Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Curious Death of Marshall Field

Marshall Field was a retail revolutionary and while the  company is no more the old flagship building with it’s iconic clock still bears his name. He took an early 19th-century consumer environment that was based the principle of  "buyer beware", and changed  it into a grand  shopping experience fit for the Gilded Age. Innovations like unconditional refunds, consistent pricing and international imports began with Mr.  Field and went on to become standards for high end  retailing. The employees weren’t trained to push products on uninterested customers. Instead phrases like;  "Give the lady what she wants" and "The customer is always right" were watchwords of the store.

His son like the sons of many a self made man was  another story. Marshall Field, Jr., heir to the department store fortune was a depressed playboy and gambler who lived in a mansion located on Prairie street. Just south of downtown where the wealthy elite built their mansions after the Chicago Fire.

And in this luxurious home he died of a gunshot wound on night of November 22, 1905. How he got the wound and even where he was shot is another Chicago mystery.. There are three stories. The official version is he shot himself on accident while cleaning the gun. The “ most likely” story is that he was despondent and killed himself. But from a number of independent witnesses there came a more lurid version.

One that takes place here at the epicenter of sin and vice in Chicago in the Levee. This story goes that young Mr. Field was at the notorious Everliegh Club. Where he was drinking, and whoreing with a friend when he got in a dispute that ended with him being shot. Gravely wounded he was taken home where he died a short time later.

Everyone that was involved was paid handsomly for their silence. And with the advertising power the Field could wield no paper looked into the matter too deeply. Tragically the senior Mr. Field would  die himself less than six months later from  pneumonia he contracted while playing golf on New Years Day.

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