Monthly Archives: December 2011

Solution to December’s Puzzler


All of you who took a shot at last month’s Puzzler were on the right track. Nobody went for the obvious “winds off the Lake” choice. However, the winds that swirl over the flat land and Lake Michigan are persistent enough to lend credence to the wind theory. We are, though, only the 78th windiest city in the U.S.

But “windy” also means “talkative” and according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, our  politicians were well-known for their long-windedness.  The City’s boosterism and self-promotion in the late 19th century established Chicago’s reputation to this day.

There was another reason, however. And that was New York City. A review of the Chicago Sun-Times Metro Almanac reveals that Chicago and New York were vying to be the site of 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the competition became very intense. The Almanac reports that one Chicago newspaper said, “New York shouldn’t get the fair because it’s the ‘meanest city in America.’ ” The Almanac went on to add, “For its part, New York mostly treated Chicago like lint.”

At that time, Charles Dana, editor of the New York Sun, called Chicagoans self-promoting blowhards and told New Yorkers to “pay no attention to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not hold a fair, even if they won it.”

Of course, Chicago did win it, and what’s more, presented one of the greatest World’s Fairs ever.

1893 World's Fair

The Curse


                It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong – but that’s the way to bet.” – Damon Runyon Guys and Dolls (1932)

 You don’t have to be a baseball fan to know about the Chicago Cubs’ “Curse of the Billy Goat.” But you also need to know about “Merkle’s Boner,” the 100-year-old story of the other Chicago Cubs curse, and an unsavory story indeed.

 September, 1908

It is Wednesday, September 23, 1908, and the New York Giants are playing the Chicago Cubs for the National League pennant, when the Giants’ 19 year-old rookie, Fred Merkle commits what becomes for all time “Merkle’s Boner.” Merkle is a promising ballplayer and a fine young man whose only disappointment in life before September 23, 1908 has been his long, very sad-looking face.

 Merkle is at bat, two outs, bottom of the 9th, score tied 1-1. Moose McCormick is on first and Merkle singles. McCormick goes to third. If the Giants score, they win the pennant. Next, Al Bridwell singles, driving in McCormick with the winner for the Giants. The Giant fans pour onto the field like stampeding buffaloes in derbies and  mustaches. Merkle sees them and runs for the clubhouse. Now, the Cubs’ tricky second sacker, Johnny Evers, notices this and goes and gets a ball. He returns to the field, touches second and shows the ball to the umpire who thumbs Merkle out! It seems that Merkle is supposed to go ahead and touch second base. All of a sudden, Bridwell’s pennant-winning single does not win the pennant.

 The score returns to 1-1, and as luck would have it, it is getting dark. Being 1908, 27 years before the first night game, the ump calls the game on account of darkness and the contest and the pennant race end in a tie. New York fans holding bookies’ slips on the Giants cry foul, but the die is cast. A re-match is held at the Polo Grounds fifteen days later. The Giants’ faithful cry in their beer as the Cubs win this makeup game, 4-2 and receive the National League pennant in the bargain. The bookies are saying, “Never bet against a team with Johnny Evers on it. If you do, it is 7-5 the game disappears right under your nose.”

 But a careful reconstruction of the fateful events of Thursday, October 8, 1908 reveals some fascinating facts. Nobody can agree if Evers actually uses the official game ball to force Merkle at second. Some say they see him yell for a ball which is tossed out to him from the Cubs’ dugout. Others claim that they see Giants’ pitcher Joe McGinnity – and Joe says so himself – throw the game ball into the stands and that Evers uses a different ball altogether to tag second base.

 In 1908, running off the field without touching the base after the winning run comes in is a customary and widely accepted practice. But such practice is against a rule that it seems only Johnny Evers and the umpire Hank O’Day are aware of. O’Day later becomes the Cubs’ manager, a coincidence I am sure. Well, John McGraw, the Giants’ tough, Irish manager gets red in the face and pitches a fit at the National League for robbing his Giants of the pennant. Poor Merkle, for his effort, gets the nickname “Bonehead” for the rest of his 16-years in baseball. Some say it is a bum rap to hang that moniker on such a nice young man, who actually turns out to be a very good ballplayer. I see many pictures of Merkle later and his long face grows longer from carrying this heavy burden.

 The Cubs go on to win the World Series which, wish as they might, they never repeat. You can look it up. Far and wide, serious students of the beautiful game say that the Giants are the rightful1908 National League champions, and that the Cubs’ pennant is ill-gotten goods. They conclude that the Cubs cannot be the 1908 World Series champions if they do not even win the National League flag. They argue that the last legit Cubs World Series victory was in 1907.

