November 2, 1906 –Tragedy is averted when the bridge tender at the Wells Street bridge halts the swinging of the bridge just in time to prevent a street car from plunging into the river. As bridge tender Ernst Brosius is opening the bridge to allow a dredge to pass, the operator of a streetcar, speeding north on Wells Street (Fifth Avenue at the time), ignores warning signals at the bridge as well as a police officer’s warning shouts, and heads for the river. Brosius checks the bridge just in time, but not before the street car strikes the side of the structure, “hurling its ten passengers in a heap at the front end of the conveyance.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, November 3, 1906]If the approaching dredge had not managed to pull up just a few feet from the bridge, the situation would have been even worse since a collision would almost have certainly destroyed the partially open swing bridge. Brosius says, “The motorman was at fault. Apparently he was trying to cross before the bridge was swung, despite the fact that a warning had been sounded. Realizing that an accident was inevitable I did what I thought was best. The fact that the car crashed into the structure is almost enough to tell that unless some barrier was in the way it would have gone into the river.” Traffic is delayed on Wells Street for nearly an hour as the mess is cleaned up. The 1906 Wells Street bridge, complete with a streetcar moving across it, is shown above. The building at the left in the background is the first depot for the Chicago and North Western Railroad, north of the river on Wells Street.
November 2, 1892 – The biggest step to date in solving the crisis posed by the horribly polluted Chicago River is taken as the Drainage Board adopts the Illinois and Michigan Canal as the route of its main drainage channel between Ashland Avenue and Summit, the first leg of a 28-mile canal that will ultimately lead to the reversal of the river. Six separate routes were proposed, and the board saw the route of the 44-year-old canal as the best choice with three factors cited in support of the decision. First, the cost would be lower since the former canal already exists with 250 acres in reserve that will cost the district nothing to put into use. Claims of property owners along the route would also be significantly less than if a new channel was created at another location. Secondly, the commissioners felt it “a grave mistake to cut the western part of the city with another open channel.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, November 3, 1892] Finally, the board’s chief engineer felt that no relief from the river’s pollution would be possible “until the entire channel was constructed if any other route is adopted. If there were no other reasons which could be urged in favor of this line the question of temporary relief itself would be of sufficient importance to recommend the adoption of the canal route.”
November 2, 1867 – Mayhem breaks out at the State Street Bridge as two assistant bridge-tenders, John Gannon and Edward Williams, nearly kill one another in an early morning battle. The Chicago Tribune describes in detail what happened on the river that night, “Gannon, it appears, was off duty during the early part of the night, and returned about midnight somewhat the worse for the liquor he had imbibed during his vacation. When he made appearance at the bridge-house, Williams, his fellow-assistant, who had also imbibed somewhat freely, began to upbraid him in terms more forcible than elegant, for returning in a condition that would prevent him from attending to his duties . . . From words they soon resorted to blows, and a desperate struggle ensued in the little bridge-house about which a number of persons now began to collect. . . . Williams, being evidently the soberest of the two, had the advantage from the beginning, and during the struggle succeeded in laying hold of a club, with which he felled his adversary to the floor. However, he was down only for a moment, and the struggle was continued with redoubled fury. Williams now sprang for an axe, standing in a corner of the little hut, and with this he dealt a crushing blow on his adversary’s skull. This more than suffered to bring Gannon down. However, not satisfied with the punishment inflicted, Williams was about to repeat the blow, and already was the axe descending, when Mr. Lewis [the head bridge-tender] and a young man sprang into the hut, and, after a desperate struggle, wrung the weapon out of the hands of the would-be murderer . . . The little shanty, after the struggle, presented a fearful scene. The walls, the floor, the bed, and everything about the place was thickly covered with blood, while the prostrate body of Gannon was covered with gore from his head to his feet . . . Altogether, the two constitute an exemplary pair of bridge-tenders, who ought to receive promotion. Their case will receive proper attention at the Police Court this morning.” The State Street Bridge, the scene of the messy fracas, is seen in the above photo.