Monday, March 4, 2019

March 4, 1896 -- Chicago River ... "Its Manifest Destiny Is to Decay"

Major W. L. Marshall
March 4, 1896 – Major W. L. Marshall, the United States Army engineer in charge of government property in the Chicago area, “goes out of his way to say that the Chicago River cannot be improved for modern ships except at an enormous expense, and that its manifest destiny is to decay.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, March 5, 1896]  Marshall, however, “finds in the Calumet all the elements which will enable the government to create the most magnificent harbor on the lakes at a comparatively small expense.”  With ships that are at least 400 feet in length, vessels that require a draft of 19 feet, Marshall allows that the harbor in Chicago and the river can be improved to accommodate them at the cost of a “grievous hindrance to urban inter-communication.”  He continues, “Commerce and navigation will follow the least obstructed channel … The draft of commerce plainly shows the tendency to the decadence of Chicago River and a phenomenal increase in the commercial importance of Chicago’s southern harbor at the Calumet.”  His assessment appears to be supported by the facts – in 1895 tonnage on the Calumet increased a hundred percent over the preceding year. Marshall’s report stirs predictable anger among those who make a living from the city’s harbor and river.  

March 4, 1961 – One man loses his life when fire rages in the upper floors of the Pick-Congress Hotel at 520 South Michigan Avenue.  Firefighters pull off a dramatic rescue of a 22-year-old University of Minnesota senior as she sits on the window ledge of her tenth-floor room, facing an inside court, screaming for help for a half-hour as smoke and flames burn through the hallway outside her room.  More than 40 rooms are affected, either burned out completely or damaged by smoke and water with the most severe damage on the tenth floor.  The Hotel Manager says that the fire was first reported by a doorman who saw smoke and flames roaring out of a tenth-floor window above Michigan Avenue.  The 3-11 alarm fire attracts close to 2,000 spectators to Michigan Avenue.

March 4, 1961 – An F2 tornado strikes the city’s south side at around 5:00 p.m.  It develops over Ninety-First Street and Hoyne and carves out a corridor of destruction as it moves northeast across the city until it dies out over the lake off Sixty-Eighth Street.  One person is killed and another 115 people are injured as over 3,000 homes are damaged or completely destroyed.  The greatest number of injuries occur at the Melody Lane Drive-In at 1425 West Eighty-Seventh Street where about 25 customers and 20 employees are dining and working.  One of the restaurant’s owners says that “the whole building began to shiver, the walls started crumbling, and the roof came off.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 5, 1961] At the house next door a family with eight children huddle in the basement as the structure is lifted off its foundation and moved several feet.  Miraculously, no one is injured there.  A resident at 8808 Justine Avenue says, “My brother and I saw cars being tossed around like toothpicks.  They were just rolling around.  It only lasted a few minutes.  Then we went outside and it was horrible.”

March 4, 1953 -- Demolition begins on the mansion once occupied by Harold and Edith Rockefeller McCormick, a once-grand residence at the corner of Oak Street and Bellevue Place. Edith McCormick was the fourth daughter of John D. Rockefeller, who in 1895 married Henry Fowler McCormick, the son of the mechanical reaper magnate, Cyrus McCormick. She divorced him in 1926 and spent much of her last years in the 41-room mansion on Lake Shore Drive until she died in 1932. She is buried in Graceland Cemetery. The photos above show the mansion as it was and the residential tower that replaced it -- what is now One Thousand Plaza.

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