 The next time the Cubs are as lucky as 1908 is the 1945 World Series. Many argue that Lady Luck arrived at Wrigley Field that September in the person of one Sam Sianis, saloon owner, and his billy goat. Sianis wants the club to use the goat as its mascot. Instead, the Cubs’ management promptly evicts Sam and the goat because “the goat’s odor disturbs the fans.” Outraged, Sam declares, “Them Cubs, they aint gonna win no more.” The Cubs are up two games to one but go on to lose to Detroit four games to three. A guy could be offered 10-1 odds and he would never put down even a $2.00 bet that the simple act of ushering Sam and the goat out blesses the Cubs with “The Curse” that winds up being blamed for every grounder they boot, every third strike they take, every pop fly they flub, and every playoff game they blow, forever.

 September, 2008

It is a hundred years since the Cubs last claim a World Series win, and for months while the Cubs are having a great season, their fans are doing a dance about it all over town. They have caps with Year of Destiny and Chase the Dream embroidered in big white letters, front and back. Sox fans experience this in person in many locations many times and are very much put off to say the least.

 Despite being the “Year of Destiny,” 2008 sees the Cubs blow the first round of the playoffs to the Dodgers 3 games to none. No jury would ever convict this reporter of wishing a bad roll of the dice to the Cubs, but I also lose no sleep when it comes to them getting swept out of yet another playoff series.

 Maybe it is the Curse of the Billy Goat. And maybe it is not. Maybe it is not their 100-year destiny to win because, if you read your history, it is not 100 years since the Cubs actually win a legit World Series; it is 101 years. Waiting 101 years is a lot less tragically romantic than getting all teary about the magic 100 years.

 Maybe the Cubs are not cursed for 63 years by the Billy Goat. Maybe they are cursed instead by Merkle’s Boner and the sin of stealing the pennant from the Giants in 1908 and going on to play in that World Series. Anyway, that is my story.

Senior Discount

Chicagoans have always considered it a right of citizenship to complain about the price of parking. Parking costs a fortune in the garages and lots. The meters are an outrage. And this isn’t just since the recent huge rise in street parking fees, either. Figuring ways around the fees and the tickets  that accompany getting caught is a source great pride. I still smile remembering how I used to finagle free parking in my youth. Parking tales are legend here. My wife, Karen recounted such an experience from a few years ago. It’s a true story, I swear to god. Continue reading

Rediscovering the Fine Arts Building

I recently took a tour of the Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Ave. I had been there a number of times before, but always on some  mission that did not include really looking at this old treasure of a place. It was built by Studebaker in 1885 as an assembly plant and showroom for its horse carriages. Yes, Studebaker was in the carriage business before it began making cars. The lower three floors were the showrooms, supported by two huge granite pillars that made it possible to construct the open space needed. The smaller rooms above that were for assembly.

But what took place after Studebaker’s tenure is what sets the building apart. In 1898 the original architect, Solon Beman altered it into an arts center with a romantic Venetian Court, studios and two theaters.  It became a thriving center for the arts and arts-related businesses including the offices of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the Wizard of Oz originator, L. Frank Baum. Many upper floors are lined with murals by past tenants. The art colony thrives today and packs the building with art galleries, studios, violin makers, and artists of every stripe. And it’s the last major building in Chicago with elevator operators.

Go in, take the elevator to the tenth floor and walk down the open stairway. Look around. See the murals. Find Wright’s old office; it’s marked. You’ll see wonders you never dreamed of in a place you can almost feel embraces the artists and receives their love in return.  And be sure to see the Venetian Court. It’s still there. Don’t miss it!

Venetian Ct.

The December Puzzler

?????  It’s time for the Monthly  Puzzler again. 

This month’s Puzzler is:

Why is Chicago called the Windy City?

Enter your answer as a comment below and I’ll announce the correct answer next month.

Good Luck!


The Answer to November’s Puzzler

November’s Puzzler was: What was the first major downtown building built since the beginning of the Great Depression?

The answer is a little tricky.

One answer is that the Field Building (now the Bank of America, 135 S. LaSalle St) was the first large building completed after the beginning of the Great Depression. Construction began in 1931 and was completed in 1934. Owner Marshall Field persevered in building it far into the Depression to provide wages for the construction workers. So you could say the Field Building is the correct answer.

But the first large building begun and competed after the Depression and World War II is the Prudential Building at Michigan and Randolph. It was built from 1952 – 1955, 21 years after the Field Building. At the time, it was the tallest building in Chicago. So you could say the Prudential  Building is the correct answer.

The Palmolive Building, which was for a time the Playboy Building, was completed in 1929, two months before Black Tuesday.