Category Archives: Chicago History

Here’s your new Puzzler for July!

The phrase, “Smoke-Filled Room” is nothing new. In fact, it seems to have been in the vernacular forever. But where did it come from? When did it first appear? And how did it get into common use?

Well, as you may have suspected by now, the Smoke-Filled Room made its first recognized appearance right here in Chicago! How appropriate. And it was introduced as a result of a political convention.

Therein lies the basis of this month’s Puzzler. Your challenge is to answer these questions:

1. In what year was the term, Smoke-Filled Room introduced?

2. Specifically, where in the Windy City did the Smoke-Filled Room come into use? And what was the result?

3. And, in which party’s convention was it first popularized?

Send me your answers as a “comment” and I’ll publish the correct answer in a couple of weeks.

Good Luck1



The Solution to the June Puzzler is here!

OK – I admit that this one was a bit obscure.  .  . 

But don’t we love a challenge? So here is the solution

The puzzler question was – Who is remembered as Seaweed Charlie?

And the solution is:

During World War II the Lakefront was the site of war planes criss-crossing the skies. Fighter pilots were receiving their training in aircraft carrier take-offs and landings off Navy Pier. There were many crashes during those exercises. It is said that one pilot, drowned in a crash,  occasionally crawls in full aviator’s uniform, dripping wet and covered with seaweed across Lake Shore Drive toward Evanston’s Calvary Cemetery. 

If you’re driving past Calvary Cemetery some night and see him, be sure to send Chicago Stories an alert of your good fortune!

See you all next month.


The May 2013 Puzzler


Did you miss the Puzzler

last month?


Sorry. Sometimes the ole Puzzler

gets tired.

So here’s a new one: 

What was the gaff involving the Chicago City Flag in the movie, The Untouchables?

We Chicgoans  love it when we can find something wrong with Hollywood’s attempts to make movies about our city.

Good Luck Everyone!

The answer in a couple of weeks.

The March ’13 Puzzler Solution

Cable car 1882

Time for the Puzzler solution once again.


This time it was a True-False test, which means even if you didn’t know the answer you’ve still had a 50% chance of being right.




So let’s see if you’re a good test-taker. Herewith, the results:

1.       Chicago once had the largest cable car system the world had ever seen.

 True or False?  True

 In 1882, Chicago took a daring step in transit, as it had done previously in countless other fields. The city became the first to try San Francisco’s style of cable cars. On a cold blustery day in January 1982 Chicago City Railway became the first cable car line to run on State Street from Madison to 21st St.  (Forgotten Chicago)

2.       Elephants stopped traffic on Chicago Avenue every morning for ten  days each spring by strolling from the old Armory a block east of Michigan to the Medina Temple at 600 N Wabash.

 True or False?  True

 The Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus visited every spring and set up in its favorite venue, the Medina Temple for 10 days. The Elephants were quartered in the Armory on Chicago Avenue and made the trip right down the middle of the street to do the show each day. The procession was a favorite attraction for office workers, neighbors and shoppers. (Encyclopedia of Chicago)

 3.       A strip of motels and hotels flourished on Chicago’s lakefront in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s as a major post war tourist magnet. Bearing such exotic names as the “Edgewater Beach Hotel, Lake Tower Motel, The Tropicana, The Tides, Holiday Lodge, The Sands and 50th on the Lake,” this great lineup was sometimes referred to as “The Miami of Canada.”

True or False?  True

 While locals are familiar with the allure of Chicago’s lakefront many visitors do not associate Chicago as a sun-and-sand destination. A characteristic of many of these Shoreline Motels was marketing that suggested a destination far from the Midwest with their vacation-tinted names. Besides their locations on the lake, they also emphasized their newness in contrast to the rest of Chicago’s existing (and aging) hotel accommodations. (Forgotten Chicago)

 4.       The Excalibur nightclub is a former home of the Chicago Historical Society. 

 True or False?  True

The original home of the Chicago Historical Society building was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The society used a temporary building from 1877 until 1896. The Excalibur was erected as a permanent replacement and was used until 1932 when the present Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum) was erected. (Chicago Historical Society)

5. Over a hundred people committed suicide from “high bridge” in Lincoln Park, later known as Suicide Bridge. It was eventually demolished.

True or False  True

Lincoln Park, formerly known as City Cemetery, seems like a  place that should be haunted, given its history. It was the gravesite of hundreds of victims of cholera and other epidemics in Chicago’s early years. The bodies were removed to create a park in its place, but plenty of  bodies remain, creating many ghost stories. In addition, many murders took place there over  the years as did many suicides by jumping off what became known as Suicide Bridge. At the turn of the 20th century, the Tribune said there had been enough violent deaths in the park to furnish a ghost for every nook and cranny. (Chicago Unbelievable)

 There you have it. How did you do? I want make sure to congratulate Bill this month. Hey, Bill you got every one of the items correct! But what about next month’s challenge?!

