Posts Tagged 'celebrations'

Martyred Mayor (10-28-1893)

The grand Columbian Exposition was drawing to a close.  The eyes of the world had been on Chicago, and the city was feeling proud.  Then came the terrible news—Mayor Harrison had been killed by an assassin.

Carter Henry Harrison belonged to a distinguished family that gave the country two presidents.  In 1855 he arrived at Chicago as a young lawyer.  He was active in the Democratic Party and served two terms in Congress.  In 1879 he was elected mayor of the city.

Mayor Carter Harrison

Harrison was a popular, accessible mayor.  He often rode through the city streets on a white horse, greeting his constituents.  After serving four two-year terms, he retired.  But when Chicago was chosen as the site for the Columbian world’s fair, he ran for mayor once again, and was elected to a fifth term in 1893.

On this evening, Harrison had returned to his Ashland Boulevard home after a long day at the fair, and was napping in a back bedroom.  Around 8 p.m. a man named Eugene Prendergast appeared at the front door, asking to see the mayor.  The maid thought she recognized Prendergast and let him in.

A few moments afterward, the servants heard loud voices, then three shots.  They rushed toward the sound and discovered Harrison lying wounded on the floor.  Prendergast was gone.

The mayor died within twenty minutes.  A short time later, Prendergast turned himself in to the police.  He admitted the crime.  His motive?  Harrison had refused to appoint Prendergast as the city’s Corporation Counsel.

Chicago was plunged into grief.  The closing ceremonies at the Columbian Exposition were converted into a memorial for the fallen mayor. Prendergast was quickly brought to trial, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death.

The crowd outside the mayor’s home after the shooting

Prendergast’s brother appealed the sentence, saying that Eugene was insane.   The attorney for the appeal was not-yet-famous Clarence Darrow.  It was Darrow’s first murder case—and the only case he ever lost to the executioner.  The appeal was denied, and Eugene Prendergast was hanged.

Four years after Harrison’s murder, his son—also named Carter Harrison—became mayor of Chicago.  Like his father, the younger Harrison would be elected to the office five times.


Death Valley Scotty’s Wild Ride

Walter E. Scott (1872-1954) was famous for being famous. Known to the world as Death Valley Scotty, he was a relentless self-promoter.  For forty years he conned the gullible with tales of hidden desert gold mines.  And Chicago played a singular role in establishing his legend.

In 1905 Scott was reckoned to be a wealthy but eccentric miner. On July 8 he walked into the Los Angeles office of John Byrne, the Santa Fe Railroad’s assistant traffic manager.  “I’ve been thinking some of taking a train over your road to Chicago,” Scott told Byrne. ”I want you to put me in there in forty-six hours.”

Death Valley Scotty

No train had ever made the 2265-mile LA-to-Chicago run in less than fifty-one hours. Byrne did some calculating, and said that the railroad could meet Scott’s schedule. The price for the chartered train would be $5500—about $160,000 in today’s money.  With that, Scott pulled out a wad of $100-bills and paid the fare.  Byrne said the train would be ready the next day.

That’s the way the story is usually told. Scott never did say why he wanted to get to Chicago so fast.  What is known is that the Santa Fe was then in cut-throat competition with two other roads, and losing.  Setting a new speed record would be great publicity.  Most likely, Byrne and Scott had been cooking up the plan for some time.

At 1:03 p.m. on July 9, a crowd of a thousand people watched the three-car Scott Special steam out of Santa Fe’s La Grande Station. An enhanced crew of fifteen men was on board.  The passengers were Scott, his wife Ella, a Santa Fe publicity man, a newspaper reporter, and a stray yellow dog.

The L.A. dispatcher telegraphed ahead to clear the track for the special. Arrangements were made to have relief engines and engineers ready at intervals of approximately 120 miles.  An entire change-over to a fresh machine and a fresh man took only about three minutes

The trip went smoothly. The one mishap occurred in Kansas, when a cylinder blew on the engine. After a slight delay for this unexpected change-over, the special was moving again.  By the time it crossed the Mississippi into Illinois, it was an hour ahead of schedule.  Over one three-mile stretch, the special sustained a reported speed of 106 mph, faster than any steam-driven train had ever traveled.

All throughout the trip, the on-board reporter telegraphed dispatches on the special’s progress. Newspapers throughout the country ran the story.  Heavy gambling was booked on whether or not Scott’s train would beat the forty-six-hour mark.

Chicago eagerly awaited the special’s arrival. Rumor said that Scott never tipped less than $10, and was known to pass out $100-bills if the mood struck him.  Cornelius Shea, president of the teamsters’ local, was especially interested in meeting the “millionaire miner.” “He does not know what to do with his money,” Shea told a reporter.  “I know what to do with a bunch of it if he will give it to me.”

