WBEZ | Great Chicago Fire http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-chicago-fire Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Tensions and torches after the Great Chicago Fire http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tensions-and-torches-after-great-chicago-fire-110908 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/171250855&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>The Great Chicago Fire has been a key part of Chicago&rsquo;s identity since the fateful dry, windy night of October 8, 1871, when the O&rsquo;Leary barn caught on fire. The blaze is represented by one of the stars on the city&rsquo;s flag. It&rsquo;s cited as the reason Chicago became a beacon of innovative architecture. And, it&rsquo;s often referenced with pride as an example of Chicago&rsquo;s indomitable, can-do spirit.</p><p>But University of Chicago history major Angela Lee asked us to skip all that. Instead, she asked us this question, which gets to a less-commonly discussed aspect of the disaster &mdash; how it affected residents&rsquo; relationships with each other.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How did the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 affect where Chicago&rsquo;s wealthy and poor lived?</em></p><p>Significant gaps in the historical record create problems answering this question with much precision, but there is a lot to learn. Among other things: Chicagoans at the time were uneasy when it came to the mixing of the social classes. And months after the fire, social tensions were stoked by &mdash; of all things &mdash; the type of materials available to rebuild.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Before the blaze</span></p><p>In 1870 Chicago was home to 298,977 people. Lacking modern zoning and planning sensibilities, the city was also a hodgepodge; homes, businesses, and even small manufacturing establishments were located near each other. According to Anne Durkin Keating, professor of history at North Central College, Chicago&rsquo;s working class and poorer areas tended to be near the river, on undesirable polluted land and close to jobs. The neighborhood where the fire began on the South Side, for example, was packed with small, wooden homes of immigrants according to Karen Sawislak, the author of <em>Smoldering City: Chicagoans and the Great Fire, 1871-1874</em>.</p><p>The wealthy were also spread out, often near the emerging central business district, Keating says. One wealthy enclave was north of the river, centered around Washington Square Park on the Near North side. Large homes in that area were owned by families with familiar names like McCormick, Ogden, and Kinzie. Another wealthy enclave that was not affected by the fire was Prairie Avenue between 18th and 20th Streets.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">During this era Chicago also had a large immigrant population, many of whom were homeowners. &ldquo;Rates of immigrant home ownership from 1850 to 1920 were incredibly high,&rdquo; says Elaine Lewinnek, the author of <em>The Working Man&rsquo;s Reward: Chicago&rsquo;s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl</em>. In some of the city&rsquo;s poorest neighborhoods (as well as some areas just beyond its border), she says, home ownership rates among the working class neared 95 percent. &ldquo;It was really this immigrant-led American dream. It trickled up.&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/fire+demographics+story/burned+district+map+larger.jpg" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/burned district map for story.jpg" title="An illustration in Richard's Illustrated shows the districts of Chicago affected by the Great Fire. 1871. (Photo courtesy Newberry Library)" /></a></div></div><p>In contrast, renting was common among wealthy people with deeper roots in the country. &ldquo;Native-born Americans weren&rsquo;t so interested in owning homes. There was more prestige in some renting areas,&rdquo; Lewinnek says.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">After the fire, an &lsquo;awful democracy of the hour&rsquo;</span></p><p>Many accounts concerning the fire have been preserved in personal letters. Mrs. Aurelia R. King penned a note to friends that reads:</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;The wind was like a tornado, and I held fast to my little ones, fearing they would be lifted from my sight. I could only think of Sodom or Pompeii, and truly I thought the day of judgement had come. It seemed as if the whole world were running like ourselves, fire all around us, and where should we go? &hellip; Yet we are so thankful that if we were to be afflicted, it is only by the loss of property. Our dear ones are all alive and well, and we are happy.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>During chaos of the fire, people from all walks of life fled their homes with a few treasured possessions and valuables. They waited for the fire to pass wherever they could: in the lake, on the prairie, in parks and in tunnels. People even sought shelter in abandoned graves. Bodies had been removed from City Cemetery years earlier, but the actual graves had not yet been filled in. These empty graves made a convenient, if creepy, place to seek shelter.</p><p>The usual divisions between groups of people vanished as Chicagoans endured this epic fire together. In fact, this jumble of different types of people was an element of <em>why</em> the fire was so distressing to some. &ldquo;This is the Victorian age. It was a time when people wanted their spatial separations to be clear. It wasn&rsquo;t clear right after the fire, part of the pressure in rebuilding is to make things clearer,&rdquo; Lewinnek says.