Monday, July 31, 2017

July 31, 1985 -- Arlington Park Race Track Destroyed




July 31, 1985 – More than 150 firefighters from 25 communities fail to save the clubhouse, grandstand, and exposition center at Arlington Park race track.  The fire begins at approximately 1:30 a.m. with the first alarm turned in about 45 minutes later.  The loss is devastating, coming just a little more than three weeks before the “Arlington Million” is due to be run on August 25.  The State of Illinois takes in about seven percent of the $1.5 million that is bet each day of the racing season at the track.  The final 55 days at Arlington are out the window as the complex is a total loss.  Estimates are that 1,000 people will be left without jobs.  Because the 1929 Post and Paddock Club, where the fire began, had been remodeled a number of times over the previous half-century, the number of false ceilings and concealed spaces between floors allowed the fire to spread in ways that could not be detected.  The sprinkler systems were ineffective because of the concealed nature of the flames, which eventurally spread from the club to the grandstand.  At one point demolition experts were even brought in from Ft. Sheridan to see if part of the grandstand could be blown up in order to stop the flames from advancing.  By noon, though, it was clear that nothing more could be done, and the fire burned itself out at about 5:00 p.m.  None of the 1,900 animals at the track was endangered.  It would be four years before the track would reopen.

July 31, 1922:  The city is thrown into turmoil as a storage tank of the Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company collapses and explodes at West Twenty-Fifth and Throop Streets, injuring a hundred people, severely burning the majority of them.  Since the location sits on the bank of the Chicago River with a neighborhood close by, most of the injured are teamsters, pedestrians, or children playing in the area.  The tank, which was 180 feet high and 180 feet in diameter, contained 4,000,000 cubic feet of illuminating gas.  The tank collapses at about 12:30 in the afternoon with the Chicago Daily Tribune describing the scene in this way, “Wild scenes followed immediately.  Men, women, and children attacked by the weird flames ran screaming.  Some threw themselves flat on the ground.  Others flung their clothing over their faces and hands in frantic efforts to escape the fire.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, August 1, 1922]  The chief engineer for the company, J. H. Eustace, says that there was no explosion, adding, “In fifty years of experience in gas manufacturing I have never heard of anything like this . . . In some way the crown of the tank was ruptured, and gas, escaping in great quantities, ignited.  What caused the rupture is a mystery; and what would ignite escaping gas from the top of a holder high in the air is equally a mystery.”

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