 servicemen, an operation that clearly constituted an important contribution to the Allied war effort.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July, 1912

I hope that everyone who reads this had a better Independence Day than this guy did on July Fourth of 1912.

According to The Chicago Tribune, It was an especially eventful holiday for an out-of-town guest, Mr. C. W. Stansell, staying at the Congress Hotel.  Mr. Stansell, a promoter from Kansas City, Missouri, had checked into the hotel on June 24 “in an intoxicated condition.”  The hotel clerk, Frank Florentine, said that the only reason Mr. Stansell was given a room was because he had been a guest at the hotel before and was known to be a relative of a Highland Park lawyer, a Mr. Isaac Jordan, an 1895 graduate of Yale whose father had been a member of Congress.

So Mr. Stansell got in – although one of the hotel managers, Mr. Paul Gores, “advised him to sober up.”

Congress Plaza Hotel Room, including plumped pillows, with Audtorium Hotel
(through the window) across Congress Street
Apparently, things hadn’t changed appreciably by the time July 4 rolled around.  The day began with Mr. Stansell “sitting in a chair in his room, partly dressed, while Nellie O’Malley,a maid, was making up his bed.”  As the maid plumped up the pillows, Mr. Stansell “jumped to his feet, shouting, ‘Don’t let ‘em catch me. Get away!’”

At that the man “jumped to the open window, burst through the screen, and climbed out, catching hold of the heavy chain that holds the electric sign.”  The maid tried to grab him by the trouser legs, but gave up when the pants started to come off.

Who could blame her?

Mr. Stansell then swung out, let go of the chain, and fell three floors to Congress Street.  In the fall he struck the hotel’s street sign, “breaking off a score of incandescent bulbs, and crashed through the glass covered porte cochere over the Congress Street entrance.”

Congress Hotel (Note marquee on extreme right at Congress Street)
As guests from the Congress and Auditorium Hotels rushed to their windows to see what all of the ruckus was about and a half-dozen individuals rushed to his aid on the Congress Street sidewalk, Mr. Stansell roused himself and shouted to the hotel doorman, “Give me a drink.”

There is no record in the article of the doorman providing the requested service.

The damages?  Apparently, just a fractured left arm.  Mr. Stansell was taken to the Presbyterian Hospital where “he was in a restless condition.”