Friday, March 27, 2015

Everly Brothers "Walk Right Back" -- March 27, 1961

Back in the day there were only two stations in Chicago that played what they used to call rock and roll, WLS and WCFL.  They divided the town just as the Cubs and the White Sox did.  You listened to one or the other.  I started out as a WLS fanatic and switched over about the time Dick Orkin and Jim Runyon brought Chicken Man to WCFL.

My original favorite had a great advertising gimmick called the WLS Silver Dollar Survey.  (You can find a great website about the survey here.)  Handed out in record stores, the survey gave the top 40 tunes each week along with promotions for the station’s dee-jays.  Every now and then I go back and take a look. 

There’s something about a song, you know.  Songs come and go, providing a few weeks of entertainment and toe-tapping and, in the old days, a frenzy to get down to the E. J. Korvettes in order to snap up the latest piece of vinyl.  But there is also the value of a song ten or twenty or forty years later.  Events set to the music of one’s life in some ways keep a better record of the past than a journal can.

Way back in 1961, just beginning my second decade, the Silver Dollar Survey had Walk Right Back by the Everly Brothers as its number one pick.  Great song sung by two top-notch vocalists, the exquisite harmony strung together in a helix of DNA that the two brothers shared.

The song was written by a guy named Sonny Curtis, who is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and who is perhaps best known for his hit I Fought the Law.

Who can turn the world on with her smile?  Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?  Sonny Curtis could.  He not only wrote that song; he sang it on the opening sequence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Sunny Curtis (Google Images)
Curtis was an original member of the Crickets, the band that stood behind Buddy Holly, the members of which contributed so much to the success of the legend that it’s hard to tell where the genius of Buddy Holly leaves off and the musicianship of the Crickets begins. 

When the band dissolved, Curtis went on to play with his mates, Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin, as they backed up the Everly Brothers until Curtis was inducted into the United States Army in 1960.  It was at Fort Ord in California that his keen eye for a good guitar lick and catchy lyrics also served him as a marksman.

As he related in a 2014 interview with the Nashville Songwriters’ Association’s Bret Herbison, out of 250 men in his company he was one of six who received “Expert Marksman” status, an achievement that earned him a three-day pass which he decided to use for a trip to Los Angeles to visit Jerry Allison, his old band mate.

There he played for Allison Come Right Back, which he had put together on a Sunday afternoon at the barracks, playing on  “old, beat-up Sears Roebuck kind of guitar.”  He had that first lick in his head when he was inducted, simple and memorable, adding an F# and an Ab on the E string to a basic A chord.

As luck would have it, Phil and Don Everly were also in Los Angeles, learning how to be movie stars at Warner Brothers.  Allison and Curtis dropped in on Don Everly, and Allison prompted his friend to “Sing that song to Don.” Upon hearing it, Everly went straight to the phone, asked his brother to come over, and before the afternoon was out the harmony had been arranged for the song.

Sometimes even a great lick needs a little bit of luck and a serendipitous ability to be in the right place at the right time.  A few days one way or the other, and the magic might never have happened.

Soon after the meeting in Los Angeles Curtis was transferred to Fort Gordon, Georgia, and from there he shipped out to France.  On the day he landed in France the song was released. 

There was only one verse for the song that Curtis had worked up there at Fort Ord.  The Everly Brothers didn’t see that as a problem – they just sang the existing verse twice.  Clearly, the music buying public didn’t mind the repetition. 

Repetition is what the song got in Chicago as in four weeks it moved from Number 28 on the survey to the top spot on March 25 where it lasted just one week before the Marcels interpretation of Blue Moon knocked it into second place.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chicago's Ice Harvest -- March 24, 1858

You can appreciate the advantage of a lake with the descriptor "Crystal"
Just got back from the kitchen where I filled my glass with crushed ice from the automatic dispenser on the refrigerator and added some ice-cold water as well.  We take the simplicity of both ice and water for granted these days.   Meat stays frozen until we need to throw it on the grill, and milk is always cold and fresh. 

Back in the middle of the nineteenth century things were far different, and Chicagoans trying to get through the sizzling days of summer depended on the iceman, working for companies that had harvested ice during the long winter and stored it until it was needed.

Places as far away as Lake Geneva in Wisconsin and Wolf Lake in Indiana furnished ice for the city, ice that was the product of fresh, unpolluted lakes in the middle of the countryside. Clearly, though, it was far cheaper to harvest ice from the river that ran right through the middle of the city and store it in warehouses that were right on that river.

