This week in Illinois history: Jan. 22-28
Jan. 22, 1925 - Chicago. “Big Jim” O’Leary dies. Though his mother was exonerated (decades later) for owning the cow that allegedly started the Great Chicago Fire, O’Leary carved out a career marked by evading the law. The bookie-turned-saloon owner operated clandestine gambling operations in his drinking establishments and even on a riverboat. After numerous raids, despite his "police-proof" front doors, O’Leary finally got around the law by having an employee apply for a license.
Jan. 22, 1972 - East St. Louis. After a railcar carrying 30,000 gallons of liquid petroleum collided with an empty freight car at the Alton & Southern Railway yard, the resulting blast broke windows and caused dozens of people to be rushed to area hospitals, according to GenDisasters.com. The more than $7.5 million in damage included broken windows 8 miles from the incident.
Jan. 23, 1818 - Chicago. Chicago and its suburbs may have ended up in Wisconsin if Nathaniel Tate, delegate for the Illinois Territory, hadn’t pushed the boundary farther north. According to the Daily Herald, by keeping the Great Lakes port city within the state, “Pope’s move provided the groundwork for Chicago to become Illinois’ economic juggernaut.” The expansion also hastened Illinois’ bid to become a state, with the additional territory eclipsing the 40,000 needed for statehood, the Daily Herald said.
Jan. 24, 1925 - Marion. S. Glenn Young was hired by the KKK in southern Illinois after a murder acquittal caused the federal government’s Prohibition Unit to fire him, Chicago’s NBC affiliate reports. Young became the Klan’s right-hand man in Williamson County, a move that makes sense because in those days the Klan billed itself as a temperance organization, according to the Marion History Preservation website. Although he raided many stills for both his bosses, it was a deputy sheriff’s bullet that stopped him, the TV station reports.
Jan. 24, 1949 - Chicago. Actor John Belushi was born. A graduate of the famed Second City comedy troupe, Belushi cemented his reputation as an iconic "Saturday Night Live" actor and in movies like “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” according to The Chicago Tribune. His career was cut short at age 33 by a drug overdose.
Jan. 24, 1924 - Bloomington. Florence Fifer Bohrer was born. The daughter of Gov. Joe Fifer, Bohrer was inspired by a series of life events to place her stamp on history, the Caucus Blog reports. When her child contracted tuberculosis, she formed a sanitarium. When the local Red Cross needed someone to fight for the families of soldiers abroad, she helmed the efforts. And after a constitutional amendment granted women the right to vote, she listened to friends and became the first woman elected to the state senate.
Jan. 26, 1986 - Chicago. The Bears win Super Bowl XX. They came to do the Super Bowl Shuffle and they did, scoring 46 points and winning their first NFL title in 23 years, according to NFL.com. Defeating the New England Patriots long before they began their dynasty, the Chicago Bears set records during that game that still stand: a record number of points, quickest lead for a field goal by 1:19 and tied for number of sacks. Quarterback Jim McMahon completed 12 of 20 passes, running back Walter Payton carried 22 times and Coach Mike Ditka became one of two men to win Super Bowl rings as player and coach.
Jan. 27, 1967 - Chicago. Blizzard of ’67 strands Chicago. Preceded by unseasonably mild 65-degree weather, the blizzard saw nearly 3 feet of snow blanket the city, according to a report by WBEZ 91.5 FM. Listeners shared memories: Shovels rather than snow blowers were the best available tool back then, some residents helped fire crews drag hoses down the street during a power outage, 120 guests were stranded at a hotel and 400 buses stuck in the streets underwent a month of repairs to return to service.
Jan. 27, 1982 - Chicago. The Chicago Cubs pick rookie infielder Ryne Sandberg. Based on a record that included stints as second baseman for both the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, Sandberg earned a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, according to Wikipedia. His Cubs career was distinguished by a 1984 game in which he hit two home runs.
Jan. 28, 1922 - Spring Grove. Fred Hatch invents the silo. Before Hatch built the first silo in 1873, corn was stored in pits after harvest, The Chicago Tribune reports. Some 50 years later, Hatch was recognized as the inventor of the structure we now take for granted on farms across America.
Jan. 28, 1851 - Evanston. Northwestern University becomes the first chartered university in Illinois. It took the efforts of nine men to buy land for a campus and “creative financing, shrewd politicking, religious inspiration and an abundance of hard work” to launch this institution of higher education, according to the university's website. Today it has been overseen by 12 presidents and operates 12 schools and colleges, plus an international campus in Qatar.
Jan. 28, 1956 - Wilmette. Future astronaut Neil Armstrong marries Janet Elizabeth Shearon. Immortalized by the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong became the first man on the moon in 1969.