Then and Now, Grand-Chicago

1972--Chicago Avenue @ Grand, view west

1973–Grand Avenue @ Chicago Avenue, view west

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1973 electric trolley buses were in their final days on Grand Avenue.  The coach yards of the Chicago & North Western Railroad were just to the south of here.  The neighborhood was mostly small factories and light industry.

Today Metra operates the coach yards.  The large warehouse behind the trolley bus in the older photo now houses a recording studio and other businesses.  But Joe Boston’s Italian Beef Stand—now decked out in bright green—still feeds hungry patrons at the point of the intersection.




The Gambler, His Wife, and Her Lover (2-21-1907)

Michael Cassius McDonald had spent much of his 67 years staying one jump ahead of the law.  Today his young wife was in the custody of the law.  The charge was murder.

McDonald was Chicago’s gambling king and a Democratic Party king-maker for decades.  But as he grew older, he sought a veneer of respectability.  He moved from the West Side to a mansion on fashionable Drexel Boulevard.  And he shed his first wife in favor of a rabbi’s daughter named Dora Feldman, thirty years his junior.

Mike McDonald (right) greeted by a reporter

Mike McDonald (right) greeted by a reporter

Time passed.  Dora grew bored with her husband.  She took up with a decorative young man a dozen years younger than herself.  His name was Webster Guerin.  He called himself an artist.

About 10 o’clock on this particular morning, Dora arrived at Webster’s studio in a Loop office building.  She seemed agitated.  Webster took her inside one of the rooms to calm her.  There was shouting.  Then a single gunshot.

People came running.  When the door was forced open, Dora was found standing over Webster’s body, screaming.  A pistol lay on the floor.

The police took Dora into custody.  Now the questions began.

Dora Feldman mcDonald

Dora Feldman McDonald

Did Dora murder Webster?  Did she kill him by accident during a struggle?  Did Webster commit suicide?  The gun was Dora’s—and it had been a present from Webster!

Motive?  Was Webster breaking off the affair?  Or was Dora breaking up with Webster?  Dora had given Webster money for years—was it blackmail, to keep their relationship quiet?  How much did Mike McDonald know about his wife’s Cougar play?

Old Mike stood by Dora.  He went with the blackmail story.  Dora had told him she was paying hush-money to someone, but said she could handle it.  Of course, Mike had never dreamed it would turn out this way.

The gambling king used all his influence to delay a trial.  Dora was placed in a private sanitarium.  Then Mike’s health went into decline.  By August he was dead.

McDonald left $25,000 to pay for his wife’s legal defense, a princely sum in 1907.  The money was well spent.  When Dora was brought to trial for murder, it took a jury only five hours to acquit her.

Dora Feldman McDonald eventually left Chicago.  She moved to California, married a doctor, and lived quietly.  She died in 1930.


Kiss of Fire (2-15-1954)

Radio personality Jack Eigen made his name during the 1940s, with celebrity interviews streamed from the Copacabana night club in New York. In 1951 he moved to Chicago and launched a similar show from the Chez Paree.  He also found time to do a late-night TV program over WBKB, the local ABC affiliate.

Eigen’s guest on his February 15, 1954 telecast was Cleo Moore. A 29-year-old native of Louisiana, Moore was described by one writer as a “D-cup B-movie starlet.”  She was in Chicago to promote her latest epic, Bait.

Cleo and Jack

Cleo and Jack

It was the day after Valentine’s Day. The conversation inevitably turned to romance, and kissing.  Some sources say that Eigen asked Moore to “show me how they do it in Hollywood.”  Others say that Eigen suggested, “Let’s go for the record!”  Whatever he said, they started to kiss.

By today’s standards, the kiss was pretty tame. Eigen and Moore were seated in separate chairs.  They kept their hands inactive.  They kept their mouths closed.

What wasn’t tame was the length of the kiss. Eigen and Moore remained in osculation for two minutes—or three minutes, or five minutes, again depending on your source.  Yet another report states that the duo came up for air only because it was time for a commercial.  When they did break, Eigen compared Moore’s kissing skill to his wife’s.

Public response was immediate. Phone calls from irate viewers poured in.  The station’s regular switchboard was closed, so some callers settled for complaining to the all-night traffic department.  Others tracked down station employees at their homes.  The vast majority of the complainants were women.

WBKB’s response was immediate. The next morning, the station vice president sent a telegram to Eigen.  It read:  “Regret to inform you that due to extreme poor taste exhibited in telecast of Monday night in putting on a kissing exhibition that under no circumstances can be considered acceptable television fare in the homes of our viewers, we must terminate your services with the program of Monday, Feb 15.”

Eigen was out of a TV job, but unapologetic. “I have been happily married for 18 years, and my wife knew what I had planned for the program,” he told the Tribune.  “If she had any thought that there was anything unladylike or rude in it, she would have told me.”

Nominated for NO Academy Awards!

Nominated for NO Academy Awards!

Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet labeled the Eigen-Moore incident “The Kiss of Fire.” The story was widely-reported in the national press. Newsweek ran a picture of the pair doing an ex post facto bit of grooming.

In the aftermath, Moore mused that “people don’t ask me for my autograph anymore.” Still, her career remained on its trajectory, with more movies after Bait, and more TV appearances.  She even staged another marathon kiss on a New Orleans radio show.  Cleo Moore eventually married a real estate tycoon, retired from films, and became a Los Angeles socialite.

And the WBKB firing proved to be only a bump in Jack Eigen’s career. He remained a presence in Chicago broadcasting until he moved to Florida in 1971.  He was still doing a radio show there when he died in 1983.


