Any kind of explosive can lead to danger. There are some industries that use explosives in their daily activities, and for the most part, all is well and people are safe. Nevertheless, there are those few situations, which always seem like they are so common, when they make the news. In reality, they are probably very rare, although I can’t say that for sure. It just seems to me that if these explosions were common, we would find a different way of doing things.
On the night of February 24, 1922, in McCook, Illinois, a powder magazine exploded in a stone quarry. The quarry at McCook was on the outskirts of Chicago. The the explosion occurred, it shook the entire city. I know that explosions can be felt for miles and miles, and can even show up on seismometers. Still, Chicago is a big city. It seems odd to think that such a big city could feel the effects of an explosion, but that was just the beginning. Windows were shattered in the south and the west portions of the city shortly before 9:30pm. People began calling the emergency numbers and calling newspapers to find out where the explosion had occurred and how many people had been killed. It seemed that no one knew at first, but soon it became obvious. An inquiry by The Associated Press to Indianapolis soon brought a bulletin from LaFayette, Indiana, that the explosion had occurred at McCook, Illinois.
With that information they were able to find out within a few minutes that there had been an accident at the quarry which is situated in a rather secluded spot. It was found that no one had been killed, but early reports had no explanation as to how it occurred. The first definite report of the blast reached a Monon railroad signal tower at Dyer, Indiana. It was then relayed to the Monon dispatcher at LaFayette, before it came back to Chicago over The Associated Press wire.
The McCook quarry has had a long history problems that have been the direct result of quarry blasting. The quarries need to blast for loosen up the stone, but the effects can be devastating, even causing train derailments at times. The public has at times complained about the damages, but there didn’t seem to be much that could be done about it. Pictures of cracked walls and broken windows have been brought in for emphasis. I guess that until someone comes u with a better way to get the rock out of the quarry, the city will be stuck with the problem for the foreseeable future.
Just before midnight on September 7, 1860, a palatial sidewheel steamboat named the Lady Elgin left Chicago bound for Milwaukee. She was carrying about 400 passengers. She was returning to Milwaukee from a day-long outing to Chicago. Also on the water that night was the Augusta, a schooner filled with lumber. The captain of the Lady Elgin took notice of the Augusta around 2:30am. The night was stormy, and visibility was poor. Storm clouds raged and the waves were intense.
Suddenly, the lumber on the Augusta shifted, causing the two ships to collide. Instantly, the party atmosphere that had been on the Lady Elgin, turned to chaos and confusion. The Augusta received only minor damage in the collision, and kept right on sailing to Chicago. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence in those days. It’s possible that the Augusta assumed that if it wasn’t badly hurt, that larger ship probably wasn’t either. I can’t say for sure, but I know that this collision, in which the Augusta did not stop is not the first I have heard of such an incident in Maritime history. A large hole in the side of the Lady Elgin doomed the ship, which sank within thirty minutes. Only three lifeboats were able to be loaded and set into the water. The ships large upper hurricane deck fell straight into the water and served as a raft for some forty people.
The ship had crashed two to three miles off the shore of Highland Park, but the waves were so strong that survivors, bodies, and debris were all swept down to the northern shore of Winnetka. In those days, the lakeshore in this area consisted of a narrow strip of beach rising up to clay cliffs almost 50 feet high. An angry line of breakers churned up from the storm were crashing ashore. Around 6:30am the first of the three lifeboats made it to shore in the vicinity of the Jared Gage house…which still stands at 1175 Whitebridge Hill Road. A desperate call for assistance went out to the town from the Gage house. The people of Winnetka rode horses down to Northwestern University and the Garrett Biblical Institute to find any young men to help pull out survivors. The regional newspapers were quickly informed by telegraph. The newly completed Chicago and Milwaukee train line brought people to Winnetka to help as word of the accident spread. The effort to save the people on the Lady Elgin would have been a phenomenal feat today, but it was carried out in 1860, making it even more amazing.
The crowds on the bluffs and beaches watched as pieces of wreckage washed up near the site of the present Winnetka water tower. By 10:00am, the bluffs were littered with people who had been strong enough to withstand the fierce storm of the previous night. Lastly came the hurricane deck with Captain Wilson and eight survivors whom the storm had thus far spared. Then, before their eyes, this storm-battered deck was dashed to pieces on an offshore sandbar and all on board were lost.
