Come Back, Steve Bartman—All Is Forgiven!

The Cubs are going to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.  I think it would be a nice gesture to call Steve Bartman out of hiding to throw out the first ball at the first home game.  Just because the Cubs haven’t actually won the World Series in 108 years doesn’t mean we believe in jinxes.

I’ve already told my Ernie Banks story here.  I also have a Cubs World Series story.

In 1984 the Cubs won the National League Eastern Division title, finally avenging the Great Collapse of 1969.  Of course, they’d have to get by the San Diego Padres in the playoffs, but everyone knew that was a mere formality.


Anyway, as soon as the Cubs had clinched the division, they put World Series tickets on sale.  For us everyday fans who didn’t have connections, there was a lottery.  You mailed in your name and address on a postcard, and then there would be a drawing.  If your card was drawn, you could buy two tickets.  Only one postcard per household was allowed.

I figured that getting my card drawn was a longshot.  I also figured that if they did happen to draw one of my cards, they’d probably draw a second one, and I’d be disqualified.  So I played by the rules and only sent in one card.  But I did have my mother send in a card.

My card wasn’t drawn.  My mother’s was.

Now it was a question of claiming the two World Series tickets.  The rules said that the lucky winner had to pick up the tickets in person, showing an I.D.  My mother wasn’t a baseball fan, and didn’t care about going to the Series.  The problem was, she’d just broken her foot and had it in a cast.


So I drove her out to Wrigley one day.  A nice cop let me wait on Clark Street while she hobbled into the ticket line on her crutches.  While she was waiting, a Tribune photographer spotted her, and thought that a 63-year-old temporarily-disabled woman who’d stand in an hour-long line on her crutches was a great story, and wanted to take her picture.  Mom refused; she hadn’t put on her makeup.

Of course, I never did get to use those World Series tickets.  My daughter Tracy Samantha was just four months old when these events transpired.  Last night she was really excited about the Cubs making it to the Series, and maybe she’ll be able to score a ticket.

As for me, I just realized that I’m already older than my Mom was when she braved that ticket line.  So I think I’ll stick to listening to the Series on the radio, and not even try to get into Wrigley for one of the games.

After all, I don’t want to somehow jinx the team.



Kennedy’s Cold (10-19-1962)

10-19--JFK in Chicago.jpg

Once upon a time, Chicago was not the home of the President of the United States.  And so, whenever a president arrived in the city, it was major news.  On this particular occasion, the presidential visit turned out to be a footnote to world history.

Mayor Richard J. Daley had played an important role in helping John F. Kennedy reach the White House.  The state and congressional elections were now only a few weeks away, and the mayor asked his friend the president to join the campaign.  Kennedy was happy to oblige.

Air Force One touched down at O’Hare in late afternoon.  As the president stepped off the plane, he was greeted by bag-pipers and every Democratic office-holder or candidate from a radius of a hundred miles.  A bubble-top limousine was waiting.  Then the presidential motorcade moved out.

Crowds jammed the route along the Northwest Expressway—up to half a million people, according to one estimate.  Later that evening, Kennedy spoke to a $100-a-plate Democratic fund-raiser at McCormick Place.  At the conclusion of the speech, a fireworks display lit up the night sky.  The highlight was a flaming profile portrait of the president.

His long day over, Kennedy settled into his suite at the Blackstone Hotel.  The next morning he was up early, and left the hotel a half-hour ahead of schedule.  Reporters were told that the president had caught a cold.  He was running a fever.  He was cutting his campaign trip short by one day, and immediately returning to Washington, under doctor’s orders.

That wasn’t the truth.  For some time, Kennedy had known that the Soviet Union was building secret missile bases in Cuba.  While he was in Chicago, he received word that the bases might soon become operational.  That was the reason for the “cold” story and his abrupt departure.

On October 22, the president announced a blockade of any weapons’ shipments to Cuba.  After a week of fevered negotiations, and the specter of all-out nuclear war, the Soviet Union agreed to remove its bases.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was over.

President Kennedy never returned to Chicago.  After his assassination, the highway on which he had traveled was renamed the Kennedy Expressway.


