Thursday, April 9, 2020

April 9, 1873 -- White Star Line Disaster ... Survivors Arrive in Chicago

April 9, 1873 – The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad brings 35 survivors of the Atlantic disaster to Chicago, and representatives of the White Star Line convey the weary travelers, most of them Swedish, to the Hotel Denmark on Milwaukee Avenue and the Svea Hotel on Chicago Avenue “and other taverns of lesser note among the Scandinavian nationalities.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, April 10, 1873]  The S/S Atlantic was a 420-foot passenger ship that was launched in 1870, the second ship to be built for the new White Star Line.  She had a single propeller, along with four masts that could be rigged for sail.  She cast off from Queenstown, bound for New York, on March 21 with upward of 950 passengers aboard.  On March 31, with a storm threatening and the supply of coal running low, the captain headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Sometime early in the morning of April 1 the Atlantic struck a rock and began to sink.  Although the masts of the ship and the rigging were still above water, chaos ensued in heavy seas on a pitch-black night as nearly a thousand people were, without warning, woken from their sleep.  545 people lost their lives. Of the 156 women and 189 children on board, only one 12-year-old boy survived the ordeal.  The Canadian government’s inquiry into the disaster concluded that the captain “in the management of his ship during the twelve or fourteen hours preceding the disaster, was gravely at variance with what ought to have been the conduct of a man placed in his responsible position.”  []  In Chicago a collection was taken up for the survivors of the shipwreck, and the sum of $2,000 (about $43,000 in today’s dollars) was collected.  With more survivors expected within the following week, each of the 35 men arriving on April 9 was given $20.  One survivor, an English crewman, tells his story of being “one of the last persons taken from the rigging … almost frozen when rescued.”  After the ship foundered he felt that the captain “could not be accused of anything after the accident happened; he acted with great bravery, and gave his orders with as much coolness and deliberation as if he stood on the deck of a sound steamer.”  He did, however, fault the captain for acting “rash and over-confident” before the disaster, believing that staying off the coast of Halifax until daylight would have allowed the Atlantic to make the harbor “without difficulty or danger.”

April 9, 1975 – O’Neil Ford, a Texas architect working on plans for a transformation of the river that flows through San Antonio into a natural people-friendly attraction, speaks at the second of the Bright New City lecture series in the First Chicago auditorium.  Ford outlines the project from its slow beginnings when “a few people started doing good things to the river banks,” [Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1975] to a place where “walks, terraces, and plantings line the banks, where 60,000 people show up on a weekend for an art show with really terrible paintings and where barges and paddle boats ply the waters.”  The architect concludes his lecture by saying, “If people can make the San Antonio River that way, they can make the Chicago River work, too … If something like that isn’t done within 10 years, it will be a disgrace.”  Well, it took a little longer than ten years, but the Chicago River is looking pretty good these days and is getting better with each passing year.

April 9, 1967 – Shortly after Mayor Richard J. Daley wins reelection to office by a lopsided margin of over a half-million votes, the Chicago Tribune sits down with him in a wide-ranging interview, an interview that remains timely.  Here are some particularly cogent excerpts from that interview …

Q.  Will Chicago’s growth and redevelopment in the next four years match that of your previous four years in office …

A.  You will see, in the central city where the Loop elevated will be gone and the subway completed.  There will be expansion to the east, such as new buildings over the Illinois Central property, and to the west along Madison street, where only the other day ground was broken for a 27-story building for the Illinois Bell Telephone company … Completion of the rapid transit in the Kennedy and Ryan expressways will bring a resurgence of people to park and ride on public transportation into the central city.  We are going to build the most attractive and best convention hall in the nation on the lake front as a new McCormick Place.  There will be more development like Carl Sandburg Village on the north, the many projects between Twenty-Sixth and Thirty-First streets on the south, and rebuilding taking place on south Michigan avenue.  You will see a modern airport in the lake and islands in the lake for recreation … The Auditorium theater is nearly completed and will be another important cultural asset to our city.

