Saturday, February 29, 2020

Art Institute of Chicago: The Thorne Miniature Rooms.

The Art Institute of Chicago Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit is from Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago who loved dollhouses and miniatures as a child. After traveling in Europe where she collected miniature furniture and accessories, Mrs. Thorne commissioned over two dozen miniature rooms created by cabinetmakers from her own drawings. The scale of the furnishings is 1:12 (one inch to one foot). The rooms were exhibited in the 1933-1934 Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition, the 1939 San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition, and in the 1940 New York World's Fair.
One can stare at the Thorne miniature rooms for hours.
Later, Mrs. Thorne had 29 more rooms created, copying Europe's castles, museums, and historic homes. She commissioned architects to create historically accurate settings and had the textiles and carpets made by the Needlework Guild of Chicago. The rooms showing the French and English architectural and decorating styles from the 1500s to the 1920s were exhibited in 1937 at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1942, Mrs. Thorne gave 37 more Miniature Rooms to the Art Institute of Chicago. Those rooms offered views of American history between 1875 and 1940.

The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.

The Art Institute of Chicago's Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit of 68 individual rooms is said to be the world’s largest miniature room collection.

The black and white postcard photographs are from the 1940s. The modern color photographs are of the same rooms. Some items have been added, moved or are missing from some of the miniature rooms, between the 1940s photos and the modern color photographs.

Can you find any of the changes made to these miniature rooms?
Thorne's Cape Cod Cottage Living Room. 1750

Thorne's Georgia Double Parlor. 1850

Thorne's Jeremiah Lee Mansion Drawing Room, Massachusetts. 1768

Thorne's Maryland Dining Room. 1770

Thorne's Mount Vernon West Parlor, Virginia. 1758

Thorne's New Mexico Dining Room. 1940

Thorne's New York Parlor. 1850-70

Thorne's Oak Hill Bedroom, Massachusetts. 1801

Thorne's Pierce Mansion Entrance Hall, New Hampshire. 1799

Thorne's Shaker Community House Living Room. 1800

Thorne's The Hermitage Tennessee Entrance Hall. 1835

Thorne's Virginia Kitchen 18th Century.

Thorne's Wentworth Gardner House Dining Room, New Hampshire. 1760

View all 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms.

ADDITIONAL READING: The Art Institute of Chicago Building Contract and Completion Details from 1892.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

The History of Chicago's Michigan Avenue Bridge.

A boulevard to link Chicago's north and south sides was proposed as early as 1891. An early plan called for a tunnel to link Michigan Avenue south of the Chicago River with Pine Street north of the river. 

Pine Street (400 to 999N) was renamed to Lincoln Park Boulevard (600 to 999N) as far south as Ohio Street (600N) when the street connected with Lake Shore Drive in the early 1890s and then became part of Michigan Avenue in 1920 when the Michigan Avenue bridge was completed connecting Michigan Avenue (Michigan Boulevard before the Great Chicago Fire in 1871), south of the Chicago River.

In 1903 an editorial in the Chicago Tribune proposed a new bascule bridge across the Chicago River at Michigan Avenue. Other plans suggested that the bridge should be a replica of the Pont Alexandre III that spans the Seine River in Paris, France, or, rather than constructing an entirely new bridge, the existing Rush Street bridge should be double-decked.
The Pont Alexandre III Bridge, Paris, France.
Plans for the boulevard and the construction of a Michigan Avenue Bridge were further elaborated upon in Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago. In 1911 a plan was selected that included the widening of Michigan Avenue from Randolph Street to the river, replacing the Rush Street bridge with a new bridge at Michigan Avenue and the construction of a double-decked boulevard along Pine Street as far as Ohio Street. 

An ordinance to fund construction was passed in 1913 but was declared void by the Supreme Court of Illinois. A second ordinance was passed in 1914, but legal battles continued until the end of 1916. 
Looking south from the northside of the Chicago River at Michigan Avenue and the Rush Street bridge on the far right. June 1915
The final three lots of real estate necessary for the construction of the Michigan Avenue bridge were secured in 1917.
(1) The city paid $719,532 to the estate of W. F. McLaughlin for a piece of property on the east side of Michigan Avenue fronting the south side of the river. 
(2)
$62,500 went to John S. Miller for a triangular piece of land across Michigan Avenue from the McLaughlin property. 