Then and Now, Elm-Franklin

1928--Elm Street @ Franklin, view west

1929–Elm Street @ Franklin, view west

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1929 Harvey Warren Zorbaugh wrote a classic sociological study of the Near North Side titled The Gold Coast and the Slum.  At the time the book was published, our site was in the “slum” part of the neighborhood.  The North Side ‘L’ curves around the buildings of St. Joseph Church here.  The $30,000 that the pastor negotiated for the property rights enabled him to liquidate the parish debt and purchase a pipe organ for the church.

Redevelopment of the area began in 1977, when seven acres of land were cleared for the Atrium Village complex.  Parts of Elm and Franklin streets were closed, and the photo location is now a parking lot.  The slum of Zorbaugh’s day is nothing more than a memory.


Where Have You Gone, General Logan?

“General John Logan/ sits on a horse/ on top of a hill/ in Grant Park in Chicago.”

The nursery rhyme gives you the bare facts. But who was General John Logan? And more important to our story, what’s that hill doing there?

The general on the horse on the hill

The general on the horse on the hill

John Alexander Logan was a Civil War general and a two-term U.S. Senator from Illinois. He was the driving force behind establishing Memorial Day as a national holiday. Logan ran for vice president on the unsuccessful Republican ticket in 1884, and was considered one of the front-runners for the next presidential election. Then, in December 1886, he suddenly died.

Logan was given the rare honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. He was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, back in Logan’s home state, a grand plan was taking shape.

General John Logan

General John Logan

Former President Ulysses S. Grant—THE great Civil War general—had died in 1885. Grant had been a citizen of Illinois, but New York City was building a mausoleum to house his remains. Now Chicago would show those Eastern body-snatchers. Chicago would build a mausoleum for General Logan.

Three days after Logan’s death, the Chicago city council voted to donate land in Lakefront (Grant) Park for his tomb. The South Park Commissioners and the Illinois state legislature soon got on the bandwagon. A total of $64,000 was appropriated for the project–serious money in 1886.

Logan’s widow preferred to have him stay in the District. However, she agreed to give way to the Chicago plan. A site opposite 9th Street was selected. When she visited the city the following summer, newspaper reports said Mrs. Logan was arranging the transfer of her husband’s remains.

The general’s body was moved on the second anniversary of his death, December 26, 1888. But he didn’t go to Chicago. Instead, he was simply transported across Washington and interred in the National Soldiers Home Cemetery.

The Chicago tomb wasn’t yet ready. Grave-robbing was a concern in those times—thieves had nearly made off with Lincoln’s body—and Mrs. Logan felt security was better at Soldiers Home than at Rock Creek.

In 1897 the Logan monument was dedicated in Chicago. America’s greatest sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designed the heroic equestrian statue. It was set on a large mound that could easily be converted to a tomb.

Mrs. Logan attended the ceremony and was visibly touched. But by now she’d changed her mind about bringing her husband with her. The general stayed in Washington. And Chicago had to make do honoring him with Logan Square, Logan Boulevard, Logan School, and the Logan Square Community Area.


Then and Now, 69th-Emerald

1956--69th Street @ Emerald, view east

1956–69th Street @ Emerald, view east

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

We are a short block east of Halsted Street.  Since Marquette Road (67th Street) was a Park District boulevard, streetcars ran on 69th Street instead, and the usual ribbon commercial strip developed there.  However, by 1956 buses had been substituted on 69th, and the streetcar in the photo is merely on its way from the Western Avenue line to the car barn at 77th-Vincennes.

The 69th Street strip was on the periphery of Chicago’s largest outlying shopping district, 63rd-Halsted.  The 2016 photo bears witness to the decline of Englewood over the past sixty years.  Hopefully, better days are ahead.


A Chicago Fire Legend

As we all know, tomorrow is the 145th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.  The house at 2121 North Hudson Avenue is at the center of the tale.

The fire started on the Near South Side. Pushed on by strong southwest winds, it burned through downtown, jumped the river, and continued moving north. Nothing in its path seemed safe.

By the second evening the fire had passed Center Street (Armitage). Here the buildings were fewer and farther apart. On Hudson Avenue, the only house was a little wooden cottage belonging to a policeman named Richard Bellinger.

