Saturday, July 25, 2020

July 25, 1919 -- Wingfoot Express Tragedy Unfolds at Inquest

July 25, 1919 – In Room 1123 of the county building Coroner Peter M. Hoffman conducts an investigation into the cause of the fire that sent the dirigible Wingfoot Express into a fatal plummet through the skylight of the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank on La Salle Street, setting off a gasoline-fueled conflagration that kills a crew member, two passengers, and ten employees of the bank.  Dramatic testimony comes in the person of the airship’s pilot, John A. Boettner, who testifies that there were no sparks or flames thrown from the engine and that the engines were running when the fire was spotted.  “I discovered the flames near the front of the bag and up above the equator,” Boettner says, “I rose to my feet and holding the wheel with one hand turned and by motions and shouts told the others to jump.  I saw them go over and then the bag buckled.  As the gondola shot forward I took a long dive toward the ground.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 26, 1919]  The above photo shows the skylight  of the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank through which the dirigible fell to the banking floor.

July 25, 1913 – Dr. J. R. Pennington, one of the few surgeons in the city who has operated on a patient who has been administered anesthesia, explains how anesthesia rightfully is “one of the greatest discoveries of the age.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 25, 1913]. “I have seen a patient lying apparently asleep during a serious abdominal operation,” Pennington says.  “His color was natural and when he awoke he felt no pain. He did not suffer during the operation and showed little of the usual unfortunate reaction. The local anesthetic blocks off the wound from the brain centers.”  It had been just a year before that the first medical textbook on the subject was published by anesthesiologist Dr. James Taylor Gwathmey and the chemist Dr. Charles Baskerville.

July 25, 1890 – Choosing two industries that the general populace associates with good times, a Chicago Daily Tribune editorial then puts the candy makers and the soap manufacturers squarely in the spotlight in order to once again rail against the smoke that chokes the city.  “Almost the entire output of a candy factory,” the editorial observes, “is for outside consumption … The furnaces refuse utterly to eat the smoke for which they are directly responsible, and insist on giving it in large and unpalatable doses to the public at large.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 25, 1890] Of the “cakes” of soap manufactured in the city, the paper writes, “They smell so delicious that the little Indian maids under the care of Christian missionary ladies insist on eating them and going dirty.  If the smoke that comes daily from the chimney of a big soap factory jutting on the river near Rush street bridge should get a fair shake at the delicately perfumed packages the young aborigines would get over a bad habit with dispatch.” The smoke that the city’s industries produce is so bad that “Over towards the Adams street bridge a dog in a leading string is necessary for guidance.”  No one is exempt from the critical eye.  Bookbinders and printers “whose chimneys belch out stuff as black as the ink imprints that Guttenberg’s genius made possible.”  Merchants “turn out a tremendous stock every hour of the day, and foist it on their neighbors without money and without price – a practice conducive to mining life and wages in the coal regions.”  The editorial ends with a warning of government’s newfound seriousness concerning the smoke-choked city, “The city authorities will prosecute offending smokers hereafter without the preliminary of a warning.  Warnings in the past have failed of effect, and now the service of summons will be the first intimation received by owners and occupants of buildings that their presence is desirable in court.” 

July 25, 1877 – The Battle of the Viaduct takes place as a mob of over 10,000 people do battle with the police and federal troops at the Halsted Street viaduct over the Chicago River north of Bridgeport. On July 14, a strike begins in Martinsburg, West Virginia when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad cuts workers’ wages for the third time in a year. The strike quickly spreads, bringing violence to cities as far apart as St. Louis and San Francisco.  On this day, it is Chicago’s turn as thousands of men, women and children march on a route that takes them through rail yards and the stockyards and north up Halsted Street to the viaduct that crosses the Chicago River.  On the north side of the bridge the police meet the angry mob and force them back south, firing at the protestors as they flee.  Tempers run high as the rioters, angered at being fired upon while retreating, stop street cars attempting to cross the viaduct.  One car is overturned, and cars that follow “were stopped, the conductors rifled of the contents of their pockets, and the passengers compelled to ‘get up and act’ under various threats.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 25, 1877] Farther up Halsted the gun store of M. J. Pribyl is cleaned out. Reinforcements swell the ranks of the police who are joined by the Second Regiment of the United States Army, and the confrontation turns even more deadly as the police fire at the mob for a half-hour.  Ultimately at least 18 rioters – some estimates place the deaths at 30 -- are killed, over 100 are wounded, and 13 police officers are injured, one fatally. Relative calm returns on the following day, but the event begins a period in the city’s history that will lead to the confrontation at the Haymarket in 1886 and the violence that will come with the Pullman Strike in 1894. 

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