Monday, May 11, 2020

May 11, 1920 -- Chicago Mobster "Big Jim" Colosimo Killed
May 11, 1920 – “Big Jim” Colosimo is shot to death in his own restaurant at 2126-2128 South Wabash Avenue just 15 minutes after he opens for business.  Coming to Chicago from Italy at the age of 17, he quickly began a career in crime, helped along the way by First Ward Aldermen Michael Kenna and John Coughlin, who made him a precinct captain, a move that gave him the kind of political connections that helped his rise in Chicago’s underworld.  Colosimo and his wife, Victoria, a brothel operator, used prostitution as the foundation for their rise.  Opening their first brothel in 1902 led to an estimated 200 brothels that he controlled at the time of his death.  Along the way he incorporated gambling and racketeering into the mix.  Things began to unravel for Big Jim in early 1920 when Prohibition began.  Colosimo refused to get involved in bootlegging, a position that set off others in the organization, particularly John “The Fox” Torrio and Al Capone, both of whom Colosimo had brought to Chicago from New York.  No one was apprehended in the murder although it was Torrio who phoned Colosimo, asking him to come to the restaurant to receive an important shipment, and it was Torrio took over the outfit, later followed by Al Capone.  Colosimo’s funeral was quite the affair.  There were over 50 pallbearers, including some of the most important men in Chicago society.  A thousand marchers followed the funeral procession to Oak Woods Cemetery.   

May 11, 1925 – Ten thousand people jam Michigan Avenue as Ray Schalk, catcher for the Chicago White Sox, shows the crowd how to catch a ball thrown from the 560-foot top of Tribune Tower. Traffic is blocked on the Magnificent Mile for 20 minutes as Schalk makes three attempts to catch the ball. The first ball bounces off scaffolding and never makes it to the catcher’s glove. The second bounces off his glove, but he can’t make the grab. Using both hands on the third attempt, Schalk makes the catch. With the ball successfully in hand “ . . . the coppers on horseback were needed to get Ray back out of the throng so he could get to the ball park for the afternoon game.” [Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1925] The police could have taken it easy. Although their catcher caught the ball thrown from Tribune Tower, the Sox dropped the game to the Washington Senators, 9-0. Ray Schalk did not play.
May 11, 1924 – Cardinal George William Mundelein returns to Chicago, making Chicago the first city west of the Allegheny Mountains to have a cardinal as the head of the Catholic Church.  At Holy Name Cathedral he dedicates his first hour in the city to the young men of the church.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports, “Quietly, intimately, and rapidly Chicago’s first cardinal gave his blessing to the little boys, youths, and young men who jammed the transepts, filled up the nave, and spilled over into the spaces in front of the altar …” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 12, 1924]. Mundelein says, “On returning from a long, long journey, it is but fitting that the first to welcome the first cardinal of the west should be the little ones … Your cardinal needs you; he needs the young men.  With your help and enthusiasm, the church can go still further forward.”  Mundelein was named the city’s archbishop in 1916 and spent little time in letting people know that he was a different prelate than those who had preceded him.  He avoided tragedy by skipping the soup at a University Club banquet in his honor and worked to break down the barriers in the various Polish, German, Bohemian, and Irish parishes in the city.  When he returned as a cardinal on this day in 1924 a million Chicagoans lined the streets to hail his return.  Before his death in 1939, a reporter asked him if he had ever considered returning to the city of New York, where he grew up on the Lower East Side.  He replied, “You and I live in the greatest city in the world. The only way they will get me to leave Chicago is feet first.”  [Chicago Tribune, July 20, 2014]  The crowds outside Holy Name Cathedral are shown in the above photo on May 11, 1924.

May 11, 1894 –The Pullman Car Works closes until further notice at 6:00 p.m. after 2,000 employees walk out with “no excitement and no demonstration.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 12, 1894] A meeting of the Grievance Committee convenes on May 10 at the Dewdrop Saloon in Kensington that lasts until 4:30 a.m. at which point the 46 members of the committee vote unanimously to strike.  At 7:00 p.m. On May 11 American Railway Union Vice-President George Washington Howard begins to address a packed Turner Hall in Kensington.  He urges the men against violence, “Now, men, you have work before you and you must do it like American citizens.  Use no threats, no intimidation, no force toward any one who gets into the works.  It must be distinctly understood that there will be no violation of the law … My advice to you is let liquor of all kinds entirely alone.  If you drink at all you are liable to lose your senses, and if you lose your senses God knows what will happen … keep sober and straight, and every laboring man in the country will be with you.”  Then Howard turns the crowd’s attention to the path ahead.  “In the past,” he begins, “corporations used to divide men who are on strike, but they can’t do it now … I heard Mr. Pullman say the other day that you men owed his company $70,000 for rent which you could not pay.  If that is so how long will it be before he owns you soul and body … I am under the opinion that it is so long since he has done any work that he has forgotten what ill-usage means, and does not know that kind words and courteous demeanor are becoming even to the President of a great corporation.  If he had taken the trouble to come down here two days ago, as he should have done, and had listened to the men’s grievances from the men, the strike would never have occurred.”  George Pullman claims he is totally surprised by the work stoppage, going into detail about how he has tried to take care of his employees.  “[The strike] not only surprised but pained me,” Pullman says., “for I had taken a great interest in keeping the men employed … I did and was doing all in my power to keep the men at Pullman supplied with work … We also spent $160,000 for improvements at the works and in the town during the last few months that we would not have made for several years had we not wanted to give the men work.  I had this done because I was exceedingly anxious for the welfare of the men.”  The strike idled the Pullman works with no end in sight when, on June 26, 1894, American Railway Union President Eugene V. Debs called for a boycott of all Pullman cars on American railroads, an action which eventually led to a walk-out of 250,000 workers in 27 states.  U. S. President Grover Cleveland ordered 12,000 federal troops to end the strikes that idled the entire western portion of the country’s transportation system. Over the course of the trouble, 30 strikers were killed and property damage exceeded $80 million.  Ultimately, Debs and Howard both went to federal prison, the American Railway Union was broken up, and Illinois ordered Pullman to sell off its residential holdings.  Strikers gather outside the Pullman Arcade Building in the above photo.

May 11, 1894 – The Chicago Daily Tribune reports on a mystery solved at Fort Sheridan.  The tale begins with “uncanny noises” being heard at “unearthly hours” in the big drill hall just southwest of the fort’s tower.  The noise was compounded by the sound of “a body falling heavily on the floor,” followed by “the crash of steel and strange cries from an excited voice.”  Some believed that a ghost had haunted the drill hall … such stories had been prevalent since the end of 1893 when three separate sentries saw the ghost of a murdered officer, one of the sentries even swearing that the ghost had knocked his hat off his head.  So it is that the officer of the guard organizes a raiding party and with “fixed bayonets and forty rounds of ammunition to each man the guard moved on the big room prepared for ghosts or anything else above or under ground.”  Entering the huge hall, the men find their commandant, Colonel R. E. A. Crofton, pictured above, lying on the floor, tangled up in a bicycle.  For the time being, the mystery is solved. 

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