The O’Hare Beat (1-12-1966)

By 1966 O’Hare was already the world’s busiest airport.  But those were simpler times, and policing O’Hare was simpler, too.

The airport was patrolled by 52 cops.  Felony arrests were rare.  “Our biggest problem isn’t crime,” the police commander said.  “It’s getting people in and out of here.”

Air travel was exotic in 1966.  People would put on their best clothes for a plane trip, or even if they were just coming to meet someone.  Often they’d get so excited about being at O’Hare they’d forget what they were doing.

Just last evening, an officer had found a woman sitting alone in the terminal, crying.  Her friends had left the airport, heading for Iowa in two cars–and each group thought she was with the other one.  In an era before cell phones, that had taken all night to straighten out.

People left purses, briefcases, luggage, eyeglasses, and various articles of clothing lying around.  They put things into coin lockers, then lost they key.  Or forgot the locker number.  Or forgot they’d even put something into a locker.

Every day, there were new reports of cars stolen from the parking lot.  The police had to spend time on each case.  The missing cars were usually found–just where the driver had left them, before forgetting the location.

The FBI, U.S. customs, and the secret service all had personnel assigned to O’Hare.  But there were no security checkpoints.  Anyone could wander through the terminal without hassle, right up to the boarding gates.  On most weekends teens came to the airport in groups, just to hang out and watch the planes take off.

Most of O’Hare was unfenced.  Cars would sometimes blunder onto the back access roads, and get dangerously close to the runways before they were intercepted.  Rifle-toting hunters stalked animals in the wooded areas at the southwest corner.  In summer, children were often seen swimming in one of the ponds.

Airport officials were taking steps to tighten security.  Fences were being installed, with guards posted at strategic locations.  A policeman with a short-wave radio was already patrolling the fringes of the property in a jeep.

O’Hare was finally entering the 20th Century.  And the 21st Century was on its way.



4 Responses to “The O’Hare Beat (1-12-1966)”

  1. 1 Garry January 13, 2015 at 9:00 am

    I remember the observation decks on the roof. There was a coin op turnstile that cost a dime, but almost everyone snuck underneath it, because there wasn’t anyone up there to tell you not to.

  2. 2 Ralph January 14, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I was one of those guys who would go to the airport bar for a drink and watch the planes take off as well. I can remember the military being stationed there in the northeast corner of the airport. This would be 1973.

    • 3 J.R. Schmidt January 14, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      Security was still pretty casual as late as 1987. I worked for American Airlines as an undercover flyer that year. I took flights as a regular passenger, then filled out a 17-page evaluation form for management’s use. I was told to book one-way flights only, I had to pay in cash, and I had to check a bag. If I tried all that today, I’d be detained for sure.

  3. 4 James F. O'Neil January 14, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Ah, memories of being a mail-truck driver from Des Plaines Post Office. I would make a night-time run to O’Hare to get the mail/to send the mail. That was the summer of ’63. A great time!

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