Sunday, December 20, 2015

Horsepower in Chicago -- December 20, 1870

Transportation, for freight and passengers, in a rapidly growing city of the late nineteenth century relied heavily on horsepower supplied by . . . horses.  In Chicago during this period it is estimated that close to 75,000 horses were stabled within the city, there being 9 horses for every 22 of the city’s inhabitants.  [Tarr & McShane. The Horse as an Urban Technology.]

After about 1850 technology moved away from the horse drawn omnibus for transporting passengers in a city to trolleys that rode on rails laid at street level.  It was an improvement for patrons who paid cheaper fares for faster and more dependable transportation around town.  It was still an burden for the horses.

“The equipment proved a nightmare to operate,” wrote Perry R. Duis in his Challenging Chicago.  “The weight of the car and the frequent stops and starts exhausted the animals after traveling only a few miles of a route.  The company had no choice but to own and maintain a large herd—usually seven horses for each car—which also required a lot of blacksmiths, grooms, hostlers, and barn hands as well.  Many of the animals perished each year because of falls, rough handling, or other urban hazards.”

Particularly hard on a horse’s vulnerable legs was pulling the dead weight of the loaded trolley from a standing start, something that happened over and over again as it plied the route.  Horses could generally work no more than five hours without being totally exhausted, and they were usually kept on the transit routes no more than five years before they were sold or put down.

There were times when the price of horseflesh brought more for a carcass than one being sold after retirement from the transit lines.  No insurance was paid to an owner who destroyed his own animal, so many horses were worked until they dropped dead in the streets.  Rendering companies bid on the rights to pick up dead animals, guaranteeing their service within a few hours of the death of the horse.

Consider this account from Chicago, carried in The Chicago Daily Tribune on this date, December 20, in 1871.

A cold rain had been falling that day until 2:00 in the afternoon when it began to snow.  At about that time a horse trolley left Cottage Grove, drawn by an “emaciated, woe-begone-looking white horse, that stumbled along as if on its way to a bone yard.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 20, 1870]

Because of the snow the car was crowded.  The horse was shoeless while “the cobblestones remained slippery.  The horse “under this combination of adverse circumstances” was “about as often down as up, slipping all the time.”

By the time the trolley reached Harrison Street (probably having traveled four miles or more), there were two inches of snow on the tracks.  The cars following this one began to stack up until there were 17 cars lined up looking “for all the world like a funeral procession.”

“Every time the car came to a halt, which was about every fifty yards, the horse would sink together from sheer exhaustion, and there was a trembling in every limb.  When encouraged to make a fresh start it would be convulsed with spasm, sway from side to side, and fall on its knees, but full of good pluck, somehow would manage to get started again.”

When it came to the end of the line, there were 22 cars piled up behind the poor horse and the car it was pulling.

Scenes like this were commonplace in the wild days of growth just before and after the fire of 1871.  Next time I am out in the cold, waiting on the 151 and see two of them pull up to the stop, one after the other, I’ll swipe my fare card, thinking of that poor exhausted nag, pulling its heavy load of citizens through the Chicago snow.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Clarence Darrow Argues for the Defense -- December 18, 1896

December 18, 1896 -- More Trouble at Fort Sheridan (JWB Photo)
On this date, December 18, in 1896 a manslaughter trial ended in the courtroom of Judge Peter S. Grosscup.  The defendant was a young Fort Sheridan private, James D. Allen of the Fifteenth Regiment, who was accused of killing another private on the post, Daniel M. Call, the previous March. 

Judge Peter Grosscup
What makes the trial especially interesting is that Judge Grosscup was the same jurist who had issued the injunction against the Pullman strikers two years earlier, allowing 22 railroads to continue operations.  Leading a boycott of those railroads, Eugene V. Debs, the leader of the American Railway Union was indicted for refusing to end the job action.  A team led by Clarence Darrow defended him.  Darrow was in the courtroom as Private Allen’s attorney on this day in 1896.

Allen had little chance of winning.  At least four witnesses had seen him shoot Call, and the facts were indisputable.  Apparently at breakfast on the morning of March 20, 1896 a quarrel began between the two men because one had supposedly taken the other’s seat at the mess table.  The Chicago Tribune reported, “Call, in a joking way, suggested that it would be a good plan to settle the matter with the boxing gloves.” [Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1896]

Four other privates in Company A accompanied Allen and Call to the company’s barracks where the Allen and Call put on boxing gloves and began sparring.  It seems that Allen was the better athlete of the two.  He was an instructor at the garrison’s gym and “well-formed, and skilled in difficult feats of agility and strength.”  One can imagine that he would be aggrieved, then, when Call appeared to be “having the best of the sparring match.”

