Archive for the 'THIS DATE IN CHICAGO HISTORY' Category

Fanny Dumps Her Man (9-13-1927)

It was over.  Fanny Brice was in Chicago, and she was divorcing Nicky Arnstein.

Brice was the beloved musical comedy star of Broadway’s Ziegfeld Follies.  Arnstein was a charming, 6’6″ gambler and con man.  The unlikely couple had married in 1918.9-13--my%20man

Then Nicky had gone to prison for a stock swindle.  During the years her husband was a guest of the government, Fanny closed her shows singing a ballad about a woman who knows she loves a louse, but still won’t get rid of him.  The song was titled “My Man.”

Things had gone bad after Nicky was released.  Fanny became suspicious, and had him followed when he made a trip to Chicago.  The detective confirmed it–Nicky was having an affair.

So now Fanny was in the courtroom of Judge Otto Kerner Sr.  She said her marriage had started to fall apart when she got plastic surgery to straighten her nose.  Nicky didn’t like the change.

Freudian pop-psychology was being used to explain everything in 1927.  Fanny’s lawyer told the judge that Nicky had first become attracted to Fanny because she resembled his mother.  After Fanny had her nose job, Nicky’s lost interest in her.  Nicky had something called an Oedipus Complex.9-13--nicky

Fanny was asked why she wanted a divorce now, after she had stood by her man all the years he was in prison.  “I don’t like to talk about it much,” she said.  “But I’m doing this for both of us.  I’m really giving him a chance to come back.”

As for alimony, Fanny said she was earning enough money to support their two small children.  The judge asked if she might have trouble getting future work.  “Who can tell?” she laughed.  “The fickle public!”

Nicky did not appear in court.  After being served papers in a North Side restaurant, he issued a statement saying he would not contest the divorce.  He still loved Fanny, and would not stand in her way.  Nicky then left town, for parts unknown.

Judge Kerner granted the divorce, and the marriage was officially over.

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Fanny Brice resumed her Broadway career, and later became a successful radio comedienne.  She died in 1951.  Nicky Arnstein outlived her by 14 years, and managed to stay out of further trouble.

Funny Girl, a 1964 musical based on the story of Fanny and Nicky, made 21-year-old Barbra Streisand an overnight star.  It was later made into a movie.



The Search for Peabody’s Tomb (8-27-1922)

On this date, Francis S. Peabody suffered a heart attack and died.  Though nobody realized it at the time, he had just taken the first step to becoming a Chicago legend.

Peabody was a 63-year-old coal dealer, a multi-millionaire and a figure in national Democratic politics.  He’d invited some friends to his Hinsdale estate for a fox hunt.  When the hunt was over and Peabody hadn’t returned, a search party was sent out.  They found his body near a small lake, with his horse standing nearby.

Mrs. Peabody decided to have her husband buried at a secret location near where he had fallen.  A few years later she sold the property to a group of Franciscan friars.  Then the fun began.

A tiny chapel had been built near the lake.  Wild rumors began to circulate about the mystery of Peabody’s Tomb.  Peabody was supposed to be interred in a crystal casket inside the chapel, his body floating in preservative oil like a Du Page County Lenin.  Sometimes it was claimed that his inflant son was there with him.

Naturally, such wondrous tales had to be verified.  So whole generations of city and suburban kids went off in search of Peabody’s Tomb, usually after dark.  Traffic was heaviest around Halloween and fraternity initiation season.

The Franciscans were troubled.  Chasing away all these skulking adolescents was disturbing their contemplation.  Besides, the kids created a mess and sometimes vandalized the property.

Now a new rumor spread.  The friars didn’t just kick out trespassers.  If they caught you, they forced you to pray on your knees all night—and whipped you if you didn’t comply.  The number of intruders dropped.  No one ever proved that the Franciscans had cooked up this latest tale.

