Archive for the 'THIS DATE IN CHICAGO HISTORY' Category

Your City Council at Work (2-19-1894)

Today Chicagoans were given a lesson on how their city council did business.  The story in the Chicago Record didn’t read like any civics textbook.

In 1894 Chicago had 35 wards, each represented by two aldermen.  The aldermen served two-year terms.  Their pay was $150 a year.

(That $150 is equivalent to about $3,700 today.  To convert 1894-dollars into 2018-dollars, multiply by 25.)


According to the Record, most of the aldermen could be bribed.  The paper did say there were some honest men in the council.  There had even been times when the honest aldermen were in the majority.  That was not the case in 1894.

Anybody who needed some kind of business permit had to pay bribes.  There was a definite price schedule.  If a coal company wanted to build a track-connection to a freight railroad, it cost $1,000.  For the same track, a brewery had to fork over $2,500—because a brewery made more money than a coal company. But the aldermen got their largest payoffs from granting city franchises.

A franchise was a legal monopoly.  They went to transit carriers or utilities.  Since any company that held a city franchise earned big bucks, the bribes were stupendous.  A few years before, when a certain railroad franchise was up for renewal, four aldermen had collected $25,000 each.

If you were going to pay bribes, you had to pay each alderman individually.  That way there were no witnesses.  Of course, with forty or so men in on the deal, that took some time and effort.


One businessman came up with a more efficient method.  He left packages of currency marked “$1,000” in the men’s washroom at City Hall.  Then, one by one, each alderman would come in to pick up his share of the loot.

The system worked until an innocent citizen wondered into the washroom.  The man found one of the discarded “$1,000” wrappers on the floor.  He chased down the alderman who had just left, gave the alderman the wrapper, and said “You lost something.”

The alderman laughed and said “Thank you.”  Then he tore up the evidence.

The Chicago Record expose gained considerable attention.  It also led to permanent reform.  From that day to this, there has never been another case of a Chicago alderman accepting a bribe in a public washroom.



The Miracle Man (2-5-1923)

The announcement appeared on the entertainment page of the Tribune, just below the ad for the Four Marx Brothers.  Emile Coue would be presenting a lecture at Orchestra Hall.  The Miracle Man was coming to Chicago!
Coue was a 65-year-old French pharmacist.  In the course of his business, he had made a startling discovery–patients responded better when he praised their medicine.  He concluded that their imagination was the reason.  It all had to do with thinking positive thoughts.

Coue claimed any person could develop this power.  He called his method autosuggestion, and it was easy.  Just keep repeating a simple phrase—“Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”  The unconscious would do the rest.  You could transform your health, your life, everything!

Now Coue was touring the United States.  He was describing his system to vast audiences, selling his books, setting up Coue Institutes to promote autosuggestion.  Rumors circulated that he had even cured people of physical ailments.

His Chicago appearances did not disappoint.  Each session at Orchestra Hall was packed with 3,000 people.  At the conclusion of his final lecture, Coue approached a group of five crippled people.  One by one, he put his hands on their legs, and mumbled.  Then he shouted the command—“Now walk!  You’re better!  You’re cured!”

The five cripples dropped their canes and crutches.  They took tottering steps forward.  They walked.

The audience exploded in cheers.  Coue remained calm.  He again declared he was not a healer, only a teacher.  “I teach people to cure themselves,” he said.  “It is not a miracle.”  These people had not really been crippled.  They’d merely had “psychic paralysis.”

Coue moved on from Chicago, then returned to France.  The next year he made a second American tour.  He died in 1926.  In more recent times, his ideas on positive thinking have influenced such luminaries as Norman Vincent Peale and W. Clement Stone.

Autosuggestion itself turned out to be a fad.  Even before Coue’s death, there were jokes about it.

One of them concerned a woman who sought Coue’s help.  She told Coue her husband always thought he was sick and was always complaining.  Coue told the woman to go home and have the husband repeat the “day-by-day” phrase.

A few days later the woman returned.  Coue asked if the autosuggestion had worked.  The woman shook her head.  “Now my husband is worse,” she said.  “Now he thinks he’s dead.”


Gun-Free (2-1-1982)

The eyes of the world were on Morton Grove.  The quiet northern suburb had just completed its first day under the most restrictive handgun law in America.

The story had begun in 1980, when someone applied for a license to open a gun store in the village.  The matter went to the Board of Trustees.  In June 1981 the Board passed an ordinance banning gun sales.  While they were at it, they also approved a measure outlawing the possession of handguns.

