Chicago’s newspaper heyday boosted stories about murderers, high-society scandals, gangsters and more. Join us for this extended episode.
All too often history repeats itself — with tragic results. During the last 100-years, the killing of one person becomes symbolic and spawns a larger tragedy. Irregularly bubbling to the surface these crises rise from elemental rents and systemic failures in the fabric of society. We call to mind the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, 2020 and beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles on March 3rd, 1991 and so on cascading back to the stoning and subsequent drowning of Eugene Williams on July 27th, 1919 off Chicago’s 29th Street Beach.
The violence inflicted on these three men (and countless others) focused outrage to rally outcries, spark civil unrest and riots lasting multiple days. The conditions fanning the flames did not occur in a vacuum nor isolation, but built over time, due to compounding slights, inequality, and oppression. Although intermittent riots sprang up in different eras and regions of the country, the basic facts were the same; Black men were killed or beaten by white policemen or in Eugene Williams’ case, stones thrown and the palpable anger of whites against Blacks caused the drowning of the 17 year-old.
In the aftermath of these deaths and days of violence people asked, “Why did this happen?”
In Windy City Historians podcast Episode 29 – “The Chicago Race Riots of 1919” we explore the conditions of that hot, “Red Summer”, where Chicago, (and other cities) wrestled with the chaos of civil unrest. Through interviews with Claire Hartfield, the author of “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919”, as well as commentary from Professor Charles Branham, Ph.D. we walk through the riot’s lasting legacy on Chicago, it’s Black community, and the many questions raised by an oppressive summer a century ago. Questions that are still being raised today, more than a century later.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- “Chicago Race Riots of 1919” by Julius L. Jones, Chicago History Museum Blog
- “Chicago Race Riots“, Chicago Encyclopedia
- “City on Fire: Chicago Race Riot 1919“, by Natalie Moore, WBEZChicago, Nov. 23, 2019
- “Carl Sandburg and the Chicago Race Riots of 1919“, Carl Sandburg Home, National Park Service, website
- Carl Sandburg poem “I am the People, the Mob” by Poetry in Voice 2016 winner Marie Foolchand at the Griffin Poetry Prize awards – audio used in this episode (at 39:20)
- In Memoriam, August Meier, by David Levering Lewis, Perspectives on History, Sept. 1, 2003
- The book, “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919” by Claire Hartfield
- The book, ”City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago” by Gary Krist.
- “Black Soldiers in American Wars: Chicago’s ‘Fighting 8th’ and the 370th Regiment” from Black History Heros Blog
- “Flashback: Chicago’s first black alderman sat as the lone African-American voice on the city’s council – and then, Congress“, by Christen A. Johnson, Chicago Tribune, Feb. 14, 2023
- The book, Big Bill of Chicago by Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan, Forward by Rick Kogan
- The Negro in Chicago; A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot, by the Chicago Commission on Race Relations
- The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project (CCR19) by Peter Cole, Franklin N. Cosey-Gay, Myles X Francis
- Robert S. Abbott, Chicago Literary Hall of Fame website
- “1919 Race Riots Memorial Project will honor victims where the died — in streets all over city“, by Michael Loria, Chicago Sun Times, Feb. 20, 2023
- “1914–Chicago Surface Lines“, Chicagology
- “Mapping Chicago’s 1919 race riots“, by Jack Wang, UChicago News, July 22, 2019
In American history, we were taught that pioneers and homesteaders moved from east to west settling the continent in the greater pursuit of “Manifest Destiny” — killing and obfuscating the First Nations peoples’ way of life. However, another American pattern often overlooked is the migration from south to the north. Starting less than a century after a Black man of Haitian decent named Jean Baptiste Point DeSable became Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler; African Americans in large numbers began leaving southern States and moving to the north, which historians now call “The Great Migration”.
Their motives were that of people everywhere seeking jobs, opportunity, and a better life. Northern States offered jobs and a relief from the weight of Jim Crow. For many Chicago had became a beacon of hope as Black-owned newspapers and in particular the “Chicago Defender”, distributed by Pullman Porters, gave hope to generations of former slaves, farmers, and sharecroppers.
Beginning as early as the 1880s and then from approximately 1910 to the 1970, rural southern Blacks by the thousands made their way north throughout these decades. And, just as the journey changed them, their music, culture, and customs changed Chicago.