</p><p>Reverend E. P. Roe later recalled the tunnel under the Chicago River at LaSalle Street: &ldquo;There jostled the refined and delicate lady, who, in the awful democracy of the hour, brushed against thief and harlot. &hellip; Altogether it was a strange, incongruous, writhing mass of humanity, such as the world had never looked upon, pouring into what might seem in its horrors, the mouth of hell.&rdquo;</p><p>When the fire finally stopped, rumors swirled about more potential trouble. Survivor Ebon Matthews recalled &ldquo;one who was not an eyewitness can hardly imagine the fears of incendiarism, looting, etc., which prevailed. Stories of all kinds were afoot concerning thefts, murders, and the like.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CHM illustration.jpg" title="Witnesses recounted avoiding the flames for two days. Image: Scene on the Prairie, Monday night. Alfred R. Waud, Pencil, Chalk, and Paint Drawing, 1871 (Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)" /></div></div></div><p>According to Sawislak, there was an undercurrent of uncertainty about what could happen next. Yet, she says, after the first couple of days passed things were orderly. &ldquo;After reading through records of contemporaneous accounts, you sense this huge fear of disorder, further explosion and disruption in the aftermath, but really everyone who was charged with public safety is kind of constantly saying: &lsquo;You know? It&rsquo;s really quiet. People are going about their business and being very helpful.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Military presence</span></p><p>Nevertheless, a feeling of unease remained. &ldquo;Very quickly business leaders in the city basically prevailed upon the mayor to cede civic authority over peacekeeping in the aftermath of the fire, and give it to the army. It became a military operation commanded by General Philip Sheridan,&rdquo; Sawislak says.</p><p>According to an account in historian Carl Smith&rsquo;s <em><a href="http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/U/bo5625323.html" target="_blank">Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman</a></em>, former Lieutenant Governor William Bross recalled &ldquo;Never did deeper emotions of joy overcome me. Thank God, those most dear to me and the city as well are safe.&rdquo; Bross said without Sheridan&rsquo;s &ldquo;prompt, bold and patriotic action, &hellip; what was left of the city would have been nearly if not quite entirely destroyed by the cutthroats and vagabonds who flocked here like vultures from every point of the compass.&rdquo;</p><p>This brief period of defacto martial law was controversial. &ldquo;His soldiers mostly were stationed to patrol the ruins of the banks and the hotels and the big commercial structures and safeguard what they thought was wealth that was sort of buried in the rubble. But they didn&rsquo;t go to work handing out food or helping people clean up the damage or building structures for temporary shelter. That was not considered to be part of their job,&rdquo; Sawislak says. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re not really there to help. They&rsquo;re there to guard, and that&rsquo;s a whole different project.&rdquo;</p><p>In 1872 Elijah Haines, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, spoke to that body about the brief military presence in Chicago. &ldquo;They are men with bayonets, bringing complete military armament. For what purpose? For war?&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Smith does note that General Sheridan &ldquo;requisitioned relief rations and supplies from St. Louis.&rdquo;</p><p>He also describes an incident that may have hastened the end of this period of military involvement. &ldquo;Theodore Treat, a twenty-year-old college student on volunteer curfew duty, shot Thomas W. Grosvenor, who died the next morning. Grosvenor was a former Civil War officer and successful lawyer&rdquo; Smith writes. He continues, &ldquo;Grosvenor may in fact have been a victim of the false reports of rampant criminality that put Treat fatally on edge.&rdquo; &nbsp;Three days later, on October 23rd, 1871, General Sheridan resigned from his temporary post overseeing Chicago&rsquo;s security.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The class and ethnic divide</span></p><p>As Chicago emerged from this tense environment, the city discussed how to rebuild the burnt district. Foremost on some people&rsquo;s minds: preventing a similar disaster to the one they had just endured. This school of thought proposed new building rules, the most strident being that, for safety&rsquo;s sake, only brick and stone would be allowed for construction within the city limits. The problem with this idea? Wood was cheap. For the immigrant homeowners on the North Side, maintaining their homes trumped even fire safety.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/fire+demographics+story/lincolnParkLarger.jpg" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/smaller%20lincoln%20park%20refuge.jpg" title="Illustration from Harper's Weekly featuring refugees in Lincoln Park during the Chicago Fire of 1871. (Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)" /></a></div></div></div><p>&ldquo;People were furious,&rdquo; Lewinnek says, &ldquo;especially the German and Irish immigrants who lived on the North Side who had been most burned out by the fire, were furious they might not be able to rebuild.