For most historians if you mention Chicago and the year 1893, they will immediately think of the World’s Colombian Exposition. However, there was much more going on in Chicago during that year that still resonates today. Beyond the excitement surrounding the Fair, 1893 was pivotal for the many new contributions, innovations, and changes that impacted the city and beyond. Many Chicago institutions we know today are tied to or originated during that year. A short list would include the first Chicago Cubs stadium, the tamale, the hot dog, Wrigley chewing gum, and much more.
This monumental year holds many interesting stories well beyond the White City as a backdrop that was in direct contrast with Chicago’s work-a-day world, some would call “Gray City.” Join us in this episode for the extraordinary changes and important events of 1893, as we speak with historian and author Joe Gustaitis to set the scene for an upcoming episode focused on the Colombian Exposition and the White City.
There is one story well-known throughout the world about the Windy City and a cow kicking over a lantern that set the Great Chicago Fire in motion. The fact that the story of Catherine O’Leary’s cow is totally false seems not to matter, as this wrong-headed legend continues to perpetuate itself with the general public. As the newspaper editor Dutton Peabody says in the 1952 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And so it is, a hundred and fifty years later, Mrs. O’Leary and her cow live on in popular culture.
The events of the evening of October 8th, 1871 would be the culmination of a prolonged hot, dry summer in the Midwest, and when Chicago began to burn, there were fires burning in several other places as well. However. Chicago and the legend of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow eclipsed the reporting of the other fires, and stuck in the popular imagination.
The Great Chicago Fire became the second star on the flag of Chicago, a marked tragedy, as approximately one-third of the residents lost their homes and the more than 300 who lost their lives. But the fire was also considered a beginning for Chicago, a reset, a blank slate — that would allow the city’s business leaders and architects to imagine a new and better Chicago to rise from the ashes like a great phoenix.
In this episode, the Windy City Historians interview William Pack, a historian and author of “The Essential Great Chicago Fire” (2015) to recount the events of that faithful Sunday night when smoke was spotted southwest of the city center, near the intersection of Jefferson and DeKoven Streets. It is an illuminating story of mistakes, delays, human error, and heroism, and a transformative event for the young city on the prairie that became the “City on the Make” as later chronicled by Nelson Algren. Two days after the fire co-owner and managing editor of the Chicago Tribune Joseph Medill wrote, “We have lost money, but we have saved life, health, vigor and industry. Let the watchword henceforth be Chicago shall rise again!” In December of that year Medill would be elected mayor of the City of Chicago as a candidate of the “fireproof” party serving two terms from 1871 to 1873.
In the Spring of 2020, one of the first cracks in the American economy with Covid-19 was the closing of several meatpacking plants in the United States. The nature of the process with workers stationed in close proximity to one another, poorly ventilated spaces, and often arduous work conditions and practices became a breeding ground for the virus and created Covid hot-spots around the country. Meanwhile, the White House exercising its executive authority via the Defense Production Act ordered slaughterhouses to remain open for fear of disrupting of the nation’s meat supply.
This underbelly of the food chain is often overlooked, yet for more than a century Chicago was largely identified with wholesale slaughter and meat processing thanks to the Union Stock Yard & Transit Company, which opened on Christmas Day 1865. Stockyards and the downstream processing operations would soon become a ubiquitous presence in the economy of the growing metropolis of Chicago, the commerce of the United States, and the world.
The Union Stock Yard & Transit Company led Carl Sandburg to coin the dubious moniker for Chicago, “Hog Butcher to the World.” Yet these operations provided an important testing ground for great ideas and smart solutions employing many great minds, including civil engineer Octave Chanute (1832-1910) and the architect Daniel Burnham (1846-1912). The Stockyards were a prime tourist attraction in Chicago for the general public and people of note such as authors Rudyard Kipling, who was shocked by it, or Upton Sinclair, who based his novel “The Jungle” on the conditions and worker experiences there. The Yards as locals referred to it spurred additional innovations — for instance the butchering disassembly line inspired Henry Ford to reverse the process to build automobiles which ultimately made them affordable to average Americans.
The Union Stock Yard created huge fortunes and dynasties with names like Armour and Swift, often on the back of worker exploitation, which prompted strife and conflict and influenced the development of labor unions. Great gusts blowing across the prairie turned small fires into great conflagrations on several occasions, and yet the Yards survived for more than a century before meeting its demise to the gradual shift of economic winds. However in its heyday, the Yards was the place to be. Join us in this episode to hear some more great Chicago history as we interview historian Dominic A. Pacyga, author of Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made.
Chicago has a long history of brewing and distilling; of taverns, pubs, and saloons; of alcohol distribution and consumption so we hope you will soak up this episode on the history of alcohol and its impact on the city. This episode of the Windy City Historians podcast is a historic concoction ranging across Chicago’s history to explore the interplay of sociability and society around beer, spirits, and brewing to create, support, and shape the development of this toddling town and vice versa.
We hope this will whet your appetite and briefly quench your thirst for history through a unique take on the City of Big Shoulders. In this episode co-hosts Christopher Lynch and Patrick McBriarty talk with Chicago historian Liz Garibay to discuss her research and fascinating stories of American and Chicago history as viewed through the lens of alcohol. Learn the true origin of PBR’s Blue Ribbon — it’s NOT from the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893 — OR about the Lager Beer Riots of 1855 — as we serve up another interesting brew of Windy City history.
The contagion began suddenly in the northern suburbs of Chicago and floated south toward the city like an invisible cloud. Soon restaurants, saloons, and theaters were closed and the police had the power to break up crowds and arrest individuals for spitting, coughing or sneezing in public. 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:
Influenza Encyclopedia: the American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia produced by the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine and Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library.
Blog post from a professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth on how infectious diseases spread, “The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them,” by Erin Bromage
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:
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“.
Listening to the first episode you learned the ground-breaking, new story of Chicago’s discovery and who truly was the first European to pass through Chicago. In this second part of our interview with historian John Swenson, he says, “if you know where the portage is, then Marquette tells you where he was,” and that is place the Indians called “Chicagoua.” And this place Chicagoua has nothing to do with the city of today. Adding the account of Henri Joutel (La Salle’s chronicler) he confirms where this place is.
The Windy City Historian’s interview with retired attorney and historian John Swenson will make Chicago history.
Links to Research and History Documents
In the second Episode – The Place Called Chicagoua we continue our interview with retired lawyer and historian John Swenson about the place the Indians called Chicagoua. Below are links to historic items we discussed and some additional relevant research for those interested in a deeper dive into the history.
There are several terms on the Franquelin map are helpful to know:
Chicagoumeaman – refers to the northern portage route of today’s Chicago River to Mud Lake (or Oak Point Lake) to the Des Plains River and the literal translation from Kaskaskian (an Algonquin dialect) is “false Chicago” for Native Americans this river was not the way to Chicagoua.
Shiskikmoaskiki – refers to the Des Plains River and the literal translation from Kaskaskian (an Algonquin dialect) is the “pissing tree” referring to the swamp maples that were native to the banks of this river that could be tapped to make maple syrup.
Makaregemou – refers to the Calumet and Little Calumet Rivers and the literal translation from Kaskaskian (an Algonquin dialect) is “crooked river” due to its meandering course and many tributaries.
See our website page for Episode 1 – Who Was First? for additional links, historic references, and new maps of the northern and southern portage routes commissioned by the Windy City Historians. (These maps are copyrighted for use or republishing please contact info@WindyCityHistorians.com.)