After five minutes or so of trading punches, Allen sat down for a few minutes and then announced that he was going for a drink of water.  When he returned, “he opened the door a little way, and, thrusting his hand holding the revolver through the space . . . shouted to call, 'You’re a goner.'"

He was right.  He shot Call in the abdomen, and the wounded man was carried out on a stretcher. He subsequently died.  In the struggle for the weapon, Allen was also shot in the upper leg.

An officer on the post, Captain Brinkerhoff, said, “The man must be crazy.  It has been reported to me since the affair that he has been acting and talking queerly for the last few days and it is a deed no sane man would have done.  The dispute which started it was trivial, and onlookers thought the boxing match was merely a friendly contest.”

Colonel R. E. A. Crofton
(Buffalo Bill Center of
the West)
The shooting was the culmination of a series of distrurbing events that had taken place under the command of Colonel R. E. A. Crofton over the preceding three years.  Consider the following:

March 25, 1893:  Soldiers at Fort Sheridan are so alarmed at reports of a sea monster in Lake Michigan off Fort Sheridan that 200 of them sign a resolution to give up drinking.

November 1, 1893:  Lieutenant J. A. Maney shoots Captain Alfred Hedberg, allegedly as a result of a quarrel over the dead man’s wife.

February 22, 1894:  A federal grand jury returns a number of indictments against unlicensed liquor dealers at Fort Sheridan, Highwood, and Highland Park.

July 18, 1894:  Three soldiers are buried at Fort Sheridan after a caisson explosion on the south side of Chicago.

January 9, 1895:  Three soldiers are hospitalized, two of them with gunshot wounds, and a fourth in jail after an altercation with Highwood police.

October 3, 1895:  Lieutenant Samuel S. Pague tries to shoot the post commander, Colonel Crofton, and is taken to the federal insane asylum in Washington, D. C.

November 1, 1895:  Six enlisted men join in a complaint to the Secretary of War regarding enlisted men being used as body and house servants.

January 25, 1896:  The Tribune reports on various “scandals and quarrels” that have occurred at Fort Sheridan under the command of Colonel Crofton.

March 20, 1896:  Private Allen shoots Private Call.

January 16, 1897:  A cavalry trooper stabs an infantryman.

January 17, 1897:  There is a “rebellion” at the fort over the quality of the food that is being served.

When the guilty verdict was returned at the trial of Private Allen in December of 1896, Allen said, “I do not know what to say about the verdict.  My friends seemed to be satisfied, and I guess it is all right.”

Things clearly were not “all right” at Fort Sheridan, and the Allen manslaughter trial appears to have been the last straw for the War Department. On February 4, 1897 the Fort Sheridan post commander, Colonel Crofton, was forcibly removed from the army by orders of President Cleveland and placed on the retired list.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reliance Hotel Fire -- December 17, 1953

The body of Captain Nicholas Schmidt is removed from the wreckage
of the Reliance Hotel (
It was on this date, December 17, in 1954 that the Chicago Fire Department suffered through another tragic day when over one hundred men responded to a 3-11 alarm fire at a sway-backed hotel, the Reliance, at 1702 West Madison Street.

The wind was out of the west at ten to fifteen miles per hour, and the temperature stood right around ten degrees as over two-dozen firemen searched the second floor’s 17 rooms and the third floor’s 28 rooms.  Five men were on the roof of the structure when a portion of the building collapsed.  The men on the roof rode the debris down into the building; those on the second and third floors were trapped in the wreckage.

Some men were able to free themselves as frantic firefighters worked most of the day in frigid temperatures to free those who were trapped in the debris.  Four doctors, three from the Presbyterian Hospital and Dr. Herman H. Bundesen, president of the Board of Health, went into the debris to attend to trapped men as they awaited rescue.

Finally, after more than six hours as another wall tilted precariously over the rescue effort and hope dwindled, Assistant Fire Commissioner Anthony J. Mullaney ordered all of his men to leave the wreckage and a crane was brought in to search for two firemen who remained missing.  Shortly after the order a portion of the third floor tumbled into the basement.

One of the missingg men was George Malik, a 37-year-old acting lieutenant.  “They put the crane in – our hope is gone,” his wife cried softly.  “That means all our hope is gone.”  [Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1953]

The survivors’ stories were harrowing.  A lieutenant with Squad 2, Alvin Joslin, said, “We had no warning.  The wall just let go.  I was lucky.  I was pinned under a door and it shielded me.”