Of course, the U.S. Constitution said that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  The Board knew that the law would be challenged.  So the Morton Grove police were instructed to hold any surrendered guns for five years, in case the law were overturned.
The lawsuits came.  The original enforcement date—September 6, 1981—was postponed.  In December the U.S. District Court upheld the ban.  The Board then announced that the law would go into effect on February 1, 1982.

On the morning of the big day, reporters, photographers, and TV news crews staked out the Village Hall police station.  At 8:15 a resident came in with three rusty handguns in a shopping bag.  He’d wanted to get rid of the guns for a long time, but didn’t know how to go about it.

A few minutes later, a second man came in.  He was surrendering a .22-caliber pistol.  “This would be your Saturday night special,” an official helpfully told the reporters.


The day went on.  The news people waited.  In the middle of the afternoon, a third man appeared.  He dropped off a small-caliber pistol and some ammo.

One of the reporters asked the deputy police chief how future violations would be treated.  “We would hand out an ordinance ticket, just like a parking violation,” the chief said.  The weapon would also be confiscated.

The Village Hall closed at 5 p.m.  A total of five guns had been collected.

The mayor of Morton Grove had been following the news coverage on TV.  He said he wasn’t disappointed by the small number of guns.  “It’s a drop in the bucket,” he conceded.  “[But] who the heck can tell how many guns there are?”

Because of later court decisions, Morton Grove repealed much of its handgun ban in 2008.


The Yellow Kid Rides Again (1-25-1931)

Chicago’s most illustrious con man went through the indignity of a police lineup today.  The Yellow Kid didn’t like it.

Joseph Weil was born in Chicago in 1875.  At an early age he decided that honest work was beneath him.  He started his road to fame by peddling worthless patent medicines.

Yellow Kid Weil, 1931

He eventually worked his way up to the big time.  Weil was involved in land swindles, stock frauds, race-fixing, and other assorted ventures.  Along the way he acquired the nickname Yellow Kid, after a popular cartoon character.

Now, in 1931, he was in Chicago police custody.  Weil was charged with bilking a Michigan man out of $15,000 in a mining deal.  The cops were using the opportunity to parade the Kid through their daily lineup, to see if other victims might recognize him.

“And here, ladies and gentlemen, we have no less a distinguished personage than the Yellow Kid,” the officer in charge announced.

The Kid bowed.  Nobody in the audience had any charges to make.

Then the Kid went on the offensive.  “Sure, I am a con man—the best,” he said.  “But I’ve always taken from those who can afford the education.”  He claimed that he only cheated the dishonest rich.  He wasn’t one of those “smug hypocrites who rob the poor, then sit in church pews.”

Besides, the Chicago police were treating him shamefully.  Yesterday they had shipped him all the way to Rockford for a lineup there.  “They exhibited me to a farmer who lost two cases of eggs,” the Kid complained.  “The value was $8.50.  I have never been so humiliated.”

His discourse over, they took the Kid back to his cell.  His brother Ike arrived with a change of clothes.  Ike was a former court bailiff.

The Kid beat this particular rap.  He continued his career, with occasional interruptions for prison time, until old age caught up with him.  He died in a Chicago nursing home in 1976.  Paul Newman’s character in The Sting is based on Yellow Kid Weil.

Weil might have retired, but he never completely mellowed.  A Chicago reporter attended the Kid’s 99th birthday party in the nursing home.  There was cake, and singing, and much senior good fellowship.

When the party was over, and he thought nobody was watching, the Kid swiped the extra box of candles.


The Municipal Razor (1-15-1925)

Crime was on the minds of Chicagoans today.  And people were talking about the solution offered by a visiting French priest.

Chicago was earning a reputation as the wildest big city in the world.  Since 1920 robberies had gone up 35 percent, while the number of rapes, bombings, and arson cases was rising at an alarming rate.  In the past two years alone, murders had doubled.

Many blamed the crime problem on the Prohibition Act.  Alcoholic beverages had been banned in America, and bootlegging gangs were now in control of the liquor trade.  Violence was part of their business.  Everyday citizens were also losing respect for the law.

Still, Prohibition wasn’t going to be junked any time soon.  So what could be done about Chicago’s crime?  Abbe Ernest Dimnet had an answer.

Dimnet was the canon of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  He was a respected French author whose books were becoming popular in English translation.  The abbe was stopping in Chicago on a lecture tour.

Mayor Lewis Shank of Indianapolis was also in town to give a speech to a business breakfast.  Shank had said the way to fix Chicago crime was to hire smarter policemen.  Dimnet thought that was only part of the cure.

“In France,” he said, “we would be horrified at such a crime wave that has deluged dry Chicago.”  Besides good police, the city needed good judges who were not afraid to enforce the law.  And there was one more thing.

Chicago needed a guillotine.


