Monday, March 25, 2019

March 25, 1893 -- Fort Sheridan Lake Monster Scares Troops into Sobriety

March 25, 1893 – The Chicago Daily Tribune carries the news that officers and enlisted men at Fort Sheridan are sure “that a fearful and unknown sea monster is lying in wait for unfortunates off the shore” of the base.  In fact, men are so sure that the creature exists that “Several brave and convinced soldiers have totally reformed and 200 others have signed the pledge to let liquor alone.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, March 25, 1893]  One day during the previous week Captain H. R. Brinkerhoff, the commander of Company A of the Fifteenth Infantry, was sitting at his second-floor window of his home on one of the officers’ residential loops east of the parade ground “reading and now and then scanning the water.”  He spied a “black speck on the waves directly off his house … it grew rapidly in size.  It disappeared beneath a wave and reappeared again, a huge object that gave signs of life.” He summoned a fellow officer from adjoining quarters, Lieutenant W. F. Blauvelt of Company G of the Fifteenth Infantry, and the two headed to the edge of the bluff above the lake and began a search with their binoculars.  Brinkerhoff tells a Tribune reporter what they saw, “The head was very large,dark above and light colored underneath … The serpent, or whatever it was, I estimated to be thirty feet long.  I could not describe it, except that it looked like a huge alligator deprived of its legs.”  The two officers told a few of their friends about the sighting and the enlisted men learned of the creature fairly soon afterward, for “In a settlement of 1,000 human beings, in a sense cut off from the rest of the world, it doesn’t take long for a story to travel, especially such a startling one.”  The chaplain on the base saw a fine opportunity that didn’t very often come his way and didn’t have “the slightest difficulty in securing the signatures of 200 men to a pledge to abstain from drink.”

March 25, 1981 – Bad day on the river, and an even worse day for the Chicago Tribune as the Army Corps of Engineers reports finding PCB contamination along five miles of the Chicago River and its North Branch, the first indication that the chemical, banned in 1979 as a health hazard, exists in the river.  The disclosure means that the Corps will have to give up plans for dredging on the North Branch.  Moreover, it will suspend a permit issued to the Chicago Tribune to dredge a section of the river for a dock at its new printing facility at 735 West Chicago Avenue.  PCB concentration in the North Branch is as high 164 parts per million while the main stem of the river running through downtown has PCB levels in the 10 parts per million range.  State and federal laws dictate that dredgings containing more than 50 parts per million are considered hazardous wastes and must be carefully handled and disposed of at approved hazardous waste disposal sites. The large dark doors on the river side of the building shown in the above photo were designed to accommodate lake freighters carrying newsprint from Canada as they docked at the plant to unload.  Due to the sad news on the doorstep on this day in 1981, they were never used, and newsprint arrives at the plant by railcar.

March 25, 1910 – The work day has just begun at the L. Fish Furniture store at 1906-08 Wabash Avenue when the company’s auditor asks an assistant to go down to the fourth floor and fill three cigar lighters with benzene.  As he is filling the third lighter, the benzene bursts into flame, and he heads for the alley behind the building, telling no one of the mishap.  The fire makes rapid headway before it is discovered, and the first alarm is turned in at 8:30 a.m.  Seventy-five people are at work in the building, and the employees on the first three floors are able to make it to safety.  Flames, however, cut off all escape on floors four through six.  Three serious impediments dim any hope of rescue.  First, there is a 4-11 fire in progress at Twenty-Fourth Street and Wallace that ties up half of the fire department’s equipment in the area.  Second, the first reports get the location of the fire wrong.  Finally, the raising of ladders is impeded by guy wires that support a large company sign on the front of the building as well as a large awning that covers the front entrance.  The fire is struck out in less than three hours, but during that time twelve people die in the inferno.  The coroner’s jury investigating the fire is blunt, saying, “We find the L. Fish Furniture Company censurable for negligence, carelessness and lack of foresight in not better providing for the safety of employees.”  [Hogan, John F. and Burkholder, Alex A.  Forgotten Fires of Chicago:  The Lake Michigan Inferno and a Century of Flame.]

March 25, 1931 -- Golfers in Chicago get a new course to play as the new Lincoln Park golf course, begun the preceding April, opens. Beginning in 1929 the city trucked in tons of soil, dumping it in the lake to create 71 acres and a new nine-hole golf course. The original intent was to create an 18-hole course, but a lack of funding led to scaling back the project. Two million dollars later, Waveband Golf Course ran from Diversey Boulevard on the south to Montrose Harbor on the north. In 1991 it was renamed for a former commissioner of the Park District Board, Sydney Marovitz. Note: Most sources list the official opening of the course as June 15, 1932. That was the date on which the English Gothic style clubhouse with its clock tower, designed by Edwin H. Clark, pictured above, was dedicated.

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