During the 1990s the Franciscans disposed of the property.  Today the Mayslake Peabody Estate is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Du Page County, and anyone may visit the site.  But the exact location of Peabody’s Tomb is still a mystery.


Night Baseball Comes to Wrigley Field (8-8-1988)

The first night game in major league baseball was played in 1935.  By 1950 all the teams played night games—except the Cubs.  Longtime owner Phil Wrigley said the national pastime was meant to be enjoyed in daylight.

When the Tribune Company bought the Cubs in 1981, management began talking about putting lights in Wrigley Field.  The neighborhood didn’t like that, and pressured politicians to pass laws banning night games at the ballpark.  But night games made more money, and now it was only a question of time until the Cubs installed lights.  A compromise was reached, where the number of night games would be strictly limited, and non-resident parking would be prohibited on nearby streets.


On August 8, 1988, the Cubs met the Phillies in the first night game at Wrigley Field.  Naturally, the park was a sellout on that historic 8-8-88.  Just as naturally for something involving the Cubs, things didn’t work out as planned.  A major storm drenched the area, and the game was called after three innings.

Unlike a few hundred thousand Cubs fans, I can’t claim to have been present at Wrigley’s aborted first night game.  I was in San Francisco on vacation with my family that day.  When I finally did get to a Wrigley night game later in the season, the whole experience seemed surreal.  Even now, I still prefer going to the park for day games.  It’s probably a generational thing.

By the way, in the first official night game at Wrigley Field on 8-9-88, the Cubs beat the Mets, 6-4.


Bull Moose (8-6-1912)

He was back.  Before an ecstatic crowd of 15,000 people at the Chicago Coliseum, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt declared himself a candidate for President of the United States.

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The occasion was the first convention of the Progressive Party.  Roosevelt had served two terms as president, then engineered the election of his friend William Howard Taft in 1908.  By 1912 the two men had broken over policy matters, and Roosevelt had challenged Taft in the Republican primaries.

The crowd at the Coliseum knew the rest of the story too well.  Roosevelt had won most of the primaries, but the Republican bosses had still nominated Taft.  The people had been ignored.  So when Roosevelt announced he was quitting the Republicans, he took much of the party with him.

They had formed a new third party, the Progressives.  Now Roosevelt was speaking to them.  “You know where I stand!” he roared.  “I’m ready if you want me!”

The audience yelled themselves hoarse.  They remembered the golden years of the Roosevelt administration.  He had broken up monopolies, settled strikes, built the Panama Canal, started the National Park system, and won a Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war between Russia and Japan.  He had been the most popular president since George Washington.

Roosevelt spoke for nearly an hour, but the people in the Coliseum didn’t notice the time pass.  Nothing else mattered when the Colonel was talking.  At the end he brought them to their feet, comparing the current fight to the Bible’s final war of good against evil–“We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!”

Afterward someone asked Roosevelt about his health.  “I feel as fit as a bull moose,” he declared.  From that time on, the new party was nicknamed the Bull Moose Party.

In November Roosevelt and the Progressives pulled more votes than Taft.  But the split in the Republican ranks sent Democrat Woodrow Wilson to the White House.

The Progressive Party eventually fell apart, and Roosevelt rejoined the Republicans.  He died suddenly in 1919.  At the time of his death, he was the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination—and probable election to the presidency—in 1920.


Opera Comes to Chicago (7-30-1850)

Chicago had 30,000 people in 1850.  It was becoming a big city.  Folks here were getting sophisticated.  Women were even buying spittoons so their husbands didn’t spit the tobacco juice on the floor any more.

And on this date, the world knew that Chicago wasn’t just some backwater little village.  An opera company had come to town!

Well, it wasn’t exactly an opera company.  It was actually four professional singers who’d been performing in Milwaukee, a real backwater little village.  Still, this was an actual opera.  Opera was big news in 1850.

