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This week in Illinois history: Jan. 8-14.

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By Robert Hadley | Jan 1, 2018

Operatalks

Here are some of the more prominent events in Illinois history that occurred during the week of Jan. 8-14:

Jan. 8, 1923 – Chicago. Renowned opera singer Giorgio Tozzi was born. A versatile bass vocalist, Tozzi covered some three dozen roles in 528 performances for New York’s Metropolitan Opera, according to OperaNews.com. Opera News described him as “a versatile artist of peerless imagination." Tozzi also performed in London, Hamburg, Munich and Palermo, among many other venues. He later became a voice instructor for the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Jan. 9,  2009 – Springfield. Illinois House members voted 114-1 to impeach Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich for allegedly entertaining bids on filling President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat, according to a report by NBC News. Although Obama’s pick, Roland Burris, ultimately took the seat, it was not before FBI wiretaps captured Blagojevich shopping the seat around for his own financial gain. Once the House vote became known, the former governor characterized it as punishment for opposing “special interests and lobbyists,” the NBC News report said. Blagojevich was later convicted and is serving a 14-year prison term, according to International Business Times.

Jan. 10, 1935 – Hinsdale. Sherrill Milnes, called the King of Italian baritones by The New York Times, was born. Specializing in Verdi operas, Milnes, a “big farm boy from Illinois,” as a Times reviewer once wrote, wowed crowds in his roles as Rigoletto and Pagliacci and 650 other performances at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, according to his website, SherrillMilnes.com. His many honors include three Grammy Awards.

Jan. 11, 2003 – Springfield. Republican Gov. George Ryan, just hours from leaving office, spared 167 death-row inmates from execution. The New York Times called it “the largest such emptying of death row in history.” Ryan’s action was gutsy, the Times said, given his pending role in a criminal investigation. That scandal would ultimately lead to Ryan serving five years in a federal lockup, according to the New York Daily News, but Ryan’s place as an opponent of the death penalty was forever secured.

Jan. 12, 1882 – Chicago. Milton Sills, a stage and screen actor, was born. Sills turned his early studies in philosophy and psychology at the University of Chicago (as Wikipedia reports) into a nearly 25-year career as an actor. Wikipedia cites his most famous film as “The Sea Hawk,” a 1924 silent film and a box office hit. Sills went on to star in some of the earliest motion pictures featuring sound.

Jan. 14, 1979 – Chicago. Blanketed by 21 inches of snow falling in just 48 hours, the so-called Blizzard of ’79 brought much of northern Illinois and northwest Indiana to a screeching halt. It didn’t help matters that 9 inches of snow already covered the ground, as the website Chicago History Today recalled. The storm, which forecasters predicted would bring only 2 to 4 inches of snow, was blamed for the deaths of five people and injured another dozen, Chicago History Today said. The site also mentions the snow-removal crews were inadequately trained, which may explain why one of them suffered a meltdown, causing injuries by ramming his plow into 34 cars.

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