Your City Council at Work (2-19-1894)

Today Chicagoans were given a lesson on how their city council did business.  The story in the Chicago Record didn’t read like any civics textbook.

In 1894 Chicago had 35 wards, each represented by two aldermen.  The aldermen served two-year terms.  Their pay was $150 a year.

(That $150 is equivalent to about $3,700 today.  To convert 1894-dollars into 2018-dollars, multiply by 25.)


According to the Record, most of the aldermen could be bribed.  The paper did say there were some honest men in the council.  There had even been times when the honest aldermen were in the majority.  That was not the case in 1894.

Anybody who needed some kind of business permit had to pay bribes.  There was a definite price schedule.  If a coal company wanted to build a track-connection to a freight railroad, it cost $1,000.  For the same track, a brewery had to fork over $2,500—because a brewery made more money than a coal company. But the aldermen got their largest payoffs from granting city franchises.

A franchise was a legal monopoly.  They went to transit carriers or utilities.  Since any company that held a city franchise earned big bucks, the bribes were stupendous.  A few years before, when a certain railroad franchise was up for renewal, four aldermen had collected $25,000 each.

If you were going to pay bribes, you had to pay each alderman individually.  That way there were no witnesses.  Of course, with forty or so men in on the deal, that took some time and effort.


One businessman came up with a more efficient method.  He left packages of currency marked “$1,000” in the men’s washroom at City Hall.  Then, one by one, each alderman would come in to pick up his share of the loot.

The system worked until an innocent citizen wondered into the washroom.  The man found one of the discarded “$1,000” wrappers on the floor.  He chased down the alderman who had just left, gave the alderman the wrapper, and said “You lost something.”

The alderman laughed and said “Thank you.”  Then he tore up the evidence.

The Chicago Record expose gained considerable attention.  It also led to permanent reform.  From that day to this, there has never been another case of a Chicago alderman accepting a bribe in a public washroom.



The Great Chicago Statue Quiz #4—Answers

(1) WHO is this?  James Connolly (1868-1916)

(2) WHERE is this? 1550 W. Warren Blvd. (Union Park) 

(3) WHY does this person deserve a statue?  Irish Labor Leader

The Great Chicago Statue Quiz #4

(1) WHO is this?

(2) WHERE is this?

(3) WHY does this person deserve a statue?


Then and Now, Western-Cullerton

1955–Western Avenue @ Cullerton Street, view north

2017–the same location

Our view is from the ‘L’ platform on the Douglas Park (Pink) line.  In 1920 the city council renamed 20th Street after the recently-deceased alderman “Foxy Ed” Cullerton, founding father of what has become Chicago’s longest-running political dynasty.

Notice that the streetcar tracks in the older photo are off-center.  When Western Avenue was widened to four lanes during the 1920s, in most places the tracks were moved.  Here they remained in their original location, resulting in unbalanced traffic lanes.  Today, no more problem!



South Side Masonic Temple

“If a single building symbolizes Englewood, that would be the South Side Masonic Temple, at 64th and Green. It has been abandoned for years, and several attempts at adaptive re-use have failed. Its future is uncertain. Yet even with broken windows and falling bricks, the temple is an impressive reminder of past glory. Will it be brought back to life? Will Englewood be brought back to life?”

I wrote those words when I was blogging at WBEZ in 2012.  Last week I happened to be in Englewood and came across this sight—

Built in 1921, the temple was abandoned in the 1980s.  Preservation Chicago had it on the “endangered” list for perhaps a decade.  Now we’ve lost another bit of our history and our culture.

I don’t know what is planned for the southwest corner of 64th and Green Streets.  Here’s hoping it will be something worthwhile.


The Miracle Man (2-5-1923)

The announcement appeared on the entertainment page of the Tribune, just below the ad for the Four Marx Brothers.  Emile Coue would be presenting a lecture at Orchestra Hall.  The Miracle Man was coming to Chicago!
Coue was a 65-year-old French pharmacist.  In the course of his business, he had made a startling discovery–patients responded better when he praised their medicine.  He concluded that their imagination was the reason.  It all had to do with thinking positive thoughts.

Coue claimed any person could develop this power.  He called his method autosuggestion, and it was easy.  Just keep repeating a simple phrase—“Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”  The unconscious would do the rest.  You could transform your health, your life, everything!

Now Coue was touring the United States.  He was describing his system to vast audiences, selling his books, setting up Coue Institutes to promote autosuggestion.  Rumors circulated that he had even cured people of physical ailments.

His Chicago appearances did not disappoint.  Each session at Orchestra Hall was packed with 3,000 people.  At the conclusion of his final lecture, Coue approached a group of five crippled people.  One by one, he put his hands on their legs, and mumbled.  Then he shouted the command—“Now walk!  You’re better!  You’re cured!”

The five cripples dropped their canes and crutches.  They took tottering steps forward.  They walked.

The audience exploded in cheers.  Coue remained calm.  He again declared he was not a healer, only a teacher.  “I teach people to cure themselves,” he said.  “It is not a miracle.”  These people had not really been crippled.  They’d merely had “psychic paralysis.”

Coue moved on from Chicago, then returned to France.  The next year he made a second American tour.  He died in 1926.  In more recent times, his ideas on positive thinking have influenced such luminaries as Norman Vincent Peale and W. Clement Stone.

Autosuggestion itself turned out to be a fad.  Even before Coue’s death, there were jokes about it.

One of them concerned a woman who sought Coue’s help.  She told Coue her husband always thought he was sick and was always complaining.  Coue told the woman to go home and have the husband repeat the “day-by-day” phrase.

A few days later the woman returned.  Coue asked if the autosuggestion had worked.  The woman shook her head.  “Now my husband is worse,” she said.  “Now he thinks he’s dead.”


Gun-Free (2-1-1982)

The eyes of the world were on Morton Grove.  The quiet northern suburb had just completed its first day under the most restrictive handgun law in America.

The story had begun in 1980, when someone applied for a license to open a gun store in the village.  The matter went to the Board of Trustees.  In June 1981 the Board passed an ordinance banning gun sales.  While they were at it, they also approved a measure outlawing the possession of handguns.

Of course, the U.S. Constitution said that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  The Board knew that the law would be challenged.  So the Morton Grove police were instructed to hold any surrendered guns for five years, in case the law were overturned.
The lawsuits came.  The original enforcement date—September 6, 1981—was postponed.  In December the U.S. District Court upheld the ban.  The Board then announced that the law would go into effect on February 1, 1982.

On the morning of the big day, reporters, photographers, and TV news crews staked out the Village Hall police station.  At 8:15 a resident came in with three rusty handguns in a shopping bag.  He’d wanted to get rid of the guns for a long time, but didn’t know how to go about it.

A few minutes later, a second man came in.  He was surrendering a .22-caliber pistol.  “This would be your Saturday night special,” an official helpfully told the reporters.


The day went on.  The news people waited.  In the middle of the afternoon, a third man appeared.  He dropped off a small-caliber pistol and some ammo.

One of the reporters asked the deputy police chief how future violations would be treated.  “We would hand out an ordinance ticket, just like a parking violation,” the chief said.  The weapon would also be confiscated.

The Village Hall closed at 5 p.m.  A total of five guns had been collected.

The mayor of Morton Grove had been following the news coverage on TV.  He said he wasn’t disappointed by the small number of guns.  “It’s a drop in the bucket,” he conceded.  “[But] who the heck can tell how many guns there are?”

Because of later court decisions, Morton Grove repealed much of its handgun ban in 2008.