Friday, July 24, 2009

Discovery in the City of Big Shoulders

Being a transplant in this area of the country, I never cease to be amazed at the grandeur and gravitas of the city of Chicago, and I am proud to live and work within the shadow of its skyline. There are a multitude of exciting things about living so close to the city: being able to participate in Chicago's incredible sports heritage; witnessing the unique and diverse blend of cultures throughout the area; and viewing the beautiful, soaring buildings in the city that invented the skyscraper, among many others. One thing in particular that I enjoy is that, in Chicago, wherever you turn history is waiting to speak to you.

In a specific case of history just "happening" to me in the Second City, I went to see a Blackhawks game with a bunch of friends on Valentine's Day, 2004. After the game, we headed up to the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. restaurant on North Clark Street (they make a pizza pot pie that is nothing if not sublime). While I was perusing the menu, I noticed a tiny blurb about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which I in my East Coast upbringing had vaguely heard about but never known the specifics. My curiosity was piqued as I wondered what a brutal mass murder and this bustling and cozy eatery could have in common. It turned out the two were connected only by the width of Clark Street. The St. Valentines Day Massacre occurred in a garage at 2122 North Clark Street, right across the street from where I was sitting. When I realized the actual date of this heinous act of gang warfare, February 14th, 1929, a chill tickled my spine. I had gone from not really knowing much about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, to being in the almost exact vicinity of the crime - on its 75th anniversary! Boom, history!

Another nugget of history that I discovered was the Eastland disaster in 1915, though this time I wasn't at the actual site of the occurrence. A few years after I moved out here, I was watching a WTTW broadcast when it showed the story of the Eastland disaster, and I was dumbfounded by my ignorance of such an event. Over 800 people lost their lives when the steamer S.S. Eastland capsized near the south bank of the Chicago River between Clark and LaSalle Streets. Passengers were boarding the Eastland for a lake trip to Michigan City, Indiana when a crowd formed on the port side of the boat, possibly due to a passing canoe race. Suddenly, the boat rolled over onto its port side, coming to a stop on the river bottom just 20 feet below. Many people were able to be rescued, but a large percentage of the passengers drowned as they were trapped below decks. I mention my discovery of this tragic moment of Chicago history because it occurred 94 years ago today.

Am I alone in this? Does anyone else have any stunning experiences of unexpectedly unearthing huge chunks of Chicago's past?


Roberta said...

I had practically the same "criminal" experience when I moved to Chicago in 1984. I got a waitressing job at the Fallen Angel Bar (long gone), which was on the west side of Clark and on the corner of the infamous alley. My first night of work included some education on the bloodsoaked ground behind us - and also some sports indoctrination, as the Cubs were in the playoffs that week too.

Karen said...

Even growing up in a suburb only 16 miles due west of Chicago, I've had my "wow" moments exploring the city. My brother and I went downtown for Christmas shopping in December, 1976, and somehow ended up on Michigan Avenue right at the time when the first Mayor Daley died of a stroke in his doctor's office - maybe a half a block from where we were walking! I love to hear my Dad's stories about growing up on the North side, going to Wrigley and Riverview Park as a boy, and lingering outside "Lottie's Tavern" to get a glimpse of the rather bizarre Lottie. I remember wondering about that ornate, Gothic water tower on Michigan Avenue - how cool that it survived the Chicago Fire. A lot of the Chicago of my youth is now also gone, but it's still a world class city with a vibrant history.

Linda K. said...

I lived in the city until I was 18 and my craziest episode in city traffic was as a new Illinois Bell staff employee driving around the city trying to get the company car back to the garage at 225 Randolph. I was 20, a new driver, and the Sears Tower had just dropped a few windows and assorted construction materials on to the street and sidewalks below. My downtown experiences up to that time had always been walking or taking public transportation. What should have been a short drive from the expressway took two hours! All the time I was worried that they would never let me take a company car out again. Note: it's still the Sears Tower to me.

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