“Bowled Over”

“Bowled Over” is the name of the program I’m presenting for the Glenside Public Library District, on February 28th, 7:00-8:00 PM.  I’ll be talking about bowling history, famous bowlers, and whatever else seems interesting.  The location is the Brunswick Zone Center, 558 North Avenue, Glendale Heights.


Here’s the link to the library’s website—

I am not allowed to sell copies of my books at this free event.  However, I’ll be happy to sign copies of The Bowling Chronicles, On This Day in Chicago History, or any of my books that anybody brings.  And you can always bowl a few games, too.

Hope to see you there!


The Lincoln Centennial (2-12-1909)

Today was the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The current president, Theodore Roosevelt, was marking the occasion at the Lincoln Birthplace in Kentucky. Congress was talking about issuing a new penny to honor Lincoln. There were celebrations throughout the nation.

Here in Chicago, the festivities were elaborate. The city had never been home to a president. But Lincoln had been a lawyer in Springfield, a citizen of Illinois. To older people, he was still fresh in memory—just as John F. Kennedy is to seniors in 2017.

The Tribune views the Lincoln Centennial

The Tribune views the Lincoln Centennial

February 12th was a Friday. The day was proclaimed a state holiday. Schools were closed, and so were government offices. Most businesses shut down. Newspapers printed special Lincoln supplements—the Tribune‘s included a full-page portrait “suitable for framing.”

Ar 10 a.m., the day’s opening ceremony was held at the Auditorium. The featured speaker was Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton University. He said that Lincoln was a true Man of the People. “The man Lincoln had no special gift,” Wilson declared. “He seemed slow of development, waited upon circumstances to quicken him, but always responded, on whatever level the challenge came.”

Auditorium speaker Woodrow Wilson

Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson

The Auditorium meeting closed with a chorus of 300 high school girls singing Civil War songs. Then the audience stood and cheered while the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic marched out of the building.

The day went on, with dozens of events. The First Church of Englewood presented music and lectures. Black Chicagoans met at the Seventh Regiment Armory to hear readings of Lincoln speeches. At Hull House, Jane Addams gave a stereopticon lecture on Lincoln’s life. In Crystal Lake, a mass meeting was addressed by Major Henry Rathbone, whose parents were Lincoln’s theater guests the night of the assassination.

Everyone wanted to get into the act. Lincoln celebrations were staged by the Hungarian Societies of Chicago, the Chicago Women’s Press Club, the Chicago Hebrew Institute, the Catholic Order of Foresters, the Chicago Veteran Druggists Association, the National Good Roads Congress—and so on, and so on.

The largest gathering came at the end of the day. Over 10,000 people jammed into the Dexter Park Pavilion, next door to the Stock Yards. They listened to speeches, they sang, they shouted—“they gave vent to their patriotism,” the Tribune said.

The Lincoln Centennial closed, and Chicago returned to normal. Four years and one month later, Auditorium headliner Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as President of the United States.


Deep Freeze Woman (2-8-1951)

The temperature in Chicago was —11 in the early morning hours today.  That’s when two policemen found the frozen body in a gangway at 3108 South Vernon Avenue.

The body was that of a young woman.  Later she would be identified as Dorothy Mae Stevens, age 23.  Her skin was cold as metal, her eyeballs like crystal, her jaw and legs stiff.  The two cops bundled her in blankets, and took her to Michael Reese Hospital for a post-mortem.

At the hospital, one of the staff heard a groan.  Stevens was still alive.

Dorothy Stevens

Dorothy Mae Stevens

Her body temperature had dropped to 64 degrees, more than 30 degrees below normal.  She was breathing at about four breaths per minute.  Her blood pressure read zero.

Nobody had ever survived in such condition, so the doctors weren’t sure what to do.  They decided to give Stevens blood plasma and the new wonder drug, cortisone.  Raising the patient’s body temperature too quickly might be dangerous.  So Stevens was put in a refrigerated room and gradually thawed out.

By evening Stevens’s body temperature read 80 degrees.  She was able to tell her story.  After drinking all day, she had passed out.  She had been lying in the gangway about eight hours.  “It was either God that saved me, or I’m the daughter of Dracula,” she said.

Doctors could only speculate why Stevens had not died.  Reporters thought it was all the booze she had drunk—the alcohol acted like anti-freeze in a car’s gas line.  That was too simple an explanation for Dr. Harold Laufman, the physician in charge.

“Alcohol may have dilated various blood vessels, making the chilling process much faster,” Laufman said.  “Fast chilling is known not to be quite so harmful as slow chilling.”  The doctor conceded that the alcohol probably did lessen the pain Stevens felt.

Stevens had a long, difficult recovery.  Complications developed, and both her legs had to be amputated.  She also lost nine of her fingers.  Meanwhile, her remarkable story had become national news.

She finally went home from the hospital in June.  By then Stevens could joke about her ordeal.  “I’ll never be able to eat frozen food again,” she said.

Dorothy Mae Stevens lived another 23 years, dying in 1974.


Then and Now, Ewing-100th

1907--Ewing Avenue @ 100th Street, view north

1907–Ewing Avenue @ 100th Street, view north

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

The first railroad lines from the east reached Chicago during the 1850s.  A station was established at what’s now Ewing Avenue and 100th Street, and settlement grew up around it.  By 1907 the neighborhood was known as East Side.  Part of the grade-level railroad crossing is visible in the lower-left corner of the older photograph.

Today the railroad tracks cross Ewing on a viaduct—which accounts for the dip in the street in the newer photo.  Though commuter trains no longer stop here, businesses still line the street.  For many years wrestling champion (and local man) Edward “Moose” Cholak owned a tavern on this block.