(3)
$91,760 was paid to Levy Mayer for a small piece of property directly south of the McLaughlin building.
The three real estate lots on the south of the river purchased to build the new Michigan Avenue bridge.
With these three transactions ($13,127,710 today) the city was ready to build the bridge that would change the north side of the city forever. The Rush Street bridge, which was dismantled when the Michigan Avenue bridge was opened, is on the right.
Michigan Avenue Bridge Dedication on May 14, 1920.
Construction finally started on April 15, 1918, and the bridge was officially opened in a ceremony on May 14, 1920. 
The open Michigan Avenue Bridge raised to let ships pass. 1931
On March 28, 1921, the executive committee of the Chicago Plan Commission through its chairman, Charles H. Wacker, issued the following statement:
We are happy to announce to the men and women of Chicago that William Wrigley Jr., has contributed $50,000 towards a fund of $100,000 for a fitting treatment of the four Michigan Avenue bridge houses. This gift is especially generous because Mr. Wrigley, at the request of the Chicago Plan Commission, already has spent an extra $20,000 on the beautification of the entrance to his monumental building. Matching his public spirit, the Ferguson fund trustees have contributed the additional $50,000 for the bridge houses. The site of Fort Dearborn and the spot where stood the first house constructed in Chicago by Jean Baptiste Point du Sable are both represented as reliefs on the bridge houses.
Looking North at the Michigan Avenue Bridge. 1948
The bridge was officially renamed the "DuSable Bridge" in October 2010, to honor Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable (the "du" of Point du Sable is a misnomer. It is an American corruption of "de" as pronounced in French. "du Sable" first appears long after his death). Du Sable was the first black, non-native settler in Chicago.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Art Institute of Chicago Building Contract and Completion Details from 1892.

The contract for construction, signed on February 6, 1892, for the Art Institute Building was awarded to Jonathan Clark and Sons Company. The amount specified in the contract was $325,000 ($9,362,000 today) although the total expenditure for the building approached nearly three times that amount. 
The Art Institute nears completion as the Illinois Central Railroad continues to surround it with coal smoke. The photo was taken from the 17-story Auditorium Building, the tallest building at the time.
The contractor stated that in the upcoming weeks the razing of the Interstate Industrial Exposition building would begin. The demolition was expected to end sometime around March 15, 1892. Funds for the new building came from three sources. 

The sale of the Art Institute’s former building had brought in $275,000. The World’s Fair Directory put in the sum of $200,000, and Charles L. Hutchinson, President of the Art Institute, had raised $55,000 through private subscriptions. 
The contractor was under considerable pressure to complete the building with dispatch. According to the contract, it must be ready by May 1, 1893, or the World’s Fair Directors are released from their contractual obligation to pay any amount of the $200,000 they have pledged. The contractor was under “forfeiture bonds” amounting to $100,000 if the building was not finished by the specified date.

The World Congress Auxiliary of the World's Columbian Exposition occupied the new building from May 1 to October 31, 1893, after which the Art Institute took possession on November 1, 1893. The Art Institute was officially opened to the public on December 8, 1893.
The World Congress Auxiliary opened its doors a few days after the opening of the World's Fair on May 13, 1893.
Additional Reading: The History of the Lions at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Chicago Union Stockyards Fire on December 22, 1910.

On December 22-23, 1910, while battling a ferocious fire inside the Morris and Company meatpacking plant at the Chicago Union Stockyards on the 4300 block of South Loomis Street, was first reported on December 22 at 4:09 AM. 

Twentyone Chicago firefighters were crushed to death when a wall collapsed. Before September 11, 2001, the Stockyards tragedy was the deadliest building collapse involving firefighters in the nation's history.

When the fire broke out, it was uncontrollable from the start. It required so many firemen so quickly, and it couldn’t be put out.

