March 31, 1831 – The United States government establishes a post office in the tiny hamlet of Chicago and appoints Jonathan N. Bailey as post master. The post office is located in a log cabin approximately where Wacker Drive meets Lake Street today. According to information gleaned from the December, 1922 issue of Fort Dearborn Magazine [chicagology.com], before the establishment of the post office, mail was brought to Chicago every other week from Niles, Michigan. The small outpost of Chicago had only about a dozen families at the time, along with the garrison at Fort Dearborn. Post Master Bailey served in his position until November 2, 1832 when his son-in-law, John S. C. Hogan, took over the job, moving the post office to the southwest corner of Franklin and what is today’s Wacker Drive. Chicagology.com notes that the mail carrier “was necessarily a man of tough fibre and strong nerve, for, burdened as he was with his pack, mail pouch and loaded musket, he was forced to keep on his feet day and night wading through snow so deep at times as to require snow shoes. When overcome with sleep he wrapped himself in his blanket and lay down in a snow-bank, taking such rest as he could with the wolves howling around him.” By 1837 these intrepid carriers had been replaced by stage coaches that brought the mail to Chicago with increasing frequency.
March 31, 2003 – Under cover of darkness trucks carrying construction equipment move onto Meigs Field and shortly after midnight bulldozers begin to dig six huge “X” marks into the airstrip, stranding 16 privately owned aircraft on the tarmac of an airport that will never function again. Mike Daffenberg, an air traffic controller at the airport, says he found out he was out of a job on his way to the airport from DeKalb for his 6:00 a.m. shift. “I felt I was laid off by the radio this morning,” he said. [Chicago Tribune, April 1, 2003] Mayor Richard M. Daley is unapologetic, and the Tribune observes, “Still stewing because federal authorities were quicker to restrict airspace over Mickey and Minnie at Disney World and Disneyland than they were for Chicago, Daley said his unilateral closure of Meigs was prompted in part by fears that the nation’s homeland security bureaucracy was moving too slowly to address the city’s needs.” A spokesman for the Aircraft Pilots and Owners Association, Warren Morningstar, says, “We have our version of shock and awe right in downtown Chicago. What we really are upset about is that the mayor has no honor, and his word has no value.”
March 31, 1893 – The Japanese flag is raised at noon on the Wooded Island in Jackson Park, and dedication ceremonies begin at the Hooden, or sacred palace, that will be the Japanese exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Nearly every fair official is present, along with a number of businessmen and leading members of the Japanese community in the city. The 300 or so guests in attendance are allowed to inspect the temple for a short time before the ceremonies begin. The architect of the three buildings that make up the exhibit, M. Kuru, explains the plan as the festivities begin, saying “… the three buildings here reproduced represent the styles of architecture which were in vogue from the tenth century to the eighteenth. Although each of these three epochs has an architectural style distinctive of its own and reproduced here with absolute accuracy they are planned under a general architectural design. The whole plan is taken from the Hoodo, which is now existing in Uji, Japan.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, April 1,1893] The first portion of the ceremony ends with a note of gratitude to the 24 Japanese laborers who constructed the exhibit. They respond “in a peculiar manner and clapping their hands.” Then George R. Davis, the Secretary General of the Fair, rises to speak, constructing his own edifice of over-the-top prose. “In all time past,” he says, “in all time to come, no celebration of the accomplishments of man, has or will, in my opinion, equal the untold splendor of the Columbian Exposition … to no people of the earth does the Columbian Exposition offer grander or more distinguished advantages and opportunities than to our antipodean friends. Japan stands in the foreground as a wonderful example of the swift progress of modern development and education. Japan, in the full consciousness of its wealth and power, realizing to the fullest extent the advantages to be secured, has been prompt and generous in support of the Exposition. I am glad that I may in this public manner give expression to our satisfaction with the result you have accomplished and the zeal which you and your colaborers have shown in your work through the last winter.” Potter Palmer and Daniel Burnham also deliver addresses after which the President of the South Park Commissioners, Joseph Donnersberger, discloses that at the conclusion of the fair only two buildings are to remain in Jackson Park – the Japanese pavilion and the Life-Saving Station. “One was for art,” he says, “the other for utility.” After the ceremony wraps up the assembled dignitaries retire to the Manufactures Building, where a luncheon is served. In its appraisal of the exhibit the Chicago Daily Tribune reports, “In the government exhibit will be shown many rare and valuable relics and curiosities. Many of these belong to the Emperor … The work of the interior decoration was placed in the hands of the Tokyo Art Academy … the material used in the construction is unpainted wood and the spectator is filled with admiration for the many ingenious and effective ways in which these people employ their raw material, their methods of getting the best effects from the natural colors of wood, and the exquisite polish they manage to put upon it.” The Wooded Island and the Japanese exhibit can be seen in the lower right corner of the above photo. Off the photo to the left is the building that would become today's Museum of Science and Industry.
March 31, 1890 -- The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that "The Accountant," a painting by Rembrandt van Rijn, will remain in Chicago on display at the Art Institute. The treasure comes by way of Chicago oil man P. C. Hanford, who purchased the painting, valued at the time at $60,000. "I did not want to see it go away from Chicago," said Hanford. "I was waiting for some of our rich people to buy it -- one of the men who could spend the money and not feel it. I am not rich, but I love art. I waited till the last moment. We are going to have a World's Fair here and anything that we can get hold of in the way of art we ought to keep here." [Chicago Daily Tribune, March 31, 1890] You won't find the painting at the Art Institute today. Mr. Hanford sold the work on January 31, 1902 for £4,600 or a little over $22,000.