Ice Harvest on Lake Calumet (Chicago Daily News Archive)
There was only one problem, though.  The river was really, really filthy.  One can clearly see that from a letter written to The Chicago Tribune and published on this date, March 24, in 1858.

Referring to an earlier article that listed the establishments polluting the river, the writer named, one after another, the businesses that dumped their waste into the stream that ran along their property lines.  On the North Branch there was a large slaughterhouse near Clybourne Avenue, and next to it was a hog feeding establishment where at least a thousand hogs were kept.  Then came a glue factory next to which were two ice houses. 

There then came a half dozen tanneries where sheep skins were washed in the river, and just before the junction with the main stream was Crosby’s distillery which dumped all of the used mash into the stream that ran in front of it.  Opposite the distillery was one last glue factory that was “the general depository for all the hogs that are suffocated on the various railroad trains entering the city; also for dead horses, cattle, &c., in fact for any animal substance that can be manufactured into glue.  The refuse matter from the cooking of all this animal substance, of course is run into the river.”

The writer then turned to the ice that was being harvested from the waters of the river.  He wrote, “Imagine what filthy stuff it must be—a compound of all the refuse of our tanneries, glue factories, slaughterhouses, cow stables, &c., to say nothing of the immense number of cess pools which the new sewerage system now empties into the river!”

He described his encountering a gang of ice cutters on the south Branch, noting that as he approached the operation “the stench caused by the exposure of the water to the atmosphere, upon the removal of the ice-blocks, was overpowering.”

Harvesting ice on Wolf Lake in Indiana (Chicago Daily News Archive)
Then the writer poses the question . . .

“What a compound of villainous substances must it [ice from the river] contain?  And this is the pure crystal ice sold at twenty-five or thirty cents per cwt., which is to cool our lake water for the strictly temperate man, or the champagne, brandy smashes, sherry cobblers, cocktails, slings, and other drinks too numerous to mention, for the use of those who believe in taking ‘a little for the stomach’s sake and their other infirmities.’”

The conclusion of the letter offered a suggestion to dedicate the ice harvested form the river to the Roman goddess Cloacina, who presided over the sewers of ancient Rome rather than touting it as having the “sparkling and bright spirit of purity and cleanliness” that one would expect but that was obviously not delivered.

“Should not our city authorities forbid the vending of such an article as this?  Each year’s addition to our city manufactures, too , must make the matters worse.  Let us look to the purer source for a cooling beverage,” the letter ended. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mies van der Rohe in Chicago: Connections -- March 21

Connections . . . originally that was the subject of this blog.  I try to remain true to the original premise, and today that is amazingly easy.

It was on this date, March 21, in 1943 that The Chicago Tribune printed a glowing piece on Mies van der Rohe, who for five years had served as the Director of the School of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  “In his new studio here, on the ground floor of the Art Institute, the real Van der Rohe feels himself again,” the feature reported.

When he first came to Chicago in1 1937, the piece continued, “. . . students addressed him as Mr. van der Rohe, but that long ago gave way to ‘Mies’.”  And those who study under him call him that with a familiar and affectionate respect.” [Chicago Tribune, March 22, 1943]

Elizabeth Wright Ingram
Appearing in the feature was an anecdote involving the granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright, Elizabeth Wright, a student at I.I.T.  She apparently asked the director why students were allowed so little freedom during their course of study.  Mies told her to return the next day for her answer.

She returned the following day, and Mies gave her a piece of paper and a pencil and told her to write her name.  “There,” he said, “is a matter of self-expression.  First you learned the ABC’s.  Then you learned to write.  The way you write you learned last of all.  So it is with architecture.  First you learned the fundamentals, then how to build.  The way you chose to build comes last.  That is self-expression.”  (The lesson must have had an effect.  Wright went on to design more the 130 buildings in the Colorado Springs area.  She died at the age of 91 several years ago.)

At the end of the feature, the paper disclosed that the architect “who is medium of height, dark, and somewhat stocky in build” had applied for American citizenship even as he was finishing plans for the new campus at I.I.T. 

“I like America,” the paper quoted Mies as saying.  “I like its people; and I particularly like Chicago.”

