Thursday, September 20, 2018

State Street (Amusement) Park at the South-east Corner of State & 22nd Streets in Chicago. (1883)

Illustration of Patent № 298,710 "Roller Coasting Device" granted on May 13, 1884.
Alason Wood's invention was noticed and imitated by several other Toledo Ohio inventors and businessmen, like Philo M. Stevens who traveled to Chicago to build a circular railway with a slightly modified design. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported on September 30, 1883 that his 22-foot-high, 140-foot-diameter circular railway was under construction at a cost of $800 on a large vacant lot at the corner of State and 22nd Street in today's South Loop community. The reporter misspelled his name as Philo M. Stevenson. 
The grounds used to be called "State Street Grounds" aka: "23rd Street Grounds" which was a baseball park. In it, the Chicago White Stockings played baseball from 1872 to 1877, the first two years in the National Association and then in the National League.
23rd Street Park - The First Home of the Chicago White Stockings.
The park grounds was on the block bounded by 22nd Street (now Cermak Road), State Street, 23rd Street, and Armour Avenue (now Federal Street).

The design, according to the patent he applied for on October 16, 1883, was nearly identical to Wood's, but had a constant slope down, and a constant slope up. The car, which stopped at the end of the uphill grade, was held in place by an anti-rollback pawl. The two-car trains could accommodate 6-9 passengers seated sideways in each car, and Stevens offered three short 15-18 second rides for a nickel. The newspaper article claimed that Stevens had already built two coasters in Toledo, and would built one shortly in New Orleans.

His patent #298,710 Roller Coasting Device was granted on May 13, 1884, and assigned to the Roller Coaster of America Company; thus where the generic name roller coaster originated.
Alason Wood was the first to be granted a patent for a circular railway with series of undulating drops after the lift hill. This was a radical departure from the lineage of switchback railway design, but considering that Wood was unfamiliar with those convoluted designs, his approach was novel in that it returned its passengers to near its starting point without the need of a separate return track.

Wood was a dirt poor carpenter, but a born tinkerer, who after watching children slide down hills on their slide boards, was inspired to design a railroad whose cars could travel both up and down hills. He envisioned a ride that would thrill its passengers with speed, rather than take them for a slow scenic ride. His innovation was to bend the rails into a circle, allow the passenger car to roll down the incline from a height, and use the ride's final uphill incline as a brake on the car's momentum, thus eliminating the need for friction brakes to bring it to a final stop. By logically tying the two ends of his tracks together into a continuous elliptical loop, he returned passengers to their starting point without the inconvenience of awaiting a return train or the interruption of a mildly exciting ride.

His wood-framed ride had a height of 23 feet, diameter of 150 feet, and a circumference of 475 feet. A platform 13 feet above ground, where passengers debarked, had a seating capacity of 200 for those awaiting their turn. Passengers walked up the stairs to the loading platform, while pairs of cars each seating six sideways on a long bench were winched up a nine-foot-high incline. It was a short exhilarating downhill ride over a series of undulating hills, only ten to twelve seconds from start to finish, but passengers could ride it three times for their nickel.

Wood's patent was quite detailed in the various slopes of his ride. The cars gained speed down a 15% grade, a drop of just 6 feet over 48 feet of track, then only dropped two additional feet along the next 167 feet before reaching the next 15% down-grade along 64 feet of track, then finally down to the bottom, a two foot drop along 53 feet of track. The car's speed was arrested as it climbed a 15% grade of 9 feet over a 72 foot distance, and then glided into the unloading station along 22 feet of level track.

Wood sold half his pending patent to Joseph A. Cahoon, a businessman in Toledo for $17,000 plus royalties. Cahoon saw its potential as an amusement ride, and since he could recover the ride's construction cost of $600 within a several weeks at most, he and several associates began construction, first in Toledo and possibly Cleveland in 1883. They then built in Ponce de Leon Springs in Georgia as reported by the Augusta Chronicle, and Coney Island, NY in June 1884, and at Philadelphia's Fairmont Park in July 1884.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

The Shipwreck of the "Silver Spray" rests a stone's throw from Hyde Park's 49th street beach in Chicago.

