Then and Now, Central-Montrose

1975--Central Avenue @ Montrose Avenue, view south

1974–Central Avenue @ Montrose Avenue, view south

2017--the same location

2017–the same location

This was the neighborhood where I grew up.  By 1974 I was married and out of my parents’ home, but the old businesses still remained on this commercial strip.  Moving south from Montrose, we have the drug store, the bakery, Mandis the Chicken King Restaurant, Kars Five-and-Ten Store.  At the far end of the block, just past Kars, the old National Food Store has been converted into an Armanetti’s Liquor Store.

Today most of the residential streets in my old Portage Park neighborhood look the same—bungalows are sturdy.  But all the stores in the 1974 photo are gone, their buildings replaced by a giant Walgreen’s.

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Professor Moriarty Comes to Chicago (3-28-1901)

Adam Worth ran a criminal ring in England during the latter part of the Nineteenth Century. A London detective once called him “The Napoleon of the Criminal World,” and Worth is thought to be the model for Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis, Professor Moriarty. And though Holmes never had any dealings in Chicago, the real-life Moriarty did.

Adam Worth

Adam Worth

Born in Germany in 1841, Worth grew up in Massachusetts. He eventually settled in London, posing as an American financier with social connections.  During the 1870s he put together an elaborate underworld organization, specializing in high-end burglaries of his unsuspecting society friends. Scotland Yard suspected him, but could prove nothing.

Then, in 1876, Worth’s brother was arrested on forgery charges and needed bail. At the time a famous Gainsborough painting, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was about to be offered at a London auction. So one night Worth simply got a ladder, climbed through a window at the auction house, cut the painting from its frame, and made off with it.

As it turned out, the charges against little brother were dropped. Rather than fence the stolen painting, Worth decided to keep it.

Georgiana became Worth’s constant companion. He usually kept it in the false bottom of a suitcase as he traveled. At some point he smuggled the painting out of England and put it in storage in the United States. That’s where Georgiana was in 1893, when Belgian authorities convicted Worth of a string of robberies and sent him to prison.

By 1899 Worth was out of prison. His crime ring was in shambles and his fortune was gone. Using the Pinkerton Detective Agency as a go-between, he began negotiating a “no-questions-asked” return of Georgiana to the auction house. After nearly two years haggling, a price of $25,000 was agreed upon. The transfer was to be made in Pinkerton’s headquarters city, Chicago.

"Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire"

“Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire”

Morland Agnew of the auction house came over from London, arriving in Chicago on March 27, 1901. As instructed, he checked into the Auditorium Hotel. The next morning, accompanied by William Pinkerton of the detective agency, Agnew cashed a bank draft for the ransom. The money was put in the safe at the Pinkerton office. Then the two men went to the hotel to wait.

At 1 p.m. a messenger arrived at Agnew’s hotel room, carrying a parcel wrapped in brown paper. After Agnew identified himself, the messenger handed him the parcel and left. Inside the parcel was the long-lost Georgiana.

Within hours Agnew was on the train to New York, and from there the ship to England. Not until the painting was safely back in London was the news released to the world. Then the Chicago papers ran the story on the front page for a week.

Adam Worth in disguise had been the messenger returning the painting. Less than a year after collecting the ransom, he was dead of natural causes. But in a twist worthy of Conan Doyle himself, the real-life Moriarty’s son refused to take over the family business.  Instead, he found a new career—as a Pinkerton detective.

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Then and Now, Division-Western

1941--Division Street @ Western Avenue, view west

1941–Division Street @ Western Avenue, view west

2017--the same location

2016–the same location

Division Street: America was Studs Terkel’s first oral history book, published in 1967.  The older photo nicely captures the feel of the book, and the era when the street was the gritty crossroads of the West Side, at once a melting pot and a pressure cooker.

By the 1960s this stretch of Division Street had become the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican settlement.  Since 1995 two metal sculptures of Puerto Rican flags have spanned the street.  More recently, gentrification and the dispersion of the local Puerto Rican community have converted the flags into historical artifacts.

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Irritable Teachers (3-22-1933)

Chicago’s public school teachers had not been regularly paid in two years.  Today they decided to do something about it.

The Chicago school system had been a financial mess since the late 1920s.  The Depression hit, and the Board of Education ran out of money.  In 1931 the Board started paying teachers in scrip—which was basically an IOU.

3-22--class photo.jpg

When the teachers tried to pay their own bills, many businesses refused to accept the scrip.  Other places were glad to take the Board’s paper, but only at a discount.  The teachers’ union got a court injunction to halt the scrip.  The Board responded with the occasional payless payday.

So today over 200 teachers descended on the regular Board meeting at the Builders Building on La Salle Street.  The teachers carried signs with slogans like “Irritable Teachers Are Not Fair To Children.”  A bill was pending in Springfield that would allow teachers to strike if their pay was more than six months in arrears.  The Board was discussing that bill.

One Board member spoke out against it.  He painted a doomsday picture.  If the bill became law, the schools would have to shut down.  Then the public would question the whole value of a formal education.  There would be demands to end schooling at the 8th grade.

teacher-protest-1930s

The teachers in the audience thought this was pure bullsh—er, balderdash.  They hooted and booed.  The presiding officer was not pleased.  “If you have no more control over your pupils than you have over yourselves, I question whether you are worthy of your calling,” he snapped.