Long before the 1910 fires were a common occurrence at the Union Stockyards. Inside these plants were flammables like grease and wood. All it took was a spark, or, in the case of the infamous Stockyards fire, a shorted electrical socket.

It was a cauldron ready to explode, and that’s what it did.
Nelson Morris Warehouse № 7, at the 4300 block of South Loomis Street.
Around 4:10 AM on the 22nd, firefighters arrived outside Warehouse № 7 of the Nelson Morris and Co. meatpacking plant and found black smoke billowing from a loading dock next to the building. The call proved difficult from the very beginning. There was only one way to battle the flames — stand on a loading dock which was covered by an old, wooden canopy and aim their hoses at the heart of the fire.
Firefighters battling the Morris & Co. fire in the Union Stockyards.
With a seven-story brick building on one side, and a line of railroad boxcars that butted up to the loading dock, the canopy above it formed a tunnel-like effect. Arriving engines were stretching hose lines down the railroad tracks and then under the boxcars in an effort to have a better vantage point.

At 5:05 AM, Chief Fire Marshal James Horan arrived on the scene. Horan ordered firefighters from two truck companies — № 11 and № 18 — to ax open the plant’s door. And he had two other men check the condition of the wooden canopy.

Smoke blinded the firefighters. Intense heat smothered them. They fought on. Before the building collapsed, there was little warning — just a “deep groan” from within the burning plant. The force of the collapse was so great, it not only crushed the canopy, but it knocked several of the boxcars clean off the tracks and onto their sides.
The collapse killed three civilians and 21 firefighters, including Chief Horan, whose personalized helmet is in the Chicago History Museum archives.

The blaze was extinguished at 6:37 AM on December 23rd. The disaster left 19 widows and orphaned 35 children, three days before Christmas.

Local news accounts at the time described the macabre scene in detail, including how the bodies of many of the dead were found buried in the rubble amid hog meat that had been stored in the building. It took 17 hours to pull all the bodies from the ruins.

Left in the wake of this tragedy, just days before Christmas were 19 widows and 35 orphaned children. Contributions raised for the families of the fallen firefighters grew to into a controversy pitting the widows against others led by Harlow Higinbotham who wanted to "manage" the $211,000 in funds for the grieving families rather than distribute the money directly to the widows, parents, and families.

It was said that Higinbotham had earlier kept some of the money intended for the widows and orphans of firemen killed in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair Cold Storage FireThis would not happen again because the widows' sued and their case ended up in court where the judge found in their favor, allowing the widows' to control the distribution of the funds.

The deceased were buried within a few days, some of the funerals were held on Christmas Day. 
On December 22, 2004, city officials dedicated the Chicago Stockyard Fire Memorial was erected just behind the Union Stock Yards Gate at the intersection of Exchange Avenue and Peoria Street. An 8-foot-tall bronze and aluminum sculpture and a “Wall of Honor” bearing the names of Chicago firefighters and paramedics who have died in the line of duty.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Monday, February 24, 2020

World’s Columbian Exposition Cold Storage Building Fire on July 10, 1893, Chicago.

On the afternoon of Monday, July 10, 1893, four Chicago firemen, eight firemen hired by the Columbian Exposition, and three civilians lost their lives in a fiery inferno that was the cold storage building. It was the greatest loss of life in the Chicago Fire Department until the Chicago Stockyards fire of December 22, 1910.
The Cold Storage Building before the devastating fire of July 10, 1893.
As can best be determined the fire started in the cupola that surrounded and was flush with the top of the smokestack. The fire started small enough but there was a stiff breeze coming out of the northeast and gradually the flames circled around until the pillars of the cupola caught fire. By the time the top pillars were on fire, firemen had already reached the main roof of the building.
The first attempt to get a hose to the first platform was by the use of an extension ladder from the southeast corner of the building but was unsuccessful. Under orders of Acting Chief Murphy, men climbed the seventy feet up the tower from the outside by using cleats nailed to the side of the tower. The men took lengths of rope with them but no ladders. When they finished their ascent to the first platform they lowered their ropes and the process of pulling up hoses to the first platform had begun. While the firemen were valiantly attempting to put out the blaze, a crowd of about 30,000 fair goers was forming around the building. A cheer broke out from the crowd when the first spurts of water burst from the hoses onto the fire above.