See you all then.

My Apologies! Please disregard my first transmission of the March Puzzler! Haywire software.


Welcome to my latest attempt to get you scratching your head!

(Just don’t go overboard like I did.)

Chicago has had more than it’s share of unique – even kooky – events, happenings, innovations, and legends.

At the risk of  treating you like you’re back in school, I have prepared a True-False quiz that I hope tickles your knowledge of Chicago history and your ability to judge if somebody is putting you on. So here we go:

1. Chicago once had the largest cable car system the world had ever seen.       True or False

2.  Elephants stopped traffic on Chicago Avenue every morning for ten days each spring by strolling from the old Armory a block east of Michigan to the Medinah Temple at 600 N. Wabash.       True or False

3.  A strip of  motels and hotels flourished on Chicago’s lakefront in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s as a major post war tourist magnet. Bearing such exotic names as the Edgewater Beach Hotel, Lake Tower Motel, The Tropicana, The Tides, Holiday Lodge, The Sands and 50th on the Lake, this great lineup was sometimes referrred to as “The Miami of Canada.”  True or False

4.  The Excalibur nightclub is the former home of the Chicago Historical Society.     True or False

5.  Over a hundred people have committed suicide from”high bridge” in Lincoln Park, later known as “suicide bridge” which was eventually demolished.     True or False


I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Send your answers in  a “comment” and I’ll reveal the solutions in a couple of weeks. (. . . . and remember, if you don’t know the answer give it a shot anyway. It’s true or false, so it’s 50-50 you’ll be right.)

Good luck!


January’s Puzzler Solution!

Wow! Everybody who responded got the right answer!

Congratulations all! Some of you guessed. Some of you just knew you were right.

As you all know, the answer to the Puzzler is NAVY PIER.

Indeed the Pier has been:

     A jail for draft dodgers and housing for several regiments of soldiers in 1917-1918.

     The location of its own streetcar line, theater, restaurants and evergency hospital in 1919-1921.

     Its own “golden age of recreational and cultural activity. Mayor William H. Thompson’s “Pageants of Progress” drew nearly a million visitors in 1921 and 1922.

     A pioneer in broadcasting – the Chicago Federation of Labor radio station WCFL, “the voice of labor” began at the Pier in 1926.

      “Municipal Pier”, renamed “Navy Pier” in honor of Navy personnel in World War I, 1927. Soldier Field had been completed in 1926 to honor those serving in the Army in WWI.

      A lake freight and passenger terminus that declined, 1930-1940.

     A Navy pilot orientation training center for 15,000 pilots for military service,  including a young airman named George H.W. Bush, future President of the U.S. As many as 200 WWII planes still rest at the bottom of Lake Michigan as a result of  training accidents. 1942.

     A two-year University of Illinois undergraduate program replacing the Navy and remaining there until 1965. The Navy’s main mess hall became a giant library considered “the largest reading room in Illinois”. When I was a student at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in the early ’60’s we called the Pier “Champaign on the Rocks”.

A Poem for January


Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mrs. Lincoln  Admitted Today

Bellevue Place Sanitarium, Batavia, Illinois   May, 1875

 We seen it in the paper. She’ll get

here around noontime.

The wife didn’t want to see it so I come alone.

They say the old lady went crazy, maybe been crazy all along.

Say the son, Robert Todd done it. Took her to trial, 

said she’s a danger. Danger

to herself.   

Wonder if that’s all of it.

That’s them now, carriage’s pulling up the path.

She screaming? Ranting? Acting crazy? Nah.

I ought to get out of here, walk on home.

She’s real little. So gray.

Not like the pictures.


It’s a dirty job he’s got, the son Robert Todd

that got her committed.

I suppose he was full of strain and great difficulty,

growing up with Mary as a mother,

Abe riding the circuit and all.

Now her trying suicide, spending wild,

irrational. High one minute,

bottom the next.

Son’s got to do his manly duty,


God damn hard job.

Wonder if that’s all of it.

Probably not all of it.

There’s always more.

Robert Todd must be torn,

deep in the night he’ll beg

relief from all this.

Mary is surely lost and alone.

She’ll pray him the worst

scoundrel of the age.

Both Mary and Robert Todd are

prisoners of this sanitarium,

every day a day of gazing out,

studying imponderable escape.


Some days I pass by there,

that sanitarium.

See Robert Todd’s carriage

once in a while and guess

what window is his mother’s.

Do you suppose Mary and Robert Todd

are visible through the glass?

S’pose you

can see them talking,

slowly but surely, reaching,

little by little setting one another free?

Larry Ambrose