The teachers next marched to City Hall, where the City Council was in session.  They filled the gallery and started chanting “We want our pay!”  Acting Mayor Corr gaveled for order.  He decided to let three teachers address the Council.

One by one, the teachers stated their case.  The Council listened.  The aldermen agreed to move forward with a plan to raise cash by selling tax anticipation warrants.  That ended the day’s protest.

But that was not the end of the trouble.  There were more missed paydays and more demonstrations.  The Board of Education’s financial problems were finally resolved in 1934 by a $22 million loan from the federal government.

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The Big St. Patrick’s Day Parade (3-17-1956)

Richard J. Daley became Mayor of Chicago in April 1955. The very next year, the city’s newspapers announced he was planning “a parade” for March 17—St. Patrick’s Day.

Other American cities had a history of grand St. Patrick’s Day parades. Chicago’s Irish had staged a few parades on-and-off since the 1840s, and there was a long-running event on 79th Street. But holding a major, city-wide parade for the  feast day was not a Chicago tradition.

South Side Irish Parade, 1953

South Side Irish Parade, 1953

March 17 fell on a Saturday in 1956. Led by the mayor, the City of Chicago’s first official St. Patrick’s Day parade stepped off from State and Kinzie at noon. The route went south on State to Adams, then continued west on Adams to Des Plaines Street and Old St. Patrick Church.

About 10,000 Irish and honorary-Irish marched. “There were Irish pipe-and-drum units, and floats bearing Irish colleens, Irish dancers, and Gaelic football players,” the Tribune reported. “Marchers [were] carrying blackthorn sticks and shillelaghs and wearings hats festooned with shamrocks.” They marched for over an hour.

The weather was cold, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees and a brisk wind blowing down from the north. Yet over a quarter-million spectators lined the parade route. An untold number more watched the proceedings over WGN-TV.

Richard J. Daley's parade, 1967

Richard J. Daley’s parade, 1967

Many politicians marched down State. Some of them joined Daley on the reviewing stand near Madison Street. The newspapers listed them by name, for a good reason.

During each year’s May Day Parade in Moscow, the Russian public would scan the reviewing stand atop Lenin’s Tomb, and be able to figure out who ranked where in their government. Now Chicago began a similar exercise. On St. Patrick’s Day you’d check out who the mayor had invited to stand with him, and determine who had the most clout.

The day’s festivities concluded with a special Mass at Old St. Pat’s. Cardinal Stritch gave the homily. He predicted that Chicago would become the leading city of the world, with a population of 7 million. He urged his listeners to seek spiritual wealth as well as material wealth.

"How Green Was My River"

“How Green Was My River”

By the way, the city did not dye the river green for this first parade. That custom began in 1961.

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Cook County Hospital Makes History (3-15-1937)

In the minds of some people, Cook County Hospital (aka Stroger) has a low-grade reputation.  It’s often forgotten that the hospital has a distinguished history.  One important event took place on this date.  The subject was blood.

cook-county-hospital

By the turn of the 20th Century, medical science had learned much about working with blood.  Transfusions were becoming common.  But blood will go stale after awhile.  If a patient needed blood, a live donor had to give it, directly and immediately.

Could blood be stored for longer than a few hours?  Researchers worked on that problem for decades.  During the early 1930s, Russia was able to set up a network of blood depots, where patients could have access to preserved blood.  This interested Dr. Bernard Fantus.

Fantus was a Hungarian-born physician who had earned his M.D. at the University of Illinois.  He became director of therapeutics at Cook County Hospital in 1934.  In his new role he began a series of experiments on how to increase the storage time for blood.

Dr. Bernard Fantus

Dr. Bernard Fantus

Using refrigeration and various additives, Fantus was able to preserve blood for up to ten days.  Early in 1937 he made plans to open the Blood Preservation Laboratory at County.

But he didn’t like that name!  Sure, it described the work that was going on at the new facility.  Trouble was, calling it the “Preservation Laboratory” made it sound like something out of a Dracula movie.

America was in the middle of the Depression.  Saving was on everyone’s mind.  After some rough times, banks were starting to rebound.  Fantus decided to call his facility the Cook County Hospital Blood Bank.  It opened on this date eighty years ago—March 15, 1937.

A few months later, Fantus published an article on the blood bank in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Other hospitals adopted the idea, and it spread world-wide.

Bernard Fantus died in 1940.  Today the out-patient clinic at his hospital is named the Fantus Health Center.

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Then and Now, 103rd-Michigan

1940--103rd Street @ Michigan Avenue, view east

1940–103rd Street @ Michigan Avenue, view east

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1848 Dutch farmers established Roseland’s first permanent settlement, along what’s now the Michigan Avenue ridge.  By 1940 much of the area was built up.  However, aside from a few older homes, this particular stretch of 103rd Street remained vacant, zoned for business.  The rise in the street to the ridge is visible in the foreground.

Commercial development finally came to the 103rd Street strip during the 1950s.  Though there are still a few empty lots, at Christmas time the candy canes on the light poles give the street a festive look.

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