The storm left a tremendous undertow, creating the tragic situation…the exhausted victims had drifted close enough to the Winnetka shore to see it, only to be held back by the breakers. As the horrified onlookers watch, they died in full view of the people on shore, who could do nothing but watch. Men were lowered from the bluff with rope tied around their waists in attempts to pull people in to safety. One Evanston seminary student, Edward Spencer, is credited with saving 18 lives. Spencer is said to have repeatedly rushed into the sea, being battered by debris in order to save more people. I do not know, but I suspect that he is some relation to me on my Spencer side, and I feel honored that he was such a heroic figure. Spencer is said to have wondered many times in the aftermath, “Did I do my best?” It is the mark of a hero, never to feel like they did enough. Another man, Joseph Conrad, was said to have pulled 28 to safety. Other unknown rescuers pulled in survivors up and down the Winnetka and North Shore coastline.
The Gage house, the Artemas Carter house at 515 Sheridan Road, and other Winnetka residences served as temporary hospitals. The newly-built Winnetka train depot served as a morgue. Winnetka residents brought food and clothing for the survivors. It is estimated that 302 people lost their lives that day, the exact number is unknown, as the ships manifest went down with the ship. The 1860 census shows only 130 residents in the town of Winnetka. The tragedy captured the nation’s attention, but was quickly overshadowed by the 1860 elections and the Civil War. Such is the way of things. An tragic event is only well remembered, until another comes to take its place.
Every family struggles to find ways to do things together…not to mention the time to do so. Kids have their own activities, such as sports, dance, and other club and school activities. Parents work, kids have school, and then there are things that need to be done around the house. By the time dinner is cooked and eaten, and the table cleared, who feels like doing more activities. Plus, there is homework to be done. It seems like there isn’t time for anything more than a television show before bed.
Most of us think this is just something that has come with modern day families, where they barely have time to eat dinner together…if that. In reality, it is a problem that has been around for a lot longer. Kids just naturally grow up and become more independent, and parents get busier too. Something had to be done, so in 1939, so Charles Steinlauf stepped up. He didn’t build his bicycle for a record, because there wasn’t such a thing then. The Guinness book of records didn’t begin until the early 1950’s. Nevertheless, he was some “inventor” to use the word lightly. His was an interesting bicycle, and apparently it held something for everyone…I guess. As odd as it was, the bicycle really did work. The top rider, namely Charles steered the bicycle with an automobile steering wheel. His wife sat below operating a sewing machine. Their son was in back and their daughter sat on handle bars in front. When they stopped, the legs of the sewing machine kept the two story Goofybike, as it was called, from falling over. I don’t know any other way to safely stop it.
It might have been one of the strangest inventions in history, but, it did get his family out and about in Chicago, Illinois, and I’m certain it also brought them quite a bit of notoriety. I’m sure that there were lots of people who that of Steinlauf as that “weird inventor,” and to be honest, it looks like he just hooked a bunch of odds and ends together. It was, however, a little more technical than that, after all, just hooking a bunch of things together, does not a bicycle make. It has to be able to be ridden in order to really qualify as a bicycle, weird or not. And the Goofybike could be and was ridden by the whole Steinlauf family.
These days, the weather centers can predict storms weeks out. True, they aren’t always as accurate as we would like, but they can also predict corrections and update people with the changes. Of course, it is something we are used to in this day and age, but in 1941, weather centers didn’t exist. That was catastrophic for the people of North Dakota and Minnesota, when a fast-moving and quite severe blizzard hit on March 15th, killing 151 people. The storm came in so quickly that the people had no warning, and as a result far too many lost their lives.
Because of that storm, weather forecasting and reporting systems made important advances that would have prevented the loss of life that occurred due to the sudden storm. The people of North Dakota and northern Minnesota had virtually no warning of the blizzard that was coming, until it swept in suddenly from the west on March 15. In some locations, temperatures dropped 20 degrees in less than 15 minutes. They were hit with 55 mile per hour sustained winds, and gusts reaching 85 miles per hour in Grand Forks and 75 miles per hour in Duluth. The winds brought blinding snow and huge 7 foot high snow drifts across the states. Most of the victims of the blizzard were traveling in their cars when it hit. Highway 2, running from Duluth, Minnesota to North Dakota, was shut down, as were Highways 75 and 81. Attempts to rescue those stranded in their cars came too late. In one incident, six year old Wilbert Treichel died from exposure to the cold when his parents abandoned their car and attempted to carry him through the blizzard to safety.