On July 15, 1914 -- almost exactly a year before the SS Eastland disaster -- the Silver Spray, a 109-foot-long ferry, set sail to pick up 200 University of Chicago students and take them to Gary, Indiana, to tour the steel mills.
Unfortunately the trip never came to pass as the Silver Spray ran aground on Lake Michigan's Morgan Shoal, a massive underwater rock formation that was formed millions of years ago by glacial activity. 
Morgan Shoal is a million square foot dolomite shelf left over from glacial action millions of years ago near what would eventually be Lake Shore Drive at 49th Street. The wave action at this unique spot along the shoreline creates the city’s only pebble beach and a tricky navigational spot for boats.
Once it was apparent that the ship was doomed, the captain and the seven-man crew decided to remain with their ship, not even halting the preparation of the evening's stew.

Three days later, after various vessels attempted to pull the Silver Spray free of the limestone reef, the crew was taken ashore. Attempts to salvage the ship only caused it to slam against the rocks, and the wooden steamship quickly broke in two.
A Chicago Examiner comic from July 16, 1914, the day after the Silver Spray hit Morgan Shoal and two days before waves finally broke the ship apart.
In addition, the boiler had been left on and the ship caught fire as it sank, making for quite the spectacle. Groups of spectators on shore began collecting the wooden debris as it floated in and burnt them in large bonfires. It must have been a delightful time.
The remains of the Silver Spray can still be seen peeking out of the waters of Lake Michigan. While most of the wooden structure is long since gone, the ship's metal boiler still juts out of the water.
The boiler of the Silver Spray.
The Silver Spray is the closest shipwreck to the shoreline of Chicago and is thus a popular diving spot, along with Morgan Shoals in general.
Some swimmers even paddle out to the wreck and sunbathe on its exposed angle. For better or worse, the Silver Spray seems to be bringing more joy to people in its death than it ever did during its operation.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Kate Sturges Buckingham was one of the great women in Chicago's history.

Kate Buckingham died in her home at 2450 North Lakeview Avenue on December 12, 1937 at the age of 79. She was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Zanesville, Ohio alongside her parents, brother and sister.

Kate Sturges Buckingham
In announcing Miss Buckingham’s passing The Chicago Tribune noted, “She was godmother to the Art institute; the collections for which it is most famous were her gifts. She was godmother to the opera; at the time of her death she was a guarantor. She was godmother to some 200 or more music and art students. She was a heavy donor to the Field museum, to innumerable Chicago charities, to many, many nameless Chicagoans.”

Despite being one of the wealthiest women in the United States and one of the most generous individuals in a city blessed with a long procession of altruistic citizens, Miss Buckingham preferred that no credit come to her for the many contributions she made. Later in life she ordered that her name be removed from the Social Register and severely limited her circle of friends.

Miss Buckingham was born on August 3, 1858, the eldest daughter of Ebenezer and Lucy Buckingham, in Zanesville, Ohio. Her mother’s father, Solomon Sturges, was responsible for bringing the family to Chicago in the 1850’s. At that time the Sturges and Buckingham families controlled a string of grain elevators in Ohio, Pennsylvania and along the Erie Canal. It was sound business sense to move to Chicago and in 1850 Miss Buckingham’s great uncle, Alvah Buckingham, constructed the first grain elevator in the city.

Everything that the Buckingham and Sturges families owned was obliterated in the Great Fire of 1871, their homes on the north side of the city, their grain elevators along the river, the first of many tragedies that would become a motif that ran through Miss Buckingham’s life.

A second fire in 1873 gave rise to one of the earliest examples of Miss Buckingham’s generosity. After that second conflagration, the 15-year-old Kate launched a drive to raise funds for a Christmas party to bring some measure of joy to children in the Cook County hospital.

The Tribune describes the effort... “On Christmas eve the Christmas tree, heavily laden with gifts, was set up in the children’s ward and its many candles were lighted. Tragedy swiftly followed. Through some mishap the burning candles started a fire. The tree and all its Christmas largesse burned down. Bur young Miss Buckingham, nothing deterred, set forth to raise anew money enough for gifts for each child. And did.”