&rdquo; They tended not to have reliable insurance and felt they wouldn&rsquo;t be able to afford to keep their land if wood construction was not allowed. &ldquo;They&rsquo;d say things like: &lsquo;We don&rsquo;t care if the city burns again, we need our own houses,&rsquo;&rdquo; Lewinnek says. Populations affected included those of German, Irish and Scandinavian background.</p><p>Karen Sawislak says, circling this debate was a hard question: Who&rsquo;s a good American? &ldquo;It was the immigrant community, specifically Germans, Scandinavians, who pushed hard to not have the fire limits extended over their neighborhoods, because effectively that would have meant that some very large percentage wouldn&rsquo;t have been able to rebuild any time soon or possibly at all, because of the expense of construction with stone or brick,&rdquo; she says. She adds that it became a political fight over &ldquo;the right to better yourself in your new country through this hard work and investment you&rsquo;ve made versus the need to protect a bigger, more abstract public from another possible disaster.&rdquo;</p><p>This conflict came to a dramatic head on Monday night, January 15, 1872. Immigrants gathered and marched by torch light to City Hall. Reports vary between the local English language newspapers and the foreign language papers, but Lewinnek says between 2,000 and 10,000 people marched to city hall. They carried signs with slogans like, &ldquo;No Fire Limitz [sic] at the North Site,&rdquo; and &ldquo;Leave a House for the Laborur.&rdquo; Again, reports vary about what happened when they arrived at City Hall. The German-language <em>Staats-Zeitung</em> wrote that six windows were broken, while the <em>Chicago Times</em> declared &ldquo;ALL THE WINDOWS BROKEN,&rdquo; and called the event &ldquo;the most disgraceful riot which ever visited Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>In the end, the North Side immigrants won the right to re-build with wood on their existing property. Areas north of Chicago Avenue and west of Wells Street and Lincoln Avenue were outside the new fire limits. After another significant fire in 1874, the fire limits were finally extended to the city, according to Elaine Lewinnek.</p><p>By that time, most of the North Side immigrants had managed to rebuild their homes, and so their wooden homes were &ldquo;grandfathered in&rdquo; according to Lewinnek.</p><p>In terms of how the fire changed the layout of Chicago, existing trends quickened. In general, property owners and even wealthy renters tended to remain where they were before the fire. Suburbs continued to grow. Distinct districts &mdash; residential, manufacturing, and the downtown area &mdash; developed. Downtown land prices rose.</p><p>Also after the fire, Chicago&rsquo;s population changed. The Relief and Aid Society had given out free rail passes to people who wanted to leave town after the fire. Some left, while new residents arrived. &ldquo;Immediately after the fire 30,000 people moved to Chicago to help rebuild it. So you don&rsquo;t actually have the exact same population,&rdquo; Lewinnek says. Many of these newcomers rented or lived in suburbs. The city&rsquo;s population grew from just under 300,000 in 1870 before the fire to 503,185 in 1880. (As of the most recent census, in 2010, Chicago&rsquo;s population numbered 2,695,598. Chicago&rsquo;s highest census number was recorded in 1950, with 3,620,962 residents.)</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Telling silence, shared memory</span></p><p>Since the fire, of course, this era has been remembered as a triumphant moment in the city&rsquo;s history. In 1872 Frank Luzerne published a work titled <em>The Lost City! Drama of the Fire-Fiend! or Chicago, As It Was, and As It Is! and its Glorious Future!</em>. Citing nearly 5,000 newly-issued building permits, Luzerne wrote &ldquo;there will be no interruption in the work of rebuilding until the new Chicago arises from the ashes of the old, in more substantial grandeur, rehabilitated, immeasurably improved, and all the better for her thorough purification.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/rebuilding 2.jpg" title="Before the fire wood construction was common but afterwards it was proscribed in much of the city. Image: The Rebuilding of the Marine Building; Glass Lantern Slide, ca. 1873. ichi-02845 (Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)" /></div></div><p>Sawislak takes issue with this narrative. &ldquo;Basically, I think that the Chicago fire is this very proud moment in the city&rsquo;s history, but it&rsquo;s a very heavily mythologized history,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;In many ways the disaster very much reinforced existing barriers between classes, between ethnicities.&rdquo;</p><p>Events surrounding the fire were extensively documented, but significant segments of the population were not included in that process and therefore their experiences were lost to history, Sawislak says. There are a wealth of first-person accounts of the fire, but says they were written only by people of means. &ldquo;We have very few records from working class people that are contemporaneous accounts of the fire,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s actually rather hard to find a record of how most Chicagoans experienced this signature event in the history of the city.&rdquo;</p><p>This imbalance, Sawislak argues, extends even to the estimated three hundred people who died in the fire. &ldquo;Even the fact that it&rsquo;s always an estimate tells you something,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Most victims &mdash; virtually all &mdash; were working class, immigrants, in very densely packed immigrant neighborhoods that were most impacted by the early stages of the fire on the South Side.