Chicago’s Vampires of the Road (1-18-1923)

The news in Chicago today was about vampires.  No, not that kind.

Language can evolve in ninety years.  In 1923 newspapers called reckless drivers “auto vampires.”

Cars were just beginning to crowd the city then.  Traffic laws were primitive, and drivers were usually careless.  At the same time, most pedestrians were still pretty casual about wandering into the street whenever they felt like it.


So a person would be walking along, minding his own business.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, an auto would appear, run him down, and speed away while the victim lie bleeding on the pavement.  The auto was like a vampire—attacking without warning and sucking the blood out of innocent people.

There was also something called an “auto vamp.”  The phrase derived from actress Theda Bara, known as The Vamp.  In her films, Bara’s character operated like Dracula.  She seduced male admirers through her evil charms, making them helpless slaves to her every whim.

The Vamp

The Chicago auto vamp was an attractive young woman who would hitchhike along the city’s boulevards.  If a prosperous-looking man picked her up, she’d accept the ride, then threaten to inform his wife that he had made “advances.”  More than one man paid the blackmail.

Last August, the police had arrested 21-year-old Jeane Miller as the alleged auto vamp.  She had jumped bail.  Now, on this evening in January, an insurance adjuster recognized Miller on Oak Street.  He told her to get into his car so he could drive her to the police station

At this point, a second man happened along.  He thought Miller was being kidnapped.  He wrestled her away from the adjuster, and together they escaped in the second man’s car.  They headed east on Oak at better than 50 miles-an-hour.

The adjuster jumped back into his car and drove off after them.  A motorcycle cop saw the speeding cars and followed.  The chase ended at Lake Shore Drive.  The two men emerged from their cars and began arguing about Miller.  A crowd gathered.  There was much shouting.

The cop forced his way through the mob.  He told everyone that matters would be sorted out back at the police station.  There Miller was placed under arrest for bond forfeiture.  The two men involved swore out complaints against each other.

The lessons to be learned here are two—

(1) Look both ways when you cross the street.

(2) Don’t pick up hitchhikers.  Especially if they look like Theda Bara.




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