Posts Tagged 'Politics'

Saving More Daylight (4-9-1941)

Chicagoans were talking about Daylight Saving Time.  The discussion was more heated than enlightening.

Benjamin Franklin had suggested Daylight Saving Time (DST) as long ago as 1784.  But America did not take up the idea until 1918.  With the country fighting World War I, Congress adopted year-round DST as an emergency measure.  When the war ended, the law was repealed.

In 1941 there was no national standard for DST.  Local communities made their own decision.  Chicago observed DST from the last Sunday in April through the last Sunday in September.  Now some Chicagoans wanted to extend that a month, to the last Sunday in October.


Opposition came mainly from farmers.  In Springfield, the Illinois Agricultural Association was backing a bill to prevent cities from extending DST.  They argued that any changes should be implemented statewide.  The CIO, a major labor group, was supporting the farmers.

However, most Chicagoans seemed to favor the extension.  DST was hailed as an economic boon, encouraging people to stay out later and spend more money.  With DST, there were fewer traffic accidents.  There was less crime, too.

Today Chicagoland sports leaders were speaking out in favor of longer DST.  According to the Tribune, their support was “as convincing as the Chicago Bears’ 73-0 rout of Washington” in the NFL championship.


At Northwestern University, the football coach said the change would allow his team to practice in natural sunlight, rather than under electric lights.  In the Loop, employees of banks and department stores were eager to have the extra hour of softball time in Grant Park.  Tennis players wanted more DST.  So did local soccer teams.

Greatest enthusiasm came from golfers.  “It would be a definite benefit to the thousands in the Chicago district if they were able to take advantage of October, one of our finest months,” a golf official said.  “That added 60 minutes would allow most of them to get in another nine.”  (Nine holes in an hour? They sure played faster in those days!)

The debate continued.  In May the Chicago City Council voted to extend DST the extra month.  The next year, with World War II under way, the whole country again went on temporary, year-round DST.  A national DST law–allowing for a few exceptions–finally went into effect in 1967.


For 366 stories like this—one for every day of a leap year—buy a copy of my book, On This Day in Chicago History

Big Bill’s Rat Show (4-6-1926)

Political campaigns aren’t what they used to be.  Consider what happened in Chicago on this April 6th in 1926.

The Republican U.S. Senate primary was a week away.  Incumbent W.B. McKinley was being challenged by Frank L. Smith.  McKinley was supported by most of the party elite, including Fred Lundin.  Lundin was a backroom campaign strategist known as The Poor Swede.  He was sort of the 1920s combination of Karl Rove and David Axelrod.

The Poor Swede

Smith was backed by former Chicago mayor William Hale Thompson—Big Bill.  Thompson was looking forward to 1927, when he could try to get his old job back.  But Lundin was grooming another candidate for mayor, Dr. John Dill Robertson.  That was more important to Big Bill than any Senate race.

The Smith campaign held a rally at the Cort Theatre.  When it was Big Bill’s turn to speak, he walked on stage carrying a cage, and set the cage on a table.  In the cage were two rats.

Thompson pointed at one of the rats.  “This one is Doc,” he told the packed house.  “I can tell him because he hasn’t had a bath in twenty years.  But we did wash him, and he doesn’t smell like a billy goat any longer.”

The crowd gasped—then laughed, then cheered.  “Go on! Go on!” they shouted.

Thompson pointed to the other rat.  “Don’t hang your head, Fred,” he said.  “Wasn’t I the best friend you ever had?  Isn’t it true I came home from Honolulu to save you from the penitentiary?”

Big Bill

He went on this way for a half hour.  The audience loved it.  Big Bill told them he’d always lived up to the cowboy code, but that Lundin had double-crossed him.  Lundin had a Jekyll and Hyde personality.  “When he was associated with me, the best in him came to the surface,” Thompson said.  “Since then he has been only evil.”

Big Bill concluded his performance by telling the crowd that he’d planned to bring six rats—“but Fred and Doc ate up the other four.”  That brought down the house.

Big Bill’s Rat Show became national news.  Smith upset McKinley in the primary, and later won the general election.  But because of various irregularities, the U.S. Senate refused to seat Smith.

That didn’t seem to bother Big Bill Thompson too much.  In 1927 he completed his comeback, and was again elected Mayor of Chicago.

No, political campaigns aren’t what they used to be.