Fireman Arthur Carlson of Engine 31 said he could feel rescuers walking on the debris that entrapped him.  “They dug me out after we had been in there three or four hours.  It seemed forever.”

“It was like I was in a cast,” fireman Raymond Nowicki of Engine 107 said.  “I could only see down, so I just had to stay put and pray.

Over eight hours had passed before the last fireman’s body was found.

One resident at the hotel, John Tybor, died in the fire.

Five firefighters lost their lives that cold December day.  Lieutenant George Malik had served with the department for ten years, the whole time with Engine 34.  He left two children, George, Jr., 10, and Judy, 8.

Fireman John Jarose, a father of three children, Diane, 11; Kenneth, 7, and John, Jr., 2, also died.  He had fractured a leg fighting a fire at St. Ignatius High School the previous January and had spent three months recovering in a hospital.

Fireman Robert Jordan was looking forward to spending the first Christmas in a new home with his wife and three children, Gregory, 16; Barbara, 13, and Robert, Jr., 8.  He had been a fireman for ten years.

Fireman Robert R. Schaack had been wounded on Okinawa and drove a truck before joining the fire department.  He had been a fireman for five years and lived with his parents.

The last fireman to be removed from the wreckage was Captain Nicholas Schmidt, 56, who had 26 years of service with the department, serving with Company 112 and with Engine 107.  He left a widow, Lillian, and three sons, John, 24; Robert, 23, and Edward, 8, along with two daughters, Mary, 20, and Audrey 12.

The equipment is better these days, and the protective gear the firefighters wear provides more protection than it did back in 1953.  The danger, though, is just as great and the firefighters just as brave as they ever were.

The death in the line of duty this past Monday of firefighter Daniel Capuano reminds us of that.  Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and comrades as they mourn his passing.  Firefighter Capuano’s wake today and tomorrow’s funeral are reminders of how special these men and women are, folks who at a moment’s notice drop everything and walk into unknown peril to search for, assist, and, often, save the lives of people they have never met.

As you give thanks this holiday season, take a moment to give thanks for them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Alexander Hamilton Statue Dedication -- December 16, 1954

This is a 1952 Hamilton . . . Apparently, somewhere
there is a 1954 Hamilton (JWB Photo)
The great thing about research is that often researchers start out in a certain direction and end up heading into an alley that they didn’t even know existed.  That happened to me this afternoon.

I learned that on this date, December 16, back in 1954 a statue of Alexander Hamilton was placed in Grant Park near the Illinois Central tracks between Madison and Monroe.  Apparently the statue had existed previously and was removed while the first underground garage in Grant Park was being constructed.

I’ve been interested in the Hamilton statue for a number of years and have written at least three blogs pertaining to it in one way or another.  They can be found here, here and here.  Yet, the Hamilton statue that I wrote about must be a different statue than the one placed in Grant Park in 1954 – the statue in Lincoln Park was unveiled two years earlier than the one remounted in Grant Park. 

Clearly, there would be no reason to dig up a perfectly good gilded statue in a swell location and stick it next to the Illinois Central tracks.

So . . . there must be a second Alexander Hamilton statue that at some point made its farewell address and headed out of Grant Park.

Some digging revealed that there was such a statue, the last work of significance sculpted by Bela Lyon Pratt, who studied at the École des Beaux Arts and with August Saint-Gaudens.  The architectural work was executed by Charles A. Coolidge (Think Shepley, Routan and Coolidge, the Boston firm that designed the Art Institute and the Chicago Cultural Center building).  The Grant Park Hamilton was unveiled on September 28, 1918.  Frank G. Logan, the vice-president of the B. F. Ferguson monument fund, made the presentation.  [Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1918]

The re-dedication of Pratt's statue on September 28, 1918
(Chicago Tribune Photo)
Anyone know where it is?  Because in the duel of the two statues this one clearly lost.

Oh, and by the way.  The other Alexander Hamilton statue -- the one that Kate Buckingham left a million dollars to create and take care of -- that one is gone now, too. 

There isn’t much of mystery there.  A sign posted next to the polished granite base on which the statue once stood reads, “The Alexander Hamilton statue is temporarily removed for conservation of its gilded finish . . . Funding for this project is provided by the Kate S. Buckingham Fund of the Art Institute of Chicago.”

With luck Mr. Hamilton will be back by the Fall of 2016.

The other Hamilton, the one that got stuck on the wrong side of the tracks back in 1954?  I hope he’s somewhere warm, and that someone is taking good care of him.

