Chicago history

Special Episode: Don’t Sneeze, Cough or Spit!

It began suddenly in the northern suburbs of Chicago and the contagion floated south toward the city like an invisible cloud.  Soon restaurants, saloons, and theaters were closed and police were given the power to break up crowds of ten persons or more.  Spitting, coughing and sneezing on the street could put you in jail.  Public Funerals were forbidden and elective surgeries canceled.  Everyone wore face masks. Was this Spring, 2020? No, it was Chicago in the Autumn of 1918.

Join the Windy City Historians for this special episode as we step away from the chronological telling of Chicago history of our ongoing “Laying the Foundation” series, and instead chart the course of epidemics and outbreaks in Chicago history. In particular, we dig into the, so called, Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. This pandemic reveals many parallels between the events of 1918 and today’s struggle with the novel coronavirus (SARS Cov-2, its new official name) in 2020.  

In this episode we interview historian Joseph Gustaitis, author of Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893 and Chicago Transformed: World War I and the Windy City to learn about Chicago’s the first health crisis in 1835 and subsequent outbreaks and diseases plaguing the young city leading up to the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918.

A cataclysmic event in 1918 and 1919 this epidemic infected one-third of the world’s population, over 500 million people and killing approximately 1% of the human population on earth, an estimated 20-to-50-million people.  In the United States alone approximately 675,000 citizens died — more Americans than were killed in WWI and WWII combined. The pandemic affected the way Americans and Chicagoan’s live and work today and was particularly lethal to people in the prime of their life.  Learn more about this incredible story 100+ years ago and the parallels and differences with today’s pandemic.

Links to Research and History Documents

We mention in this episode one known documented account of whites giving smallpox infected blankets to Native Americans. This is attributed to the letters of Jeffery Amherst a British officer stationed at Fort Pitt in later day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who under siege in 1763 during the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763) writes to Colonel Henry Bouquet. Much has been written of this legend this so a variety of sources are cited on the topic below:

Please note Ward Churchill mentioned above sadly perpetuated the myth of the U.S. Army spreading smallpox to First Nations in at least six publications between 1994 and 2003. Churchill entirely fabricated incidents which never occurred, about individuals who never existed. His sources were completely falsified, and talk about fake news, he repeatedly concealed evidence in his possession discrediting his falsified version of events.

Below are additional links and research we touch upon in this episode:


Episode 12: The First Star – part two

Fort Dearborn at the beginning of the War of 1812 . . . is it a Battle or a Massacre? How should we, in the twenty-first century, talk about the events that occurred on Chicago’s lakefront on August 15, 1812 — a month-and-a-half after the declaration of war? How do we describe what happened to the column of approximately 100 soldiers, farmers, women and children in Indian Country that abandoned Fort Dearborn, mostly on foot, for Fort Wayne when they are attacked by approximately 500 Native Americans?

Join us in this episode of the Windy City Historians Podcast for the second half of our interview with history professor Ann Durkin Keating, Ph.D. and The First Star — a reference to the first star on the Flag of Chicago. Does William Wells actually get his heart carved out to be eaten by the victors? Find out about this and much more as we discuss the final events, implications, art and language surrounding Chicago and aftermath of this infamous attack in Chicago in 1812. We hope you will enjoy it as much as we have putting it together!

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 11: The First Star

Did you realize each of the four stars on the Chicago Flag represent important dates in Chicago history? The two blue stripes on the flag have a special meaning as well. In this Episode we will discuss the events running up to the Fort Dearborn Massacre which is represented by the first star on Chicago’s flag. We interview historian, professor, and author Ann Durkin Keating, Ph.D. about the events leading up to what she prefers to call the Battle of Fort Dearborn which occurred on Chicago’s lakefront on August 15, 1812.

