Friday, December 27, 2019

December 27, 1978 -- Art Institute of Chicago Heist Nets Three Cezannes

December 27, 1978 – Three paintings by Paul Cézanne, valued at $3 million, are stolen from a storage room at the Art Institute of Chicago.  There is no sign of forced entry in a theft that comes just ten days after an eighteenth century Japanese painting is taken from a gallery wall at the museum.  Art Institute President E. Laurence Chalmers says it would be “a tragic loss it the paintings were not recovered."  The paintings – “Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Armchair,” “Apples on a Tablecloth,” and “House on the River” were being secured in the storage room while a gallery was prepared for their display.  That storage room on the second floor of the museum’s Allerton Wing was “accessible only to a limited number of museum employees with special keys,” [Chicago Tribune, December 28, 1978], a number thought to be between 12 and 35 people.  Subsequent investigation revealed that over 300 people had such access to the storeroom.  When asked if it would have been difficult to carry off the three paintings without being noticed, the Institute’s vice-president for administrative affairs, Robert Mars, says, “That shouldn’t be able to happen.”   The paintings are recovered on May 23, 1979 when a former employee of the Art Institute, Laud Spencer Pace, is arrested when he walks into a downtown hotel carrying the paintings in a plastic garbage bag as he seeks to collect a $250,000 ransom.  Pace was sentenced to ten years in prison and died of a self-inflicted gunshot in 1996.  "Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Armchair," pictured above, still hangs at the Art Institute.

Daniel Burnham
December 27, 1890 –Architect Daniel Burnham, returning from a trip to the east coast where matters related to the planning of the World’s Fair were discussed, denies rumors that Chicago architects will monopolize the planning of the fair’s buildings.  Also on this day the Committee on Grounds and Buildings once again discusses the subject of a permanent art building, meeting with committees of the Art Institute and the Commercial Club.  Another development is the receipt of a letter from Washington, D.C., asking for 100 copies of the official announcement of the fair be sent to the nation's capital so that foreign nations could be notified of the event.

December 27, 1877 – A Chicago Daily Tribune editorial takes exception with Mayor Monroe Heath’s assertion that Michigan Avenue is “a beauty of a street.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 27, 1877] Calling it a “champion mud-puddle” with an “unctuous and nasty top-dressing,” the editorial suggests that there is something shady in the work of the contractors “who load seven and a half tons of this alluvial on a car and then charge for ten tons of gravel.”  The writers suggest that the mayor “roll up his pants, start from the Exposition Building, and walk through the middle of the avenue as far south as Twelfth street.” If he still needs evidence, the paper suggests that he “keep on until he reaches Twenty-second street.  If by that time he is not the nastiest object on the face of the earth, and is not convinced that even our own black alluvial is preferable to this red and yellow sticky stuff from Joliet, we shall believe that he is sincere in his admiration of Michigan avenue as ‘a beauty of a street.’”  The above photo shows Michigan Avenue three years after the editorial appeared.

December 27, 1865 – The first shipment of hogs arrives at the Union Stockyards, opened officially just two days earlier.  The vast facility that would come to occupy land bordered by Pershing Avenue, Halsted Street, Forty-Seventh Street, and Ashland Avenue, got its start in 1864 when nine railroad companies purchase 320 acres of swampland on the southwest side of the city.  []   Fifteen miles of railroad track brought the critters to the stockyards, and 500,000 gallons of water from the river were pumped into the yards each day, with waste water dumped into a channel flowing back into the river, that channel now known as “Bubbly Creek”.  From the 320 acres in 1865 the stockyards grew to 475 acres by 1900 and contained 50 miles of roads with 130 miles of railroad track at its perimeter. 16 million animals a year were processed in the stockyards during the peak years of World War I, an average of nine million pounds of meat every single day.  The above photo shows the Union Stockyards in 1867.

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