The gilded guy has also said farewell . . .
just a polished granite base remains (JWB Photo)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Symphony Center in Chicago Dedicated -- December 14, 1904

Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall (JWB Photo)
Two thousand two hundred members of Chicago society came together on this evening, December 13, of 1904 to attend the dedication of the new home for the Chicago symphony orchestra on Michigan Avenue.  Three-quarters of a million dollars made up of voluntary contributions from over 8,000 different people had made it possible to get the place built.

After 14 years with the orchestra its conductor, Theodore Thomas, finally had a home for his musicians who had up to this point played in the cavernous Auditorium building just down Michigan Avenue.  The Apollo and Mendelssohn music clubs joined with the members of the Chicago symphony for five numbers, beginning with Tannhäuser’s “Hail, Bright Abode.”

Attorney and former United States congressman George E. Adams dedicated the new hall with a short speech, saying to the audience members who had helped fund the project, “We hope and believe that this building will outlive every one of you and every one of us.  We hope and believe that it will stand for generations to come.  But if it stands for centuries it will not outlast the beneficent influence which you have bestowed upon the higher life of the American people.”

Unfortunately, when the first reviews of the new hall emerged, it became clear that the impassioned desire for it to stand for generations needed to be tempered somewhat.  The critic for The Tribune, W. L. Hubbard, wrote, “It would be an act both graceful and joyous to state that the concert last evening convinced that Orchestra hall was all that could be desired – that it was a concert room virtually faultless . . . But the facts so far as personal observation and attention could establish them last evening, make such a statement now impossible.  And the disappointment felt because of this is only the more keen because the contrary had been so earnestly desired.”  [Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1904]

The brass instruments “swallowed up” the orchestra in louder sections.  The quality of the strings “when heard” was “hard.”  A violin solo was “small and colorless.”  The kettledrums were “hollow” and “tubby.”

Most devastatingly, in the critic’s words, “For the first time since the Chicago orchestra has been heard it sounded common . . . for last evening it seemed that instead of having the Chicago orchestra given to us permanently, it had been taken away from us and an inferior unfinished organization substituted.”

A tone deaf Chicago would find a way to get along with Hubbard’s assessment for 91 years until a major overhaul of what is now Symphony Center would begin, a project that consumed the better part of two years from 1995 to 1997 and markedly improved the space.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

World's Columbian Exposition Moves Forward -- December 12, 1890

A big day in Chicago on this date, December 12, back in 1890, when directors were named and a plan formulated for choosing the architects for the World’s Columbian Exposition that would open just 30 months later.  The fact that committees were just being formed and architects named at this late date is a reminder of just how quickly this monumental event came together.

A board of four men – Daniel Burnham, John Root, Frederick Law Olmsted and Abraham Gottlieb recommended four plans for choosing the designers for the fair’s grand buildings.  The first three names are legendary, but it took a lot of searching even to find Gottlieb’s first name.  It turns out that he served as the Chief Engineer of the American Bridge Company and the director of the American Society of Civil Engineers form 1872 until his death in 1894.

Abraham Gottlieb
As an aside, Gottlieb died in a way that an architect or engineer could not have scripted any more fittingly.  On February 9, 1894 at the age of 57 he attended a meeting at the office of the Illinois Steel Company in the Rookery on LaSalle Street.  After the meeting he took the elevator to the ground floor, where he “fell unconscious and died before medical aid could reach him.”  [Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies, Vol. XIII, May 1894]  

Interesting . . . that out of the four men who met this day in 1890, two of them, Gottlieb and John Root, would not live to see the completion of the fair.  John Root had only another month to live after this December meeting, dying of pneumonia on January 15, 1891.

In any event, the men recommended four possibilities for the selection of architects for the fair.  They were:

(1)   The selection of one man to whom designing of the entire work should be entrusted.
(2)   Competition made free to the whole architectural profession.
(3)   Competition among a select few.
(4)   Direct selection.

The first option was ruled out even though it would allow a coherent and uniform design of the many buildings that would be at the heart of the fair.  The conclusion was inescapable, though, that no one man could design what was needed in the time that remained before the fair was to open.

The question of time also ruled out for the second alternative.  Setting up a competition, naming judges, allowing time for the preparation of proposals and plans, and the actual judging would consume far too much time.  Moreover, it was uncertain that any architect of merit would enter a competition in a project that many viewed as preposterous, if not impossible.

Even a limited competition – the third proposal, basically, ran into the same set of time constraints.

