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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

This week in Illinois history: Feb. 19-25


By Robert Hadley | Feb 5, 2018

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A love triangle gone sour, an earthquake-like explosion, a historic free-speech verdict and more happened this week in Illinois history.

Feb. 19, 1943 - Norris City. Oil pipeline completed from Norris City to Longview, Texas. Being an engineering marvel in its day earned the 2-foot pipeline the moniker “Big Inch,” according to The Villagers Voice, but the real astonishment was the speed with which it was built: 350 days. Shortly after a crowd of about 2,000 people left the dedication, The Voice says much of the 60,000 barrels pumped the first day were sent via nearly 100 rail cars to refineries.

Feb. 19, 1932 - Oak Park. Birthdate of Skylab astronaut Joseph P. Kerwin. Navy Medical Corps Capt. Kerwin was part of the first manned mission to the Skylab space station orbiting the earth, according to NASA.

Feb. 20, 1969 - Chicago. Verdict handed down against five protestors in the Chicago Seven case. After anti-war protests broke out at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, five of the seven protesters were convicted for crossing state lines with intent to start a riot, according to a PBS article. Within three years of the 1970 trial, the convictions in this case, which tested the limits of free speech, were overturned.

Feb. 20, 1897 - North Harvey. Birthdate of renowned painter Ivan Albright. After a brief stint as studying architecture, Albright followed in his father’s footsteps and became a painter. Working at a pace of 1 square inch in 10 hours, Albright completed many paintings exploring the aging process, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum website.

Feb. 20, 1942 - Chicago. O’Hare International Airport namesake commits acts of valor. During the early days of the World War II battle in the Pacific, Navy Lt. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare halted an attack on the U.S. carrier Lexington by shooting down five Japanese bombers, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History. For his bravery, in April of that year he earned a Congressional Medal of Honor presented by President Franklin Roosevelt. He died a year and a half later while battling a Japanese carrier.

Feb. 21, 1938 - Chicago. Death of George E. Hale, the first official astrophysicist. Passionate about astronomy from a young age (his first telescope was a gift at age 14), Hale spent his life exploring the cosmos with a series of ever-larger telescopes that he designed and for which he raised funds, reports His final project was the 200-inch Hale Telescope at California’s Palomar Observatory, but he died before it was completed.

Feb. 21, 1907 - Chicago. Love triangle ends in death. Dora Feldman, wife of 67-year-old Democratic Party operative Michael Cassius McDonald, was taken into custody after she was found standing over the lifeless body of her man on the side, Webster Guerin. Who did it was never known, according to Chicago History Today. McDonald died after delaying the trial and providing for his wife’s legal defense. Feldman was acquitted, moved away and remarried.

Feb. 22, 1918 - Alton. Birthdate of the world’s tallest man. Robert Pershing Wadlow’s height of 6 feet, 2 inches was astonishing for an 8-year-old, but his adult height of 8 feet, 11 inches earned him a permanent spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. An infection claimed his life at age 22, according to

Feb. 22, 1827 - Carrollton. Birthdate of noted historian James Barnet Fry. A U.S. Military Academy-trained trained Union Army soldier, Fry made history with decisive battles in the Civil War that led to his promotion to major general. He composed several histories about military life, documenting the Battle of Bull Run and other campaigns, according to

Feb. 23, 1994 - Champaign. U.S. speed skater Bonnie Blair earns fifth gold medal. According to, Blair’s breakfast of champions included a peanut butter sandwich and a rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Why mess with success? After completing this ritual, Blair, 29, didn’t slow down. She pulled ahead to win by 1.38 seconds ahead of rival Anke Baier of Germany. Blair’s finish was one for the record books, making her the first woman to win six Winter Olympic medals.

Feb. 24, 1837 - Springfield. Lawmakers authorize move of state capital to Springfield. The move by legislators in 1837 to change the capital from Vandalia made Springfield the site of historic occasions. One of them is Abraham Lincoln’s Senate campaign launch in 1858 with a speech about divisions in American politics. Lincoln never forgot the city according to The State Journal-Register, which states Lincoln made it ground zero for his presidential transition headquarters three years later.

Feb. 24, 1922 - Chicago. Quarry explosion rattles city residents. As much as 30 tons of dynamite accidentally detonated in the McCook Quarry, 12 miles outside Chicago, according to the Sacramento Union newspaper. The blast gorged a 200-foot-wide hole, but no deaths were reported, though a few people were injured.

Feb. 25, 1779 - Vincennes. George Rogers Clark liberates city. Founded as a French fur trading camp, Vincennes played a crucial role in the Revolutionary War, according to the website Revolutionary War Archives. In a bid to ensure safe passage on the Mississippi River, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark hatched a plan to free Vincennes and neighboring cities from British-backed native Indians. Thus he preserved the free travel of supplies for the colonial army as it expanded territory westward.

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