Grandpa, Politics, and the Ward Picnic

My grandfather, Fred Price, was a Democrat precinct captain in the 41st Ward from 1932 until his death in 1961.  My parents and I lived upstairs in Grandpa’s bungalow when I was growing up.  I spent a lot of my childhood drinking in local politics.

In fact, my first real job came in 1958, when Grandpa paid me a couple of dollars to put up posters for Roman Pucinski, who was running for Congress. I was 10 years old and hung hundreds of them. Pucinski had lost the last time around, but in 1958 he won.  I like to think that my efforts had something to do with it.Cowhey

As a young man Grandpa had been a building contractor and a Republican. The Depression killed his business, so he switched parties and became a Democrat captain. Around the same time he got a city job with the Bureau of Sewers.

Grandpa eventually became a crew foreman. Chicago politics being what it was, that allowed him to spend some quality afternoons with me at the Cubs games. My dad had a non-political job, so he never got home before 6 o’clock.

Our ward committeeman was Bill Cowhey, who owned a coal yard and served three terms as alderman.  One of my favorite political souvenirs is the program book from his 41st Ward Picnic of 1949.

The first few pages are a portrait gallery of Democrat elected officials, from President Truman on down to the local bosses. Whoever wrote the captions for these pictures was in love with adjectives. Individual pols are referred to as gallant, illustrious, distinguished, untiring, fearless, and so on.  Today we’d call this “laying it on thick.”

After five pages of pictures, we get to the real meat of the program book—191 pages of ads. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to let Mr. Cowhey know how gallant/illustrious/distinguished/etc he was. So they bought space in his book.

Taverns . . . funeral homes . . . gas stations . . . barber shops . . . insurance brokers . . . labor unions . . . banks . . . grocers . . . real estate agents . . . a miniature golf course . . . a music school . . . they were all Friends of Bill (Cowhey).

Precinct Captain Card - Copy

A few brother committeemen bought entire pages of the book. So did a number of well-heeled precinct captains from the 41st itself.  Grandpa settled for purchasing a two-line listing as a Patron.

Kozy’s Grove, the picnic site, was some sort of beer garden. I was told that I attended a few of the ward fests as a toddler.  However, I have no memory of the place.  The city later bought the property and it became Merrimac Park.

My program book doesn’t mention any of the activities that took place at the ward picnic. If anyone is old enough to remember, please let me know.  I’d like to figure out whether I had a good time.



2 Responses to “Grandpa, Politics, and the Ward Picnic”

  1. 1 Mike November 19, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    I assume that’s Bill Cowhey of the Cowhey Concrete Company?

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt November 19, 2016 at 5:55 pm

      Same man. His business was at the northeast corner of Ainslie and Lipps, just south of where the Jefferson Park bus terminal is now.

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