This week in Illinois history: April 30-May 6
April 30, 1983 - Chicago. Mayor Harold Washington assumes office after leaving Congress. As Politico.com reports, Washington “lacked the support of Chicago’s Democratic political machine,” but he nevertheless won both the primary and general elections. A veteran of the Illinois state legislature, Washington completed his first term but died in office during his second term.
May 1, 1893 - Chicago. President Grover Cleveland throws the switch kicking off the World’s Fair. Although it was actually a button, and not a switch Cleveland pressed, the ceremony still drew a crowd of thousands to see the beginning of “a new era of technological and human elevation,” ushering in the waning years of the so-called Gilded Age in America.
May 1, 1846 - Nauvoo. A temple is dedicated by remaining Mormon settlers. Escaping persecution from Ohio and Missouri, these members of the Latter Day Saints church were led by founder Joseph Smith to the area, despite its infestation by mosquitos. Nauvoo, a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful place,” seemed an unlikely name, but the LDS website says settlers grew the area into a “thriving community” of 11,000 people. The peace was short-lived, however, and the community lapsed within a decade once settlers abandoned it as a result of persecution.
May 3, 1865 - Springfield. A train carrying President Abraham Lincoln makes its final stop in the state capitol. Today an Amtrak station occupies this landmark, which was the last point on his “last rites” trip that touched Philadelphia, New York City and other cities. RoadsideAmerica.com says the itinerary included 445 cities. A black granite marker remains, though the original station is long gone.
May 3, 1973 - Chicago. The famed Sears Tower is completed. This monument served as the retail giant’s headquarters for nearly 25 years. Today, Sears is in decline, but the building is now Willis Tower, though residents are said to prefer the original moniker.
May 3, 1906 - Quincy. Birthdate of actress Mary Astor. According to her New York Times obituary, Astor “had a delicate beauty, extraordinary grace and a compelling acting style.” Though she starred in several silent films, she is best remembered for her work in the 1941 Humphrey Bogart classic “The Maltese Falcon.”
May 4, 1886 - Chicago. A riot at the Haymarket ends with eight police officers dead. The website Illinois Labor History calls the Chicago Haymarket Affair a watershed in the worldwide labor movement. Organizers Lucy and Albert Parsons scheduled a 7:30 a.m. rally, which approximately 2,500 people attended. The police rushed the crowd, which had dwindled to some 200 protestors, and in the ensuing confusion, friendly fire claimed some of their own men.
May 4, 1923 - Harvey. Birthdate of musician Edward Cassidy. As one-third of the band Spirit, Cassidy earned a place in rock history for “a challenging, sweeping blend of rock, jazz, blues and other musical strains,” according to a 1991 Los Angeles Times review. Almost a generation older than his bandmates, Cassidy was sometimes dubbed “the world’s oldest performing rock ‘n’ roll drummer,” a fact noted in his LA Times obituary in 2012.
May 5, 1950 - Chicago. Poet Gwendolyn Brooks becomes the first African-American to earn a Pulitzer Prize. In her bio on the Poetry Foundation website, Brooks is hailed as not only the first black author to win the award, but also the Library of Congress’ first black female poetry consultant. On top of that, her move as a child from Topeka, Kansas to Chicago allowed her years later to serve as Illinois’ poet laureate.
May 6, 1856 - Rock Island. A steamboat collides with a railroad bridge. The Effie Afton was totaled in this wreck with the first railroad bridge to span the mighty Mississippi River. The New York Post reports that the resulting legal battle between the ship’s owners and the owners of the bridge helped decide the future of transportation across the U.S. Defense attorney and future president Abraham Lincoln litigated the case, arguing that the bridge was a public necessity as the burgeoning country forged westward. He won the case via a hung jury, but later appeals upheld the railroads’ victory.