Solving Airport Congestion (9-23-1991)

O’Hare International Airport was plagued by flight delays.  On this date, solutions to the problem were being debated.

Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley wanted to expand O’Hare.  Now a Schaumburg-based business group had come out in favor of at least one new airport runway.  This brought renewed opposition from the Suburban O’Hare Commission (SOC), an alliance of a dozen municipalities east of Schaumburg.  They feared increased noise and pollution in their communities.

Municipal (Midway) Airport--1948

Municipal (Midway) Airport–1948

Everyone seemed to agree that those delays at O’Hare were intolerable.  Maybe the answer wasn’t about making the current facility bigger.  Maybe Chicago needed another airport, to go with O’Hare and Midway.  But where to put it?

Some people suggested using rural land in a place like Peotone.  Others wanted to expand the little-used Gary Regional Airport.  Mayor Daley had floated a proposal to clear an area within the Chicago city limits, near Lake Calumet.

Each of those sites had drawbacks.  Peotone was far out in the country.  Gary Regional was located in Indiana–that meant revenues would have to be shared with another state.  Building near Lake Calumet would involve uprooting hundreds of businesses and thousands of people.

Aside from a few Indiana officials, nobody seemed interested in Gary Regional.   Within Chicago itself, various business, labor, and community organizations were speaking out in favor of a Lake Calumet airport.  They felt that site made the most sense.  Nobody would travel all the way to Peotone to catch a plane.

For their part, SOC favored Peotone.  A facility there would bring economic development to an area that needed it.  SOC said a Lake Calumet airport might take 25 years to build.  In the meantime, pressure would grow to expand O’Hare.  That was something they could not allow.

Original O'Hare Airport Plan--1948

Original O’Hare Airport Plan–1948

Governor Jim Edgar had blocked any new O’Hare runways.  But suburban officials were afraid he was wavering.  “So far he’s been steadfast, saying he won’t agree to an expansion of O’Hare unless the suburbs go along with it,” observed Elk Grove Village president Charles Zattek. “I’m sure they’re bringing pressure on Governor Edgar to change his stance.”

As matters developed, the third airport was never built, not at Lake Calumet nor at Peotone.  Edgar continued to oppose O’Hare expansion until he left office in 1998.  In 2008, O’Hare began adding new runways.


Then and Now, Wacker-Jackson

1937--Market Street (Wacker Drive) @ Jackson, view north

1937–Market Street (Wacker Drive) @ Jackson, view north

2015--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1937 the first downtown street east of the Chicago River was still Market Street, a narrow thoroughfare of no particular interest.  The only tall building along Market was the Civic Opera House, visible in the distance at Madison Street.

Market Street was widened and double-decked in the early 1950s, becoming the north-south portion of Wacker Drive.  The Civic Opera House is now only one of several tall buildings along Wacker, including the onetime tallest-in-the-world, the onetime Sears Tower.


Fanny Dumps Her Man (9-13-1927)

It was over.  Fanny Brice was in Chicago, and she was divorcing Nicky Arnstein.

Brice was the beloved musical comedy star of Broadway’s Ziegfeld Follies.  Arnstein was a charming, 6’6″ gambler and con man.  The unlikely couple had married in 1918.9-13--my%20man

Then Nicky had gone to prison for a stock swindle.  During the years her husband was a guest of the government, Fanny closed her shows singing a ballad about a woman who knows she loves a louse, but still won’t get rid of him.  The song was titled “My Man.”

Things had gone bad after Nicky was released.  Fanny became suspicious, and had him followed when he made a trip to Chicago.  The detective confirmed it–Nicky was having an affair.

So now Fanny was in the courtroom of Judge Otto Kerner Sr.  She said her marriage had started to fall apart when she got plastic surgery to straighten her nose.  Nicky didn’t like the change.

Freudian pop-psychology was being used to explain everything in 1927.  Fanny’s lawyer told the judge that Nicky had first become attracted to Fanny because she resembled his mother.  After Fanny had her nose job, Nicky’s lost interest in her.  Nicky had something called an Oedipus Complex.9-13--nicky

Fanny was asked why she wanted a divorce now, after she had stood by her man all the years he was in prison.  “I don’t like to talk about it much,” she said.  “But I’m doing this for both of us.  I’m really giving him a chance to come back.”

