This week in Illinois history: June 4-10
June 4, 1944 - Chicago. The U.S. Navy seizes a German U-boat and gains a treasure trove of data. This date saw the apprehension of “the first foreign warship captured on the high seas by the U.S. Navy since 1815.” Germany planned its IXC U-boat submarine to be a game-changer by patrolling the South Atlantic Ocean, but once she was captured, the submarine yielded intelligence that let U.S. commanders crack the German military code. Today the submarine is on display at Jackson Park's Museum of Science and Industry.
June 4, 1922 - Evanston. Birthdate of classical music composer Irwin Bazelon. The New York Times said Bazelon rendered “the tension, energy and restless drama of contemporary urban life.” After earning a master’s degree at DePaul University, he spent six years clerking for a railroad before landing his big break: working with a cartoon producer, which landed him subsequent gigs writing soundtracks for documentaries and cartoons, and later ad jingles. But by the latter phase of his career, he returned to symphonic works.
June 5, 1929 - Chicago. Chicago-bred screen legend Gloria Swanson stars in her first talkie. Although Al Jolson’s 1927 “The Jazz Singer” featured some music and spoken dialogue, scholars nonetheless recognize Swanson’s “The Trespasser” as a milestone in cinema history. For starters, two versions (silent and talkie) were created, and it kicked off an unfortunate series of box-office flops for Swanson, a trend it took her two decades to reverse with 1950’s “Sunset Boulevard.”
June 5, 1946 - Chicago. Sixty-one people perish in the LaSalle Hotel blaze. As The Chicago Tribune reported on the fire’s 70th anniversary, seltzer water and sand couldn’t quench the flames under the hotel bar, which quickly spread to the lobby and later, to the twin sets of stairs. Although a dedicated telephone operator stayed behind to alert guests to the pending disaster, 61 people died that night, including the operator. Investigators later ruled that flammable materials and uninstalled doors for each floor made the fire worse.
June 6, 1924 - Chicago. Famed lawyer Clarence Darrow helps two murderers escape the death penalty in a scandalous trial. Two college students at the University of Chicago conspired to commit the "perfect crime" by killing a 14-year-old boy, according to the CriminalElement.com website. Although they escaped the death penalty, it was far from the "perfect crime": one was killed in prison and the other served 30 years before re-inventing himself as a suburban husband. The crime inspired several plays and films, prompting writer Jake Hinkson to ponder that the appeal is itself as murky as the reason for the crime.
June 9, 1930 - Chicago. Star police reporter executed in broad daylight. The Chicago Tribune called its leading crime reporter Alfred “Jake” Lingle a journalist who “epitomized the ‘Front Page’ journalism of his day, covering cops and robbers and working sources in speakeasies.” Lingle was about to board the subway to Homewood via Washington Park when a bullet to the head ended his career. The shooting was blamed on Lingle’s previously hidden connection to crime figures. Though a henchman served time for the crime, the exact reason for it remains a mystery.
June 7, 1989 - Rock Island. Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan Jr. names Rock Island Arsenal a National Historic Landmark. The Arsenal Historic Society credits Thomas J. Slattery and Col. David T. Morgan Jr. with leading the drive to have the site (dating back to the early 19th century as a fort) designated a landmark. The arsenal has sent tanks, guns and artillery into battle since the 1880s, according to Wikipedia. The main headquarters building dates to 1832. A museum launched in the early 20th century, featuring “the second-largest collection of small arms weapons,” Wikipedia said.
June 8, 1831 - Rock Island. Chief Black Hawk leads a band to reclaim his hometown. Although the Sauk leader Black Hawk and his tribe had been pushed out of Illinois and into neighboring Iowa, the impulse to take back Saukenak (near modern-day Rock Island) was with the legendary chief. On this day in 1831, he succeeded, if only for a short while, in occupying the Saukenak region. U.S. leaders forced him to sign a treaty and abandon the area.
June 9, 1915 - Salem. Illinois native and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigns in protest. Europe was embroiled in World War I, but events like the sinking of Great Britain’s Lusitania passenger ship conspired to drag the U.S. into the conflict. According to History.com, 128 Americans perished when the German sub attacked the civilian vessel, which didn’t sit well with President Woodrow Wilson. After the president rebuffed Germany’s defense of sinking the ship, Bryan resigned, imagining Wilson’s hawkish stance would lead the U.S. to war.
June 10, 2008 - Lawrenceville. A levee breach in southeastern Illinois floods some 75 square miles. As The New York Times reported a decade ago, a weather pattern engulfing the Midwest led to floods in Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois. As the weather interfered with planting, farmers saw corn prices skyrocket due to the shortage.
June 10, 1922 - Chicago. A contest to design headquarters for Chicago Tribune launches. When you want to create “the world’s most beautiful office building,” how better to do it than solicit designs? A total of 263 competitors agreed, according to a report in The Chicago Tribune, and the winning entry (a 36-story limestone and steel edifice) was finished three years later. The foundation is said to contain pieces from 120 other structures, including the Great Wall of China.