People attending a basketball game in Moorhead, Minnesota, were stranded at the arena overnight when it was wisely decided that travel was too dangerous for the 2,000 people. Theaters, hotels and stores across the region stayed open through the night to accommodate the many people had visited them, completely unaware that a major storm was approaching. Although the storm was also severe in Manitoba, Canada, only seven people there died because the population was much better prepared for the storm and for dangerous weather in general.
Prior to this time, meteorologists in Chicago were concerned mostly with local weather. It wasn’t that they did not care about the people in surrounding areas, but rather that it was not traditional reporting to report weather for the other areas. In the aftermath of this blizzard, weathermen in North Dakota and Minnesota, who had been under the control of the Chicago meteorology office, which simply paid less attention to events occurring to the north, were allowed autonomy in their reporting. Protected with new technological advances in the wake of the disaster, area residents hoped they would never again be so blind-sided by a winter storm.
Most plane crashes are caused by pilot error or mechanical failure, but sometimes, someone commits an act of terrorism, or as in the case of United Airlines Flight 629 someone commits an act of hatred aimed at one person. These acts are never rational, and this one certainly wasn’t, because Jack Gilbert Graham was not a rational man. I think many, if not most of us have thought at one point or another that our parents were somehow meaner to us than any other parent in the universe, but Jack Graham took that obsession to the next level. He decided that his mother was responsible for giving him a horrible childhood, and so he decided to take his revenge on her by placing a bomb in the luggage she was checking.
His mother, Daisie Eldora King, who was a 53 year old Denver businesswoman was en route to Alaska to visit her daughter. Her flight United Airlines Flight 629, registration N37559, was a Douglas DC-6B aircraft also known as “Mainliner Denver.” The flight had originated at New York City’s La Guardia Airport and made a scheduled stop in Chicago before continuing to Denver’s Stapleton Airfield and landed at 6:11pm, 11 minutes late. At Denver the aircraft was refueled with 3,400 US gallons of fuel, and had a crew replacement. Captain Lee Hall, who was a World War II veteran, assumed command of the flight for the segments to Portland and Seattle. The flight took off at 6:52pm and at 6:56pm made its last transmission stating it was passing the Denver omni. Seven minutes later, the Stapleton air traffic controllers saw two bright lights suddenly appear in the sky north-northwest of the airport. Both lights were observed for 30 to 45 seconds, and both fell to the ground at roughly the same speed. The controllers then saw a very bright flash originating at or near the ground, intense enough to illuminate the base of the clouds 10,000 feet above the source of the flash. Upon observing the mysterious lights, the controllers quickly determined there were no aircraft in distress and contacted all aircraft flying in the area; all flights were quickly accounted for except for United Flight 629. The date was November 1, 1955.
The plane was blown up over Longmont, Colorado at about 7:03pm local time, while en route from Denver, Colorado, to Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. All 39 passengers and five crew members on board were killed in the explosion and crash. There was early speculation that something other than a mechanical problem or pilot error was responsible, given the magnitude of the in-air explosion. Investigators determined that Jack Gilbert Graham was responsible for bombing the airplane to kill his mother as revenge for his childhood and to obtain a large life insurance payout. Within 15 months of the explosion, Graham, who already had an extensive criminal record, was tried, convicted, and executed for the crime.
It was a horrible thing. One sick man committed murder in the skies, by killing his mother with a bomb, and in the process killed 41 other people too. I don’t know if he though the could really get away with it, but investigations are pretty sophisticated…even back then. It amazes me that they can take all those plane parts and examine them…somehow finding the source of the explosion, and tracing it back to the source. Then, by finding out who the luggage belonged to, they figured the whole thing out. Criminals really aren’t so smart, even though they think they have it all figured out. It is just sad that 42 people lost their lives, because some spoiled brat of a child thought his mom was too harsh when he was a kid…with no evidence to prove his point at all.
