Thursday, April 16, 2020

April 16, 1913 -- Art Institute of Chicago Says Good Riddance to the Moderns
April 16, 1913 – From March 24 to April 16, 1913 the International Exhibition of Modern Art draws visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago, the second stop on a three-city tour that began in New York City at the Sixty-Ninth Regiment Armory.  This was the first large showing of modern art in the United States, and some critics still maintain it was the most import art exhibition in the country’s history.  The collection of 1,090 works displayed in New York is cut down to 634 for the Chicago run, and from contemporary reports it seems that for Chicagoans that was 634 too many.  When, on this day, the collection is packed onto the train for its final exhibition in Boston, the students at the Art Institute “held a jubilee and burned three alleged paintings that were left behind in the rush.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, April 17, 1913]  Copies of three paintings by Henri Matisse go up in flames after a mock trial is held.  At 4:00 p.m. the students carriy a “prisoner, “ an effigy of Matisse that personifies the “crimes” that have just left town, down the front steps of the museum to the south portico where the trial is held.  The Chicago Tribune reports, “The prisoner, heavily manacled, was thrust forward at the point of a rusty bayonet, and the prosecutor general … scowled darkly and read the indictments … ‘You are charged with artistic murder, pictorial arson, artistic rapine, total degeneracy of color, criminal misuse of line, general esthetic aberration, and contumacious abuse of title.’”  The “jury” finds the defendant guilty of “everything in the first degree” and the body is taken to the north end of the building where a sermon is preached from “the Second Chapter of Anatomy.”  A student presents a funeral oration in which he sobs, “We regret that you have only one life to give for your principles.  So let it be with all artistic traitors.  You were a living example of death in life; you were ignorant and corrupt, an insect that annoyed us, and it is best for you and best for us that you died.”  The original intention was to burn the “body,” but cooler heads prevailed and the entertainment ends.  The students are not alone.  Art Institute Director M. R. French says, “If this work were submitted to me without explanation, I should regard it as a joke.”  The Director of Finance for the museum, Charles H. Burkholder, agrees, saying that “hanging [was] too good” for some of the paintings in the show.  The installation photograph featuring works by Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gauguin is shown above. 

April 16, 1946 – Fort Sheridan welcomes 176 American soldiers who escaped from German prison camps in Poland and eastern Germany and found their way to Russian lines.  German prisoners-of-war serve the men a steak dinner.  Two dozen of the men grew up in the city or the surrounding area.  On the following day the men begin a 21-day leave to visit their homes before reporting to rest camps in Miami Beach, Florida or Atlantic City, New Jersey.  As world War II progressed, Fort Sheridan served as the central administrative headquarters for prisoner-of-war camps in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  A total of 15,000 prisoners were placed under this administration, many of them held at the fort. 

April 16, 1925 -- E. J. Stevens awards the contract for the $30,000,000 (a little over $54 million in today's dollars) Hotel Stevens, today's Chicago Hilton and Towers on Michigan Avenue, to the Fuller Construction Company. The hotel will be the largest hotel in the world, according to Stevens. When it opened in 1927, the Holabird and Roche designed hotel had 3,000 rooms and, among other things, could produce 120 gallons of ice cream every hour. The Fuller Construction Company is an interesting footnote. Between 1900 and 1914 the Chicago firm was responsible for the construction of over 600 buildings. Chicago's beloved Marquette, Rookery, and Monadnock buildings were all built by Fuller. So, too, was the Flatiron building off Madison Square Park in New York City. The company was dissolved in 1970, and its last building was most probably the 150 North Wacker Drive building just south of Lake Street in Chicago.

April 16, 1903 – Violence flares all along the river as the marine firemen’s strike continues.  Gangs board ships leaving their docks in an attempt to halt the non-union firemen while other men man the bridges and hurl stones at boats as they pass to and from the lake.  One boat, the Seneca, inbound from Buffalo with non-union stokers manning the shovels, is boarded and a 65-year-old is left unconscious in the hold.  As night falls a crowd of fifty strikers attempting to board the steamer Clarion as she leaves for Buffalo are driven back by the police.  Retreating to a bridge, the mob showers the boat with rocks.  One deck hand is hit before he can find shelter from the onslaught.  In an attempt to end the strike, arbitration is proposed at a meeting that lasts into the next morning, but the Chicago local votes unanimously to continue its walk-out.  Even the University of Chicago is dragged into the fray as President William Rainey Harper is forced to issue a statement concerning students who took positions as strike-breakers on ships headed to Buffalo.  Harper asserts that if the students had consulted him or their deans “they would undoubtedly have been advised not to undertake such service.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, April 17, 1903] He adds, though, “That the university takes no side on any question, political or religious, or, indeed, of any kind, individuals of the university, professors, or students being left absolutely free to think and do as they see fit.”

April 16, 1903 – Twenty-five terrified passengers go for a wild ride when a trolley car of the Southport Avenue line crashes into the end of the partly open Wells Street bridge at 8:00 p.m. and barely avoids tumbling into the river.  The swing bridge at Wells Street had been rotated to permit a boat to travel through the draw when the trolley approaches rapidly as it heads north.  Passengers panic as the trolley appears certain to plunge into the river, but the bridge begins to rotate back into place just in time for the car to crash into its girders.  The car is thrown nearly perpendicular to the tracks, and the impact throws all of the passengers to the floor and against the end of the car.  Fortunately, no one is seriously injured.  A dozen or more elevated trains and thirty surface cars wait to cross the bridge as it takes a wrecking crew an hour to extricate the Southport trolley from the bridge.  The Wells Street Bridge and the girders that saved the trolley are pictured above.

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