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’d put things into coin lockers, then lose the key.  Or forget the locker number.  Or even forget they’d 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.


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

  1. 1 Garry January 12, 2021 at 5:26 am

    There was also an observation deck on the roof of the terminals. It cost 10¢ to go through the turnstile, but most people just snuck under it!

  2. 2 Andy Polizzi January 12, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    When the “Jet Age” began at O’Hare (late ’50s) we found our neighborhood in a flight path and the noise was incredible. We kids would run outside to see the “707s” flying so low you could almost see the passengers. Our folks were none too happy with the noise, not to mention the havoc the planes played with our TV antenna.

    I guess the flight paths changed over the years and our neighborhood was no longer subjected to the inconveniences of Jet Age life. Either that or we just became immune to it, like living next to the “L”.

  3. 3 benson January 12, 2021 at 2:55 pm

    Maybe they did it everywhere, but that “Richard J. Daley, Mayor” that was on so many signs growing up, I don’t think you saw that everywhere.

    I guess now we’d call that a good example of branding, or an example of good branding.

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