It seemed to this awe-struck audience that the brave men of the Chicago Fire Department and Columbian Fire Department had the upper hand but their cheers very suddenly turned to gasps of horror. The whole while that the men were planning their attack on the fire, it seemed, in retrospect, that the fire was already planning its revenge in the form of an almost perfect death trap. In fact, it later became apparent that the firefighters’ fates were sealed before the opening of the fair when the cold storage building’s smokestack was just an ugly piece of bare metal that extended 191 feet in the air. It was said that Daniel Burnham, Chief of Construction, did not like the stark contrast of the bare metal with that beauty of the “White City” and ordered that it be made to blend in with the surrounding buildings. The facade of wood and white painted staff that was erected around the stack did indeed blend well with the surrounding great buildings but it also created a hollow gap between the façade and the pipe that extended below the main roof of the building. What the firefighters and the crowd didn’t see were the burning embers falling through this gap and slowly igniting the material 70 feet below the firefighters.
A small puff of smoke near their feet was the first indication of the brave souls above that something was terribly wrong. The firefighters on the roof could feel increased heat but it wasn’t coming only from above them anymore! As the firefighters on the roof sounded their warning, the crowd uttered a common cry of horror as flames erupted directly below the feet of the firefighters in the tower. It seemed to be only a split second between the initial burst of flame and when flames seemed to be pouring from between every pillar and even from the walls of the tower itself. The flames curled upwards surrounding the firefighters from both above and below them. Some in the crowd screamed, some women fainted and one man went to his knees and lifted his arms upwards towards the sky and appeared to be praying as well as concentrating on looking upward and at the same time trying to avoid watching what was unfolding in front of him. The crowd was so dense at this point that no one could simply walk away and was almost forced to witness what was quickly unfolding.

A silence fell over the crowd when a lone figure jumped from the 70-foot ledge and frantically reached for the hose that extended down to the roof. He managed to only grab it with one hand but managed to hold on. He slid down the hose into what seemed like a hopeless wall of fire that extended all the way down to the roof. He miraculously emerged from the flame with his clothes on fire but still holding the hose. He managed to make it to the roof and to the north side of the building where he was lowered to the ground. He was John Davis of the fire company stationed on the Midway Plaisance. A split second can mean the difference between life and death in any fire but almost a certainty in a fire of this magnitude. Unfortunately, firefighter Davis’s comrades hesitated and the hose that could have been a lifeline for a select few was consumed by the flames and burned in half. Spectators could see the figure of Captain James Fitzpatrick who was assigned to Engine Co. № 2 and also Assistant Chief of Battalion № 14 of the CFD. He seemed to be issuing an order to the men and one-by-one they started shimmying along the ledge of the tower to the north side which seemed to offer a few more precious seconds from the fire’s reach.

There was cheering as they all made the perilous journey to the north side of the tower. The celebration was short-lived as the flames quickly looked to finish their morbid task. The men huddled closer and closer attempting to avoid the heat of the oncoming flames. What happened next brought tears and cries from even the strongest men in the crowd. There was an eerie calm that seemed to come across the men on the tower and one man threw his arms around the neck of another in what could be a final embrace. That started a chain reaction of farewell words and hugs between the doomed men. A rope was thrown out and fell almost to the roof but even before anyone could grab it was burnt in two. The firefighters on the roof were frantically calling for ladders to be sent up from the ground but none came.

Without warning a figure took the 7-story jump to the roof below but the flame ravaged wooden roof was no match for the weight of the man and he fell through into a fiery inferno. Now it seemed the only choice was to jump or burn and a second person took the fiery plunge and turned over and over until not landing on his feet but his head and was killed instantly. Seeing the fate of the first of their comrades, the rest of the group hesitated briefly but the intensity of the flames spurred them in their decision making.
Fireman W.P. Mahoney saw a comrade of his named Bielenberg pass out due to the heat of the flames. He picked up his friend and jumped for the rope. He managed to grab it and slow both of their descent to the point that they both survived the initial impact on the roof but Mahoney had broken both legs. He still managed to drag his friend to the north side of the building where they were both lowered by ladder to the ground.

