Archive Page 2

A New Deal (7-2-1932)

The Great Depression was in its third year.  Banks were failing and unemployment stood at around 25%.  Many Americans felt hopeless.

This was an election year.  President Herbert Hoover’s efforts to fight the Depression had failed.  So Hoover and the Republicans were on the way out.  The next president would probably be a Democrat.

President Hoover

The Democratic Convention met at the new Chicago Stadium in the summer of 1932.  On the third ballot, they nominated Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York as their candidate.  Then they appointed a committee to go to New York, and notify Roosevelt at a later date.

That’s the way it had always been done.  But now there was radio.  Everybody knew whom the Democrats had picked, as soon as it happened.  Roosevelt sent word to the delegates to forget about the committee, and stay put.  He would come to Chicago.

And to get there in a hurry, he would travel by airplane!

That’s wasn’t easy to do.  Since Roosevelt couldn’t walk, he had to be transported everywhere in a wheelchair.  The flight itself took several hours, battling storm and heavy headwinds.

But now, on the evening of June 2, the candidate was at the Chicago Stadium.  He didn’t look like someone who was in constant pain from his disability.  He didn’t look like someone who had just endured a bumpy, marathon flight in a 1932-model plane.  He was smiling.

Roosevelt radiated confidence.  He told the Convention that the times called for bold action.  That’s why he had abandoned the ridiculous idea that he should wait around, pretending to be ignorant, until he was formally notified.

FDR, with ever-present cigarette holder

Of course he knew that the delegates had chosen him.  So he was accepting in person.  Now it was time to get busy, win the election, and get the country moving again.  And he said: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”

Roosevelt had captured the mood of a nation ready to break with tradition.  That fall he beat Hoover in a landslide.  The new president’s program came to be known by the phrase he used in his acceptance speech—the New Deal.

Today historians debate whether Roosevelt’s policies helped the country recover from the Depression.  But he sure did restored America’s belief in itself.



Then and Now, Stony Island-63rd

194-1974-Stony Island @ 63rd

1974–Stony Island Avenue @ 63rd Street, view north

2018–the same location

In 1974 the Jackson Park ‘L’ terminal at 63rd-Stony Island was in its eighty-first year of service.  By that time the neighborhood was in decline, and many of the buildings that had gone up around the terminal had been town down.  Meanwhile, CTA had announced plans to replace the old station with an elaborate park-and-ride facility.

Today the ‘L’ line ends a mile west of here at Cottage Grove.  The South Side YMCA now occupies the site proposed for the park-and-ride garage, and the Obama Presidential Library is the area’s latest redevelopment project.


The State of Chicago (6-27-1925)

On this date, Chicagoans were talking secession.  Maybe the city should break off from Illinois and form a new state.

The Illinois Constitution was being violated.  Every ten years, following the federal census, the legislative districts were supposed to be redrawn.  That hadn’t been done since 1901.

Downstaters controlled the state legislature.  Letting Chicago have more seats would take away their power.  So the legislature had simply refused to redistrict after the 1910 census.  They had again refused after the 1920 census.


According to Alderman John Toman, the city deserved five more state senators and fifteen more state reps.  So now Toman offered a resolution to the city council—that the city’s lawyer should investigate how Chicago might secede from Illinois.  The resolution passed unanimously.

Obviously, there were going to be problems.  The U.S. Constitution specifically stated that no new state could be carved from part of an existing state, unless the existing state approved.  Would downstate be willing to let Chicago go, and lose all that tax revenue?

Probably not yet.  But perhaps sometime in the future.  Besides, there were ways of getting around the Constitution.  West Virginia had been torn away from its mother state Virginia during the Civil War.

The proposed State of Chicago would take in all of Cook County.  Suburbia was tiny in 1925.  Out of 3 million people in the county, about 2.7. lived within the Chicago city limits.  The secessionists said they’d consider including DuPage and Lake counties, too.

Most Chicagoans seemed to like the idea of being a separate state.  Along with being freed from the downstate dictators, Chicago would enjoy more clout on the national stage.  The new state would rank 11th out of 49 in population.

Even if the plan didn’t become a reality, the threat was worth making.  “Chicago is having trouble getting a square deal from the state,” a South Side electrician said.  “I believe the only way to get back at them is to rebel.  That would give them something to think about.”

Faced with all the legal roadblocks, secession talk eventually died out.  During the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court’s various “one man, one vote” rulings gave the city its fair share of legislature seats.


Waiters’ Revenge (6-22-1918)

One hundred years ago today, Chicagoans heard the shocking news.  More than 100 local waiters had been taken into police custody during raids on union headquarters.

