This week in Illinois history: April 23-29
April 23, 1813 Birthdate of politician and educator Stephen A. Douglas. Though his name is immortalized in the phrase “Lincoln-Douglas debates,” Douglas would have been in history books without this classic debate of conservative vs. liberal principles. Serving as a two-term Illinois senator, he both supported the Union cause during the Civil War and opened some areas to slavery with the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
April 24, 1886 Chicago. First African-American Catholic priest is ordained. As a child, Augustus Tolton escaped slavery in Missouri by going to Illinois with his family in 1862. Completing his studies at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Chicago, Tolton became an altar boy, according to the Catholic News Agency website. From there, he completed his studies to become a priest in Rome, Italy (U.S. seminaries barred him over race). Cardinal Lucido Maria Parocchi ordained him on this date in history.
April 25, 1953 Chicago. James D. Watson unravels the genetic code. If the saying “behind every great man is a great woman” is true, then Rosalind Franklin’s photo of a DNA molecule surely counts as proof. As Wired magazine reports, her X-ray diffraction photo helped Watson figure out the shape of the DNA strand that transmits genes from parent to offspring. The discovery earned him, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins a 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, but Franklin’s photo went thankless.
April 26, 1927 Roxanna. Birthdate of basketball hall-of-famer Harry Gallatin. Earning the label “ferocious rebounder,” Gallatin helped propel the New York Knicks to seven appearances in the playoffs and three NBA finals in the 1950s. At only 6-foot-6-inches tall, Gallatin wasn’t a jumper, according to his New York Times obituary, but relied on his intuition and agility to capture his opponents’ missed shots and turn them into scores for his team.
April 27, 1790 St. Clair County. Illinois forms its first county. Perhaps the idea of having counties was inspired by Arthur St. Clair’s birthplace of Caithness County, Scotland, but whatever the origin, St. Clair’s position as governor of the Northwest Territory led to the creation of his eponymous county on this day in 1790. It was bigger than most counties, historians say, covering more than half the state. Boundaries were redrawn for new counties until St. Clair County “reached its present size in 1818.”
April 28, 1901 Chicago. The forerunner to the Chicago White Sox baseball team wins a pennant title by four games. Known in 1901 as the White Stockings, the team was especially successful in its first year in the American league, winning 83 games and losing only 53. Its No. 1 league position helped the team win the pennant, and in 1903 the team changed its name to the White Sox.
April 29, 1860 Elmwood. Birthdate of sculptor Lorado Taft. The sculptor and teacher capped his education at the University of Illinois with training in Paris. There he learned about mythology and literature, featuring those subjects heavily in his later works, which included busts of famous figures. The titles of some of his works reflected his interest in symbolic works, such as “The Fountain of Time” and “Fountain of the Great Lakes.”
April 29, 2015 Death of Illinois’ 36th governor, Dan Walker. A decade after leaving the governor’s office in 1977, Walker was indicted on bank fraud, perjury and misapplication of funds. He spent a year and a half in federal prison, but at least one member of his family spoke fondly of their beleaguered father: “He was a great father. He was a great family man,” as son Will Walker was quoted in The State Journal-Register upon his father’s 2015 death.