Mayor Kennelly’s Jitney War (8-22-1950)

On this date, Mayor Martin Kennelly ordered a crackdown on jitney cabs operating on South Park Way (King Drive) and other South Side boulevards. The jitneys were carrying groups of up to six passengers at a time, charging 15 cents per person. Though this was more expensive than the current 12-cent CTA fare, it was significantly less than the meter rate on licensed cabs.


The jitneys were breaking the law. The mayor warned that any drivers operating without a taxi license would be arrested. The Park District would also be holding public hearings on how to deal with this problem on its boulevards.

Kennelly’s warnings had little effect.  The jitneys kept running.  He also alienated the powerful South Side congressman, William L. Dawson.  Dawson and most of his constituents were African American.  Since many white cab drivers wouldn’t serve black passengers in 1950, the local community relied on the jitneys.

Kennelly was succeeded by a more politically-astute mayor, Richard J. Daley.  When a reporter asked him if he was going to do anything about the jitneys, Daley simply said, “They perform a public service.”  And that was that.

Today, of course, we have Uber.


Dillinger Wannabe (8-18-1955)

It was Chicago’s biggest manhunt since Dillinger.  And it ended on this date, when police captured Richard Carpenter.

Born in 1929 and raised in Chicago, Carpenter had a long record of trouble, including a dishonorable discharge from the Army, and a 1951 arrest for accidentally shooting his mother.  He drifted through a series of jobs.  Convicted in a holdup, he served time, then escaped.

Richard Carpenter

Richard Carpenter

By the summer of 1955, Carpenter had been a fugitive for eighteen months.  Chicago police considered him a prime suspect in a series of 60 robberies on the North and West sides.  It was all small-time stuff—saloons, grocery stores, isolated pedestrians.

On August 16 a police detective recognized Carpenter on a subway train and arrested him.  At the Roosevelt Road station, a block from police headquarters, Carpenter pulled out a gun, shot the detective dead, and got away.

The next evening, another cop spotted Carpenter at the Biltmore Theater on Division Street.  There was more gunfire and an officer was wounded.  Carpenter escaped out the emergency exit.

Carpenter had been hit in the leg during the shooting.  He broke into a truck driver’s two-flat on nearby Potomac Avenue, holding the family hostage.  Meanwhile, a city-wide search was underway.  It was the early days of television, and the new medium breathlessly reported on the hunt for “Cop-Killer Carpenter.”

By the evening of the 18th, Carpenter had been holed up on Potomac Avenue nearly 24 hours.  He let his guard down.  He let the truck driver’s wife take the children out for some fresh air.  Then he allowed the truck driver to step out.

The truck driver immediately alerted the police.  The building was surrounded.  Searchlights filled the sky, a helicopter hovered overhead.  Two thousand people gathered on the street.  The bull-horn blared: “Carpenter!  Come out with your hands up!”

The siege on Potomac Avenue

The siege on Potomac Avenue

Carpenter tried to get away, jumping into the open window of an apartment next door.  More gunfire.  But this time, the police got their man.  If Carpenter thought he’d become a bad-boy folk hero like Dillinger, he was mistaken.  As the cops led him away, the crowd on Potomac  Avenue shouted “Kill him!  Kill him!”

Richard Carpenter was convicted of murder and died in the electric chair in 1958.



Then and Now, Grand-Franklin

1968--Grand Avenue @ Franklin, view west

1968–Grand Avenue @ Franklin, view west

2014--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1968 this part of the Near North Side was a rundown area of factories and warehouses, as it had been since the early days of the twentieth century.  Electric trolley buses still ran on Grand Avenue, and there was still an ‘L’ station at Grand and Franklin.

Today, property values in this part of the city have reached a level beyond even the wildest forecasts of 1968.  Some of the old buildings have been repurposed, like the warehouse on the far side of the ‘L’ tracks.  However, there’s been plenty of new construction, including a number of high-rises.   There’s even talk of bringing back the ‘L’ station.


Then and Now, Cottage Grove-Pershing

1949--Cottage Grove Avenue @ Pershing, view south

1949–Cottage Grove Avenue @ Pershing, view south

2014--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1949 this stretch of Cottage Grove Avenue was a ribbon commercial strip.  At Pershing Road, diagonal Cottage Grove curved into a straight north-south street.  South of this intersection, the diagonal became Drexel Boulevard, which is partially visible behind the streetcar.  The Walgreen’s on the corner is the direct successor to the company’s first store, which opened just south of here in 1901.

Today the commercial buildings are all gone, replaced by Mandrake Park.  Drexel Boulevard has been cut back one block, and no longer reaches the intersection.  The neighborhood is being revitalized, with much new construction and a general sprucing-up.