&rdquo; Even following years of research, Sawislak says she&rsquo;s never discovered a comprehensive list of names of the deceased.</p><p>Combine this, she says, with the fact that the working poor left behind so few written accounts of the fire, and you&rsquo;re struck with an uncomfortable truth.</p><p>&ldquo;The silences are really kind of what&rsquo;s telling.&rdquo; she says.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/angela%20lee%20photo.jpg" style="float: left; height: 268px; width: 200px;" title="(Photo courtesy Angela Lee)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Now we have an answer. Who asked the question?</span></p><p>Angela Lee thinks a lot about cities, history, and demographics. She&rsquo;s originally from New York City. &ldquo;I&#39;ve only lived in cities,&quot; she says. &quot;I&#39;ve always been curious about why certain neighborhoods are located where they are, and why the divisions can be so extreme sometimes.&rdquo;</p><p>Her interest in where people live is long-standing. She began paying attention to real estate when she was just ten years old, she says. Now she&rsquo;s a fourth-year student at the University of Chicago, majoring in history. Thinking about the London fire of 1666 made her wonder, &ldquo;They had to completely rebuild the city, I thought something similar might have happened in Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Special help for this story comes from Carl Smith, author of <a href="http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/U/bo5625323.html" target="_blank">Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman. </a>He also curates <a href="http://www.greatchicagofire.org" target="_blank">The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory</a>.</em></p><p><em>Katie Klocksin is an independent producer. Follow her on twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 07 Oct 2014 16:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tensions-and-torches-after-great-chicago-fire-110908 Oysters were the 'peanuts of the 19th century' http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/oysters-were-peanuts-19th-century-109100 <p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Oysters 1871 (5)-scr.JPG" style="float: left; height: 533px; width: 400px;" title="Shuckers prepare oysters at GT Fish &amp; Oyster. (Nina Barrett)" />Today when we think of an oyster bar, we think of a place like <a href="http://gtoyster.com/">GT Fish &amp; Oyster</a> on North Wells Street.</p><p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s the kind of place where over the course of a year, connoisseurs can sample 90 different varieties of oysters on the half-shell, and the only guy you can pour out your troubles to is a shucker.</p><p dir="ltr">On a recent afternoon, though, guests were being asked to imagine an era in Chicago history when an oyster bar was more like &mdash; well, your average guy&rsquo;s bar.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Back in 1871 when the fire happened, there were hundreds and hundreds of saloons, and lots of what we might call microbreweries today. And at those breweries, they would serve oysters,&rdquo; said Sean O&rsquo;Scannlain, president and CEO of Fortune Fish Company, which supplies fresh seafood to many of Chicago&rsquo;s finer retailers and dining establishments. &ldquo;It was a good appetizer and certainly one that would encourage people to drink a little bit more.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">O&rsquo;Scannlain&nbsp;said oysters were the peanuts of the 19th century &mdash; a salty bar snack saloons sold cheaply or even gave away to get their customers to drink more beer.</p><p dir="ltr">And this particular bit of history is personal to O&rsquo;Scannlain, whose family has survived for five generations by adapting to Chicago&rsquo;s ever-changing food-and-drink scene.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;My great-great-grandfather, a man named Peter Fortune, came to the United States from Ireland,&rdquo; O&rsquo;Scannlain&nbsp; said.</p><p dir="ltr">Having learned a thing or two working at Guinness in Dublin, Fortune and his brother John started a business in Chicago called the Fortune Brothers Brewery. And besides beer expertise, the Fortune Brothers apparently came equipped with a bit of that famous &ldquo;luck o&rsquo; the Irish.&rdquo; While the Great Fire of 1871 wiped out the area once known as &ldquo;Brewtown,&rdquo; it literally skipped right over Fortune Brothers. The company even managed to stay afloat during Prohibition. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;At that time my relatives made pasta,&rdquo; O&rsquo;Scannlain said. &ldquo;Spaghetti, macaroni, all these Irish guys making Italian pasta. I can&rsquo;t vouch for the quality, but that&rsquo;s how they managed to get through Prohibition. Now I don&rsquo;t know what they were doing without the authorities looking, but at least to the general public we were a pasta company back then.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, pasta was their story, and they stuck to it. Because the third gift the Fortune Brothers brought with them to America was the famous Irish gift for storytelling. That was on display at GT Fish &amp; Oyster, where Fortune Fish was serving up heaping platters of its newly launched <a href="http://www.old1871.com/">Old 1871 Oyster</a>, along with an extremely charming story about how the Old 1871 came to be. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The day before the Great Chicago Fire, said Fortune&rsquo;s marketing director Mark Palicki, there was another huge fire down on Randolph Street, and most of the city&rsquo;s firefighters had spent the day battling that. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;And what do they do after the fire? They go drink a couple beers and have a bunch of oysters, and then they sleep it off and wake up and what do they go into? The Chicago Fire of 1871.</p><p dir="ltr">Palicki said the company spent two years working with oyster farmers in Virginia to develop the kind of plumper, meatier-style oyster that would have been served up back in the time of the Great Fire. You might even call it: manly. &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;What&rsquo;s going on right now in the oyster world is they&rsquo;re growing smaller, petite, they&rsquo;re cocktail oysters,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And since this is a 3-inch oyster, it&rsquo;s a little bigger than what the normal oyster is right now.&rdquo; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Chef James Ross, who was sampling them, thinks the Old 1871 really is an oyster with some regular-guy potential. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;So many people are, it&rsquo;s TOO seafoody for them,&rdquo; Ross said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s too soft for them. It&rsquo;s almost snotty -- I hate to use that word.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Did you just say what I think you said?&rdquo; I asked.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I said snotty,&rdquo; Ross replied. &ldquo;Some people are freaked out by that. But these oysters just have such a nice texture to them. It&rsquo;s a good training-wheel oyster. But it&rsquo;s also an oyster that a connoisseur would eat and say, yes, I think that covers every single base.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The bit about the firefighters was a big hit, too. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;And also the story behind 1871,&rdquo; said GT Fish &amp; Oyster Executive Chef Giuseppe Tentori. &ldquo;These oysters represent Chicago, bottom line. So these oysters here ... GT will have ALWAYS on the menu.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">That history, by the way, is a little bit fishy. The oyster taverns and the fire before the Great Chicago Fire really did exist, but when pressed about the bit where the firefighters go out to fight the Great Fire all stoked up on Old 1871-style oysters, Mark Palicki started to get a little &hellip; slippery. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I am guessing that some firemen on that day probably did do that, with what was going on in Chicago at that time,&rdquo; Palicki said. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;But you&rsquo;re just &mdash; guessing,&rdquo; I said.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Correct,&rdquo; Palicki said. &ldquo;But I&rsquo;m bettin&rsquo; you it happened. If I could go in a time machine back to that day, I bet there are some firemen sitting in a saloon drinkin&rsquo; beer and eatin&rsquo; oysters.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s your story and you&rsquo;re sticking to it,&rdquo; I said.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s my story and I&rsquo;m sticking to it,&rdquo; Palicki replied.</p><p dir="ltr">Well, that&rsquo;s okay. Because everybody knows that the best way to slurp an oyster on the half shell is just to tip your head back, and swallow it whole. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Correction: This article has been updated with the correct spelling of the Fortune Fish Company president and CEO&#39;s last name.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Nina Barrett is a James Beard Award-winning food contributor. Follow her on her <a href="http://fearoffrying.ninabarrett.com/">blog</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 17:53:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/oysters-were-peanuts-19th-century-109100 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 Waco Brothers set music ablaze with ‘Great Chicago Fire’ http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-05/waco-brothers-set-music-ablaze-%E2%80%98great-chicago-fire%E2%80%99-99409 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/waco%20brothers.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 598px; " title="(Bloodshot Records/Waco Brothers)" /></div><p>Even though protests surrounding the NATO summit have ended, the counter-culture rebellion continues; Chicago&rsquo;s own <a href="http://www.bloodshotrecords.com/artist/waco-brothers">Waco Brothers</a> join us on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> Tuesday to bring new life to the smoldering embers of a moment in the city&rsquo;s past. The band&#39;s new album,<em> Great Chicago Fire</em>, is a collaboration with their Bloodshot Records label-mate, Paul Burch.</p><p>Waco Brothers perform this Friday at <a href="http://www.beatkitchen.com/">Beat Kitchen</a> in Chicago.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="338" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/42634855?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=ff0000" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="600"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 22 May 2012 07:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-05/waco-brothers-set-music-ablaze-%E2%80%98great-chicago-fire%E2%80%99-99409