This is the eleventh episode in our inaugural series we call “Laying the Foundation” and continues our chronological overview of Chicago history from its beginnings up to the 1930s. Since March 2019, we have released a new episode each month, usually on the last Friday of the month, to bring you a new slice of fascinating Chicago history. We hope you are enjoying the podcast and we could use your help to expand our audience. Please tell your friends, family, acquaintances, and even complete strangers about these amazing Chicago stories in audible form available only on the Windy City Historians Podcast. Join our Facebook group the Windy City Historians of over 8K members and discover more great Chicago history.

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 10: The First Murder

Founded in 1803, Chicago’s Fort Dearborn is the western most outpost on the frontier, and by 1812 still the most isolated fort in Indian Country. The garrison and few settlers are outnumbered five-to-one by the neighboring tribes within a day’s ride. A pivotal year in Chicago history the corner of today’s Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue is the site of Chicago’s first murder on June 17. At that point tensions are already high and this killing comes one day before Congress declares war on Great Britain. Although, the approximately 100 residents of Chicago will have no idea war is declared until mid- to late-July.

Just why trader John Kinzie stabbed fort interpreter Jean Lalime to death is a two-centuries’ old Chicago mystery. Was it jealousy, a trade dispute, bad blood? Listen in as we set the scene of Chicago on the cusp of the War of 1812, weight the accounts, motivations, and events surrounding this gruesome murder on the banks of the Chicago River. We hope you enjoy this fascinating slice of Chicago history and interview with writer Paul Dailing who authored the Chicago Reader article “The long death of Jean Lalime“.

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 9: The First Scandal

Early settlement of Chicago begins, Fort Dearborn is established at this outpost in Indian Country and it gets entangled in Chicago’s first scandal.

Episode 8 : The First Settler

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines settler as, “a person who goes to live in a new place where usually there are few or no people”. Native Americans have lived in the greater Chicago area for approximately 10,000 years dating back to the last ice age. Dependent on long lost oral histories we have no clear records of the future city’s earliest peoples, though archeological efforts and early French documents seem to indicate no native villages existed within today’s Chicago city limits. There have been significant native villages in the suburbs surrounding Chicago, but no evidence of native settlement on the Chicago River has ever come to light.

The last seven episodes of the Windy City Historians Podcast has attempted to relate the first hundred plus years of Chicago’s earliest recorded history from the first westerners to pass through the area; be it Nicolet somewhere between 1628 and 1634 or Jolliet and Marquette in 1673. We now unveil this story of Chicago’s very first settler connecting us to the permanent and continuous settlement of the City of Chicago.

This man, a man of color, and his family has long been swept under the rug while the trader and opportunist John Kinzie was held up as the town’s founder, a man we can best describe as Chicago’s first scoundrel. We hope you will enjoy this in depth conversation with historians John Swenson and professor Courtney Pierre Joseph Ph.D. relating the life, times, and impact the very first settler made on the site and city that would follow in his footsteps. This is the story of the trader, gentleman farmer, and Chicago’s founder — Jean Baptiste Point de Sable. Mr. Point de Sable, and yes, that is the proper French spelling of his full surname, is a fascinating character we hope you will enjoy learning about as much as we have.

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 3: Urbs in Horto?

Released Friday, May 31, 2019 – What’s in a name? “Urbs in Horto” or as translated from Latin “City in the Garden” is the motto on the seal of the City of Chicago, which nicely ties together the third interview with historian and retired attorney John Swenson. Swenson presents the final and most amazing piece of early Chicago history revealing the details of this ancient place called Chicagoua and the platform mound two-leagues from the Chicagoua Portage, the area’s earliest known civic and cultural center some 40 miles from today’s downtown Chicago!

We visit the mound, twice, and interview Adler Planetarium Astronomer Mark Hammergren regarding the astronomical significance of the mound, and learn some fascinating insights into Chicago’s ancient culture and peoples. This brand-new history and discovery grew out of Swenson’s passion for horticulture, history, and etymology. His initial dig into Chicago’s origin story and the wild allium the city was named for has grown into an entirely new landscape for Chicago history, the City in the Garden and hence the name of our third Episode: “Urbs in Horto?”

PREVIEW OF EPISODE 3: Urbs in Horto?