Wally’s Black Box—and the Sequel

Wally Phillips was the host of the morning drive-time show on WGN-Radio from 1965 thru 1986.  He was skeptical of self-proclaimed psychics, so he decided to test them in an unusual way.

During one of his shows in 1975, Phillips announced that he was writing the name of a moderately-famous living person on a piece of paper and locking it in a black box.  The first listener to call in with the name of that person would win a cash prize.

Wally Phillips

Wally Phillips

Phillips started with a prize of $1500.  Each day he added another dollar.  This went on for over six years.  No one could correctly identify the name in the black box.  By 1982 the jackpot was nearly $4,000.

Then Phillips heard a report that his mystery person had died.  This proved to be untrue.   But the false alarm convinced him it was time to end the stunt.

On February 24, 1982 Phillips revealed the name in the black box.  It was Jean Rogers, a second-tier Hollywood actress who’d played Dale Arden in a couple of Flash Gordon serials during the 1930s.  Rogers was present  in the studio and had a nice chat with Phillips.  The money in the jackpot was given to charity.

I wrote about Wally’s Black Box in my book On This Day in Chicago History.  More recently, I discovered that Phillips later issued another challenge to the psychics of the world.  This one resonates in our own day.

Jean Rogers

Jean Rogers

In 1985 Phillips published a book titled Way To  Go.  He noted that the country would be inaugurating a new president on January 20, 1989.  He then asked those psychics to peer into the future, and name the person who would be inaugurated president on—wait for it—January 20, 2017.

Phillips said he was placing $10,000 in escrow to be awarded to the first person who came up with the correct answer.  The deadline for entries was January 20, 1989.  He said that he’d then place the entries in a time capsule that would be buried at the planned 1992 Chicago World’s Fair.  The capsule would be opened on Inauguration Day 2017, and the prize awarded.

Of course, the 1992 Chicago World’s Fair never happened.  But Phillips had an alternative site for the time capsule in mind.  He said that he would bury it in Phil Donohue’s backyard.

How famous were any of our current presidential contenders in 1989?  Would anyone have predicted the name of the person we’ll be inaugurating as our leader next January?

Wally Phillips retired from his morning show before the January 20, 1989 deadline.  He died in 2008.  I suspect that this second psychic challenge was only a gag, and that there’s no $10,000 deposited in escrow.

So whoever now owns Phil Donohue’s old home in the suburbs can put away your shovels.




2 Responses to “Wally’s Black Box—and the Sequel”

  1. 1 Carol Anne February 25, 2016 at 10:37 am

    How about the man who became famous for restoring the skating rink in NYC Central Park in 1986? He did it on time and under-budget, after the gov agencies failed. That’s when he first made his name. Yes, it was Donald Trump.

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