Heroes come in many forms, but few could be said to have been as sneaky as Eugene Lazowski, who was born Eugeniusz Slawomir Lazowski, in 1913 in Poland. His bravery was combined with genius, and in the end, he saved 8,000 Polish Jews at the height of the Holocaust. Lazowski saw the horrible way the Jews were treated, and he saw a way to help. Eugene Lazowski had just finished medical school when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Typhus was spreading across the country. The disease was killing an average of 750 people a day. In an attempt to contain the disease, the Nazis increased their isolation and execution of Jews. Eugene joined the Polish Red Cross, but he was forbidden by the Nazis from treating Jewish patients. Nevertheless, under the cover of darkness, he sneaked into the Jewish ghetto and took care of the people there. Lazowski’s plan took an incredible amount of intellect, not to mention bravery. His life was on the line too. Lazowski created the illusion of an epidemic of a deadly disease, playing on the deep fears of the Nazis.
The plan came about in an unusual way. One day, a Polish soldier on leave begged Eugene and his colleague, Dr Stanislaw Matulewicz, to help him avoid returning to the warfront. I think there were many people who fought on the Nazi side of that era, who would give anything not to take part in what the Nazis were all about. Matulewicz had discovered that by injecting a healthy person with a vaccine of dead bacteria, that person would test positive for epidemic typhus without experiencing the symptoms. In an attempt to help the young solider fake a life-threatening illness, the doctors who had discovered that a dead strain of the Proteus OX19 bacteria in typhus would still lead to a positive test for the disease. Eugene realized that this could be used as a defense against the Nazis.
The two doctors hatched a secret plan to save about a dozen villages in the vicinity of Rozwadów and Zbydniów not only from forced labor exploitation, but also Nazi extermination. Lazowski began distributing the phony vaccine widely. Within two months, so many new (fake) cases were confirmed that Eugene successful convinced his Nazi supervisors a typhus epidemic had broken out. The Nazis immediately quarantined areas with suspected typhus cases, including those with Jewish inhabitants. In 12 other villages, Eugene created safe havens for Jews through these quarantines. His work would eventually save 8,000 Jewish lives.
When the war ended, Eugene continued to practice medicine in Poland until he was forced to flee with his family to the United States. They settled in Chicago, where Eugene earned a medical degree from the University of Illinois. Decades later, he finally returned to Poland, where he received a hero’s welcome for saving those in desperate need of salvation through his unyielding love for humanity.
The headline read “Wedding Gown To Be Her Shroud.” The newspaper article was about a horrible tragedy, that took place just four days after the wedding of my husband, Bob’s 6th cousin 3 times removed, Ruth Schulenberg to Wilberd Youngman. The wedding took place on November 26, 1913, and was a large social affair for the smaller town of Tolono, Illinois, population of about 700, at the time. Ruth Schulenberg, was the daughter of Mr and Mrs Henry Schulenberg, and was a graduate of Saint Mary’s of the Wood where she was a member of a prominent sorority. Wilberd Youngman employed as a draughsman by the Burr Company of Champaign, Illinois. The wedding took place at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in Tolono.
After their wedding, the young couple was on their honeymoon, in Kokomo, Indiana, where they had attended church at the Kokomo Catholic Church. Following the church service, they were on their way to a big wedding dinner in their honor at the country residence of a neighbor of Youngman’s cousin, Edward Grishaw, who was transporting the couple in a closed carriage. As the carriage began its crossing of the tracks of the Lake Erie and Western Railway, Grishaw failed for look for trains, and pulled out in front of the Lake Erie train going full speed. The train ripped through the car, and by the time the train could stop and the crew reached the car’s occupants, Ruth Schulenberg and Edward Grishaw were dead. Wilberd Youngman was critically injured, and not expected to live.