Who Said TV Golf Is Boring? (8-9-1953)

George S. May owned a Chicago business-consulting firm. He also sponsored high-paying professional golf events at Tam O’Shanter Golf Course in Niles.Niles-IL-Lew-Worsham-Winner-Tam-OShanter-Country - Copy

May was a master promoter who saw great potential in television. On August 9, 1953, his World Championship became the first nationally-televised golf tournament.

The conclusion was memorable, in more ways than one. Lew Worsham came to the final hole needing a birdie 3 to tie for first place. After putting his drive in the middle of the fairway, Worsham hit a wedge 110 yards to the elevated green. The ball landed, rolled, rolled, and went straight into the cup for a winning eagle 2.

This was too much for golf pro Jimmy Demaret, doing the TV color commentary. “How about that?” he shouted on-air. “The son-of-a-bitch went in!”



Chicago’s Forgotten Movie Star

When you mention Milton Sills today, even many film historians draw a blank.  Yet he was one of the biggest movie stars of his time.  And he was a Chicagoan—through and through.

He was born in the city in 1882.  His family had money—Dad was a mineral dealer, Mom was a banker’s daughter.  Milton grew up on the South Side, attended Hyde Park High School, then entered the University of Chicago in 1899.0-Milton Sills

Sills studied philosophy and psychology, played sports, joined a frat–the whole Joe College bit.  He also did some acting in a few campus productions.

After graduating in 1903 he was hired by the university to teach mathematics.  Sills had talked about studying for a Ph.D, and it’s not clear what happened to that plan.  What is known is that by 1905 he was a professional actor, part of a company that put on plays in Chicago and in the college towns of the Midwest.

Sills got his big break when he went to New York in 1908.  Legendary producer David Belasco saw the young actor perform, recognized his talent, and helped promote his career.  Over the next few years, Sills appeared in several Broadway plays.

It was the early days of motion pictures, and the movies were silent.  Sills made his screen debut in a 1914 production called The Pit.  The movie was a success, and earned him more work.

Sills was a versatile actor.  He was a tall, brawny, muscular man who could play physical roles with ease.  At the same time he was an intellectual who wrote poetry, and penned magazine articles without the aid of a ghost writer.  Because of this background, he also looked comfortable in the more cerebral roles.

By the 1920s he was an established leading man.  Sills scored notable triumphs on Miss Lulu Bett, Single Wives, and The Sea Hawk.  The last film—don’t confuse it with the Errol Flynn version–often turns up on Turner Classic Movies.

Though busy in Hollywood, he kept in touch with his Chicago roots.  Sills contributed to the University of Chicago’s alumni magazine, and made regular trips home to see his widowed mother.  On one such visit, hundreds of female fans mobbed him and caused a near riot.

Sea Hawk

Sound came to the movies in 1927.  Many silent-film actors couldn’t make the adjustment, and their careers were over.

Sills was at his peak.  As a veteran stage actor he knew how to deliver dialogue, and the transition appeared easy.  Yet nothing is ever certain in the entertainment business.  Sills hesitated about taking the plunge into talkies.

In 1928 he took a partial plunge.  The Barker is a drama about carnival life.  Like many films of the time, it’s part talkie, part silent.  Sills plays the title role.  He has an excellent speaking voice, and he really can act.

Now Sills began to have health problems.  He took a long vacation from work and rested in the Adirondacks.  Early in 1930 he returned to Hollywood, filming Man Trouble and The Sea Wolf.

On September 15, Sills was playing tennis with friends at his Santa Monica home when he suddenly collapsed.  Effort to revive him were futile.  He was dead of a heart attack at 48.

Today Milton Sills in memorialized with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.  But he is buried back in his hometown, at Rosehill Cemetery.



Tattoos Can Save Lives! (8-1-1950)

On this date, the city’s health experts were urging all Chicagoans to get a tattoo.

Dr. Ivy

Dr. Ivy

The Soviet Union had developed an atomic bomb, the Korean War was raging, and the Chicago Civilian Defense Committee painted a grim picture of what might happen if The Bomb were dropped on the Loop. Dr. Andrew Ivy said that a nuclear blast would kill 61,000 people outright and injure 231,000. In such an event, emergency blood transfusions would be necessary. Treatment would be easier if a victim had a tattoo identifying blood type.

Dr. Ivy suggested that the best place for this tattoo would be below the left armpit, an area that would likely be protected from the blast. However, Dr. Henrietta Herbolsheimer, the only woman on the committee, said that future fashions in women’s clothing were difficult to predict, so a location on the inside of a leg might be better.  The committee said that a list of facilities where the public might obtain the medical tattoo was being developed.

It doesn’t seem that this program became widespread.  Perhaps tattoos should have been part of the Affordable Care Act.



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