Northern cities, and Chicago in particular, were not always welcoming, as decent housing was scarce as restrictive covenants and red-lining forced African Americans to live in “The Black Belt”. This tightly constrained strip of blocks on the city’s south side, initially between 22nd and 31st Streets, later extending south to 39th and eventually to 95th Street and roughly sandwiched between the railroad tracks of the Rock Island on the west and Illinois Central to the east. But even with forced segregation, many black businesses thrived, and a sense of place was established creating Bronzeville and its famous “Stroll”.
Join the Windy City Historians as we delve into the Great Migration with Dr. Charles Brahnam, author and professor, and the perfect guide to take us on a journey into the Great Migration. A trip populated by famous brave and fearless black Chicagoans such as Ida B. Wells, Oscar DePriest, and Robert S. Abbott and into a better understand of this massive cultural shift for the nation and Chicago in particular.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- “The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration”, by Isabel Wilkerson for Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2016
- Great Migration from Encyclopedia of Chicago website
- Dr. Charles Russell Branham interview on C-Span
- Steve Green story from the Arkansas Encyclopedia website
- Illinois Gov. Len Small from Wikipedia (Please note in our interview we say he was governor, but at the time of the Steve Green story he was involved in Illinois politics but not yet governor.)
- Ida B Wells: WTTW Chicago Stories
- Ida B. Wells biography from the Black Past website
- Ida B. Wells-Burnett biography from the Women’s History website
- Ferdinand Lee Barnett’s biography from the Black Past website
- Robert S Abbott biography on Wikipedia
- Oscar Stanton De Priest biography on Wikipedia
- Edward Herbert Wright biography on Wikipedia
- Jesse Binga biography on Wikipedia
- Carter G. Woodson biography on Wikipedia
- Chicago Race Riot of 1919 on Wikipedia
- Jim Crow laws from Wikipedia
- “History of Lynching in America” from the NAACP website
- A recommended book, THE DEFENDER: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America From the Age of the Pullman Porters to the Age of Obama By Ethan Michaeli
- Boll weevil devastation from Wikipedia
- Pullman Porters from Wikipedia
- The Jones Boys, “From Riots to Renaissance: Policy Kings” from WTTW’s website
- The Incredible History and Cultural Legacy of the Bronzeville Neighborhood from Chicago Detours website
- Explore Bronzeville from the Blueprint for Bronzeville website
- Booker T. Washington biography from Wikipedia
- The South Side’s Last Remaining Jazz Landmarks article from Chicago Magazine
- Thomas A. Dorsey from the Gospel Music Hall of Fame website
- Mahalia Jackson
- Mahalia Jackson performs at the March on Washington, August 28th, 1963 on YouTube
- Muddy Waters biography on Wikipedia
- King Oliver biography on Wikipedia
- Louis Armstrong biography on Wikipedia
- Music Samples in this Episode:
- Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago from the Black Past website
- Olivet Baptist Church from it’s own website
In 1909 Chicago changed dramatically both physically and intellectually. Having grown through fits and starts via annexation and experiencing the most rapid population growth of any city in history, to that point, the Chicago City Council approved a new street and address system in 1908. The new address system took effect in 1909 and employed the Philadelphia and furlong systems to renumber, rename, and rationalize street names and addresses across the city.
1909 also ushered in a momentous intellectual shift in perceptions of what Chicago was and could be. Authored by architects Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett The Plan of Chicago offered an idyllic and revolutionary vision for Windy City that still resonate. Join us in this episode as we interview cartographer, historian, and geographer Dennis McClendon to delve into these concrete and esoteric plans that forever changed the physicality and vision of Chicago. Plans and improvements that are still relevant and reverberate acros Chicago’s streets, city planning, development and architecture to this day.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- More about cartographer, historian, & geographer Dennis McClendon
- History of 3-principal mapping companies in the U. S.: Rand McNally, H.N. Gousha, and General Drafting
- Edward Brennan, author of Chicago’s street renaming and renumbering system
- Philadelphia Street Numbering system explained
- Furlong system explained
- Overview of the “Roads and expressways in Chicago” in Wikipedia
- “Old Addresses” article on the pre-1909 addresses from the Forgotten Chicago website
- Chicagoland Books & Files including the Chicago Street Renaming & Renumbering Directories of 1909 from the Living History of Illinois website
- Milwaukee’s Street Renaming & Renumbering from the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee website
- Overview of The Plan of Chicago from the Chicago Architecture Center website
- Biography of Daniel Burnham from the Chicago Public Library website
- “Who was Edward Bennett? And why has he been overshadowed for a century by Daniel Burnham?” by Patrick Reardon on the Burnham Plan Centennial website
- Wacker’s Manual as described by the Chicago Architecture Center website
- “‘Big Bill’ Thompson: Chicago’s unfiltered mayor,” by Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune article Feb. 5, 2016
- Chicago’s Midway (formerly Municipal) Airport history from the Encyclopedia of Chicago
- “Chicago’s Municipal Pier,” (#2, now Navy Pier) from Chicagology website
- Northerly Island from the Chicago Architecture Center website
- “Displaced: When the Eisenhower Expressway Moved in Who Was Moved Out?” by Robert Loerzel from the WBEZ website
- McMillan Plan for the Washington D.C. “mall” from Wikipedia
- Chicago’s Millennium Park from Wikipedia
The path to riches is not often associated with journalism, but in the case of George Ade, writing for Chicago newspapers was his road to wealth and fame. Ade, (1866-1944) who was born and raised in Kentland, Indiana, attended Purdue University and then came to Chicago to work as a reporter in the heydays of newspapers.
