Posts Tagged 'religion'

Gypsy Smith’s March (10-18-1909)

On this date 108 years ago, Chicago saw one of its strangest events.  English evangelist Gypsy Smith led a march through the city’s notorious Levee.

Rodney Smith really was a Romany—a gypsy.  By 1909 he’d become a famous and respected preacher on three continents.  Now he was conducting a revival at the Armory at Wentworth and 34th Street.

The Levee was Chicago’s red-light district, centered around 22nd and State.  Prostitution was supposed to be illegal in the city.  But officials had always allowed the brothels to operate, as long as they remained clustered in one area.

A few days before, Smith had announced he would lead a march through the Levee.  So on this evening, when he finished his sermon at the Armory, he quietly walked out the front door, and started heading north on Wentworth.  The 3,000 people in his congregation followed.

They walked silently, earnestly.  Men and women, young and old, all races, all levels of society.  Every so often, Smith would turn to face the group and walk backward while preaching to them.  Other joined the march along the way, until about 20,000 people were moving up Wentworth.

10-18--Gipsy Smith cartoon.jpg

By the time they reached 22nd, the sidewalks were jammed with spectators from all over the city.  They stood in horse-drawn wagons, or in open cars, or on the roofs of buildings.  Police estimated the crowd at over 50,000—bigger than any sporting event or election night rally.  One cop shook his head, saying “This could only happen in Chicago.”

Meanwhile, all the brothels had shut down.  The lights were off, the curtains shut, the doors locked.  Many of the prostitutes had changed to street clothes and were among the throng watching the marchers.

In many ways, it was a more civilized time.  The spectators did not heckle the marchers or throw things at them.  They merely watched—respectful or cynical or amused, but always orderly.

10-18--Gipsy Smith marchers.jpg

Now that the marchers had entered the belly of the beast, they began singing hymns.  Periodically they’d pause in front of a “resort.”  Then Smith would lead them in a short prayer before moving on.

The march ended, and Gypsy Smith left.  According to legend, some of his followers stayed behind to sample the delights of the Levee for the first time.  But the evangelist was not disappointed.  “Time will show that great good has been done,” he said.

Two years later, Mayor Carter Harrison Jr. shut down the Levee.



Papal Visit (10-4-1979)

In 1976 a cardinal of the Catholic Church named Karol Wojtyla visited Chicago.  That was minor news.  But when he returned three years later, on this date, the whole city knew he was in town.

By 1979 Wojtyla had become John Paul II, the first Polish pope.  At age 59 he was young for a pope—a dynamic, charismatic figure, a one-time actor who still did downhill skiing.  Now he was making his first papal visit to the United States.

Waiting for the Pope along Milwaukee Abenue

John Paul arrived at O’Hare on the evening of October 4.  Thousands of spectators lined the motorcade route, waiting hours to catch a glimpse of the smiling, waving figure standing in the open-top limo.  He settled in for the night at Cardinal Cody’s residence on State Parkway.

The next day, the pope was up early for a visit to Providence of God church, a mostly-Mexican parish in Pilsen.  From there he moved on to Five Holy Martyrs church in Polish Brighton Park.  That was followed by a meeting with seminarians at Quigley South.

The climax of day was an open-air afternoon Mass in Grant Park.  The Chicago Public Schools had closed for the day to give students and teachers a chance to attend the service.  When some citizens raised concerns about the separation of church and state, the school superintendent deftly sidestepped the issue by declaring the pope’s visit a “historic event.”

There he goes—under the “D” in “DISCOUNT!”

An estimated 1.2 million people gathered in the park for the two-hour-long Mass. The weather remained sunny and seasonable.  Afterward many in the crowd chanted “John Paul Two, We Love You!” The pope responded with “John Paul Two, He Loves You!”

That evening, John Paul attended a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance at Holy Name Cathedral.  The next day he was gone, after 40 busy hours.

John Paul II was pope for nearly 27 years, until his death in 2005.  Nine years later, he was officially canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.  Though rumors persisted that he would again visit heavily-Polish Chicago, he never returned.  Today the most visible reminder of his whirlwind tour is a section of what used to be 43rd Street, between Western and Kedzie Avenues.

Here all the street signs read “Pope John Paul II Drive.


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—

Civil War at St. Hedwig (2-9-1895)

Like the flag of Poland, there was white and red.  Blood was on the snow outside St. Hedwig church—and a bit of red pepper.