Q.  You are predicting the end of slums in the near future.  How can you be certain when there seem to be so much substandard housing in the city?

A.  We will have the buildings unsuitable to live in removed by December, 1967.

Q.  The comprehensive plan of Chicago deals primarily with the period until 1980.  Are you looking far enough ahead?

A.  Each generation should make a contribution to the improvement of the city.  Our greatest challenge in urban living is to provide those living in the high rises recreation off the lake front.

Q.  When will the Loop elevated be razed and the subway completed?

A.  The subway in Wells street must be completed first.  Then we can tear down the elevated.  We are seeing evidence of what this will do for the downtown with the number of land purchases taking place along Wabash avenue and Wells street … We will see the subway completed and the elevated down by the year 1971.

Q.  Will we have a third airport in your next term?

A.  We need a third airport and we must make a study to see if it is feasible to build one in the lake … If the report is favorable, I would expect we would have an airport in the lake within ten years.

Q.  Let’s discuss sports.  Where do we stand on the proposal for a new sports stadium for Chicago?

A.  There is no question that Chicago must have a sports stadium and it is a matter I will push … It must be a stadium that is built without any expense to the taxpayer.  We are going to have championship football teams in Chicago.  When the University of Illinois expands at Circle campus, it is going to win the Big Ten championship.

Q.  If you feel confident about your predictions today, where will the Cubs and White Sox finish this year?

A.  They will both finish in first place, of course.  We are going to have a subway series in Chicago.  This is a city of champions.

* * * * * * * *

Of course, it didn’t turn out exactly the way the Mayor outlined it so neatly. For the record, the Chicago White Sox finished fourth in the American League, only four games off the lead with a record of 89-73. The Chicago Cubs finished third, 14 games back, with a season record of 87-74.)

And … the Loop elevated line is still standing.

April 9, 1903 -- 800 members of the newly formed janitresses union celebrate a victory in
arbitration "waving gingham aprons and mop rags, and beating a tattoo on scrub pails." [Chicago Daily Tribune, April 10, 1903] The women had previously worked for 11 cents an hour until Mrs. Susan Horton, a worker in the Ashland Block at Clark and Randolph (where the Chicago Title and Trust building stands today) organizes the union, leads a process that formalizes demands, and presents them to building managers. After two weeks spent in arbitration, the women are granted an increase of seven cents to 18 cents an hour with straight time for overtime. They are to work for eight hours in the day and six hours if work is done at night. Work on Sundays and holidays will count as double overtime. The photo below shows Burnham and Root's Ashland Block, where the whole thing started.

April 9, 1901 – A. Montgomery Ward consents to the construction of the Crerar Library in the lakefront park – with conditions. George P. Merrick, Ward’s attorney, states that the conditions are “that the site be south of Jackson boulevard, that the lake front north of Lake Park place be incorporated into the South Park system and improved and maintained by the commissioners, and that the consent of the abutting property-owners be obtained.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, April 10, 1901]  The South Park commissioners response is that Ward is asking “what he knows cannot be granted.”  The president of the Board of Trustees of the Crerar Library is confident that Ward will come around to the library’s chosen site on the east side of Michigan Avenue between Madison Street and the Art Institute.  President Grosscup says, “The site we desire is the only one suitable and will be the only one considered … The land south of Jackson boulevard should be kept free of buildings … What we want is to place our building on a line with the Art Institute and so close to it as to be in harmony.”  The fight would drag on for over a decade before the Crerar Board of Trustees finally gives up, choosing a site on the northwest corner of Randolph and Michigan to construct its gift to the city.  For more information on the library you can turn to this entry in Connecting the Windy City.  The library, which today is located in Hyde Park at the University of Chicago, is shown above where 150 North Michigan Avenue currently stands.  Note that the old Chicago Public Library, today's Cultural Center, is seen at the left of the photo.  The St. Jane Hotel, as it is known today, originally the Carbide and Carbon building is up Michigan Avenue, the tall building at the right of the photo.  The second photo shows the site as it appears today.

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