Civil War at St. Hedwig (2-9-1895)

Like the flag of Poland, there was white and red.  Blood was on the snow outside St. Hedwig church—and a bit of red pepper.

St. Hedwig parish had been founded in 1888 to serve Polish Catholics in Bucktown.  The pastor was Rev. Joseph Barzynski.  He was a member of a religious order—the Congregation of the Resurrection, or Resurrectionists.

Now, in the early months of 1895, the parish was engulfed in civil war.  One faction supported the pastor.  The other side had gathered around Rev. Anthony Kozlowski, the young assistant who’d recently arrived from Poland.  Kozlowski was not a Resurrectionist.

Depending on which side you listened to, there were many reasons for the conflict.  Was Kozlowski attempting a power-play to become pastor?  Were the Resurrectionists too autocratic?  Was someone stealing money from the St. Hedwig treasury?  What role should lay people play in a parish?  Who should hold title to parish property?

The original St. Hedwig's Church

The original St. Hedwig’s Church

A majority of the parishioners backed Kozlowski.  There were protests at Sunday Mass.  The police placed guards at the church.  On the evening of February 7, the situation turned violent.

About 3,000 people, mostly women, tried to storm the parish rectory.  The pastor and his new assistant barricaded themselves inside.  The police guard called for backup.

The crowd charged.  They swung clubs, and tried to throw red pepper into the cops’ eyes.  Gunshots were fired.  A few people were injured.  The police held the line.

The backup cops arrived and the crowd dispersed.  A larger police detail was assigned to the property.  Archbishop Feehan ordered the church temporarily shut down.

If the archbishop hoped the “time out” would cool tempers, he was wrong.  More protests were staged.  A new pastor was appointed and the church reopened.  Kozlowski’s supporters got a court injunction blocking the action.

Anthony Kozlowski (far left, standing) as a bishop, 1900

Anthony Kozlowski (far left, standing) as a bishop, 1900

That summer Kozlowski founded All Saints parish a few blocks from St. Hedwig.  About 1,000 families followed him, while 300 families remained at St. Hedwig.  In response, Archbishop Feehan formally excommunicated Kozlowski.

The Kozlowski group affiliated with the Old Catholic Church (now known as the Polish National Catholic Church).  This church has no connection with the Roman Catholic Church or the papacy.  Kozlowski became a bishop.  Today his congregation worships at All Saints Cathedral near Rosemont.

St. Hedwig eventually reopened as a Roman Catholic parish.  Today the church continues to operate with a Resurrectionist pastor.



The Politics of Snow Removal

Time for a snow story.  And a bit of political scandal.

In 2016, city snow removal is fairly routine—send out the snow plows!  But a century ago, cars and trucks and motor vehicles were rare.  And Chicago already had 2 million people.  How did they get rid of the snow?

If a street had a streetcar line down the middle, you could attach a plow to the front of a work car, run it down the tracks, and clear a path that way.  But there was still snow piled up on either side of the tracks.  And most streets didn’t have tracks to operate those plows.

12-15--snow streetcar.jpg

Well, how did you get rid of snow before you had your Toro?  Right—you shoveled it!  Before there were motorized snow plows, men with shovels had to clear most of Chicago’s streets.  And how was that handled in our fair city?

Let’s look at a story from the Tribune of December 16, 1907.

Chicago was just getting through a major snowstorm.  Clearing the streets of the First Ward—downtown—was a priority.  The ward superintendent had hired 312 day laborers to remove the snow.  Their job was to shovel the snow up into the back of horse-drawn wagons.

Once the wagon was full, the teamster would drive the wagon to the end of Van Buren Street, then dump the snow into the lake.  The wagons were also hired on a daily basis.  They were paid for each trip they made.

That was the problem.  The drivers were “nursing their work along.”  Instead of dumping all their snow into the lake, they were coming back to the job site with part of the load still in the wagon.  They’d have to make more trips, and get paid more money.


By afternoon the drivers were becoming bolder.  One person noticed that every fourth wagon returning from the lake was piled with snow—the drivers weren’t bothering to dump any of it.  They were just driving up and down Van Buren.

The situation was reported to Mayor Fred Busse.  “I’ll look into it as soon as I can get in touch with the ward superintendent,” the mayor said.  “They ought to have an inspector for those wagons.”

That was the snow scandal of 1907.  Today we have more modern methods of snow removal, and are assured that full-time city workers always give us an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.


Then and Now, 18th-Clark

1948--18th Street @ Clark, view east

1948–18th Street @ Clark, view east

2015--the same location

2015–the same location

By the time the older photo was taken in 1948, the once thickly-settled neighborhood around 18th and Clark had evolved from residential to industrial.  Even though most of the local population had left, Old St. John’s Catholic Church still stood proudly on the northeast corner of the intersection, as it had since 1881.