Now you will have to wait a bit for the connection, but on this same day in 1955 a very lucky ironworker survived a six-story fall in an elevator cage at an apartment building under construction at 2933 North Sheridan Road.

 In order to stay warm while he worked on the building, 28-year-old Norbert Gackowski, had dressed himself in “a coat, a sweater, overalls, a shirt, two pairs of pants, three undershirts, two pairs of shorts, and three pairs of socks.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1955]

Just down the street at Columbus Hospital an examination failed to turn up any injuries for Grackowski although he was kept at the hospital for observation.  The theory was that all of the clothes he was wearing had protected him from the violence of the elevator cage’s fall.

And the connection?  Wait for it . . .

The apartment building at 2933 North Sheridan Road is today called – The van der Rohe.

Sheridan Road entrance of The van der Rohe (

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fort Sheridan & The Lakota Sioux -- Part Four

Members of the Sioux tribe eight years later (Chicago Daily News Photo Archive)
This will be the fourth installment in the tale of the Lakota Sioux and the hospitality thrust upon the members of the tribe whom the government brought to Fort Sheridan in early 1891.    The first three installments can be found here, here, and here.

The story took another direction when on this date, March 14, of 1891 The Chicago Tribune disclosed that the 26 braves and three squaws would not be returning to their reservations “to stir up another bloody war,” but would instead be going abroad to “hobnob with the nobility of Europe.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1891]

Colonel William F. Cody, the showman we know today as Buffalo Bill, made overtures to the United States Secretary of State, James Blaine, seeking to enlist the detainees in his Wild West Show.  Additionally, he made a trek to Fort Sheridan to learn personally how the potential actors felt about the affair.

"Buffalo Bill" Cody at West Side Field, the home of
the Chicago Cubs (Chicago Daily News Photo Archive)
Cody was sure that his offer would be accepted although he did hedge his bets.

“The date of our departure has not been decided,” he said.  “because an Indian has to be given several days in which to change his mind three or four times . . . Half of the number who had consented yesterday to go to Europe with me refused to talk further about the proposition.  They will go, however.  They always change their minds several times before finally deciding what to do.”

Rev. Mary C. Collins
The news sparked an immediate response from Mary C. Collins, who had served as a congregational missionary among the Sioux for 16 years and would go on to serve for another 19.  Speaking at the Congregational Club in Chicago, she said, “I understand that Buffalo Bill has arranged to take a band of the prisoners out here at Fort Sheridan around with his show this season.  It is an outrage to our Christian civilization. If they are guilty, let them be punished, and if not, send them back to the reservation.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 17, 1891]

After her talk, General C. H. Howard, who had served honorably in the Union Army during the Civil War and remained in the Army as an Inspector of Indian Missions for seven years before retiring, presented a resolution, which read . . .

WHEREAS, It is currently reported that the Executive Department of the United States Government has given permission to William F. Cody, known as “Buffalo Bill,” to take the Indian prisoners now at Fort Sheridan and make them a part of his traveling show in this country and in Europe; and

WHEREAS, This treatment of these or any Indians is utterly opposed to the judgment of our missionaries, who are laboring for this race, and is repugnant to the higher instincts of the Christian people of the land.  Therefore be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Congregational Club that the order granting this permission should be countermanded and our country saved this disgrace.

Resolved, That a committee of three, including Miss Collins, be appointed to communicate these resolutions to the President of the United States and request his official action in the matter.

Little Bull and Red Shirt in 1909 (Chicago Daily News Archive)
Off to Europe?  Back to the tents on the Fort Sheridan parade ground?  Or a return to the reservation?  Stay tuned . . . the story continues.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Bong Highway? -- March 13, 1950

Major Richard Bong, Medal of Honor winner, the "Ace of Aces"
Ah, what might have been . . .

On this date in 1950 – March 13 – The Chicago Tribune reported that the Cook county council of the American Legion adopted a resolution proposing that the proposed northwest super-highway – now the Kennedy Expressway, heading toward the northwestern suburbs and O’Hare Field – be named in honor of Major Richard L. Bong, a Medal of Honor winner, the “Ace of Aces,” responsible for downing 40 enemy aircraft during World War II, a record that stands to this date.

The American Legion’s resolution read –

Whereas, many cities and towns have erected or otherwise established suitable memorials honoring heroes of the army, navy, marine corps, and air force.