Dimnet admitted that executions were not exactly civilized.  “However,” he went on, “there is something in the utter finality of the descending blade of a guillotine that inspires a healthy respect for the law.”  This was a far better way to deal with criminals than putting them in prison.  Because of bleeding-heart reformers, many prisons had become as posh as a bachelor’s hotel.

To be an effective deterrent, Dimnet said that the executions must be public.  He thought the best location for the “municipal razor” would be in Grant Park.

Abbe Ernest Dimnet returned to Paris unharmed by his visit to Chicago.  A few years later he wrote a best-selling self-help book in English called The Art of Thinking.

Prohibition ended in 1933.  Chicago never did erect a guillotine in Grant Park.  Instead, the city used the site for Buckingham Fountain.


A New Plan for Saving (1-10-1910)

We’re always being told to save more money.  But this time, did a Chicago bank go too far?

The First National Bank of Englewood was located at 63rd and Stewart.  In 1910 the neighborhood was upper-middle-class, and booming.  The bank was doing fine.  But like any smart business people, officials at First Englewood knew they could do better.


The bank began publishing a small monthly magazine called Savings.  It was distributed free in the community, and had the usual tips on how to save money.  All pretty bland and innocent.  Then, in the December 1909 issue, readers were treated to the following advice from the fine folks at First Englewood:

“One woman’s method of saving money—or perhaps we should say one of a woman’s methods of saving money—is to go through her husband’s pockets every night while he gently slumbers.  All the loose change she finds she deposits in our bank at interest.”

Now a month had passed.  During that time, the bank had added 500 new depositors.  The head cashier said there was only one way to explain this—the wives of Englewood had been inspired by the article, and were filching coin from their sleeping mates.

Strange as it might seem, some men thought First Englewood’s savings campaign was unethical.  The editor of Savings didn’t agree.  The bank was merely helping the community become more thrifty.  “For the last ten years we have made a close study of the people of Englewood,” he said.  “At last we have the combination.”

Wife cartoon.jpg

As for the wives, many said they’d taken advantage of Christmas celebrations to acquire some of hubby’s cash.  This had caused some excitement for one lady on Normal Avenue.

“The first time I tried separating my husband from his money, he came to me all out of breath and said that thieves had entered the house,” the woman recalled.  “I said nothing until he rushed for the telephone to inform the police.  Then I asked him to wait a minute and maybe I might explain.”

With that, the woman fetched her copy of Savings and pointed to the appropriate paragraph.  Her husband laughed.  All was well again on Normal Avenue.

The First National Bank of Englewood continued building its business in the years ahead, thriving along with the community.  During the 1930s the bank became involved in a long dispute with the federal government.  It closed in 1941.


Errand of Mercy (1-4-1968)

It was a typical January day in Chicago.  Temperature near zero, snow on the ground, periodic gusts of wind.  What better time to move 160 hospital patients?

Mercy Hospital had been operating at 2537 S. Prairie Avenue since 1869.  It had treated victims of the Chicago Fire, and had tended to ex-President Theodore Roosevelt after he survived an assassination attempt.  But now the building was nearly a hundred years old, and being replaced.

A new hospital had been built a block away, at 2510 S. South Park Way (King Drive).  The price tag was $26 million.  With 517 beds, it was bigger than the ancient red-brick structure, and featured the latest in medical equipment.  Pride of the facility was the 35-million-volt radiology machine for cancer treatment.

The architecture of the new Mercy Hospital was stunning.  The building was all glass and stone and steel, the height of 1968 fashion.  More than one observer was reminded of the nearby Circle Campus.

Bad weather or not, the transfer from 1869 to 1968 could not be delayed.  The new building was ready and waiting.  Shortly after 8 a.m., they began the move.

The Metropolitan Ambulance Association had provided 20 vehicles without charge.  The patients were bundled onto stretchers and, one by one, shuttled from Prairie Avenue to South Park Way.  Meanwhile, office staff walked the thousands of medical folders over the same route.  They often stopped to retrieve documents blown away by the bone-chilling wind.

Most everyone seemed in good spirits.  The first patients transferred were a 27-year-old woman and her two-day-old baby.  “You know, that was kind of fun,” she said—the mother, not the baby.

A few people admitted they would miss the familiar old Mercy.  One patient was crying as she was brought into the new building.  The woman had just given birth to her seventh child.  She also happened to be a part-time nurse in the hospital’s emergency room.

“Wednesday night in the old hospital, I was up three times during the night, looking around,” she explained.  “I have very, very mixed emotions.  I had looked forward to a new hospital, but . . .”  And then she broke down again.

By 4 p.m. the transfer was complete.  The old Mercy Hospital closed its doors forever.  A few months later, the historic building was demolished.