Tuesday, July 11, 2017

July 11, 1864 -- The Tribune Visits the Distillery

July 11, 1864 – A Chicago Tribune article on this date begins, “The Chicago river is not a very pleasant thing to see, smell, or read about, especially as a Sunday morning dissertation; it is not agreeable to swim in, or to drink out of; it has few charms for the voyager, and there are few indeed who care to walk or drive along its banks.”  [Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1864]  In an attempt to find some good news, the paper pays a visit to the distillery of U. H. Crosby, located on the North Branch of the river, near Chicago Avenue.  One of the major problems with the distilleries of this era was that “the products of the still are fed to the cows, and those animals make the nuisance complained of, their dung and other emissions running into a bog which, abutting on the river, is periodically emptied into it.”  A year earlier, the paper notes, the “cowsheds of Mr. Crosby were equally bad with the rest …” Over the twelve months since, though, the firm has installed a system that collects the waste of the cattle in a settling tank, the contents of which are pumped up and carried away with “three teams having been constantly employed through the season for that purpose.”  The work that the Crosby distillery has done shows, the paper notes, that the system is a practical solution to one source of the river’s pollution.  If other such industries cannot do similar work, the article observes, “then the sheds must be removed … the filth from these cowsheds must be not only kept out of the river, but taken away from where it will not poison the atmosphere of the city.”  As the above photo shows, the area looks a bit different these days.

July 11, 1890 – The steamship Tioga blows up while tied to a dock on the east side of the river just south of Randolph Street.  The ship ties up at 5:30 after a Great Lakes trip that originated in Buffalo, New York.  Stevedores begin immediately to carry cargo from her hold.  Not long after that unloading begins a tremendous explosion that can be heard all over the south side of the city erupts and “A shower of glass flew across Randolph Street Bridge like a heavy sand-storm on one of the Western deserts, and bits of wood from the wreck hit people blocks away.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 12, 1890]  The ship caught fire, which concealed the damage as firemen used the city’s horse-drawn steamers with assistance from fireboats to douse the flames. Then the terrible carnage was revealed.  Two bodies are floating in the river.  One is slumped against the boat’s pilothouse.  14 more bodies are found below deck.  Bodies continue to be found as the days progress with the dead climbing above two dozen.  The victims, almost all of them African-American laborers from Tennessee, are brought to the morgue as crowds watch silently.  The Tribune reports, “The men who were killed were almost unknown.  Many of their homes were in other towns, and no wives or mothers came to claim the bodies.  Their only friends were the men who had worked with them, and these gathered in groups in the warehouse and talked over the explosion.”

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