Today George Ade is rarely remembered, with his books out of print, and decades since his musical comedies were performed. But from the 1890s to the early 20th century, he was compared to Mark Twain, a friend of his, and had not just one, but two hit plays on Broadway at the same time. Ade earned so much money from his successful books, plays and syndicated newspaper columns, he built an English Tutor on a 400-acre estate in Indiana, named Hazelden. There Ade threw big parties and was visited there by U.S. Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Calvin Coolidge. In fact, Taft began his Presidential campaign of 1908 from Hazelden.
Ade’s name lives on through his philanthropy, like the donation of 65 acres, with fellow alum David E. Ross, to Purdue University, for a football stadium in 1924, which is now known as Ross-Ade Stadium.
What was true then about Ade’s writing is also true now, and that is Ade’s stories are hilarious. His final book “The Old Time Saloon” (1931) is laugh-out-loud funny and a recent edition from the University of Chicago Press is annotated by Bill Savage.
Bill Savage, Ph.D. is a professor of English at Northwestern University and our guide through not only the work “The Old-Time Saloon: Not Wet – Not Dry, Just History” and this podcast. Dr. Savage paints a picture of the Chicago Ade knew from the high-class Saloons downtown to the more seedy establishments frequented by his friend, Finely Peter Dunne, whose literary bartender, Martin T. Dooley, delighted a nation with his quips.
Writers like Ade and Dunne started out as journalists, and along the way captured the rhythms of speech and the vernacular of the working man, and in doing so gave birth to a new type of literature. A style practiced later by authors such as James Farrell, Nelson Algren, Mike Royko and Stuart Dybek. We hope you will enjoy this dive into Chicago’s literary and drinking past.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- The book, The Old-Time Saloon by George Ade
- Chicago writer and author George Ade (1866-1944)
- Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue University
- Northwestern Professor of English Bill Savage, Ph.D.
- Hazelden (George Ade House) in Brook, Indiana
- Chicago writer and author Peter Finley Dunne (1867-1937)
- Mr.Dooley on the Immigration Problem (1898) adapted from the writings of Finley Peter Dunne, performed by Alexander Kulcsar.
- “Who’s Your Chinaman?”: The Origins Of An Offensive Piece Of Chicago Political Slang By Monica Eng
- Era of “Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse John” Coughlin from the Encyclopedia of Chicago
- “Mickey Finn: The Chicago Bartender Who Infamously Drugged And Robbed Patrons With Laced Drinks,” By Natasha Ishak Published September 24, 2019
- The Everleigh Club from Wikipedia
- Chicago Daley News Building (Riverside Plaza) from Wikipedia
- Douglas Copeland’s novel “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture”
- Straw Hat Ettiquette from the Vintage Dancer website
- Liz Garibay’s website: History on Tap
- “The Dry Season” by Steve Rhodes, published June 22, 2007 in Chicago Magazine
- The book, The World Is Always Coming to an End: Pulling Together and Apart in a Chicago Neighborhood (Chicago Visions and Revisions) by Carlo Rotella (2019)
- Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap from the Chicago Bar Project website
- American novelist and journalist, Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) in Wikipedia
- Writer, poet, and author, Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
- The book Native Son by Richard Wright (1908-1960)
- Studs Lonigan: A Trilogy by James T. Farrell (1904-1979)
- American novelist and short story writer Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) in Wikipedia
- American writer Nelson Algren (1909-1981) in Wikipedia
- Chicago: City on the Make by Nelson Algren (1951)
- The book, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago by Mike Royko (1988)
- The book, The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek (2004)
- German-American business man and philanthropist Charles Wacker (1856-1929) in Wikipedia
- “Back to School with Bill Savage: Class of ’80” by Bill Savage in the Chicago Reader, Aug. 25, 2011
- The restaurant Al’s Beef
For 150 years, Chicago has remained the country’s busiest rail hub at the center of the nation’s rail network. In all, 40 railroads provide services from Illinois to every part of the United States and all seven of the major North American freight railways converge in Chicago to make it the largest US rail gateway. Moving anything coast-to-coast by rail is almost guaranteed to pass through Chicago. In 2011, Illinois ranked first in the US for rail freight volume accounting for 490.4 million tons. Today, the state is the world’s third most active rail intermodal hub with 25% of U.S. freight rail traffic and 46% of all intermodal traffic beginning, ending or traveling through Chicago. Each day, nearly 500 freight trains and 760 passenger trains pass through the Chicago region, moving the goods and people that are the life blood of the national economy.