The Tribune’s front page cartoon—July 11, 1905

The Scott Special chugged into Dearborn Street Station at 11:57 a.m. CST on July 11, 1905, 44 hours and 54 minutes after its departure from Los Angeles. A cheer went up from the thousands of people present as Scott stepped off the train. One woman rushed forward and kissed him.  “Ladies and gentleman,” Scott shouted to the crowd.  “I’m glad to see you . . .” But the rest of his words were drowned out by more cheers.  Then Scott, his wife, and the yellow dog were off to the Great Northern Hotel.

During the next two days, reports trickled out that the “free-spending” Scott was hanging on to his supposed fortune. Salesmen, inventors, investment brokers, and everyday pan-handlers were turned away from his suite empty-handed.  The largest amount he parted with was a 30-cent tip to the room service waiter.

Then, on July 13, Scott was off to New York on “new business.” He was accompanied by the yellow dog.  Mrs. Scott joined them several days later.

Today we know that Walter Scott’s gold-mine boasts were nothing more than desert hot air. But that 1905 record train run was one time he was as good as his word.


Chicago Trivia Quiz #13–Answers


1. Which of these things made its debut at the World’s Columbian Exposition?

(C) Ferris wheel

2. The Century of Progress Exposition marked the 100th anniversary of  __________.

(A) the founding of Chicago

3. Which Chicago restaurant celebrated the end of Prohibition by obtaining Liquor License #1?

(D) Berghoff

4. To celebrate the White Sox pennant-clinching in 1959, __________.

(B) the air raid sirens were sounded

5. Where did President-elect Barack Obama deliver his victory speech on Election Night 2008?

(C) Grant Park

Chicago Trivia Quiz #13


As we celebrate America’s birthday, a quiz on some notable Chicago celebrations—

1. Which of these things made its debut at the World’s Columbian Exposition?

(A) bicycle

(B) roller coaster

(C) Ferris wheel

(D) Chicago-style pizza

2. The Century of Progress Exposition marked the 100th anniversary of  __________.

(A) the founding of Chicago

(B) the founding of the United States

(C) Illinois statehood

(D) the Great Chicago Fire

3. Which Chicago restaurant celebrated the end of Prohibition by obtaining Liquor License #1?

(A) Billy Goat

(B) McCuddy’s

(C) Little Jack’s

(D) Berghoff

4. To celebrate the White Sox pennant-clinching in 1959, __________.

(A) taverns were allowed to stay open all night

(B) the air raid sirens were sounded

(C) public schools were given a vacation during World Series week

(D) CTA gave free rides to anyone wearing a Sox cap

5. Where did President-elect Barack Obama deliver his victory speech on Election Night 2008?

(A) State and Madison

(B) Daley Center Plaza

(C) Grant Park

(D) in front of his home in Kenwood


Paderewski’s Piano (4-23-1893)

The World’s Fair was opening in a week.  Chicago and the nation were ready.  But now, there was a good chance that the musical headliner would not perform.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski was a Polish-born pianist.  At 32, he was already the world’s most famous musician.  He had sex appeal.  Women fainted at his concerts, and even when they saw him on the streets.  There was a popular name for the phenomenon—“Paddymania.”

top--bourne-jones image.jpg

Paderewski had just finished a series of Chicago concerts, and was about to leave for Europe.  Conductor Theodore Thomas asked him to stay around for a week and play at the Fair.  Paderewski agreed to do it, without fee.  Everything was set.

Then the Fair’s bureaucrats got into the act.  Paderewski performed on Steinway pianos.  Steinway was not an exhibitor at the Fair.  Therefore, Paderewski would have to use one of the “official” pianos.

Paderewski refused.  He said a musician should be free to select his own instrument.  He had signed a contract to use only Steinway pianos.  Besides, the company had been good to him, and he was loyal.

Thirty years later, Paderewski still plays a Steinway

The dispute hit the front pages and stayed there.  Negotiations went on behind closed doors.  A compromise was suggested, where Paderewski would alternate between a Steinway and one of the other pianos.  He wouldn’t budge.

Many newspapers thought he was being a temperamental prima donna, and said so.  Theodore Thomas angrily reminded everyone that Paderewski had already delayed his departure from Chicago.  The pianist was also offering to play for free, when he might have demanded several thousand dollars.

Now the arguments became more heated.  President Grover Cleveland was arriving soon to open the Fair.  Maybe the President could settle the piano problem.