For 366 stories like this—one for every day of a leap year—buy a copy of my book, On This Day in Chicago History

Chicago’s April Fools

What do Rod Blagojevich, Paul Harvey, and Jack Dempsey have in common?  They’re all on my list of Chicago’s April Fools—people who made foolish decisions, and should have known better.  Last night I was on Justin Kaufmann’s “The Download” on WGN-Radio, and talked about all of my April Fools.  Here’s the link—

Irritable Teachers (3-22-1933)

Chicago’s public school teachers had not been regularly paid in two years.  Today they decided to do something about it.

The Chicago school system had been a financial mess since the late 1920s.  The Depression hit, and the Board of Education ran out of money.  In 1931 the Board started paying teachers in scrip—which was basically an IOU.

3-22--class photo.jpg

When the teachers tried to pay their own bills, many businesses refused to accept the scrip.  Other places were glad to take the Board’s paper, but only at a discount.  The teachers’ union got a court injunction to halt the scrip.  The Board responded with the occasional payless payday.

So today over 200 teachers descended on the regular Board meeting at the Builders Building on La Salle Street.  The teachers carried signs with slogans like “Irritable Teachers Are Not Fair To Children.”  A bill was pending in Springfield that would allow teachers to strike if their pay was more than six months in arrears.  The Board was discussing that bill.

One Board member spoke out against it.  He painted a doomsday picture.  If the bill became law, the schools would have to shut down.  Then the public would question the whole value of a formal education.  There would be demands to end schooling at the 8th grade.


The teachers in the audience thought this was pure bullsh—er, balderdash.  They hooted and booed.  The presiding officer was not pleased.  “If you have no more control over your pupils than you have over yourselves, I question whether you are worthy of your calling,” he snapped.

The teachers next marched to City Hall, where the City Council was in session.  They filled the gallery and started chanting “We want our pay!”  Acting Mayor Corr gaveled for order.  He decided to let three teachers address the Council.

One by one, the teachers stated their case.  The Council listened.  The aldermen agreed to move forward with a plan to raise cash by selling tax anticipation warrants.  That ended the day’s protest.

But that was not the end of the trouble.  There were more missed paydays and more demonstrations.  The Board of Education’s financial problems were finally resolved in 1934 by a $22 million loan from the federal government.


The Big St. Patrick’s Day Parade (3-17-1956)

Richard J. Daley became Mayor of Chicago in April 1955. The very next year, the city’s newspapers announced he was planning “a parade” for March 17—St. Patrick’s Day.

Other American cities had a history of grand St. Patrick’s Day parades. Chicago’s Irish had staged a few parades on-and-off since the 1840s, and there was a long-running event on 79th Street. But holding a major, city-wide parade for the  feast day was not a Chicago tradition.

South Side Irish Parade, 1953

South Side Irish Parade, 1953

March 17 fell on a Saturday in 1956. Led by the mayor, the City of Chicago’s first official St. Patrick’s Day parade stepped off from State and Kinzie at noon. The route went south on State to Adams, then continued west on Adams to Des Plaines Street and Old St. Patrick Church.

About 10,000 Irish and honorary-Irish marched. “There were Irish pipe-and-drum units, and floats bearing Irish colleens, Irish dancers, and Gaelic football players,” the Tribune reported. “Marchers [were] carrying blackthorn sticks and shillelaghs and wearings hats festooned with shamrocks.” They marched for over an hour.

The weather was cold, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees and a brisk wind blowing down from the north. Yet over a quarter-million spectators lined the parade route. An untold number more watched the proceedings over WGN-TV.

Richard J. Daley's parade, 1967

Richard J. Daley’s parade, 1967

Many politicians marched down State. Some of them joined Daley on the reviewing stand near Madison Street. The newspapers listed them by name, for a good reason.

During each year’s May Day Parade in Moscow, the Russian public would scan the reviewing stand atop Lenin’s Tomb, and be able to figure out who ranked where in their government. Now Chicago began a similar exercise. On St. Patrick’s Day you’d check out who the mayor had invited to stand with him, and determine who had the most clout.

The day’s festivities concluded with a special Mass at Old St. Pat’s. Cardinal Stritch gave the homily. He predicted that Chicago would become the leading city of the world, with a population of 7 million. He urged his listeners to seek spiritual wealth as well as material wealth.

"How Green Was My River"

“How Green Was My River”

By the way, the city did not dye the river green for this first parade. That custom began in 1961.


The Gambler, His Wife, and Her Lover (2-21-1907)

Michael Cassius McDonald had spent much of his 67 years staying one jump ahead of the law.  Today his young wife was in the custody of the law.  The charge was murder.

McDonald was Chicago’s gambling king and a Democratic Party king-maker for decades.  But as he grew older, he sought a veneer of respectability.  He moved from the West Side to a mansion on fashionable Drexel Boulevard.  And he shed his first wife in favor of a rabbi’s daughter named Dora Feldman, thirty years his junior.