St. Hedwig parish had been founded in 1888 to serve Polish Catholics in Bucktown.  The pastor was Rev. Joseph Barzynski.  He was a member of a religious order—the Congregation of the Resurrection, or Resurrectionists.

Now, in the early months of 1895, the parish was engulfed in civil war.  One faction supported the pastor.  The other side had gathered around Rev. Anthony Kozlowski, the young assistant who’d recently arrived from Poland.  Kozlowski was not a Resurrectionist.

Depending on which side you listened to, there were many reasons for the conflict.  Was Kozlowski attempting a power-play to become pastor?  Were the Resurrectionists too autocratic?  Was someone stealing money from the St. Hedwig treasury?  What role should lay people play in a parish?  Who should hold title to parish property?

The original St. Hedwig's Church

The original St. Hedwig’s Church

A majority of the parishioners backed Kozlowski.  There were protests at Sunday Mass.  The police placed guards at the church.  On the evening of February 7, the situation turned violent.

About 3,000 people, mostly women, tried to storm the parish rectory.  The pastor and his new assistant barricaded themselves inside.  The police guard called for backup.

The crowd charged.  They swung clubs, and tried to throw red pepper into the cops’ eyes.  Gunshots were fired.  A few people were injured.  The police held the line.

The backup cops arrived and the crowd dispersed.  A larger police detail was assigned to the property.  Archbishop Feehan ordered the church temporarily shut down.

If the archbishop hoped the “time out” would cool tempers, he was wrong.  More protests were staged.  A new pastor was appointed and the church reopened.  Kozlowski’s supporters got a court injunction blocking the action.

Anthony Kozlowski (far left, standing) as a bishop, 1900

Anthony Kozlowski (far left, standing) as a bishop, 1900

That summer Kozlowski founded All Saints parish a few blocks from St. Hedwig.  About 1,000 families followed him, while 300 families remained at St. Hedwig.  In response, Archbishop Feehan formally excommunicated Kozlowski.

The Kozlowski group affiliated with the Old Catholic Church (now known as the Polish National Catholic Church).  This church has no connection with the Roman Catholic Church or the papacy.  Kozlowski became a bishop.  Today his congregation worships at All Saints Cathedral near Rosemont.

St. Hedwig eventually reopened as a Roman Catholic parish.  Today the church continues to operate with a Resurrectionist pastor.



“If Christ Came to Chicago” (11-12-1893)

They were all there on that day in 1893.

As one man remembered it, the gathering at the Central Music Hall was a cross-section of Chicago–“businessmen and labor leaders, representatives of the city government and its executive clubs, preachers and saloon-keepers, gamblers and theological professors, matrons of distinguished families and madames from houses of ill-fame.”

William T. Stead

William T. Stead

This wildly diverse group had been brought together by a visiting English editor, William T. Stead.  Something had gone wrong with the greatest city in the world–their city.  They were here to try to find the answers.

Stead had come to Chicago to write about the Columbian Exposition.  While wandering through the city, he came upon unimaginable poverty.  He found social neglect and political corruption.  The “best people” were ignoring the situation.  Stead decided he had to do something about it.

He rented the Central Music Hall, secured a variety of speakers, and announced a mass meeting–a free floor, open discussion on the city’s problems.  The public response was so great Stead had to schedule two sessions.

The parade to the podium was as diverse as the audience.  Drawing on their personal experiences, the speakers described what they saw as Chicago’s troubles.  The audience asked questions, argued among themselves, cheered, booed, and did some thinking.  It was a lively time.

"If Christ Came to Chicago"--frontispiece

“If Christ Came to Chicago”–frontispiece

Presiding over all was Editor Stead.  At the evening session, he brought the proceedings to a close by telling his own tale of Chicago.

He had come to the city thinking that he’d left injustice behind in the Old World.  “But what would Christ think of Chicago, if He should come here today?” Stead asked.  “If I understand why Christ came to live and die, it was that the common man might at least live a human life.  But there are people in Chicago today who are not living a human life.”

Stead challenged the audience to get involved–in helping the poor, in cleaning up politics, in following the Golden Rule.  All of them must do their part.

After his Music Hall meetings, Stead returned to England.  The next year he published a best-selling expose titled If Christ Came to Chicago.  The revelations in the book led to the founding of the Civic Federation of Chicago.  For awhile the city had a powerful political reform movement.

William T. Stead became an internationally-known social reformer.  In 1912 he was on his way to a peace congress in New York when he went down with the Titanic.