Finally, Fair officials gave in.  Paderewski performed on his Steinway—brilliantly, as usual.

Paderewski continued his concert career until his death in 1941.  Along the way, he served as the first Prime Minister of an independent Poland, and later starred in a feature film titled Moonlight Sonata.

He loved Chicago, and often returned.  He said that three things in America impressed him—Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and the City of Chicago.  Today the Polish Museum of America maintains a Paderewski Room filled with memorabilia.  The centerpiece of the exhibit is the artist’s personal piano.

It’s a Steinway, of course.



Great Civil War Ended! (4-11-1865)

Peace!  Victory!  My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!  After four bloody years, the War of the Rebellion was over.

General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army in Virginia.  There were still some rebel forces fighting in other places.  But now that Lee had given up, the rest of the South would surely accept defeat.

4-11--Lee surrenders.jpg

Chicago had been on edge for days, waiting for Lee to capitulate.  Then, early on  Sunday evening, the joyous tidings flashed over the telegraph.  And the city celebrated.

People took to the streets, shouting and firing guns into the air.  An impromptu parade started marching down Lake Street.  As night fell, bonfires were lit.  Straw-filled dummies labeled with the names of rebel leaders were tossed into the fires.  Other dummies were hung from trees, where they served as handy targets for revelers flinging horse dung.

At midnight the hundred guns of the Dearborn Light Artillery boomed.  The noise continued through the night and into the dawn.  Whether any of the city’s 200,000 residents got much sleep was doubtful.

4-11--Chicago downtown.jpg

Monday came.  Nobody felt like going to work, and most businesses remained closed.  The Court House, the newspaper offices, and other important buildings were decorated with bunting.  Street vendors selling tiny American flags on sticks couldn’t keep up with the demand.  Another night of celebration followed.

As the sun rose on Tuesday, Chicago finally started getting back to normal.  Though the war had not always been popular in the North, the Tribune had supported it whole-heartedly.  Publisher Joseph Medill was a leader in the Republican Party and a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln.

Now the Tribune reminded readers that many Democrats had defended the evil of slavery.  Those Democrats had urged the North to make peace with the rebels.  And as long as the North had fought the war in a “Democrat” way, the South could not be conquered.

4-11--Tribune Offices.jpg

But then the government had decided to fight in a “Republican” way—total war.  “There was no more foolery or conciliation,” the paper declared.  “The war was made on the principles of coercion and subjugation.”  Victory had followed.

The period of postwar euphoria was brief.  Before the week was over, President Lincoln was killed by an assassin.


Hollywood in Chicago (10-23-1940)

Maybe they got the idea from Atlanta, which had just staged a grand premiere for Gone With the Wind.  Today the State Street Council hosted Chicago’s first nationwide movie premiere.  And it featured Cecil B. DeMille.

It was decades before anybody would—or could—call the Midwest “flyover country.”  But to many people on the East or West coasts, Chicago was only the place where you had to change trains.  So civic leaders were always looking for ways to promote the city.

“Times” ad

DeMille was Hollywood’s greatest showman.  He was known for his historical blockbusters.  His latest movie was an epic of the Canadian Mounties called North West Mounted Police, starring Gary Cooper and other notables.  The State Street Council approached DeMille about holding the premiere in Chicago.  DeMille readily agreed.

On the afternoon of the October 23, DeMille, Cooper, and the rest of the movie people arrived at North Western Station.  The publicity drums had been beating for weeks, and a crowd of over 10,000 was on hand to see them.  Led by horsemen dressed in Mountie uniforms, the Hollywood party paraded to City Hall so they could be officially greeted by Mayor Kelly.

Later that evening, DeMille and company were the honored guests at a Palmer House banquet.  Entertainment was provided by three sets of singers, comedy vets Laurel & Hardy, and comedy rookie Red Skelton.  DeMille gave a speech about how his movie would help bring together “the two great English-speaking nations of North America.”  The festivities closed with Cooper and the other stars acting out scenes from the movie.

Banquet at the Palmer House

At 7:30 the next evening, the Hollywood group gathered at the WGN radio studios in the Tribune Tower.  They broadcast a special program to a nationwide audience, with short-wave transmissions beamed into the more remote regions of Canada.  Then it was time for another parade, from the Tribune Tower to State Street, for the actual movie.  As a special bonus, the film was being shown simultaneously at both the Chicago and the State-Lake theaters.

DeMille and his troupe left the next day.  North West Mounted Police made a pile of money at the box office, but critics consider it one of DeMille’s lesser films.  Still, the two days had been a lot of fun.  And for many years afterward, Chicagoans fondly remembered the excitement of the city’s first Hollywood premiere.