WBEZ | Union Stock Yards http://www.wbez.org/tags/union-stock-yards Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The Stock Yards http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-12/stock-yards-104621 <p><p>Carl Sandburg called Chicago the &ldquo;Hog Butcher for the World.&rdquo; He wrote those words in 1916, celebrating the city&rsquo;s great stock yards. The yards were the place where live animals were slaughtered, so that they can be turned into packaged meat for consumption.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1-3--Drovers%20at%20Stock%20Yards.jpg" title="Stock Yard drovers, 1904 (Library of Congress)" /></div><p>During&nbsp;the 1850s Chicago was becoming a railroad center. That made our city the final destination for the cattle the cowboys were driving to Dodge City and Abilene and Wichita and all those wild towns you used to see in the Western movies. At first there were many little stock yards around Chicago near the different railroad lines.</p><p>In&nbsp;1861 the Civil War broke out. Meatpacking boomed. With the industry outgrowing those small scattered sites, a group of railroads got together to build a consolidated facility. They settled on a location near the edge of the city, at Halsted and 39<sup>th</sup> (Pershing).&nbsp;</p><p>The Union Stock Yards began operations on December 25, 1865. The holiday date was not planned. Christmas Day happened to be when the first shipment of hogs arrived.&nbsp;</p><p>After&nbsp;the yards were established, Swift and Armour and the other packers opened plants in the area. Meatpacking became the city&rsquo;s biggest industry. At one time, it employed one out of every five working men in Chicago.</p><p>Conditions on the job could be miserable. In 1906 Upton Sinclair published a novel about a working family in the district titled <em>The Jungle</em>. The book created a national sensation, and spurred reform legislation.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1-3--Stockyards%201947--Natl%20archives_0.jpg" title="The Yards, 1947 (National Archives) " /></div></div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">The&nbsp;yards eventually took up almost an entire square mile, and there was even an &lsquo;L&rsquo; branch that ran right onto the property. The neighborhood to the southwest became known as Back of the Yards. When sophisticated travelers visited Chicago, they usually included a stop at the Union Stock Yards on their itinerary.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">By the 1920s over 15 million animals were going through the yards each year. With that many animals in one place, the air would get pretty ripe. Sox Park was only a mile away from the yards, and during the summer, when the wind came out of the southwest, the odor was unbelievable. I always thought that smell was one reason the Cubs had more fans than the Sox.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">After World War II the meatpacking industry changed. Large central slaughtering facilities became obsolete. The Union Stock Yards closed in 1971. Today the site is an industrial park.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Maybe it&rsquo;s not a tourist attraction any more. But it sure smells a lot better.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div></p> Thu, 03 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-12/stock-yards-104621 The true story of Little O'Leary http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/true-story-little-oleary-102851 <p><p>What would you do if your mother destroyed Chicago?</p><p>That was the problem for James Patrick O&rsquo;Leary. In 1871, when Little Jimmy was two years old, fire broke out in the barn behind the family home on De Koven Street. The flames spread, and within two days, most of Chicago had burned down. Somehow the legend grew that Mrs. Catherine O&rsquo;Leary&rsquo;s cow had kicked over a lantern and started the whole disaster.</p><p>Well, what would you do if you were Little Jimmy O&rsquo;Leary? You&rsquo;d grow up into Big Jim O&rsquo;Leary, the gambling king of the Stock Yards.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-09--Big%20Jim%20-%20Copy.jpg" style="width: 220px; height: 300px; float: left;" title="Big Jim O'Leary (Chicago Post)" />O&rsquo;Leary started small time, running errands for local bookies. His major coup came in 1892. Heavyweight boxing champ John L. Sullivan was defending his title against James J. Corbett. O&rsquo;Leary liked the challenger, and bet everything he had on Corbett at 4-to-1 or better. When Corbett won, Big Jim had his first stake.</div><p>&nbsp;</p><p>He opened&nbsp;a &ldquo;resort&rdquo; at 4185 South Halsted Street, across from the main entrance to the Yards. The license said that O&rsquo;Leary was operating a saloon, which included a bowling alley, billiard parlor and Turkish bath. But soon everybody in the city knew you could get down a bet at Big Jim&rsquo;s place.