Thursday, October 17, 2019

October 17, 1917 -- Michigan Avenue Traffic Woes

Chicago Tribune photo
October 17, 1917 – The Chicago Daily Tribune prints a photograph that shows the traffic conditions on Michigan Avenue before the building of the bridge that carried traffic across the river.  Before the bridge was completed in 1920 traffic headed north on Michigan Avenue was forced to move from a 91-foot roadway south of Randolph Street to a 39-foot artery north of that location.  M. J. Flaherty, the president of the board of local improvements, says, “It’s like the neck of a bottle.  If the courts decide in the city’s favor we will have a continuous roadway ninety-one feet wide all the way across the river to the north side.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, October 17, 1917]  The court action to which Flaherty refers is a suit filed by the James S. Kirk and Co. soap factory,  contesting the city’s condemnation suit against its property, a large plot of land that is today occupied by the Wrigley building and Trump Tower.  The photo above shows the conditions at Randolph Street where traffic squeezes into a lane less than half the size of the road south of the intersection of Michigan and Randolph.  Today’s Chicago Cultural Center can be seen at the left of the photo.  The second photo shows the same scene as it appears today.  

October 17, 1956 – Mayor Richard J. Daley receives notice from the city’s air pollution control board that hydrogen sulphide gas from the North Branch of the Chicago River has created a “critical condition on the northwest side that may require emergency action by the mayor.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, October 18, 1956]  Phone lines are overwhelmed at the pollution control office as the director, Thomas H. Carey, reports the “complaints from home owners that the gas was polluting the air, attacking the paint on houses, and tarnishing silverware in homes.”  A city engineer assesses the dire situation, noting that it is the result of “unseasonable heat, low water levels because of a lack of rain, and a lack of wind to loft away the gas.”  Residents in the area between Caldwell and Milwaukee Avenues are experiencing the greatest hardship.  On the following day Chicago firefighters set up shop and, with assistance from the Niles fire department, begin pouring between 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of water per minute into the river, using six hose lines.  That isn’t enough for a dozen women from the neighborhood who make their way down to the mayor’s office, charging that “the stream has been polluted for months and that the pollution has caused illness among children and brought large rats to the neighborhood.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, October 20, 1956] The mayor’s office refers the women to the fire commissioner.

October 17, 1936 – Elma Lockwood “Ma” Streeter dies at the Cook County Hospital.  She was the daughter of Ashwood Lockwood who came to the area around today’s Elkhart, Indiana in 1839.  She was the indefatigable wife of George Washington “Cap” Streeter who in 1883 ran his boat, Reutan, aground on a sand bar about 450 off the shore east of what is today some of the most valuable real estate in the city.  As sand accumulated around the craft, he realized that it would be better to stay put and take advantage of a law allowing Civil War veterans to homestead on unclaimed land. The silting action of the lake had land piling up around the Reutan, and Streeter claimed it as his, declaring it the United States District of Lake Michigan or “the Deestrict.” Nearly two decades of run-ins with the law followed, and “Ma” Streeter watched it all as her husband was arrested, tried, convicted and set free only to repeat the process all over again.  In 1918, three years before her husband’s death, she reacted when hirelings of the Chicago Title and Trust Company burned the Streeter home to the ground.  She charged the group with a meat cleaver, and the men retreated. Her last indignity occurred in 1924 when she filed suit against property owners of “her” land, only to have the suit dismissed because Cap Streeter had been abandoned by his first wife but not divorced, so Ma Streeter’s marriage was declared invalid.  In the above photo "Ma" Streeter is shown on her houseboat just a year after her husband died.

October 17, 1933 – The first man to be jailed for attempted piracy on Lake Michigan is sentenced to six years in the federal penitentiary by Federal Judge James H. Wilkerson.  The United States District Attorney is able to show that the 28-year-old man, Joseph Pennick, boarded a boat at the Wrigley building and rode it to the Century of Progress World’s Fair on the lakefront.  On the return trip, at a point about a mile off Roosevelt Road, Pennick pulled out a revolver and ordered the pilot of the boat to surrender his cash.  The pilot, James M. Nester, and another passenger overpowered Pennick, but not before he got off two shots, one of which grazed the passenger’s head.  Pennick’s plea was that he had been drinking.

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