In this episode we talk with retired train engineer and rail historian David Daruszka to discuss Chicago’s rail history from its founding in 1848 to its peak in the 1940s and on into today’s operations. Though the waterways established Chicago the railroads soon became a key connector and transfer link to the continent from east to west and north to south. The development of Chicago from a frontier town into a world-class city could not have happened as it did without the railroads. Chicago became and arguably still is the greatest railroad center in the world. We hope you enjoy this journey into Chicago’s railroad history.
Map of Railroads in and out of Chicago Locomotive “The Pioneer” Stock Certificate Grand Crossing in 1902 Map of the Illinois Central Railway Plaque commemorating the railroad establishing Standard Time Union Stockyard Columbian Expostion Train Station in 1893 Roundhouse at the Calumet Yard Pullman Porter Museum in Chicago Pullman Car Interior Pullman Car at the Illinois Railway Museum Early Refrigerated Car
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- “Transportation that Built Chicago: the importance of the railroads” from the Curbed Chicago website
- Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood and railroad crossing in Wikipedia
- Pullman Porters from the History Channel website
- C-Span Book Talk with Larry Tye author of the book Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class (2004)
- “Why Was Casey Jones an American Folk Hero?” from the History Channel website
- Samuel Insull history and bio on Wikipedia
- Relocating the tracks at Midway Airport from the Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal
- Chicago Railroad Fair narrated 1948 home video on YouTube
- Chicago Railroad Fair Color Home Movies 1948
- Film of “Wheels A Rolling” musical history of trains from the Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948/49 on YouTube
- Operation Lifesaver offers school and community group presentations on RR crossing safety
- “Stand by Me” (1986) movie clip of the Train bridge scene
- Article on Chicago’s last roundhouse “NKP’s Calument Yard, Coaling Tower, Roundhouse, Turntable” on the Industrial History website
- Chicago Railroad Stations from Chicagology.com
- Link to railroad historian Fred Ash’s book Chicago Union Station
- Freight Rail Overview from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration website
Native Americans held great respect for natural systems while also managing the landscape to support their people and way of life. As “civilization” came to this area Chicago became a military outpost, village, city and metropolis and its residents were confronted with the elemental and reoccurring issue of controlling water — both fresh and waste water. Managing this cycle of use and renewal the city has over the decades repeatedly invested millions into various projects to drain the land, process waste, and modify the waterways for both sanitation and navigation. These major projects have included altering waterways, building canals, tunnels, and water works and treatment facilities to make the greater Chicago area livable and comfortable on a day-to-day basis for the millions of residents and annual visitors each year.
In this episode we will discuss how Chicago came to not only reverse the Y-shaped river running through its downtown, but also the precedents and solutions to regulate fresh water, sewage, flooding, and growing needs of the population. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) formerly known as The Sanitary District was created in 1889 to manage the area’s water resources and was tasked with building the Sanitary & Ship Canal to protect Lake Michigan and our source for drinking water. Toward this end we speak with Dick Lanyon who is an author, historian and retired MWRD engineer to explain this amazing story of political power and engineering genius that created the evolving regional system of water management for Chicagoland.
Ellis S. Chesbrough (1813-1886) Drawing of building the water intake cribs in Chicago Digging of the Sanitary & Ship Canal Temporary dam on the South Fork of the Chicago River Work on the embankment Work on shore pilings Removal of the center-pier of a swing bridge in the river A dredge at work Work on a rock section of the Sanitary & Ship Canal Canal work Preparing to fill in the canal near the stockyards Towing barges on the canal
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- Books by retired MWRD engineer and historian Richard Lanyon
- History of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District from their website
- Biography of engineer Elis S. Chesbrough from the ASCE website
- History of the Chicago Water Cribs from the Industrial History website posted Feb. 3, 2016