Amazingly, Wilberd Youngman did live…for eleven months. Youngman was taken to a hospital in Chicago, but his prognosis was grim. People just don’t come back from being hit by a train that ripped their car apart, and yet he was still alive, and actually recovering from his injuries…the visible injuries anyway. Youngman had lost so much that November day, and he was struggling to move forward. Ruth Schulenberg had been his soulmate, and his very best friend. She was the love of his life, and he knew there could never be another woman for him. Wilberd Youngman was not a man who would commit suicide, but he also could not recover from this deepest injury…the one that broke his heart. Slowly, over the eleven months that followed the saddest day of his life, Wilberd Youngman dwindled away. it wasn’t a refusal of food and water, but rather a refusal to go on without his precious Ruth. Finally, on October 24, 1914, just short of 11 months after that awful day…November 30, 1913, Wilberd Youngman could no longer go on living, and so, with his parents by his side, he simply passed away. The final cause of death was listed as a broken heart. That, to me was the saddest cause of death I had ever heard. Because of the loss of his wife, Wilberd simply had no desire to live either. He tried to recover…physically, but his heart was no longer in it, and he finally just gave up and quit trying. The Honeymoon Tragedy had finally claimed it’s last victim.
Prior to December 1, 1958, fire drills were not normal procedure, and in fact, were not held at all. No one knew how important fire drills were, even though they knew the dangers of fire, and just how deadly it was. Mainly, they did not realize just how important fire drills were to the safe evacuation of people from a burning building. Prior to that day, when there was a fire, those who knew about the fire ran, and most didn’t think about raising the alarm to let others know. This was especially true in schools, where in reality, fire drills were exponentially more important, because the drill made an emergency seem like just another drill, and could be carried out, before the smell of smoke even arrived in the rooms of the school. Prior to December 1, 1958, the schools had an alarm, but all too often, setting it off was the last thing on the minds of the people in charge…mostly due to their own panic. Later it would be determined that with practice, an emergency situation could be handled, and the people evacuated quickly, if the procedure was simply a practiced maneuver that everyone knew and automatically executed.
So, what led up to the fire drill revelation? Basically, it was due to a fire at a grade school in Chicago that killed 90 students on this day in 1958. Our Lady of Angels School was operated by the Sisters of Charity in Chicago. In 1958, there were well over 1,200 students enrolled at the school, which occupied a large, old building. In those days, little was done in the way of fire prevention. The building did not have any sprinklers and no regular preparatory drills were conducted. Those two factors combined, led to disaster when a small fire broke out in a pile of trash in the basement, and quickly burned out of control.
It is thought that the fire began about 2:30 pm. Within minutes, several teachers on the first floor smelled it. These teachers led their classes outside, but because it was never practiced, no one thought to sound a general alarm. The school’s janitor discovered the fire at 2:42 pm, and shouted for the alarm to be rung…but by then, at least ten precious minutes had passed since the fire started. Time to evacuate was quickly running out. Unfortunately, the janitor was either not heard or the alarm system did not operate properly. The students in the classrooms on the second floor were completely unaware of the rapidly spreading flames beneath them. It took a few more minutes for the fire to reach the second floor. By this time, panic had overtaken the students and teachers. Some panic stricken students jumped out windows to escape. I can only imagine the horror the firefighters must have felt as the roll up to the scene to find students hanging from the second floor windows, as they ran to try to catch them as they fell. Although the firefighters who were arriving on the scene tried to catch them, some were injured. Firefighters also tried to get ladders up to the windows. One quick-thinking nun had her students crawl under the smoke and roll down the stairs, where they were rescued. Other classes remained in their rooms, praying for help. There was no protocol…no routine…and for 90 students and 3 nuns, no chance of survival. Several hours later, when the fire was finally extinguished, the authorities found the 90 students and 3 nuns in the ashes of the classrooms. Sadly, it is the horrific “lessons” that trigger the quickest move to change, and this fire was no different. These days, when students hear the alarm…which is automatic when smoke is detected, they line up, and leave the school in a calm and orderly manner. Fire drills save lives.
Years ago, when the telephone first came out, the only way to call someone, if they had a phone, that is, was to go through the operator. Basically, you picked up your phone, and often, cranked a ringer to get the attention of the operator, and then told them who you wanted to talk to. The operator would then connect you with the person you were calling by way of a switchboard. Of course, that meant that the operator could also stay on the line and listen to the whole conversation, if she chose to do so. The switchboard operator was needed to make any call except if two people had a party line.
