Posts Tagged 'Lincoln Park'

The Life and Death of Nails Morton

Nails Morton wasn’t your ordinary gangster. Nor was his death ordinary. And the aftermath of that death became the stuff of legend.

He was born Samuel Marcovitz in New York in 1893, the oldest of seven children. Around 1900 the family moved to the Maxwell Street area of Chicago. Marcovitz was changed to Morton at that time.

Young Sammy quickly became involved with the Jewish street gangs in his neighborhood. His weapon of choice was a baseball bat studded with nails—hence, his nickname.  He was in and out of scrapes with the law, and a judge finally gave him the choice of going to prison or enlisting in the army.  Morton chose the army.

Samuel "Nails" Morton

Samuel “Nails” Morton

“Channel those aggressive instincts!” Maybe the judge told him that.  World War I was on.  Fighting in France, Morton was twice wounded and earned a major decoration for bravery. He entered the army as a buck private; he came home a first lieutenant.

Back in Chicago, he went back to his old ways. He opened some gambling houses.  In 1920, with Prohibition taking hold, Morton joined up with Dion O’Banion’s North Side mob.  O’Banion put him in charge of liquor distribution and enforcement.

The public first became acquainted with Nails Morton in 1921, when he was put in trial for killing two cops. He was acquitted in court.  There was talk that jurors had been threatened or bribed.

Morton became a gangland celebrity. He was seen at the city’s fanciest restaurants and in the best seats at sporting events, a female companion or two keeping him company.  He wore custom-tailored suits and drove a block-long touring car.  Leaving Maxwell Street behind, he bought a graystone two-flat facing Humboldt Park.

For relaxation he took up horseback riding. When he wasn’t busy shooting competitors or romancing ladies, Morton could usually be found atop a mount in Lincoln Park.  By 1923 the kid from the inner city was an accomplished horseman.

On the morning of May 13th he was riding through the park with some friends.  A stirrup strap broke, the horse bolted, and Morton fell to the ground.  The excited horse kicked him in the head, killing him instantly.

Morton was interred at Waldheim cemetery. The eulogists at his brief funeral service spoke of his war heroics.  They also noted that Morton had “organized a defense society to drive Jew-haters from the West Side.”  His other activities were passed over.

"The Public Enemy"--Cagney learns Nails has been killed

“The Public Enemy”–Cagney learns Nails has been killed

The North Side mob was shocked that their buddy had met death in such a prosaic manner. A few days after the funeral, Louie Altiere kidnapped the horse that had killed Morton.  Altiere led the animal to the spot where Morton had fallen, then shot it dead.  “We taught that damned horse of yours a lesson,” he told the stable owner.

Now we move forward to 1931, and the movie The Public Enemy.  Gang boss James Cagney learns that his buddy “Nails Nathan” has been killed by a horse.  So Cagney leaves Jean Harlow behind, goes to the stable, and shoots the horse.

And they say Hollywood movies aren’t true to life . . .


Some “Hidden Landmark” Graves on Extension 720

Last night I was on Justin Kaufmann’s “Extension 720” radio program on WGN, talking about some Hidden Chicago Landmarks—specifically, some interesting grave-sites.

Here’s the link—

Historian John R. Schmidt explores spooky hidden Chicago landmarks: Chicago’s smallest cemetery, the Robinson family graves and the Couch Mausoleum in Lincoln Park

Then and Now, Fullerton-Sheffield

1967--Fullerton Avenue @ Sheffield, view west

1967–Fullerton Avenue @ Sheffield Avenue, view west

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1967 trolley buses were running on Fullerton Avenue, and both ACF-Brill and Marmon-Herrington models are visible in the older photo.  The neighborhood still featured many factories and warehouses, since DePaul University was just starting to expand.

Today the trolley buses are gone.  The DePaul area has become a textbook model of urban gentrification, both pros and cons.  And while the trees are a welcome addition to Fullerton, it does make photography a bit more problematical.


Then and Now, Armitage-Bissell

1910--Center Street (Armitage Avenue) @ Bissell, view east

1914–Center Street (Armitage Avenue) @ Bissell Street, view east

2015--the same location

2016–the same location

Our location is one block east of Sheffield.  The North Side ‘L’ began operation in 1900, spurring development in the western part of the Lincoln Park neighborhood.  This section of Armitage Avenue was then named Center Street.  A single-track streetcar line runs on the street, and a ribbon commercial strip is already well along.

As ridership increased, the streetcar line got a second track.  Electric trolley buses later replaced the streetcars, and still later, motor buses replaced the trolley buses.  Today the commercial strip continues to thrive.  The area’s residential side streets boast some of the highest property values in the city.


Then and Now, Lincoln-Schubert

1909--Lincoln Avenue @ Schubert, view northwest

1909–Lincoln Avenue @ Schubert Avenue, view northwest

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

We are a long block south of Diversey Parkway.  By 1909 a ribbon commercial strip had already developed along the Lincoln Avenue streetcar line.  The cross-street named “Schubert Avenue” reflects the fact that this was the heart of the city’s German community.

Chicago’s German population has dispersed over the course of the century.  However, St. Alphonsus Catholic Church—whose steeple is visible up Lincoln Avenue—still offers a German-language Mass once a month.  Most of the old buildings along the strip have been replaced, as the neighborhood continues to thrive.  Could anyone in 1909 have envisioned a parking lot and a “Seven-Eleven” store?


Then and Now, North-Clybourn

1965--North Avenue @ Clybourn, view west

1965–North Avenue @ Clybourn Avenue, view west

2015--the same location

2015–the same location

In 1965 the Clybourn Avenue corridor was given over to mostly industrial use.  So was North Avenue going west to the river.  The giant gas storage tank can be seen as a symbol of what the neighborhood was like a half-century ago.

Gentrification began creeping in here during the late 1980s.  Today the area centered around North-Clybourn is one of the city’s major shopping districts.  And an appropriate symbol of the changing neighborhood is visible in the contemporary photo—the Crate & Barrel store.


Then and Now, Lincoln-Webster

1942--Lincoln Avenue @ Webster, view northwest

1942–Lincoln Avenue @ Webster Avenue, view northwest

2014--the same location

2015–the same location

During the first half of the 20th Century, Lincoln Park was a working-class neighborhood with a large German population.  Lincoln Avenue was originally a trail called Little Fort Road, which led to the settlement of Little Fort, today’s Waukegan.  The local Germans nicknamed the street Kaiser-Wilhelm-Straβe.

In 2015 the old German settlement has dispersed.  There have also been some physical changes around this intersection—the building peaking out of the far left of the older picture was one of many structures cleared to make way for Oz Park.  The Lincoln Park area now has some of the city’s highest property values.