Galloping Ghost Snagged by Bears! (11-22-1925)

Harold Grange—Red Grange, Old #77, the Wheaton Iceman, the Galloping Ghost—signed a contract to play pro football for the Chicago Bears today.  And that was front page news.

Grange at work

Grange at work

In 1925 college football was the only football that mattered.  The play-for-pay version was casually referred to as “post-graduate” football.  The NFL was struggling through its sixth season.  Though a big college game could attract 70,000 spectators, the pros usually played before a few hundred.

Grange was the most famous football player in the land.  He had rewritten the record book during his three years as a University of Illinois halfback.  In one game against a tough Michigan squad, he’d scored four touchdowns in the first twelve minutes.

Normally, after the football schedule was over, Grange would have returned to campus, gone back to class, and finished up his undergrad studies.  Then he might use his fame to get started in business.  Or if he wanted to stay in touch with football, he could look for a coaching job.

Grange at rest

Grange at rest

Most pro football players earned less than $100 a game.  A promoter named C.C. Pyle convinced Grange he could do much better.  Grange played his final college game against Ohio State on November 21, 1925.  The next day he came to Chicago and signed with the Bears.

George Halas, coach and part-owner of the Bears, immediately arranged a 19-game, coast-to-coast barnstorming tour.  Grange was paid a guarantee plus a percentage of the gate.  Newspapers speculated he might earn as much as $60,000—about what Babe Ruth got from the Yankees.

That figure was too low.  The tour drew so many people Grange pocketed over $100,000.  And the NFL had gained $100,000,000 worth of publicity.

In 1926 Grange and Pyle tried to start their own league.  When that venture failed, the Galloping Ghost returned to the Bears.  He retired from active play in 1934.

Even a half-century later, George Halas always declared that Red Grange was the greatest football player he’d ever seen.  In 1975 an interviewer asked Halas how many yards Grange might run up in an NFL season today. “Oh, about 750 or 800,” Halas replied.

“That’s not so much,” the interviewer interrupted.

“Well, you’ve got to remember one thing,” Halas said.  “Today, Red Grange is over 70 years old!”

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Then and Now, Roosevelt-Wabash

1972–Roosevelt Road @ Wabash Avenue, view west

2017–the same location

In 1972 service had been restored to this section of the South Side ‘L’ after a hiatus of more than twenty years.  The old Roosevelt Road ‘L’ station had been removed in the meantime.  Trolley buses were in their final months on the #12-Roosevelt line.  The neighborhood was run down and lightly-populated.

Today the South Loop has been revived.  The ‘L’ line once again has a Roosevelt Road station, now with a direct link to the subway station a half-block away.  Just to the west, the long Roosevelt viaduct has been truncated, so that it no longer passes over State Street.

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Return of That Great Street (11-15-1996)

This was one of those rare days.  Our rulers admitted they’d been wrong.  State Street was re-opened to traffic.

In the 1970s the center of Chicago was dying.  The crowds had gone.  A few more years of this, and it might be too late to turn things around.  Urban experts were called in.  They said that the problem was the automobile.

Look at Europe.  The great cities there had flourished for centuries without cars!  Yes, those places were pedestrian friendly.  We in America could learn something from the greater wisdom of those more civilized cultures.

State Street Mall under construction

It seemed to make sense.  Besides, with OPEC boosting the price of oil every six months, the automobile was on the way out.  Desperate to bring people back downtown, many American cities began converting their main streets into pedestrian malls.

In 1979 Chicago joined the movement.  Mayor Jane Byrne oversaw the closing of State Street between Wacker and Congress.  The Loop’s main thoroughfare became a lovely, linear park.

Well, sort of.

The mall wasn’t continuous—it was broken every block by the east-west cross streets.  CTA busses still rumbled and belched down the middle of everything—plans to return electric streetcars were dropped as too expensive.  To top it all off, the landscaping and street furniture were sterile.

This was the State Street Mall.  It was a hundred-foot-wide hybrid of highway and plaza, which combined the worst features of each.

October 29, 1979–State Street Mall Dedication

When the project was finished, most of the public had doubts about the new State Street.  But the Powerful People backed the project.  Therefore, the mall was going to stay—we’d have to get used to it.  Though Chicago went through some pretty contentious politics in the 1980s, the State Street Mall never became an issue.

During the 1990s, a new demographic emerged.  People were coming back to the center of Chicago.  They were working, shopping, being entertained, and even settling down in apartments and condos.  The streets were coming alive again.

It was clear that making State Street a mall had nothing to do with this trend.  And with auto traffic getting heavy, closing off a major street didn’t make sense.

Early in 1996, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that State Street would be restored to its original state (pun intended).  The work was completed on November 15, just in time for the Christmas shopping season.  The public applauded.  And the mall was now just a bad memory.

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The Great Chicago Statue Quiz #2—Answers

(1) WHO is this?  Richard Oglesby (1824-1899)

(2) WHERE is this?  2630 N. Cannon Dr. (Lincoln Park)

(3) WHY does this person deserve a statue? Governor of Illinois, U.S. Senator

The Great Chicago Statue Quiz #2

(1) WHO is this?

(2) WHERE is this?

(3) WHY does this person deserve a statue?

ANSWERS POSTED AT 5 P.M.

Then and Now, Halsted-26th

1955--Halsted Street @ 26th Street, view south

1955–Halsted Street @ 26th Street, view south

2015--the same location

2017–the same location

In 1955 the streetcars had been gone from Halsted Street for two years.  Yet the overhead wires remained, for a planned conversion to trolley buses that never took place.  Why the street hadn’t yet been repaved is anybody’s guess.  Perhaps the older photo dates from early in the year, before local resident Richard J. Daley took office as mayor.

Today much of Bridgeport has seen rehabbing and new construction.  A block south and on the right, the old Stearns Quarry has been transformed into lovely Palmisano Park.

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Then and Now, Grand-Armitage

1929–Grand Avenue @ Armitage Avenue, view east

2017–the same location

We are at Leclaire Avenue, 5100 west.  Here Grand Avenue swings off to the right to continue its eastward journey.  If you continued traveling straight east through the intersection, you’d now be on Armitage Avenue.  When pioneer George Merrill built a tavern here around 1850, the junction became known as Whiskey Point.

Once again, in our era, the streetcars are gone, the street paving and street lighting have been improved, and trees decorate the parkways.  Make your own call on whether a donut/ice cream shop is an improvement on a bank.

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