The Fire Area

The Fire Area

As the fire approached, Bellinger was determined to save his home. He tore up the wooden sidewalk, then collected all the water he could, in whatever bucket or bottle or cup was handy. Then he waited—but not for long.

Sparks from the fire started to hit the house, and Bellinger quickily doused them. The fire kept coming, Bellinger kept pouring water. He ran around the four sides of the little cottage, he climbed on the roof, he dropped back to the ground. Wherever the flames lit, Bellinger was there to put them out.

He grew tired. He lost track of time. But he was winning. The fire around him was almost gone. And then—he ran out of water!

Was all his hard toil for nothing? All he needed was a bucket or two more! Oh, cruel twist of fate!

But wait! Bellinger remembered the barrel of apple cider in the cellar. He told his wife to draw some of the cider into buckets. And with this bit of liquid, the valiant policeman was able to extinguish the remaining flames, and save his home.

The Triumph of Policeman Bellinger became a part of Chicago folklore. It was even reprinted in school textbooks. On October 8, the anniversary of the fire, teachers would march their classes to the cottage on Hudson Avenue, and tell the story of how it had been saved by cider. Besides the Water Tower, this little frame house was the only building that had survived the disaster.

Officer Bellinger's Cottage

Officer Bellinger’s Cottage

Then one day in 1915, a little old white-haired lady appeared at the door of 2121 North Hudson Avenue. It was Mrs. Bellinger, come back to visit the old homestead. She was invited in and looked around. Then she began to reminisce about the events of forty-four years before.

Yes, she said, her late husband had worked mightily to save the house. After the fire, they had sheltered 21 people in the tiny cottage. However, that cider business had been invented by some reporter with an over-active imagination.

“We did have a barrel of cider in the basement,” Mrs. Bellinger declared. “But we didn’t use it because we were able to get enough water from the dugout across the street.”

That destroyed one myth. And more recently, historians have determined that at a couple of other wooden cottages on Cleveland Avenue also came through the fire. So the Bellinger house is not even unique as a survivor.

But it still makes a damn good story.



Tucker On Trial (10-4-1949)

The Tucker Torpedo had been hailed as The Car of the Future.  Today, automaker Preston Tucker went on trial in the Chicago courtroom of Judge Walter La Buy.

Now 46 years old, Tucker had been involved in the auto industry since his teens.  At heart he was a promoter.  According to a friend, Tucker was such a great salesman that “he could sell a Chrysler to Henry Ford, and a Ford to Walter Chrysler.”

Preston Tucker

Preston Tucker

In 1946 Tucker launched his own car company.  He leased the largest factory building in the world, the 475-acre Dodge Chicago Plant at 76th and Cicero.  The plant had been used for making aircraft engines in World War II, and was now vacant.

Tucker soon produced a stunning prototype.  It was sleek and sexy, “the kind of car Flash Gordon would drive,” someone said.  The Tucker Torpedo was also ahead of its time in many of its engineering features.

To finance his venture, Tucker sold stock.  Then he ran into production problems.  Only 50 cars were produced.  The Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Tucker’s stock sale.

Tucker claimed that Detroit auto companies were behind the probe, trying to stop a potential rival.  In June 1949, Tucker and seven associates were indicted in federal court.  They were charged with multiple counts of mail fraud, conspiracy, and SEC violations.

In 2016 we assume that the identity of jury members will be protected.  When the Tucker trial opened on October 4, the newspapers actually printed the jurors’ names, home addresses, and occupations.  Among those deciding Tucker’s fate were an electrician, a garage owner, a phone company exec, and four housewives.

On the same day the trial began, another judge ordered the lease on Tucker’s Southwest Side plant cancelled.  The building reverted to the federal government.

Tucker Torpedo proto-type

Tucker Torpedo prototype

The trial lasted three months.  The defendants were found “Not Guilty” on all counts.  Tucker was free, but had no factory and was deeply in debt.  No more Tucker Torpedos were ever made.

Preston Tucker died in 1956.  Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 movie, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, was a sympathetic account of the automaker’s story.  Jeff Bridges starred.

Portions of the onetime Tucker auto plant are now the Ford City Mall.  The surviving Tucker Torpedos have sold at auction for as much as $2.9 million.