Almost by default, the fourth proposal was recommended and accepted and a process was begun almost immediately “to select a certain number of architects, choosing each man for such work as would be nearly parallel with his best achievements . . . The honor conferred upon those selected would create in their minds a disposition to place the artistic quality of their work in advance of the mere question of emolument; while the emulation begotten in a rivalry so dignified and friendly could not fail to be productive of a result which would stand before the world as the best fruit of American civilization.”  {Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1890]

With $987,560 in the bank the process of building what would become the greatest fair in the history of the world in Chicago began in earnest on this date.  Dedication Day, October 21, 1892, the date marking discovery of Columbus was less than two years away.

Dedication Day parade, October 21, 1892

Friday, December 11, 2015

WCFL, the Voice of Labor, Dedicated -- December 11, 1926

It was on this date, December 11, in 1926 that the only labor radio station in the world was formally dedicated, and WCFL, owned and operated by the Chicago Federation of Labor, began broadcasting.  The opening program included an address by William Green, the president of the American Federation of Labor as well as remarks from Chicago’s Mayor Dever. Paul Ash and the WCFL orchestra provided the musical programming.

The Ashland Auditorium Building in 1928
The station started in a special studio at the headquarters of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, located on the corner of Ashland Avenue and Van Buren.  It’s still there.  If you happen past it some time, look for the big “AC” beneath the roofline on the Ashland side of the building.  The structure was the home of the Ashland Auditorium where many labor meetings and rallies took place in the strife-filled mid-years of the Chicago labor movement.

There is no longer a WCFL, of course, but its AM1000 bandwidth still exists as the present day ESPN radio’s WMVP.

Back in the 1960’s there were two stations that played rock and roll – WLS and WCFL.  Like Cubs or Sox fans, Chicagoans chose one or the other, the choice made mostly on one’s preference for the on-air personalities.  You liked Clark Weber and Ron Riley feuding with one another on WLS or you liked Ron Brittain or Barney Pipp on WCFL.

What won me over, though, was a short-lived, outlandish spoof that station manager Ken Draper asked a production director at the station, Dick Orkin, to come up with in early 1966, a 150-second comedy feature that ran on the morning show of deejay Jim Runyan.

Orkin came up with Chickenman, the white-winged warrior, a segment that lasted five or six months in 1966 and brought me and a lot of other listerners to the station to hear the corny episodes.  Orkin played the lead role as well as the part of Midland City Police Commissioner (Yes, I am) Benjamin Norton. 

The station’s traffic reporter, Jane Roberts, with an on-air name of Officer 36-24-36 (how times have changed!), played the parts of the Commissioner’s secretary, Miss Helfinger, who in one episode comforted Chickenman after he shot himself with his Geshtunkana Ray Gun, as well as the winged warrior’s mother, Mildred.  Runyan provided the narration.

In the summer of 1966 I took a summer school class in European History, and we stopped class each time a new episode was aired -- if I remember correctly that was right around 10:00 in the morning -- so that we could all listen.  By the end of that summer it was all over.  After that would come war, assassination, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  For a very short time, though, it was a lot of fun.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

First Performance at the Auditorium -- December 10, 1889

The Auditorium a year after it opened (Note that just to the south the residence that
the Auditorium Hotel would replace is still standing.)
On this date in 1889 the first opera, Romeo and Juliet, was held in Chicago’s brand new Auditorium Theater, which had been dedicated the preceding night.  One of the great sopranos in this country’s opera history, Adelina Patti, sang the part of Juliet.  Patti had only five or six more years left in her long career, and the critics were not kind. 

Adelina Patti
Wrote The Tribune music critic, “It is a matter of fact, however, that she does sing flat at times.  As regards the matter of warmth, which is so essential for the proper interpretation of the music assigned to Juliet, and so imperatively demanded for the delineation of the ardent character of the heroine, Patti never did possess it, so that even were her vocalization absolutely faultless there would still be left much to be desired.”  [Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1889]

it didn’t matter.  It seemed as if every member of the ranking social order in the city was in attendance.  “It was a magnificent crowd,” wrote The Tribune.  “Every one was in full dress, even those standing up.  It was the most brilliant audience probably ever seen in Chicago.”

And The Auditorium was the most brilliant thing that Chicago had ever seen.  As the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, said in his remarks at the dedication ceremony of the previous evening, “I stand in the grandest hall upon the face of the civilized earth.  Oratory never had such a magnificent scene . . . I wish this building . . . to be a light set on a hill, shining into human hearts to make them happier and better; shining out upon bad laws that good ones may replace them; shining out upon the public taste and teaching how it may be improved; shining in the homes of the poor and showing how them may be made better; shining into the homes of the rich and revealing the grace of the homely virtues; and wherever it shines, on high or low, on rich or poor, on hearts or homes, carrying healing on its wings.”

These days Chicago can use more words like those.