</p><p>O&rsquo;Leary prospered. In 1901 he built an elaborate Renaissance chateau at 726 West Garfield Boulevard, a few doors down from the fashionable Chicago Bicycle Club. The architect was Zachary Taylor Davis, who later designed both the city&rsquo;s ballparks. There is no record that O&rsquo;Leary kept a cow on the property.</p><p>Long before suburban shopping malls, O&rsquo;Leary&nbsp;started a&nbsp;branch location in Du Page County. He called it the Stockade, and it opened in 1904. Local officials were paid $5,000 a week to look the other way, the Santa Fe Railroad ran Gamblers&rsquo; Special trains, and for awhile, the place boomed. Then some reformer busy-bodies got into the act. Big Jim had to close the Stockade and pay a $1,700 fine.</p><p>There were other attempts to diversify. O&rsquo;Leary operated a gambling ship on the lake called <em>The City of Traverse</em>, and later bought Luna Park, a South Side amusement&nbsp;grove. Both ventures ended badly. The Halsted Street saloon remained Big Jim&rsquo;s main concern.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-09--O%27Leary%27s%20Saloon%20%28CDN%29.jpg" title="Big Jim's saloon (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)" /></div><p>And he remained a local celebrity. Before every election, reporters would descend on O&rsquo;Leary&rsquo;s to have the proprietor predict the outcome. With much ceremony, Big Jim would make his pronouncement. It was fine entertainment in the era before public opinion polls.</p><p>O&rsquo;Leary was a product of his times. He&nbsp;stayed in business because the public&nbsp;felt gambling was a personal vice that didn&rsquo;t harm society. The anti-gambling laws were&nbsp;not often enforced. Of course, it helped if you paid off the right people.</p><p>Eventually the city grew up. Prohibition came, and the feds took the law more seriously than Chicago officials did. Raiders found a cache of illegal whiskey in the basement at Halsted Street. In court, Big Jim produced a pharmacist license, and claimed he was selling the whiskey for medicinal purposes. The judge ordered him shut down anyway.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-09--O%27Leary%20Mansion.jpg" title="Big Jim's home (photo by the author)" /></div><p>He was soon back in business, but it wasn&rsquo;t fun anymore. There were more raids. O&rsquo;Leary talked about retiring. Maybe he&rsquo;d write his memoirs. After all, he told his friends in the press, he was a millionaire several times over.</p><p>Like any gambler, Big Jim O&rsquo;Leary knew you had to keep up a good front. When he died in 1925, his entire estate was valued at $10,200.</p><p>O&rsquo;Leary&rsquo;s Halsted Street saloon was torn down&nbsp;several years ago. His Garfield Boulevard mansion still stands, and is privately owned.</p></p> Tue, 09 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/true-story-little-oleary-102851 Chicago’s other Great Fire http://www.wbez.org/content/chicago%E2%80%99s-other-great-fire <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-July/2011-07-29/418px-Chicago_Union_Stock_Yards_fire_aftermath_2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-29/418px-Chicago_Union_Stock_Yards_fire_aftermath_2.jpg" style="width: 418px; height: 600px; margin: 5px;" title="The aftermath. (Courtesy of Wiki Commons)"></p><p>With record rainfall this month and severe flooding across the region, it’s hard to imagine a summer day dry enough to set the city ablaze.</p><p>But that’s just what happened in May of 1934, when Chicago had seen less than 4 inches of rain since the beginning of the year, one-third of what was normal. On a day when temperatures reached 92 degrees and the humidity was only 25 percent, the Union Stock Yards caught fire.</p><p>The massive South Side slaughterhouse helped Chicago develop its reputation as “hog butcher to the world.” And the fire that wreaked havoc on the stockyards that day was the most destructive fire the city had seen since the Great Fire of 1871.</p><p>The damage was estimated at $10 million and included six square blocks of surrounding property, two banks, a radio station, and a partially melted “L” platform.&nbsp; According to <a href="http://www.firehistory.org/">Fire History</a>, this blaze left 1,200 people homeless, 25 hospitalized, 3 missing and 1 dead.</p><p>Jeff Stern is a fire-fighting enthusiast who claims to have visited all 141 of the city’s firehouses then in service before he turned 13. Today he’s on the board of the Fire Museum of Greater Chicago. In 2009, 75 years after the conflagration, Stern detailed how it started, spread and became a 4-alarm fire in less than 10 minutes.</p><p>You can hear this nail-biter of a story in the audio above.&nbsp;</p><p><em><a href="../../series/dynamic-range">Dynamic Range</a> showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Jeff Stern spoke at an event presented by <a href="http://www.culinaryhistorians.org/">Culinary Historians of Chicago</a> in December of 2009. Click <a href="../../episode-segments/chicagos-second-greatest-fire-union-stock-yards-fire-1934">here</a> to hear the event in its entirety.</em></p></p> Fri, 29 Jul 2011 16:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/content/chicago%E2%80%99s-other-great-fire