Over the past week, nearly two dozen people, including Mayor Thompson, had become violently ill after dining in downtown restaurants.  The Hotel Sherman had then hired a detective agency to investigate why several of its guests had gotten sick.  The detectives found that the victims had been given a “Mickey Finn cocktail”—a concoction used to induce vomiting.

Victim Thompson

The world was in turmoil in June 1918.  While the Great War dragged on and on, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and were promoting other revolutions.  Chicagoans remembered the anarchist poison outrage at Archbishop Mundelein’s installation banquet a few years earlier.  So now those 100 waiters were rounded up, to see if they were involved in some larger conspiracy.

The police later determined that the Mickey Finns were not part of a dastardly plot.  A few waiters had simply been using them as a revenge on “tightwads” who didn’t leave big enough tips.

The emetic powder had been packaged in envelopes and sold to the waiters by a man working in union headquarters.  Each envelope was labeled “Mickey Finn Powder—12 doses triple strength.”  Only the uninitiated believed the further text that said the powder was an “antidote for drunkenness.”

In the end, despite the efforts of grandstanding politicians, no conspiracy was proven.  A few people got off with a little jail time.  Whether Chicago restaurant patrons began leaving bigger tips was never determined.


Then and Now, Clark-Foster

1958-Clark Street @ Foster Avenue, view south

2018–the same location

The 1958 photo captures Clark Street in a time of physical transition.  The streetcars have stopped running and the overhead wires are gone, though the tracks haven’t yet been covered over.  Along the sidewalk, the old incandescent street lamps are being replaced by the latest in Mercury vapor lights.

Sixty years later the buildings here look much the same, but further south some new structures are visible.  The sidewalks have been cut back and the pavement widened at this intersection, to make way for a left-turn lane.  The Mercury vapor streetlights have themselves been replaced by two different styles of retro light standards.


Then and Now, Ashland-Jackson

1909–Ashland Boulevard @ Jackson Boulevard, view south

2018–the same location

In 1909 Ashland between Lake Street and 12th Street (Roosevelt Road) was a  Park District street.  That meant the Ashland streetcars jogged a block west and operated on Paulina Street for that one-and-a-half miles, before returning to Ashland.  in the distance in the older photo, the main line of the Metropolitan ‘L’ can be seen crossing over Ashland.

Today this stretch of Ashland has been widened and is now a regular city street, open to trucks and any streetcars which may show up.  The ‘L’ viaduct in the distance of the newer photo is a ramp used for moving non-revenue trains between the Blue Line and the Pink Line.


The Smoke-Filled Room (6-11-1920)

On this date in history, the President of the United States was chosen in a suite at the Blackstone Hotel.  And a new phrase entered the political dictionary.

In 1920, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was finishing up eight years in the White House.  The Republican Convention was being held at the Chicago Coliseum that June, and it looked like a good year for the party.  The country was in the mood for change.

Blackstone Hotel, 1920

The political conventions of today are nothing more than media events—by the time the opening gavel is banged, one candidate has locked up the nomination.  That wasn’t the case in 1920.  Back then local party bosses controlled things.  Several roll-call ballots were usually needed to pick a nominee.

When the Republicans gathered, there were two front-runners—General Leonard Wood and Illinois Governor Frank Lowden.  The balloting began.  Neither man could get a majority.  The party elders called a recess, then met behind closed doors at the Blackstone to work out a compromise.

Warren G. Harding was a Senator from Ohio.  He was one of the minor candidates, and few people outside his state had ever heard of him.  His main selling point seemed to be that he “looked like a President.”

Harry Daugherty, Harding’s campaign manager, had predicted the convention deadlock.  Then, he said, at about 2 in the morning, 15 or 20 men would be sitting around a table in a smoke-filled room, bleary-eyed from heat and lack of sleep.  The men would be looking for the best presidential candidate.

“At that decisive time,” Daugherty declared, “the friends of Senator Harding will suggest him.”

Daugherty was quite a prophet.  After several hours of wrangling, the party bosses summoned Harding to the power suite at the Blackstone.  It was just after 2 a.m.

Harding said it, 40 years before JFK (though not as poetically)

Harding was asked if there were anything in his past that might embarrass the party.  He said there was not.  He didn’t mention that he’d fathered a child outside his marriage, which would not have played well with the voters in 1920.

So the bosses annointed Harding.  He was quickly nominated, and won the November election in a landslide.  When he died in office in 1923, he was one of the most popular presidents in history.

And today—even with all the restrictions on smoking—we still call a private gathering of political fixers a “smoke-filled room.”