Jenny Lind

In New York, P.T. Barnum was paying Jenny Lind—“The Swedish Nightingale”—$1,000 a night to perform.  Chicago’s first opera didn’t have Jenny Lind.  But the local promoters were crafty enough to choose one of her biggest hits for their first show, at Rice’s Theatre.  The opera was Bellini’s La Sonnambula.

Four singers are not enough for an opera.  So the Chicago cast was filled out with local amateurs.  A few of them had good voices, most of them didn’t.  Rehearsals were—I think “confused” is a good word to describe them.

(Does this sound like the plot of some bad old Hollywood movie yet?)

Well, the grand premiere went off on schedule.  Rice’s Theatre was jammed.  And just like in 2018, the opening night crowd really dressed up.  The men were wearing swallow-tail coats, the women had on long gowns and were carrying lorgnettes.

Just like in one of those bad old Hollywood movies, the show had problems.  The audience kept applauding at the wrong time—whenever one of the hometown amateurs showed up on stage, his friends in the audience would stand up and cheer.  Meanwhile, one of the extras named J.H. McVicker sang so loudly he drowned out everybody else.

But the cast slogged through to the finish.  And everybody loved it!  The whole town was talking about Chicago’s first opera.

The next day Rice’s Theatre burned down.

So Chicago’s first opera season ended, after a single performance.  But they had made a start.  And a few years later, J.H. McVicker, that booming-voice spear carrier, built the city’s finest theater.


The Alderman Helps Out (7-26-1914)

“Constituent service” was the name of the game for 3rd Ward alderman Jacob Lindheimer.  The Chicago Beach Hotel was operating a private beach for guests off 50th Street.  Neighborhood residents wanted access, but the alderman was advised that nothing could be done until the courts rendered a decision.

So Lindheimer paid a visit to the hotel’s manager, and presto!—half of the beach was thrown open to the public.  The episode was just another part of a Chicago alderman’s daily routine, one for the voters to remember when the next election rolled around.


Cross of Gold (7-9-1896)

On this date, a little-known, 36-year-old newspaper editor gave a speech before the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  The next day he was the party’s candidate for President of the United States.

The economy was in bad shape in 1896.  The country was arguing about how to solve the problem.  Put simply, it was about Gold vs. Silver.

Governor William McKinley

Governor William McKinley

The Gold group wanted each dollar in paper money backed by a dollar’s worth of gold.  They thought America needed a stable currency to bring back prosperity.

The Silver group wanted paper money backed by both silver and gold.  That would put more money in circulation, and lead to inflation.  But in the short term, the economy would rebound.

The Republicans nominated Governor William McKinley of Ohio for president.  He was a Gold man.  When the Democrats gathered in Chicago for their convention, none of their possible candidates seemed very exciting.

They met at the original Chicago Coliseum, at 63rd and Stony Island.  On the second day, July 9th, various delegates gave speeches about the party platform.  William Jennings Bryan was one of the Silver speakers.  He had served in Congress, and was now editor of the Omaha World-Herald.

Bryan was young, handsome, and dynamic.  He had a deep, booming voice that carried to all corners of the hall—which was important, since microphones hadn’t been invented yet.  And he knew how to give a speech.

William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan

Maybe it wasn’t what he said, but how he said it.  His Silver arguments were nothing new.  But two minutes into his oration, the delegates were interrupting him with applause.  As he went on, the applause came more often, and grew louder.

Then Bryan concluded, with imagery from the Bible—“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this Crown of Thorns!  You shall not crucify mankind upon a Cross of Gold!”

The convention had become a revival meeting, and the delegates went wild.  They stood on chairs, shouting themselves hoarse.  They threw hats, handkerchiefs, umbrellas, and anything else handy, into the air.  The party had found the man to lead it into battle.

One speech had done it.

Bryan was barely a year older than the age requirement for president.  He was the youngest person ever nominated—and still is.  He waged a vigorous campaign through all parts of the country.

In the end, the voters chose colorless competence over charisma.  McKinley was elected.