This week in Illinois history: March 12-18.
March 12, 1902 - Joliet. The death of former Gov. John Altgeld is reported. After collapsing with a brain hemorrhage on stage at the Joliet Theater, Altgeld survived long enough to urge his aides to delay telling his wife about his mishap, according to his obituary in The Washington Post, archived on Northwestern University’s website. Indeed, his wife also passed out upon hearing the news that her German-born husband had passed away.
March 14, 1914 - Chicago. Construction wraps at Wrigley Field. The iconic home of the Chicago Cubs almost wasn’t built, after red tape sidelined the property’s first owner, Charles Havenor, from bringing an affiliated team to the city, reports the Chicago Tribune. Havenor sold the property to Charles Weegham, who brought in The Whales, an unaffiliated team that needed no one’s permission to play nine innings at the stadium. Little-known fact: before earning a place in the annals of baseball, Wrigley Field once was the address for the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, the Tribune reports.
March 15, 1937 - Chicago. The first blood bank opens. Medical science hadn’t quite caught up with its newly discovered ability to transfuse blood from one patient to another, reports Chicago History Today, so Dr. Bernard Fantus developed a solution. Although his discoveries put a 10-day expiration date on blood, it still had to be stored until it was needed. Fantus chose the moniker “bank” over the more generic “preservation lab” for obvious reasons, Chicago History Today says: banks and saving money were of keen interest during the Depression of the 1930s.
March 15, 1887 - Springfield. Marjorie Merriweather Post is born. Daughter of cereal entrepreneur C.W. Post (of Post Toasties fame), Marjorie Merriweather Post solidified her reputation as a socialite and philanthropist with lavish and well-publicized spending habits, The New York Times said in a 1978 review of her biography. But thanks to America’s love affair with cereal, Post never went bankrupt. By the time it was all said and done, her $20 million inheritance had morphed into a $200 million fortune, the Times said.
March 16, 1880 - Quincy. William Bushnell Stout is born. If you’ve ever ridden in an airplane (and even if you haven’t) you have William Stout to thank. This early pioneer of the passenger aircraft invented the Ford Trimotor aircraft, according to the ARTS Aero blog. Known for “its outstanding flight dynamics,” the Ford Trimotor featured three nine-cylinder engines and could ferry 17 passengers.
March 17, 1920 - Oak Park. Composer John LaMontaine is born. Most composers don’t win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize with a work titled “first” of anything, but Oak Park native LaMontaine broke that rule with his 1959 win for his “First Piano Concerto, Op. 9.” As he told interviewer Bruce Duffie in a piece published on the author's website, one of his memorable failures was not finishing a commissioned piece for the accordion.
March 17, 1956 - Chicago. The city marks St. Patricks’ Day with an official parade. It was during Mayor Richard Daley’s first year in office, and as the website Chicago History Today reports, he wanted to break with tradition by staging a noontime, citywide event to celebrate the holiday. The 10,000 marchers drew a crowd of 250,000 watchers in 30-degree weather as they worked their way from State and Kinzie streets to the Old S. Patrick Church.
March 17, 1965 - Chicago. Former University of Chicago coach Amos Alonzo Stagg dies. Although Stagg served as football coach for 40 years at the University of Chicago, he was also a baseball coach, and took the university’s baseball team to Japan prior to World War I, as sports researcher Paul Putz told WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate. Putz also said Stagg believed football could be a training ground for the country’s leaders-to-be.
March 18, 1925 - Illinois. The infamous Tri-State Twister mauls Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Before Joplin, Missouri in 2011 and the 1974 Super Outbreak, storm chasers studied the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, responsible for the largest loss of life in American meteorological history, according to a historical piece published on Utah’s Deseret News website. This twister is the granddaddy of all EF-5s, the Deseret News says; its 695 deaths and nearly 220-mile path are enough to earn it the rating, even a half-century prior to the Fujita scale’s invention.