There now remained only two firefighters left on the tower, one was Captain Fitzpatrick. He was trying to convince his comrade to go first but to no avail. The Captain jumped to the only remaining rope which had only about 20 feet left and as he reached the burning end of the rope, he swung himself hard to the north avoiding the hottest of the flames. The last of those remaining attempted to duplicate the Captain’s technique but right at that moment the tower could no longer support its own weight and crashed into the burning inferno taking the last unfortunate soul with it.
Chief Murphy had been on the burning roof for as long as he could trying to do whatever he could but was driven back by the intense heat. He had just reached the ground when Captain Fitzpatrick had fallen and called for Captain Kennedy of Company  5 and Hans Rehfeldt of the Hook and Ladder company and the three-shot up a ladder to the roof where Captain Fitzpatrick was lying. They raised him to his feet and tied a rope line securely under his arms and slowly lowered him to the ground.
William Barker, Captain of Hook and Ladder Company № 9, Chicago Fire Department, was born in Chicago on October 13, 1863, and joined the Fire Department on April 14, 1887. Captain Barker, of Truck № 9, who, with Lieutenant Miller of Truck № 16, effected the thrilling rescue of Captain James Fitzpatrick from the roof of the Cold Storage Building [at the World's Columbian Exposition] in 1893, led four of his men up an extension ladder leading to the sixth story. When they reached the top, flames burst from below, burning the rungs of the ladder and melting the rubber coats of the fire-fighters. The helmet of Barker, who seemed to be afire from head to foot, was lifted from his head and dashed to the earth. Shouting for water, and getting it, the intrepid skipper and his men turned the hose on the ladder first, and then entering the furnace, soon had the fire under control.
— Encyclopedia of Illinois, Cook County Edition, Vol.2, Published 1905.
By the end of the fire, 15 souls had been lost. The blaze claimed 12 firefighters and 3 civilians.
  1. Captain James Fitzpatrick, Chicago Fire Department
  2. Captain Burton E. Page, Chicago Fire Department
  3. Captain James A. Garvey, Chicago Fire Department
  4. Lt. Charles W. Purvis, Chicago Fire Department
  5. William H. Denning, World's Fair Fire Department
  6. Lt. John H. Freeman, World's Fair Fire Department
  7. John C. McBride, World's Fair Fire Department
  8. Louis J. Frank, World's Fair Fire Department
  9. Paul W. Shroeder, World's Fair Fire Department
  10. John A. Smith, World's Fair Fire Department
  11. John Cahill, World's Fair Fire Department
  12. Phillip J. Breen, World's Fair Fire Department
  13. Ralph Drummond, Superintendent Harter Electric Company
  14. Norman M. Hartman, Electric Lineman
  15. Bernard Murphy, Boilermaker
The strange thing is that when all of the victims of the fire were traced to their respective gravesites, there was one extra body!

At Oakwoods Cemetery in Chicago there is a monument to those lost in the fire and underneath that monument, according to Oakwoods records, are 7 bodies when there should only be 6!
The Oakwoods Cemetery Memorial to those who lost their lives in the Cold Storage Fire.
Just who this unidentified 16th victim is anyone's guess. There was only one small mention of an unidentified victim in a newspaper at the time but no other mention. There were a couple of possibilities but none seemed to pan out. The mystery continues!

By Ray Johnson
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


Ray Johnson is a former criminal investigator in Du Page County, Illinois. He was born in Chicago and has spent his entire life in the Chicagoland area. He is a graduate of The University of Illinois at Chicago and has taught College Classes in Criminal Justice at the College of Du Page in Glen Ellyn as well as lecturing on Chicago folklore and history and teaching adult education classes on historical research techniques.