As for alimony, Fanny said she was earning enough money to support their two small children.  The judge asked if she might have trouble getting future work.  “Who can tell?” she laughed.  “The fickle public!”

Nicky did not appear in court.  After being served papers in a North Side restaurant, he issued a statement saying he would not contest the divorce.  He still loved Fanny, and would not stand in her way.  Nicky then left town, for parts unknown.

Judge Kerner granted the divorce, and the marriage was officially over.

9-13--shariff and streisand.jpg

Fanny Brice resumed her Broadway career, and later became a successful radio comedienne.  She died in 1951.  Nicky Arnstein outlived her by 14 years, and managed to stay out of further trouble.

Funny Girl, a 1964 musical based on the story of Fanny and Nicky, made 21-year-old Barbra Streisand an overnight star.  It was later made into a movie.


Chicago’s Really-Forgotten Pro Football Team

NFL opening day!  You may have heard about Chicago’s forgotten pro football team, the Cardinals.  But let’s go back seventy years, and talk about the city’s really forgotten team.

Arch Ward

Arch Ward

The year was 1946. World War II had ended, and golden times were ahead.  Though baseball was still the national pastime, football was the up-and-coming sport. Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward was convinced there was room for a second pro league to challenge the existing National Football League.  He eventually found enough interested entrepreneurs to launch a new eight-team league called the All American Football Conference.

The Chicago franchise in the new league was awarded to Jack Keeshin, a trucking executive who’d failed in a bid to buy the White Sox. The city already had two NFL teams, the Bears and the Cardinals.  But the Cardinals were underfinanced, and had been forced to merge with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the war.  Keeshin thought he could drive them out of town.

Chicago Rockets Program

Chicago Rockets Program

Naturally, Ward’s Tribune gave the AAFC wide publicity.  Stories were leaked that the Rockets would sign Sid Luckman and other Bears stars.  The team announced it would play in Soldier Field, which wasn’t being used for much of anything in 1946 and had 100,000 seats to accommodate the expected crowds.

Then things began to go wrong for the Rockets. In a pre-season practice rookie halfback Bill McArthur fractured his leg.  Complications developed, and the leg had to be amputated.  Meanwhile, most of the top-level players preferred to stick with the NFL.  The Rockets were unable to recruit Luckman or any other big names.

The Rockets opened at home against the Cleveland Browns on September 13 and lost, 20-6. After a tie the next week, the team ran off two straight wins, before descending into mediocrity.  The season ended with the Chicago Rockets at the bottom of the AAFC Western Division, with a record of 5-6-3.

Trying to find a winning formula, Jack Keeshin had gone through five head coaches. At the end of the season he bailed.  AAFC commissioner Jim Crowley stepped down and took over as head of the new ownership.

Crazylegs Hirsch, in better days in L.A.

Crazylegs Hirsch in L.A.

The 1947 Rockets were even worse than the previous season. They lost their first ten games, eked out a victory, then dropped three more for a 1-13 record and another basement finish.  Meanwhile, across town, the Cardinals won the NFL championship.  Even if the Rockets had fielded a super-team, they wouldn’t be driving out the Cardinals any time soon.

The Rockets continued their losing ways in 1948, with another 1-13 record and their customary spot at the bottom of the standings. On September 26, halfback Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch was kicked in the head during a game, putting him out of action with a fractured skull.  Hirsch was the team’s one marquee player.  With Crazylegs gone, there was little reason left for fans to freeze at Soldier Field while watching the Rockets lose.

For 1949, the team changed its name to the Chicago Hornets. Legendary NFL coach Ray Flaherty was hired.  The team’s record improved to 4-8, but still landed in last place for the fourth straight year.  After the season was over, the NFL and AAFC finally ended their war, and the Chicago Hornets (aka Rockets) disbanded.


Buy Bonds! (9-9-1943)

Chicago on this date in 1943 . . .

America had been fighting World War II for nearly two years.  Now the U.S. government was launching its latest war bond drive.