And whereas, the city of Chicago has in like manner honored certain heroes of the armed services but has failed to honor any hero of the air forces,

And whereas, a superhighway from Chicago’s loop to the northwest sections of the city is presently under construction, partly completed, or contemplated, and is known as the northwest superhighway,

Now therefore, be it resolved that the northwest superhighway be dedicated and named in honor Maj. Richard I. Bong, hero of the army air forces, in recognition and remembrance of his outstanding services during World War II.  [Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1950]

Major Bong grew up on a farm outside the small Wisconsin town of Poplar.  At the age of 22 he earned his Army Air Corps commission and the chance to fly the new Lockheed fighter, the P-38 Lightning.  In San Francisco as he flew under bridges in San Francisco, buzzed Market Street, and blew wash off clothes lines, he attracted the attention of General George Kenney.  When one housewife complained, General Kenney called the young pilot in and told him:

Monday morning you check this address out in Oakland and if the woman has any washing to be hung out on the line, you do it for her.  Then you hang around being useful – mowing the lawn or something – and when the clothes are dry, take them off the line and bring them into the house.  And don’t drop any of them on the ground or you have to wash them all over again.  I want this woman to think we are good for something else besides annoying people.  Now get out of her before I get mad and change my mind.  That’s all.”  []

Major Bong
The discipline evidently worked.  He was dispatched to the Pacific in September of 1942 and between the end of December of 1942 and the end of July Second Lieutenant Bong shot down 15 Japanese fighters.  In the following nine months he shot down an additional 13 planes, surpassing the World War I record of Eddie Rickenbacker, and was promoted to major. 

In December, 1944 Major Bong was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The citation read:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty in the Southwest Pacific area from 10 October to 15 November 1944.  Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Maj. Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines.  His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down 8 enemy airplanes during this period. 

He was relieved of wartime duty and sent home on a public relations tour in early 1945, and married his wife, Marge, on February 10 of that year.  After their honeymoon Major Bong went to work as a test pilot at Wright Field in Ohio.  Just six months after his marriage on August 6, 1945, the same day that the Enola Gay dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Bong died when his P-38 malfunctioned during take-off.

Major Bong and Marge (
If you are headed for Milwaukee one fine summer’s day, on your way to a day at Summer-Fest, the world’s greatest warm-weather party, you will pass the Bong State Recreation Area on the west side of I-94, a small tip of the hat to a larger-than-life aviator and hero.

Illinois could have been first.  We could have honored the Medal of Honor winner, who grew up in a small farm in Wisconsin, the first of nine children, and played clarinet in the high school band. 

We could have said WITH PRIDE, “I’m on the Bong, stuck in traffic on my way to O’Hare.”  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Madison Street Laundry Explosion -- March 11, 1901

The remains of the Doremus Laundry (National Engineer, April 1901)
Chicagoans woke up on this date, March 11, just as they did every morning, aware that they were beginning a day in one of the most vibrant and fastest-growing cities in the world.  At 8:14 in the morning the danger that occasionally accompanied such a life was vividly brought forth when a boiler explosion at the Doremus Laundry at 458 West Madison Street rocked the west side, killing 9 people and injuring more than 50.

The explosion completely destroyed the laundry, at which employees were just getting ready to start the day.  The sidewalks were crowded with people hurrying to work, and the streetcars were all overloaded.  The explosion was so powerful that it blew the west wall from the Waverly Theater, leaving the auditorium exposed. 

Preliminary investigations revealed that the front end of the boiler had been blown 30 feet away from its original position with the rear section blown nearly as far away in the opposite direction. The boiler had originally been built for the Board of Trade and used there for 11 years before being carted over to the laundry five years earlier.  [The National Engineer, April 1901]

Small fires broke out in several places, but quick work by the fire companies extinguished them, at which point firemen and policemen directed their efforts toward rescuing those trapped in the wreckage.  A number of women were pulled out quickly, but the task became more and more grim as the workers dug deeper into the wreckage.  All told, nine bodies were pulled from the ruined building.