A Green Hornet streetcar causes an inferno with gasoline tanker truck in Chicago. (1950)

The collision occurred around 6:30pm on May 25, 1950. The accident happened at the intersection of 63rd Place and State Street. The Inferno killed 34 people and injured 50 others in the two vehicles and the surrounding area.
On May 25, 1950, Chicago experienced one of its worst traffic accidents when a streetcar collided with a gas tanker truck. Thirty-four people died. — Chicago Tribune historical photo

A scene from the May 25, 1950, Green Hornet streetcar crash. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
The Green Hornet Streetcar (named for their speed and color), trolley № 7078, was headed south on State Street, carrying 63 passengers. Suddenly the streetcar switched to the eastbound track to avoid a flooded underpass. “Apparently, the motorman of the streetcar was not paying attention, and went through that switch at total velocity, and hit the side of that truck with dire consequences,” said Craig Cleve, author of the book The Green Hornet Streetcar Disaster. 

Whether the streetcar driver or the streetcar itself was at fault is unclear, but the Green Hornet did not slow down. As it approached the turn at approximately 30 mph, the streetcar derailed as it hit a Mack truck hauling 8,000 gallons of gasoline.

The gasoline tanker truck, carrying thousands of gallons of gasoline, jackknifed after the collision and blocked State Street 200 feet north of 63rd Street. The driver of the truck, Mel Wilson, died in the cab of the truck while the conductor of the streetcar, William C. Lidell, survived.
Two parked cars are hosed by firemen after the blaze at 6251 State Street. By most accounts, the streetcar was going too fast for the wet conditions. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
A battered watch carried by one of the streetcar crash victims showed the time of the disaster. It stopped at 6:33 on May 26, 1950. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
Thirty-three people died immediately on the streetcar and one died later of injuries from the crash. Thirty people managed to survive despite the fact that the windows and doors wouldn't open. Fifty people, some were on the streetcar, and others in the surrounding area were injured. According to the National Safety Council’s report two days after the crash, it was the largest death toll from a motor vehicle collision, surpassing the 29 people killed in a 1940 Texas train-truck collision. Some victims were identified immediately because of personal belongings whereas other victims were identified at the Cook County Morgue by friends and relatives in the days following the crash.
A priest gives last rites to the victims on May 25, 1950, when a Green Hornet streetcar collided with a fuel truck. It was a grim task to identifying bodies as there wasn't much to go on: burned clothes, melted shoes, a ring, bits of toys, remnants of a letter from a young woman planning her wedding. — Dante Mascione, Chicago Tribune

This shell was what remained of the Green Hornet streetcar after searing flames from gasoline spilled from a tanker truck destroyed it and killed its human cargo. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
In addition to the lives lost, nearby buildings and parked cars were consumed by the flames. The fire destroyed seven buildings, between the 6239 and 6247 addresses, leaving 120 people homeless. The total property damage was estimated to be around $150,000 ($1,502,663.90 today). William C. Liddell, the streetcar conductor, disappeared after the crash but was arrested the day after, charged with leaving the scene of the accident.
A general view on May 26, 1950, of the scene north of 63rd and State Streets where a streetcar and gasoline truck collided the day before, killing 34 people. The streetcar was being switched into a "turnaround" because of flooded conditions of an underpass beneath a viaduct from which this picture was taken. The arrows added show details of the accident, as well as the buildings damaged in the explosion. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
A worker demonstrates how the switch for the streetcar is normally manually operated. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
Police officers and the coroner at the county morgue on May 25, 1950. The tragic accident left 34 persons dead. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
In 1955, the Chicago Transit Authority claimed it paid a total of $900,000 ($8,713,400 today) to families of the deceased. The accident was highly investigated, drawing conclusions as to what could prevent another such catastrophe. Among them was the addition of drainage systems for frequently flooded underpasses so operators would not have to detour, two yearly physical examinations of motormen and streetcar doors that could remain open in case of an emergency to allow for evacuation. However, in 1958 the CTA elected to stop using streetcars entirely. They were replaced by bus routes that still run today.
Green Hornet Streetcar Inferno, Oil on Canvas by Eric Edward Esper. (2013)
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.