The family relocated their home to Prairie Avenue, the city’s most select street, and the family business, J & E Buckingham, prospered beyond measure. In 1882 Miss Buckingham’s father also built a grand home in Lake Forest, but despite its location on a bluff above Lake Michigan, the family continued to make its principal home in Chicago.

It was in the Prairie Avenue home that Kate and her sister, Lucy Maud, were educated. It was in this home that Lucy Buckingham died in 1889, and it was there that Kate’s sister became increasingly incapacitated. From the house Clarence Buckingham, Kate’s brother, and their father expanded the family’s enterprises to include banking, insurance, steel manufacture, and real estate.

The family’s affiliation with the Art Institute began in the 1890’s when Clarence, impressed by the Japanese art that was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, began to collect Japanese prints. Ebenezer died in 1911, Clarence died just over a year later, and Lucy Maud lingered on in increasingly poorer health until 1920. All the losses must have further isolated Kate, a woman left alone in a house that mother, father, sister and brother had shared for her whole adult life.

She continued to collect art, though, following her brother’s lead. Clarence had been a governing member of the Art Institute of Chicago for three decades and a member of the Board of Trustees for a dozen. [Scultz & Hast] After the death of her sister, Kate Buckingham gave her entire collection of Japanese prints, etchings and engravings, Chinese pottery and porcelain, Persian miniatures, Chinese ritual bronzes, Italian silver and English lusterware to the institute. [The Frick Collection. Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America]

She also furnished the Art Institute’s Gothic room in the memory of her sister and finished the Jacobean Room at the museum in the name of her parents. In 1925 she gave her brother’s entire collection of fourteen hundred sheets of Japanese prints to the museum as well.

Miss Buckingham also wrote a check to the Art Institute that was to be used for a great monument to Alexander Hamilton. Of course, her most memorable contribution was the donation that allowed construction of the great [Buckingham] Fountain in Grant Park, dedicated to her brother, along with a $300,000 endowment to provide for its maintenance.
The Buckingham fountain was donated by Kate Buckingham in honor of her brother Clarence in 1927. The fountain was the largest in the world at the time it was built, and is still one of the largest. Edward H. Bennett designed the monument in collaboration with French sculptor Marcel Loyau and engineer Jacques H. Lambert.

The fountain was meant to represent Lake Michigan and the four states that touch the lake - being Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. The fountain is constructed of Georgia pink marble. To give a vision of just how large the fountain is - the bottom pool is 280 feet in diameter, the lower basin is 103 feet. the upper basin is 24 feet and the upper basin is 25 feet above the lower basin.
But here is something else that resulted from her generosity about which most people are unaware. On February 12, 1912 Kate Buckingham bought a property of 81 acres in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. It was not far from where a 55-room “cottage,” which her father had built near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, stood until it burned to the ground in 1899.

On the new piece of land Kate Buckingham built Bald Hill Farm. After her death the farm, to which another 80 acres had been added, was sold to Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky. Mr. Koussevitzky was the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a man with a dream of one day creating a summer musical festival for the symphony. In 1978 after the death of the Koussevitzky’s, the organization purchased the property, and it now lies at the heart of the Tanglewood Music Festival.

When she died, Kate Buckingham left a half million dollars to friends and relatives. She left another $126,000 to her maid, chauffeur, children of her caretaker, her nurses, doormen and elevator men at the Lakeview cooperative building. In today’s dollars those gifts would total over nine million dollars. She left another $3.1 million for art and cultural organizations, including two million to the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Tribune article that conveyed the news of Kate Buckingham’s death ended with “a well authenticated anecdote,” dealing with “one of her rare visits to the Continental Illinois National bank and Trust company, in which she was an important stockholder.”

“On this occasion,” the story went, “she stopped at the cashier’s cage to get money. She had no identification papers with her and the teller asked if any one in the bank could identify her. She cast a brief, flashing glance around the nearby desks. ‘They’re all dead,’ she snapped.”

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.