Sunday, November 2, 2014

State Street Bridge Fracas -- November 2, 1867

The old State Street bridge, destroyed by the Chicago fire in 1871
Tonight Nik Wallenda will be doing his high-wire daredevil thing, crossing the river between State and Dearborn on a tightrope after walking from the east tower to the west tower of Marina City . . . blindfolded.  There will be plenty of exciting action – the skies are clear, the wind has died down, and the city is pumped up.

There was plenty of action at the State Street bridge on this date, November 2, in 1867 as two assistant bridge tenders got into a tussle at 1:00 in the morning.  “That a murder was not committed, was in no way the fault of the combatants, for there was neither a lack of intent, nor were the weapons employed impotent to produce such a result,” reported The Tribune.  [Chicago Tribune, November 2, 1867]

Apparently assistant bridge tender John Gannon was off-duty during the early part of the night and came to the bridge around midnight “somewhat the worse for the liquor he had imbibed during his vacation.”  Upon his arrival Edward Williams, the assistant on duty, who had “also imbibed somewhat freely” jumped on him “in terms more forcible than elegant” for reporting to work in a condition that would prevent him from responsibly carrying out his duties.

Words were exchanged, which quickly led to a “desperate struggle . . . in the little bridge-house about which a number of persons . . . began to collect.”  Mr. Williams, “being evidently the soberest of the two,” grabbed hold of a club and knocked his opponent to the floor.  Mr. Gannon did not stay down for long, and the struggle continued.

At some point Mr. Williams grabbed hold of an axe and “with this he dealt a crushing blow on his adversary’s skull” which “more than sufficed to bring Gannon down.”  Williams was just about to administer the finishing blow when the head bridge-tender, Thomas Lewis, ran into the bridge house and wrestled the lethal weapon out of his employee’s hands.  The police arrived and Williams was hauled off to the Armory.

Mr. Gannon was in a pretty bad way, “covered with gore from his head to his feet, suffering from a “fearful gash” to the back of his skull.  The bridge house was a mess with “the walls, the floor, the bed, and everything about the place . . . thickly covered with blood.”

Quite a night on the river.  Ending its report The Tribune observed, “Altogether, the two constitute an exemplary pair of bridge-tenders, who ought to receive promotion.”


Anonymous said...

Love flowery Tribune prose. And, Mr. Jim, yours is quite graceful also.

Chicago Old and New said...

Thank you . . . although I'm not quite sure how I feel about being flowery.