It began at noon, with a fly-over of planes from the Glenview Naval Air Station. As the planes thundered over the Loop, the city responded.  Anything that could make noises was sounded.  Air raid sirens shrieked, factory whistles blew, church bells rang.  Drivers pulled their cars to the curb and leaned on their horns.  Pedestrians yelled their lungs out.

Repainted streetcar promoting war bonds at Halsted and 64th Streets

Repainted streetcar promoting war bonds on Halsted Street near 64th

After two minutes the cacophany died away.  Then it was down to business.

An outdoor rally was staged at the corner of LaSalle and Jackson.  Movie stars Albert Dekker and Helen Walker were joined on the podium by four decorated war heroes.  They took turns addressing the crowd of Loop workers on lunch break, urging them to help beat the Axis by buying bonds.

Over on State Street, Goldblatt’s department store unveiled a reproduction of the Liberty Bell.  Bond purchasers were given the privilege of ringing the bell.  Store employees used the occasion to present treasury officials with a check for $100,000, representing their own bond investments.

Dr. Seuss does his part

Dr. Seuss does his part

The action was not confined to downtown.  Many large factories—such as Western Electric, Dodge, and Stewart-Warner—held their own rallies.  War savings booths were opened in neighborhood theaters and office buildings.  Officials announced that 15,000 volunteer bond wardens would soon begin a sales canvass of every house in the county.

The day concluded with another rally, this one at Medinah Temple.  The featured speaker was Monsignor Edward Flanagan, the famed founder of Boys Town.  “Our country is the most indulgent mother of all the nations of the world,” he told the audience.  “She asks us not to give, but to invest in ships, planes, and ammunition for those fighting for us.”

Flanagan’s plea was echoed by decorated naval hero (and Boys Town grad) Wesley Haggard.  He said that the allies were fighting “the rottenest, yellowest foe in history.”  Buying more war bonds would help bring all the troops home all the sooner.

Bond drives went on throughout the war.  Sales eventually totaled over $185 billion.  The program was so successful that the federal government continued selling them in peacetime, as U.S. Savings Bonds.


Then and Now, 63rd-Harvard

1924--63rd Street @ Harvard, view west

1924–63rd Street @ Harvard, view west

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

During the 1850s a settlement called Junction Grove began developing near 63rd and Wentworth, where two major railroad lines crossed.  By the time the ‘L’ arrived in 1906 the neighborhood was known as Englewood, and was part of the City of Chicago.  The 1924 photo shows the busy commercial strip that had developed westward from the ‘L’ station along 63rd Street.

Englewood went into a long decline beginning in the 1960s.  All the buildings in the older photo were eventually demolished, and for a time 63rd Street looked like postwar Berlin.  Today new construction along the street holds out hope for a community revival.


Giant Men

This giant man was a familiar landmark in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.  He stood on top the muffler shop at 3940 West Grand Avenue.  According to Rick Kogan’s Sidewalks II book, he  was named Mr. Bendo, after the onetime owner of the business.  The plastic Bendo was supposed to closely resemble the flesh Bendo.

Sometime around 2010, a storm knocked off the top of the big Bendo.  The truncated base was left standing while the muffler shop proprietors decided what to do next.  I snapped the photo below around that time, recalling Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” and the line “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert . . . ”

02--Ozymandias on Grand (2011)

The rest of Mr. Bendo has since been removed, and Chicago’s landscape is poorer for the loss.  However, I’m happy to report that the giant man on the northwest corner of 63rd and Pulaski still survives.  There used to be a tobacconist on the premises, and this statue was an oversize version of that old perennial, the Cigar Store Indian.  Today the cigar store is gone, so now he sports a pair of specs, promoting the eye clinic in the building.

03--63rd-Pulaski Giant Indian (2016)

These giant men always remind me of a miniature golf course.  Of course, they are big enough to decorate a regulation-size golf course.  Perhaps we should stick a giant Arnold Palmer along the right side of the eighth fairway at Waveland (Sydney Marovitz).  Besides putting a smile on a golfer’s face, a giant Arnie could also be a barrier to stop sliced tee shots from bouncing onto Lake Shore Drive.