Mike McDonald (right) greeted by a reporter

Mike McDonald (right) greeted by a reporter

Time passed.  Dora grew bored with her husband.  She took up with a decorative young man a dozen years younger than herself.  His name was Webster Guerin.  He called himself an artist.

About 10 o’clock on this particular morning, Dora arrived at Webster’s studio in a Loop office building.  She seemed agitated.  Webster took her inside one of the rooms to calm her.  There was shouting.  Then a single gunshot.

People came running.  When the door was forced open, Dora was found standing over Webster’s body, screaming.  A pistol lay on the floor.

The police took Dora into custody.  Now the questions began.

Dora Feldman mcDonald

Dora Feldman McDonald

Did Dora murder Webster?  Did she kill him by accident during a struggle?  Did Webster commit suicide?  The gun was Dora’s—and it had been a present from Webster!

Motive?  Was Webster breaking off the affair?  Or was Dora breaking up with Webster?  Dora had given Webster money for years—was it blackmail, to keep their relationship quiet?  How much did Mike McDonald know about his wife’s Cougar play?

Old Mike stood by Dora.  He went with the blackmail story.  Dora had told him she was paying hush-money to someone, but said she could handle it.  Of course, Mike had never dreamed it would turn out this way.

The gambling king used all his influence to delay a trial.  Dora was placed in a private sanitarium.  Then Mike’s health went into decline.  By August he was dead.

McDonald left $25,000 to pay for his wife’s legal defense, a princely sum in 1907.  The money was well spent.  When Dora was brought to trial for murder, it took a jury only five hours to acquit her.

Dora Feldman McDonald eventually left Chicago.  She moved to California, married a doctor, and lived quietly.  She died in 1930.


Where Were You Then? (12-20-1976)

If you are a Chicagoan of a certain age, you’ll remember where you were when you heard the news, forty years ago today.  I was a substitute teacher in the city public schools.  I’d just finished the day at La Follette School on the West Side when I heard.

But let’s go back a couple of hours and set the scene.

This was the Monday before Christmas, the last day before winter, and it was cold in Chicago.  At around two in the afternoon, police began blocking off the streets near Michigan and Chestnut.  An ambulance had just arrived.  Something big was happening.

12-20-1976--12:30 pm--Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicates Mann Park Field House

12-20-1976–12:30 pm–Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicates Mann Park Field House

On the second floor of the building at 900 North Michigan Avenue, Richard J. Daley was dying.

Daley was 74 years old, in his 21st year as Mayor of Chicago.  He’d been having chest pains over the weekend, and had made an appointment with his doctor. That’s where he was now.

The doctor had examined Daley. You have to be admitted to the hospital immediately, he’d told Daley.  The mayor had phoned one of his sons.  Then, while the doctor was busy making hospital arrangements, the mayor had collapsed.

So now came the paramedics.  Now came the police to set up the barricades.  Now came the Daley family.  Now came the reporters, and the curious public.

12-20-1976--2:30 pm---Richard M. Daley arrives at the docror's office

12-20-1976–2:15 pm—The mayor’s son Rich arrives at the doctor’s office

At 3:50 p.m., the mayor was dead.

The news spread swiftly.  There was shock and disbelief.  Sure, Daley had been sick before.  And like everyone else, he was going to die someday.  But now?  Why now?  And what was going to happen to our city?  It felt like Chicago had suddenly become an orphan.

The wake was held at the parish church in Bridgeport the next day.  As mayor and Democrat Party leader, Daley had gone to hundreds of wakes.  Now his citizens were returning the favor.  The doors at Nativity of Our Lord stayed open all night as 100,000 of us filed past the open coffin.

The all-night wake at Nativity

The all-night wake at Nativity of Our Lord Church

Jimmy Carter, president-elect, came for the funeral Mass.  So did Vice President Rockefeller, Senator Ted Kennedy, and other men of power.  Then Daley left Chicago for the last time, to be buried in the family plot at Holy Sepulchre in Alsip.

Many plans were made to honor Daley.  Some wanted to rename Western Avenue—the city’s longest street—after the city’s longest-serving mayor.  An unincorporated village talked of incorporating as Daley, Illinois.  There was a proposal that a 25-foot statue of the late mayor be erected in the Civic Center plaza.  In time, the actual memorials would be more modest.

“Mayor Daley.”  The phrase had become so common, so indivisible.  A ten-year-old boy was said to have asked his father, “Who’s going to be the mayordaley now?”

One man died, but Chicago lived on.  And eventually got a mayordaley named Daley.