Saturday, February 16, 2019

February 16, 1863 -- Chicago Tribune Decries Lakefront Burial Site

hidden truths,
February 16, 1863 – An editorial in the Chicago Tribune laments the conditions at Camp Douglas, an area of the city that lies along the lakefront south of the business district in which a camp has been established to imprison Confederate prisoners-of-war. The editorial points with alarm at the fact that “The great increase of mortality at Camp Douglas … now brings another source of impurity to light, of a most alarming nature, and one which threatens the most alarming consequences, unless it is immediately remedied.” [Chicago Tribune, February 16, 1863]   Since the establishment of Camp Douglas in early 1862, the editorial observes, 640 bodies of rebel soldiers have been buried in Potter’s Field, an area that today we know as the green space of Lincoln Park – this despite an 1859 ordinance that forbade the sale of family plots in the city cemetery just west of Potter’s Field.  On top of this the county poor house, located several miles west of the city, has been sending its deceased residents to the cemetery.  “It must not be forgotten,” the editorial states, “that our cemetery is intersected, north and south, by this slough, which drains the whole cemetery; and that it discharges a little north of the City Water Works, which supply the entire city, north, south and west, with the water they daily consume.”  A strongly worded conclusion to the piece cries out for action, “It has been enough to endure the yet unremedied impurity and corruption of the river.  But the wisdom of our City Fathers, inadequate, as yet, for the relief of that foul source of corruption, is now willing to add to the already corrupted waters we daily drink, the yet more foul and subtle elements of death, exuding from our cemetery, almost into the very pipes which carry the element of life or death into every household.”  It is difficult to believe that in the quiet park land of Lincoln Park today there once were in excess of 15,000 bodies buried in this Potter's Field. 

February 16, 1879 – The Chicago Daily Tribune prints a special dispatch from the London Telegraph in which the British paper is “highly eulogistic of the City of Chicago.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, February 16, 1879] Pointing out the city’s amazing growth – from wilderness 50 years earlier to a city of 500,000 inhabitants – the paper observes, “…the record of Chicago leaves San Francisco, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Melbourne far in the lurch … It is, indeed, the proud boast of some among its aspiring citizens that, within the lifetime of children recently born, Chicago will in population be the second city of the Anglo-Saxon race, and will be surpassed in this respect by London alone.”  The article speaks in amazement of the city’s commerce … in the preceding year 130,000,000 bushels of grain were handled in the city, along with 1,200,000,000 feet of lumber and 6,200,000 hogs. Despite its impressive growth and commerce, the Telegraph points out two fatal flaws at the end of the article.  First, is the city’s financial position. “We read without surprise,” the paper reports, “that the ‘City Fathers’ have piled up so big a municipal debt that, in a community as sanguine and progressive as any in the world, no more money can be borrowed on any terms.”  Also mentioned is the crime that plagues the city.  The Telegraph observes, “…  the question asked again and again by our Chicago contemporaries, ‘Have we a police force?’ derives additional significance from the street robberies, which seem to be of constant occurrence.”  Given those two negatives, the London paper concludes that the city “…cannot yet be regarded as an attractive home for civilized Europeans.”

February 16, 1944 – Gordon L. Pirie, vice-president and general manager of Carson Pirie Scott and Company, dies of heart disease in the Presbyterian Hospital.  Pirie’s condition has been dire for several days, and as he lingers near death his sister ALSO dies at her winter home in Plymouth, Florida.  Pirie graduated from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and worked in various retail stores before he came to Chicago to join his father, the founder of the store in which his name played a prominent part.  Pirie was a member of the executive committee of the American Retail Federation, treasurer of the North Shore Property Owners association, chairman of the committee on transportation and traffic of the State Street Council, and former director of the Association of Commerce.  He was also a trustee of the Winnetka Congregational Church.  [Chicago Daily Tribune, February 17, 1944]

ebruary 16, 1954 -- Ralph Budd, chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority, proposes a plan for extending the city's rapid transit system. The greatest share of the plan involves adding to the city's rapid transit system by constructing rights of way for rail operation as part of the network of proposed super-highways. Mayor Kennelly calls the proposal "remarkable." Arthur T. Leonard, president of the Chicago Association of Commerce, calls the plan "both challenging and constructive." Observe the Red Line as you drive on the Dan Ryan or the Green Line along the Kennedy or the Blue Line running parallel to the Eisenhower, and you will see Budd's proposal at work today, the first time, at least in this country, when rapid transit was planned as an integral part of an urban highway system.

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