Saturday, May 30, 2020

May 30, 1968 -- Medussa Challenger Strikes Again

May 30, 1968 – It has only been a year that the Medusa Challenger has been at work on the Chicago River, but the big lake freighter will continue to make her presence known for years, indirectly causing enough traffic problems during her time sailing through the city to cause Chicagoans to refer to her as the “jinx ship.”  On this night the 562-foot ship is halted in her trip up the river when the Clark Street bridge short-circuits and refuses to open.  With the Dearborn and State Street bridges open to allow the ship to approach Clark Street, the malfunction causes traffic on all three streets to stop for an hour and 15 minutes.  Finally, at 7:30 p.m. the Clark Street bridge is made operable and “with a blast of its horn, the ship was under way as was the traffic, including one car driven by a man who had a permanent solution to the whole problem … ‘You know what they should do with this river?’ he said.  ‘They should have it paved.’” [Chicago Tribune, May 31, 1968] For all you might ever want to know about the ship and its ill-fortune in Chicago, you can head to this section of Connecting the Windy City.

May 30, 1939 – The Chicago and North Western Railroad rolls out a set of brand new diesel-electric locomotives, just off the assembly line of the Electro-Motive Corporation in LaGrange, to pull the “400,” its famous high-speed train, to Milwaukee. In the coming week the locomotives will be placed in service between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.  The new locomotives are capable of running 117 miles an hour even though they are still pulling standard equipment.  Sometime in August new streamlined cars from the Chicago shops of the Pullman Standard Car Manufacturing Company will be added to the consist.  The new locomotives are powered by four 1,000 horsepower 12-cylinder diesel engines, which drive four generators that supply current to eight traction motors, four on each unit.  Finally, after nearly a half-century of trying to clear the smoke of steam locomotives from the lakefront and the southwest side of the city, it appears that a solution has arrived.

May 30, 1893 – The laying of the cornerstone of the new Memorial Hall on the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street takes place under the direction of the Grand Army of the Republic. Both streets are crowded with veterans and ordinary citizens “all anxious to behold the ceremony and listen to the addresses incident upon the formal commencement of the creation of a magnificent structure, which will be a credit to the city and take high rank among the costly edifices already so numerous in Chicago.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 31, 1893] The plot of ground, known as Dearborn Park, was originally part of the southern boundary of Fort Dearborn, part of the “public ground” that extended east to the lake and south to Madison Street. It required a coming together of the Directors of the Chicago Public Library and the Grand Army of the Republic to get a bill through Congress that would allow construction on the land. It took persistence . . . the legislation only passed after three attempts over the course of ten years. In a simple ceremony the flag is run to the top of the flag pole, a band plays the Star Spangled Banner and dozens of artifacts are placed in a copper box that will lie below the cornerstone. Then General E. A. Blodgett, the Commander of the Illinois Grand Army of the Republic, closes the ceremony, saying, “In the name of the soldiers and sailors who have saved our nation we thank you for the honor. We rejoice that our city thus proclaims to the world that patriotic self-sacrifice is not to be forgotten. We trust that our beloved land may never again be deluged in blood. Yet we remember that the perils of peace are scarcely less than the perils of war. The demands for loyalty are as great upon the sons as they were upon the sires. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” The Memorial Hall with its great dome occupies the northern half of what is today the Chicago Cultural Center. The photo above shows the site at the time with Randolph Street on the right and Washington Boulevard on the left. The second photo shows the area as it appears today.
May 30, 1889 – Little Frank Degan, the son of a policeman who lost his life on May 4, 1886 at what today we call the Haymarket Riot, pulls a cord and unveils the statue that will commemorate the events of that day.  There are close to 2,000 spectators, more than one might expect for an event staged on a rainy day. Over 175 uniformed officers are in attendance.   Chicago manufacturer Richard Teller Crane, head of the commemoration committee, opens the ceremony, saying that the event “… commemorates an important event in the history of our city and our country.  It commemorates a sacrifice of life made in the interests of the people.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 31, 1889]. Then Mayor DeWitt Clinton Cregier accepts the monument on behalf of the city, ending with his speech with these words, “This is a free and lawful country, with plenty of room for the people of all the earth who choose to come here to breathe the free air and to obey these laws, but not an inch of room or an hour to dwell here for those who come for any other purpose.”  Following the mayor is Franklin H. Head, the president of the Chicago Historical society, who delivers a lengthy speech that traces the development of democracy in the country, leading up to the May day in 1886 when a bomb exploded in a protest march and 67 policemen are killed or maimed.  Head warns, “It should be borne in mind that apostles of anarchy do not propose a modification of existing laws and institutions, but a wholesale destruction by violence and throttling of all law.  History would, as always, repeat itself: violence would beget violence, and crime would beget crime.  All the powers and forces of evil would come again and inaugurate anew the reign of Chaos and Old Night.”  At the end of Head’s address, Mayor Cregier asks the crowd for three cheers “for the monument and the heroes whose brave deeds it commemorates.”  And then “… the crowd slumped away through the mud and the water.  The Haymarket Monument was unveiled.”  The statue dedicated that day in May of 1889 has had a nomadic existence.  It was dedicated in the middle of Haymarket Square on Randolph Street, just west of Desplaines Street.  Forty-one years later a streetcar, whose motorman claimed he was sick of looking at the statue, left the tracks and crashed into the monument.  It was patched up and relocated to Union Park.  Then, in 1956, with half of the old market square obliterated by the Kennedy Expressway, the statue was moved back, close to its original location, sitting on a plinth overlooking the highway.  In the turbulence of anti-war protests of 1969 a bomb targeted the statue, breaking over a hundred windows in the neighborhood and spraying pieces of the statue onto the Kennedy Expressway.  It was rebuilt only to be blown up again on October 6, 1970.  Once again the statue was rebuilt, and afterwards given a 24-hour police guard.  In 1972 it was moved to the lobby of the Central Police Headquarters and from there, in 1976 to the Chicago Police Academy.  Today it can be found behind a controlled access fence at Chicago Police Headquarters at 3510 South State Street.  There it was placed on a new pedestal and unveiled by Geraldine Doceka, the great-great granddaughter of Officer Matthias Degan, the officer whose son unveiled the original statue in 1890. The original work was designed by Frank Bathchelder of St. Paul, Minnesota and sculpted by Johannes Galert of New York with funds raised by the Union League Club of Chicago.  It was Galert’s first major commission.  The statue's first location and its present location are shown above.

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