Thursday, December 26, 2013

A history of organized crime in Chicago Part 1

Chicago Crime Now & Then
A history of organized crime in Chicago
The life and death of the American dream / The United States 1850-1980
It’s about the rise of Chicago a city that rests on a stinking swamp at the edge of an inland sea. We will see a city that almost burned to the ground rise from the ashes and soar to the heights and become a center for commerce and transportation. At the same time it remained in its soul a frontier town a place where civilization met the wild. A city with a dark heart full of sin, vice and political corruption.

It is   look at the history of that dark heart that will be the prism through which we tell our larger story. This is a story that I have been telling for the past few years here on ChiTownView “Chicago Crime Now & Then”. We show a clip of place as it looks today and then tell the story behind it. But the story has no real structure each “page” of the story has been printed separately and released in random order with no cohesion. That is what we are doing here on our blog where we can bring together our videos along with the story, maps photos and other elements. I've made individual posts from this series but now we are doing them in order.

They'll all be there; Big Mike Mc Donald, Roger Plant, the Carter Harrison’s, the Lords of the Levee, Big Jim Colosimo, Johnny Torrio, Al Capone, Frank Nitti,Tony Accardo, Paul Ricca, Sam Giacana, the Spilartro Brothers and many others. their crime, their haunts and their myths.

Part 1, The 1850’s
We start in the year 1850 because it sets the stage for what is to follow. In Chicago an area of vice is literally burned to the ground and its ashes spread. But instead of ash it’s seeds that are spread and vice will go on to grow and expand and eventually at times overtake the political system. On the national level the Civil War is coming and along with it the long struggle for equal rights for all citizens. In Chicago we see the rise of the “know nothings” and the great Chicago Beer Hall riot.

The Chicago Vice Tour Pt.1

When the giant statue of Marilyn Monroe was erected on Chicago's "magnificent mile" many proper residents of the windy city were outraged. But perhaps whoever chose this spot for the statue was a student of Chicago's early history. Because while now it might be home to landmarks like the Wrigley building, Tribune tower and all the other high priced real estate this was home to "the sands". A rough collection of shacks of prostitutes and other vice that serviced the sailors from the docks. It was the first of a series of vice districts that enjoyed a degree of civil tolerance for a time and then were forced to a new location. Usually a couple of blocks further south.

This is where it all began right where they decided to erect this giant statue of a Hollywood star with her legs spread and died by killing herself. The beginning of the and of the sands took place in 1857 because of the “prostitute war”. Here is an excerpt from the everything2 web site.

“In early 1857, Mother Herrick lured away one of Anna Wilson’s best girls by offering her more money and a clean dress. Anna did not take kindly to this and for the next several days, prostitutes and their respective madames raged though downtown Chicago in a series of streetfights. The war remained a stalemate until the night of April 3, when Gentle Annie, with three more of Madame Wilson’s girls and several pimps rounded up from the Sands, made a surprise attack on the Prairie Queen. They broke down the door with clubs, smashed the furniture, chased away the customers, and administered beatings to Mother Herrick and many of her girls. Gentle Annie returned to the Sands in triumph, bringing back not only the stolen strumpet, but also the choice pickings from Mother Herrick’s flock.
Several years later, Gentle Annie opened up her own house of prostitution. She called her house the Sunnyside Hotel, and it was so popular that the street it was on is named Sunnyside Avenue today.”

Unfortunately for the denizens of this little hell on earth it sat on land that former mayor William Ogden bought cheap and wanted to redevelop as that area of the city was about to go upscale. So with whores brawling in the downtown streets extreme measures needed to be taken. So Ogden went to current mayor Long John Wentworth who came up with a plan. This part of the story comes from the Chicago Crime Scenes site.

“On April 20, Wentworth organized and advertised a major horse race at a Chicago race track. Most of the male residents of the Sands were inveterate gamblers, so the event attracted the substantial majority of their population. While the men were gone, Wentworth and Ogden crossed over to the Sands, accompanied by a team of horses. After serving eviction notices, the horse team was hitched to the foundations of several of the shanties, and each was pulled down. The destruction led to a small riot, with the remaining residents of the Sands running into the streets, looting their neighbors' properties, and destroying most of the rest of the district in the process. A few hours later, what was left went up in flames. “

A couple of years earlier were the Beer Hall Riot of 1855. Which was the other major Chicago event in the 1850’s? It began with the election of Levi Boone as mayor of Chicago in 1855. Levi was indeed the nephew of legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone. Chicago from time to time elects a “reform” mayor who is going to clean the city up. This usually doesn’t work out so well and they don’t have a habit of getting reelected.

Mayor Boone was part of a party called the know- nothings who, among other things, were anti immigrant were early prohibitionists. They got their name because they were semi secret and when asked about joining the party they were supposed to day “I Know Nothing”  And no, I’ m not making this up.

So Mr. Boone gets elected and he raises the taxes on the liquor licenses and then closes all the German beer halls on Sunday. He then tripled the size of the police force, hired only native born Americans and then when he had enough men sent them in to close and arrest the German and Irish halls and their operators.

“In their arrests, the tavern owners became martyrs.  The Irish and the Germans had seen enough discrimination in the land that was supposed to be their golden opportunity.  It was time to fight back.  A large force planned to meet together on the city's north side and storm City Hall on that April 21, 1855 day.  They made it up to the Clark Street Bridge on the Chicago River.  At that point, the Mayor created a scene reminiscent of Batman Begins and ordered the bridge raised.  Once there were enough cops put together, the bridge were lowered and the rioters stormed the police.  Despite a free for all that involved guns and a crowd with a running head start, only one person, a German rioter, died.  This is most remarkable too because the Clark Street Bridge skirmish was the flash point of the riot but not the end.  Little battles were fought throughout the city that day.  When all was said and done, sixty rioters were arrested but  only fourteen were charged and no one served any jail time. “

While the Irish and Germans might like to drink they also go out and vote and the overall response to Levi Boone was so negative he would not run for reelection in 1856. More than a century later the protesters are still with us and the video also shows the Occupy protesters walking the same ground. So ends the first part of our series next week we will be taking a look at the era of 1860-1890.


Check out our playlist of all the videos in this series.

In a previous post on this blog has and interactive Google map with all our locations as well as links to our videos.

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