Windy City Historians Podcast

Episode 23 – Reversing the Chicago River

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.

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Episode 22 – Eyewitness to History: From the Pullman Strike to H.H. Holmes

Looking back on historical events, whether it is the Civil War or the Chicago Fire, they are usually presented in isolation, a individual events separated by subject, pinned to a specific date or period of time.  Yet, history is not nearly so neat and tidy, and to someone who lived through those times, it becomes part of the greater tapestry of life. 

With this in mind our latest and 22nd episode of the Windy City Historians podcast “Eyewitness to History” approaches this historical journey following the experiences of Chicago policeman, John E. Fitzpatrick (1852-1902). As a Patrol Sergeant Fitzpatrick was present at the Haymarket Bombing of 1886, rose rapidly through the ranks to soon attain the position of Inspector and lead the honor guard for President Cleveland for the opening ceremonies of the Columbian Exposition of 1893.  A year later, Inspector Fitzpatrick would be embroiled in a chaotic summer due to the Pullman Railroad Strike, and the following year is assigned as lead detective on the H.H. Holmes serial murder cases that shocked a nation. 

A century later, these remarkable stories and adventures were unearthed by his great-great-granddaughter and our guest, Kim Fitzpatrick. Based on Kim’s diligent research we uncover the life and times of John E. Fitzpatrick and present this fascinating and personal history of his decorated Chicago Police career. We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed learning the Fitzpatricks’ story.

Note: This episode was updated on May 4, 2021 to correct a missing “great” to Kim Fitzpatrick’s relation and great-great grandfather John E. Fitzpatrick.

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Episode 21 – The Third Star – part III

As we conclude this three-part mini-series on the Columbian Exposition of 1893, we talk about a few favorite exhibits and stories about the Fair, connections that exist still, and relevancy of the World’s Fair today. A major event for Chicago and honored by a star on the Chicago Flag the Fair brought Chicago and the United States to the world stage to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus coming to America.

Join us as we speak with Paul Durica the Director of Exhibitions at the Newberry Library and historian and writer Jeff Nichols. And to complete this show, co-host Chris Lynch shares additional stories and connections with this World’s Fair culled from his research on the topic. Join us for a fascinating ride through Windy City history on this episode about the Chicago Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair of 1893.

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Episode 20 – The Third Star – part II

We continue our discussion of Chicago’s first World’s Fair to learn why carousels were risque, the Ferris Wheel encouraged voyeurism, Columbus was cool, and unfortunately racism was the norm. In addition, the 1893 World’s Fair was a launching pad for many new products, industries, and processes that were promoted, were popularized or invented as a result of the Fair, like the Post Card, Cracker Jacks, the Zipper, and many more.

In this second World’s Columbian Exposition episode, we talk with historian and Director of Exhibitions at the Newberry Library Paul Durica, to explore the various exhibits, tone, and tenor of the Fair and Chicago in 1893. Plus, additional snippets from our interview with historian Jeff Nichols.

This World’s Fair transformed a swampy patch of lakefront, which is now Jackson Park on Chicago’s south side, and remnant lagoons and three harbors still exist there today. Besides these physical remainders of the Fair, this historic exhibition also marked Chicago history through the gathering of many influential people and ideas from around the world. This Fair was the impetus for the sharing of world cultures and intermixing of peoples and traditions that still impacts us today. Join us on this episode for more fascinating stories surrounding the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893.

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Episode 19 – The Third Star – Part I

In 1893, Chicago is host to one of the most recognized and internationally famous world fairs, which honors the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arriving in America. Granted it was a year later than planned, but it became known for the advancement and development of many companies and ideas. A specially built exposition landscape was created south of the then city limits in Jackson Park in what was the neighboring township of Hyde Park, which was annexed in 1891.

The White City as this world’s fair became know was the first major use of electricity, which lit the World’s Columbian Exposition buildings and grounds from May 1st until October 30, 1893. This Fair is legendary to Chicago history and commemorated by the third star in the Chicago Flag. With our previous episode we learned about the many things that occurred in Chicago in 1893 and here we dive into the Fair and interview historian and writer Jeff Nichols with some snippets from a future interview with historian Paul Durica. This is the first installment in a three part mini-series on the World’s Columbian Exposition and the White City. We hope you will enjoy it.

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Episode 18 – The Year 1893

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.

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Episode 17 – The Haymarket

Why is May Day a holiday celebrated all over the world, but not in the United States? The answer is piece of Chicago history pointing to the events culminating at Haymarket Square on May 4th, 1886.

Episode 16: The Second Star – The Fire

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.

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Episode 15: The Stockyards

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

Links to Research and Historic Documents

Episode 14: A Brewing City

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.

Cheers!

Links to Research and Historic Documents