Old St. John’s closed in 1962 and was demolished soon thereafter.  Seven years later, the ‘L’ along 18th Street was built to give trains on the new Dan Ryan route access to the Loop—though now the structure is used mainly for the Orange Line to Midway.  Meanwhile, several commercial and residential developments have brought new life to the area.




Up into the Air (1-29-1857)

The ad appeared in the Tribune.  James Hollingworth was prepared to move or raise your building.  In 1857 Chicago, that was a booming business.

1-29--Raising Streets 1.jpg

The city had been built on marshy ground near the lake.  As the population grew, this became a public health problem.  Cholera outbreaks were frequent.  In 1854 alone, the disease wiped out 1 in 20 Chicagoans.

City officials decided to construct a sewer system—that would take care of the deadly waste.  Drainage would be difficult, since Chicago sat only a few feet above Lake Michigan.  There were two options: (A) abandon all of downtown and start over on higher ground, or (B) jack up all the buildings where they were.

The city chose “B”.

Starting in 1856, Chicago raised itself out of the mud.  Buildings were jacked up as much as fourteen feet, and new foundations put under them.  Then the sewers were constructed on top of the old street level.  When the sewers were completed, they were covered over and the land filled in to meet the new level of the buildings.  The last step was paving new streets on top of the fill.

1-29--Raising Streets 2.jpg

As mentioned, many people went into the building-raising business.  One of the most successful entrepreneurs was a young cabinet maker named George Pullman.

Pullman contracted to raise an entire block on Lake Street at the same time.  He had 6,000 jackscrews put under the buildings, and hired 600 men to take charge of ten jacks each.  On the signal, each man turned the screws on his ten jacks one notch.  The building went up a fraction of an inch.

This process was repeated again and again over four days.  Meanwhile, temporary timbers were placed under the buildings and new foundations constructed.  Then the buildings were lowered into place.  All this was smoothly done, while business inside the buildings went on as usual.

Sometimes putting a new foundation under a building wasn’t practical.  In that case, you hired a moving company.  They would put wooden logs under your structure and roll it to a new lot.  Chicagoans got used to the sight of buildings slowly advancing down the middle of the street.

Raising the city took nearly twenty years.  In the end, Chicago had the most modern sewer system in the world, and public health was much better.



A 102-Year Legal Tangle (1-28-1836)

The blocks between 83rd and 87th Streets, from Cottage Grove west to St. Lawrence, are subtly different from the surrounding neighborhood. The reason is a convoluted property-title mess that dragged on for over a century.

"subtly different from the surrounding area"

“subtly different from the surrounding neighborhood”

In 1836 Chicago was a community of a few thousand people gathered around Fort Dearborn. But speculators saw a bright future, and were buying land—even ten miles out on the open prairie.

On January 28 John L. Wilson purchased the 80-acre property mentioned above from the federal government. He paid the established price of $1.25 per acre. Five days later, Wilson sold the property to Charles Pettit for $3 an acre. For an initial investment of $100, Wilson now pocketed $240.

It’s not known whether Wilson had even seen the land he’d flipped. His agent, Isaac Palmer, had actually carried out the purchase with Wilson’s money.

Meanwhile, speculation was running wild. Six months after buying the land from Wilson, Pettit mortgaged it for $3,000, which he soon paid back. In October, Pettit took out a new mortgage for $1,500.

Then the bubble burst. The so-called Panic of 1837 was America’s first great depression. Land prices plummeted. Pettit couldn’t pay back the $1,500, and his creditor foreclosed.

Chatham Park Co-op (2015)

Now things get tangled. Pettit’s creditor foreclosed on the wrong mortgage—the earlier $3,000 loan which had been retired. Meanwhile, the government finally got around to issuing a land patent on the original sale. Trouble was, the land patent was in the name of Palmer the agent, and not Wilson, who’d provided the money.

The property was so remote—and the value so depressed—that nobody paid much attention to it for nearly 40 years. Then, in 1875, Isaac Palmer discovered that the original land patent had been issued in his name by mistake. He decided to cash in on it.

Janet Fairbank

Janet Fairbank

So now the matter went to the Superior Court of Cook County. By the time the Illinois Supreme Court got the case, the City of Chicago was involved, as well as the successors to Wilson and Palmer. In 1887 the Supreme Court ruled that the Wilson successors had legal title to the property. The City of Chicago also had a valid mortgage of $1,500 against it, with 10% annual interest dating back to the unpaid October 1836 mortgage.

Except there was  yet another complication—most land records had been lost in the 1871 Chicago Fire. The further details of the dispute don’t need to be elaborated here, except to say that many lawyers were kept busy over the next fifty years, with the 80-acre plot remaining vacant while the rest of the area was built up.