Many people have no idea what a party line is, but my friend Gale Dugger Oskolkoff had one when her family lived in the Casper area, and her, her sisters, and I used to have a great time listening in on the calls that were made to a girl who had the unfortunate position of being a teenaged girl with a boyfriend and a party line. She use to get so mad at us. I don’t even know her name, but if she could have, I think she would have reached through the phone and choked us. Of course, I feel sorry for her now, because there was pretty much no privacy in her love life, but it was fun…for us anyway.
Before long, party lines became a thing of the past, and while direct distance dialing came into being before party lines went out, direct distance dialing was a brand new technology on November 10, 1951, when it was first offered on trial basis at Englewood, New Jersey, to 11 selected major cities across the United States. This service grew rapidly across major cities during the 1950s. The first direct-dialed long-distance telephone calls were possible in the New Jersey communities of Englewood and Teaneck. Customers of the ENglewood 3, ENglewood 4 and TEaneck 7 exchanges, who could already dial New York City and area, were able to dial 11 cities across the United States, simply by dialing the three-digit area code and the seven-digit number, which at the time consisted of the first two letters of the central office name and five digits. On November 10, 1951, Englewood Mayor M. Leslie Denning made the first customer-dialed long distance call, to Mayor Frank Osborne of Alameda, California.
The eleven destinations at that time were:
617: Boston, Massachusetts
312: Chicago, Illinois
216: Cleveland, Ohio
313: Detroit, Michigan
414: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
415: Oakland, California
215: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
412: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
401: Providence, Rhode Island
916: Sacramento, California
318: San Francisco – San Francisco required the special code 318 for temporary routing requirements
Many other cities could not be included, as they did not yet have the necessary toll switching equipment to handle incoming calls automatically on their circuits. As with any technology, these changes take time to implement. Other cities still had either a mixture of local number lengths or were all still six-digit numbers. Montreal, Quebec and Toronto, Ontario in Canada, for example, had a mix of six and seven-digit numbers from 1951 to 1957, and did not have direct distance dialing until 1958. Whitehorse, Yukon, had seven-digit numbers from 1965, but the necessary switching equipment was not in place locally until 1972.
These days, all this seems completely archaic, considering the fact that even the phone lines that were installed on poles and underground are almost not necessary in today’s world. With the implementation of wireless…everything, we no longer need to have a phone line to have a phone, and in fact a home phone is not necessary for most people, because a cellular phone can be taken with us where ever we go, so we never need to miss a call, unless our work does not allow us to have the phone with us. Phones have come a long way since the days of switchboards, operators, and phone lines, and I think most of us would agree that it’s better now, although there are those who like to be disconnected.
On October 8, 1871, one of the worst fires in history started in Chicago. Rumor has it that a cow kicked over a lantern in a barn, and the ensuing fire killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. According to the legend, the fire broke out after the cow, belonging to Mrs. Catherine O’Leary, kicked over a lamp, setting first the barn, located on the property of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary at 137 Dekoven Street on the city’s southwest side, then the whole city on fire. You’ve probably heard some version of this story yourself. People have been blaming the Great Chicago Fire on the cow and Mrs. O’Leary, for more than 130 years. Mrs. O’Leary denied this charge. Recent research by Chicago historian Robert Cromie has helped to debunk this version of events.
From that event, came a proclamation by President Calvin Coolidge that the first National Fire Prevention Week be held on October 4-10, 1925. The move started a tradition recognizing October as Fire Prevention Month, the first week in October becoming Fire Prevention Week, and the second Saturday becoming Home Fire Drill Day. Fire Prevention Week is observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9 falls, in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began October 8, 1871, and did most of its damage October 9. The month and week are filled with information designed to teach people how to prevent fire disasters, as well as activities for children designed to teach them too.
None of us wants to have to really get out of a home fire situation, but it is really important that people know how in the unfortunate event that their home does catch on fire. So, the last part of Fire Prevention Month is Home Fire Drill Day, which is today, October 14, 2017. It is a day to plane your escape routes, and practice getting out, especially with children. It is designed also, to point out where you might be vulnerable and what equipment might be needed to make your home safe, such as smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and escape ladders. Whether you have little ones or not, it is so easy to get confused or disoriented in a fire emergency. Just like in the schools, routine practice makes every step of a fire evacuation a habit, and it could very likely save your life or that of your family. Why not start today?