The shock of the explosion was felt for a mile in every direction.  The Tribune reported, that buildings on both sides of Madison Street, in Throop Street, and Waverly Place were shaken to their foundations, and scores of plate-glass windows were left without a piece of glass in them throughout the area.  [Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1901]

The front end of the boiler 30 feet away from its original position
(National Engineer, April 1901)
The coroner’s inquiry into the causes of the explosion was extensive and its findings were given at 5:30 p.m. on March 27, 1901.  The owner of the laundry, Abram Doremus, was ordered arrested, and he was taken to the Criminal Courts building.  That, at least, provided a person for the public to blame.  “I am a law-abiding citizen and I must take the result of the investigation philosophically,” Mr. Doremus said.  “I am not guilty of any carelessness or negligence in this matter.  All I want is justice.  I will be able to prove that I am not guilty.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 28, 1901]

The grand jury voted on May 1, 1901 against sending Doremus to trial, and he was sent on his way.

More troubling, though, was the city’s laxity in inspecting the hundreds of boilers toiling away throughout the most populous parts of Chicago. George B. Ballard, a stationary engineer, called to testify at the inquiry, told the jury that during his thirty years’ residence in the city he had never seen a boiler properly tested by the city officials.  The Doremus boiler had not been tested since March 13, 1899.

There was one bright spot to emerge from the terror of that morning on Madison Street.  On April 29, 1901 Alfred B. Chandler, a victim of the explosion, went to the county clerk’s office and, using his left hand, because his right was still bandaged and his arm in a sling, applied for a marriage license.  The bride, 17-year-old Sarah N. McArthur, eleven years Chandler’s junior, had also been injured in the explosion and both the prospective bride and groom had been patients at the county hospital since the explosion.  [Chicago Tribune, April 30, 1901]

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Messy Streets -- March 10, 1900 and March 10, 1903

Not a Whole Lot of Fun (Chicago Daily News Archive)
Back on this date, March 10, in 1900 a spring thaw was quickly melting the winter’s snow in the same way that the city is shedding its winter coat these days.  Streets Commissioner McGann said, “The state of affairs is worse than at any time in the history of the city.  It is doing material damage to business . . . The Street department has disbanded the extra street cleaning force which it put to work during the snow-storms, but the regular force is doing all it can to clear the streets.  It is a hard job, however, because the men cannot shovel water.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 10, 1900]

Passersby crossing State Street at Van Buren took their lives in their hands as the entire intersection was buried in slush and water.  Van Buren and Lake Street, farther north, were covered with slush that horses and wagons splashed onto the pedestrians as they walked down the sidewalks.  North of Randolph Street on La Salle sidewalks were covered by slush and water that was several inches deep.

Three years later things hadn’t changed much, and The Tribune ran a series of poems – once again on this date – lamenting the deplorable condition of the city’s streets, beginning with this short ditty:

Full of mud and full of holes,
Streets that vex all kinds of soles.
When you cross one, say “goodby,”
Speed the day when we can fly.”

Halsted Street received this pearl:

Would you see the worst?
      Go take a view
Southward from Archer Avenue
Where the street cars run
      Through miles of slush,
A measley, Blackened,
      Horrible mush;
A thoroughfare
      Where people trudge
Through nasty, sticky,
      Bottomless sludge;
Where the wagons bump,
      Ker-chuck!  ker-chuck!
O’er the frazzled and worn
      Old cedar block!
A dirty, pasty,
      Slobbery mess,
A six-mile stretch
      Of foul morass;
A smear on the face
      Of the town of Lake
Is Halsted “street”—
      It takes the cake!

It Couldn't Have Been Much Fun on Halsted Street, either
(Chicago Daily News Archive)
And here’s a little tribute to a street that is now the heart of Streeterville, St. Clair, today the home of Tru and the Captial Grille . . .

There’s a street they call St. Clair,
       (It would make the angels swear)
And it’s rocky as the road to Dublin town
       Bumps and mudholes everywhere
       (O, the cuss words in the air),
It’s the ******** street in town.
O, this poetry’s not good , nor even fair
       This, too, would make the very angels swear),
It has corns and warts and knobs upon its feet
       But my muse lives on St. Clair
       (And she does her walking there),
And her poetry’s no rottener than the street.

Finally, a “Rush Street Rhapsody” . . .

   Muck, slime, and slush!
   A mingle mush
Of filth and nameless nausea!
   Black, nasty shoals—
A sudden sickness cause ye!

   I hold my nose,
   Walk on my toes,
And leap form crag to cobble,
   But if I slip—
   My clothes will drip
As home I hump and hobble.

   A hog would flush
   A barnyard blush,
To view the slimy ruin!
   O! Carter, say
   That some glad day
There will be somethin’ doin’!