Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March 14, 1907 -- Calumet River Canal Nixed by Feds

March 14, 1907 – Secretary of War William Howard Taft makes a final decision as to whether or not the Sanitary District of Chicago will be able to divert waters of the Calumet River into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  The answer is … no.  The Chief of the United States Corps of Engineers recommends that the department refuse such a permit, asserting that the approval of such a project would lead to the lowering of the levels of all the great lakes except Lake Superior.  In addition to this fear, Taft also cites international implications for granting such a permit.  “Added to this,” he states, “is the international complication which is likely to arise in the threatened lowering of the lake level in the ports, harbors, and canals of Canada.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, March 15, 1907] The Chief Engineer of the Sanitary District, Isham Randolph, expresses regret that the project will not move forward.  He says, “It is the only solution of the problem of safeguarding the water of the south side of the city from pollution.  I regard the plan as absolutely essential for the protection of the lake, which now is being polluted by the sewage from the Calumet river and from the manufacturing towns on the southern shore of the lake … The lake will never be properly protected until the plan is carried out.”  Chicago eventually got its way.  Construction of a 16-mile channel connecting the Calumet to the interior waters of Illinois, the Calumet-Saganashkee Channel or Cal-Sag Canal, was carved out over an 11-year period between 1911 and 1922.  The above photo shows the Cal-Sag under construction.

Walter L. Fisher
March 14, 1903 – Seventy members of the Merchants’ Club join one another at the Auditorium Hotel “with the avowed object of dissipating the pessimistic gloom which has pervaded the atmosphere of affairs municipal.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, March 15, 1903] The president of the club, Alexander A. McCormick, after a few opening remarks “not in a spirit of brag and bluster,” makes way for Secretary Walter L. Fisher of the Municipal Voters’ League, who begins “the bouquet tossing.”  Fisher, who went on to serve as the United States Secretary of the Interior from 1911 to 1913, touts the virtues of the City Council, saying, “Chicago, with all its young provincialism and its material crudity alone among the great cities of American can boast today of an honest city council, organized on lines of fitness and integrity, without regard to party politics.”  Fisher must have worked mightily to keep a straight face as he spoke.  The city’s schools and libraries are singled out for praise.  One speaker recounts the first meeting he had with Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s conductor.  “Would you come to Chicago if we gave you a permanent orchestra,” the maestro was asked.  “His answer was not complimentary,” the speaker warned. “He said, ‘I would go to hell if you gave me a permanent orchestra.’”  Dr. Emil G. Hirsch says, “Chicago has the greatest spirit of tolerance of all the cities of earth, prejudice having no root within her boundaries.”

March 14, 1981-- 19 people die and 14 others, including two policemen, are injured in an extra-alarm fire at the Royal Beach Hotel at 5523 North Kenmore Avenue in the city's Edgewater neighborhood. Inoperable smoke detectors and doors that are not rated as fireproof lead to the large loss of life in a fire that apparently begins in the building's laundry room which also doubled as a storeroom and spreads rapidly from that location up an rear stairway, trapping victims in their rooms. The fire begins sometime before 3:00 a.m., and when electricity fails, residents, many of whom are patients in local drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, are left to find a way out through thick black smoke. The search for bodies begins after the fire is struck at about 5:30 a.m. Says one firefighter, "Every time I opened a door, I found another body. We were to be relieved at 8 a.m., but at 7:30 I had to get out of there. I couldn't stand it anymore." [Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1981]

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