On August 4, 1939 the drama ended. Compound interest over 102 years had ballooned the defaulted $1,500 mortgage to $34,755,000. Because of all the mistakes various governments had made over the years, Janet Fairbank—the last holder in the chain of title from original patentee John L. Wilson—was allowed to settle the debt and have clear title to the property on payment of $30,000.

The next year, the old Wilson land at 83rd and Cottage Grove was finally opened for development.


Katie and Howard (1-21-1937)

The Ambassador East was hosting two of America’s A-list celebrities.  The question on everyone’s mind was—would Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes get married in Chicago?Poster

At 29, Hepburn had already won an Oscar as Best Actress.  She was in town appearing in a stage version of “Jane Eyre.”  Hughes was a dashing 30-year-old oil millionaire who had become a Hollywood producer.  He was also a famous aviator.

On January 19, Hughes broke his own speed record by flying from Los Angeles to New York in 7 hours, 28 minutes.  Then he flew to Chicago and checked into Hepburn’s hotel.  He got a separate room, three floors away.  That’s the way things were done in 1937.

The wedding rumors immediately started.  County Clerk Michael Flynn helped the story by announcing he was ready to personally issue a marriage license to Katie and Howard.  When the County Building opened for business on January 21, a crowd had already gathered, hoping to catch a glimpse of the happy couple.

By mid-day, over 3,000 people clogged the corridors.  Many in the throng were County employees who had abandoned their offices to join the stake-out.  The few couples who came to get their own marriage licenses had trouble getting through the mob.

Closing time arrived.  Hepburn and Hughes still hadn’t shown up.  Now attention shifted to the Ambassador East, where photographers and hundreds more fans kept vigil.  Hepburn finally emerged and left for the theater, without Hughes.  The paparazzi followed.

After the performance, Hepburn tried to avoid her pursuers with a decoy—she dressed her maid in a mink jacket and slacks, and sent the woman off in a cab.  The trick didn’t work.  When the actress did leave, the press was still on her tail.

Hepburn returned to the hotel at 3 a.m., accompanied by her co-star.  When one waiting photographer snapped a picture, the escort stepped forward and smashed the camera.  Meanwhile, Hughes remained out of sight.

Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes never did get married, in Chicago or anyplace else.  They eventually went their separate ways.  Hughes became a billionaire and died an eccentric recluse in 1976.  Hepburn won three more Oscars and lived to be 96.

As a postscript, Cate Blanchett won an Academy Award for portraying Hepburn in the 2004 Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator.  So, does that count as a fifth Oscar for Katie H?






Chicago’s Vampires of the Road (1-18-1923)

The news in Chicago today was about vampires.  No, not that kind.

Language can evolve in ninety years.  In 1923 newspapers called reckless drivers “auto vampires.”

Cars were just beginning to crowd the city then.  Traffic laws were primitive, and drivers were usually careless.  At the same time, most pedestrians were still pretty casual about wandering into the street whenever they felt like it.


So a person would be walking along, minding his own business.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, an auto would appear, run him down, and speed away while the victim lie bleeding on the pavement.  The auto was like a vampire—attacking without warning and sucking the blood out of innocent people.

There was also something called an “auto vamp.”  The phrase derived from actress Theda Bara, known as The Vamp.  In her films, Bara’s character operated like Dracula.  She seduced male admirers through her evil charms, making them helpless slaves to her every whim.

The Vamp

The Chicago auto vamp was an attractive young woman who would hitchhike along the city’s boulevards.  If a prosperous-looking man picked her up, she’d accept the ride, then threaten to inform his wife that he had made “advances.”  More than one man paid the blackmail.

Last August, the police had arrested 21-year-old Jeane Miller as the alleged auto vamp.  She had jumped bail.  Now, on this evening in January, an insurance adjuster recognized Miller on Oak Street.  He told her to get into his car so he could drive her to the police station

At this point, a second man happened along.  He thought Miller was being kidnapped.  He wrestled her away from the adjuster, and together they escaped in the second man’s car.  They headed east on Oak at better than 50 miles-an-hour.

The adjuster jumped back into his car and drove off after them.  A motorcycle cop saw the speeding cars and followed.  The chase ended at Lake Shore Drive.  The two men emerged from their cars and began arguing about Miller.  A crowd gathered.  There was much shouting.

The cop forced his way through the mob.  He told everyone that matters would be sorted out back at the police station.  There Miller was placed under arrest for bond forfeiture.  The two men involved swore out complaints against each other.

The lessons to be learned here are two—

(1) Look both ways when you cross the street.

(2) Don’t pick up hitchhikers.  Especially if they look like Theda Bara.




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