Monday, August 17, 2020

August 17, 1978 -- Michigan Avenue German Consulate Under Siege

August 17, 1978 – The Vice-Consul at the West German Consulate office at 104 South Michigan Avenue is held hostage for ten hours before he is freed by two Croatian terrorists.  The ordeal begins innocently enough when Werner Ickstadt receives a call from the switchboard operator that a Croatian desires an appointment.  Ickstadt leaves his desk to greet the visitor, but instead finds two men one of whom “entered, pushed me aside and pulled a pistol out.”  [Chicago Tribune, August 18, 1978].  Some staff members are able to leave as Ickstadt shouts a warning.  A second man enters with what he says is a bomb in his right hand, saying that he only has to touch two wires together and the building will blow up.  The two intruders assure Ickstadt that nothing will happen to him … they just want him to call the West German government and see that a Croatian nationalist imprisoned in Germany is set free.  At this point there are seven hostages in Ickstadt’s office, but he is able to convince his captors to release an 82-year-old Chicago lawyer and the 17-year-old daughter of the German Consul General.  The two men allow their captives to call family members, pass out cigarettes, order coffee, and even shell out ten bucks for food.  Throughout the ordeal negotiations are conducted which pay off toward evening when the brother of the German prisoner, who happens to be in Chicago, convinces the two men to surrender.  Icstadt sums up the day’s events by saying, “It makes you feel good when you have people from the country where you are a guest try to do everything to assist you.  Makes you feel very good.”  Hero of the day is Deputy Police Superintendent Victor Vrdolyak, who finds himself chief negotiator when officials learn that he speaks Croatian.  He says, “Since he wouldn’t let me near the office, I sat in a chair and had a lot of small talk with him in Croatian.  I asked about his family, where he was from – anything I could think of.  I kept my hands visible at all times.”  [Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1978].  On August 25 a federal grand jury indicts Bozo Kelava, 35, and Mile Dodzman, 31, charging that they “seized, confined, kidnaped, and held for ransom” [Chicago Tribune, august 26, 1978] four people in a 10-hour, 20-minute takeover.  Bond is set at one million dollars for each man.  The Holabird and Roche- designed Monroe Building, pictured above, is where the tense day's events took place.

August 17, 1982 – Preliminary plans for transforming Goldblatt’s closed store on State Street into the Chicago Public Library are unveiled at the Library Board of Director’s meeting.  City architect Joseph Casserly declares that a plaza at the Jackson Street entrance to the building is part of “a design that will give a new, highly imaginative identity to the building.” [Chicago Tribune, August 18, 1982] The plan also has the city demolishing the Kee Department Store on the corner of Jackson Boulevard and State Street, thereby making a Jackson Boulevard entrance to the library feasible.  It is anticipated that the main library will begin moving its collection into the renovated department store sometime in January of 1984.  The top photo shows an artist's rendering of what the converted department store would look like once it becomes the new main library.  The photo below that shows how close the new library on State Street south of Van Buren is to the proposed Goldblatt's conversion.

August 17, 1976 – A sniper opens fire on a crowd in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, wounding two people.  Witnesses say that as many as five shots may have been fired from an elevated sidewalk across the street in Grant Park.  William Charnota, an elevator starter at the hotel at 720 South Michigan Avenue, is grazed in the back of the leg by a bullet, and a minister from San Diego, in town for the Convention of the International Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, is wounded in the hip.  The minister’s wife says, “I wasn’t too keen on coming here in the first place.  I’ve heard all about Chicago and unfortunately it all came true, too true for me.”  Charnota says, “Everybody was falling down, hitting the sidewalk.  When you see all that, you know it’s not just firecrackers. It was pretty crowded.  I guess he figured he had a good target.  It happened in seconds.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, August 18, 1976] Although a witness describes the assailant to police, darkness and confusion allow the gunman to escape.  In the above Chicago Tribune photo, police search the area in Grant Park across the street from the Conrad Hilton Hotel.

August 17, 1950 – A homeless Navy veteran, James Wagster, 45, leaps into the Chicago River from the Lake Shore Drive Bridge, setting in motion a remarkable series of events that ultimately saves him from death.  Birdell Grant, 28, comes upon Wagster as he stands on the bridge, looking down at the water.  Grant, just released from the prison at Statesville and having been rejected for jobs at 25 places, asks Wagster for directions to an office where he can apply for work as a stevedore.  Wagster’s answer is a question . . . he asks Grant if he has a drink on him.  When Grant replies that he does not, Wagster announces that he is going to get one and jumps from the bridge.  Grant, who suffers from a bone ailment for which he has undergone five operations, makes his way down the bridge stairs to the water’s edge, removing his shirt and shoes on the way, and jumps into the water, suffering cramps just as he reaches Wagster.  Two passing motorists hear the commotion and they, too, jump in the water and swim 60 yards to the two men.  By that time the two bridge tenders, Jack Northrup and Leo Loughran, toss life preservers to the men and a Coast Guard boat arrives to help all four men ashore.  In his efforts Grant loses his last 15 cents;  one of the bridge tenders gives him money for his transportation back home.  Wearing only shorts and wrapped in a police blanket, Wagster, when asked in South State Street Court why he had jumped, tells the judge, “Judge, I must be crazy.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, August 17, 1950]

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