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Friday, September 24, 2010

WARD HEELERS

I think the end of the Good Times began on a Sunday, November 22, 1905. Marshall Fields Jr, was 38 years old at the time, but that was as old as he would ever get. He was the eldest son and heir of one of America’s greatest fortunes when he appeared at Chicago’s Mercy hospital that morning with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. He would die there, just after five o’clock in the evening, five days later. And there has never been a good explanation as to how it had happened. But its effect, if painfully slow, was also inevitable.

The official story was that while in his bedroom that morning Marshall (above) had been cleaning his gun, dropped it and the gun had gone off. The butler and a nurse said they had immediately rushed to his aide. But a reporter for the Daily News tried to replicate the accident and his weapon refused to discharge. The papers were afraid of losing advertising from the Marshall Fields Department stores, so the public questions  stopped there - for a time.
The Field’s mansions, father’s and son’s were on “Millionaires Row”, Prairie Avenue on Chicago’s south side. It was home to Pullman, Armour, Sears, and Fields, in fact 70 of the most powerful families in the Midwest lived within less than a square mile, and not a place usually visited by public scandal. After the funeral, Marshall’s widow and three children moved in with his father. But it stood no chance of being a happy home. The very next year the elder Fields died of pneumonia, and the widow returned to her native England, leaving behind an open wound - caused, many thought, by a section of Chicago called the Levee
Less than a half mile away from the Field’s mansions was the Levee District, home to sin and vice of unsurpassed depravity and popularity, bordered by 18th street on the north, 23rd street on the south, South Clark on the west and South Wabash Avenue on the east. And at its immoral center was the Everleigh Club.
For eight years Ada and Minna Everleigh were “Queens of the Levee”, running one of the most popular brothels in the Chicago. Minna (right) famously greeted each customer with a delightfully wicked, “How’s my boy?”
Their thirty girls catered to an upscale clientele, charging $50 just to get in the front door of 2131-2133 South Dearborn. Once inside the plush parlor, extras were extra. It was common knowledge that Marshall Fields Jr. had been a regular at the Everleigh Club for years, and the rumor was that Marshall had been shot at the club by one of the girls, or had shot himself because he was being blackmailed by one of the "ladies".
To the south of the Club was Ed Weiss’s bawdy house, "The Capital", and to the north was "The Sapphro", run by brother Lou Weiss. In fact, jammed into the Levee were dozens of such houses of prostitution; Dago Franks, French Em’s, Old 92, and in cutthroat competition with the Everleigh sisters was Madam Vic Shaw’s house at Dearborn and Cullerton. In between the houses were opium dens, cocaine factories, gambling joints, peep shows and bars - lots and lots of bars.
Ringmasters of this sin circus, Princes of the Levee, were two men; the big, blustery city alderman, John J. Coughlin (right), and his diminutive doppelganger, Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna (left).
The gimlet eyed “Hinky Dink” (above) received his nickname because he stood just 5 feet tall. He was normally “…glum and quietly dressed”, and usually chewing on a cigar. He was a teetotaler, and his wife was temperance worker. He also was an Alderman, as well as owning and operating several bars and gambling houses in the Levee, the most famous of which was The Workingman’s Exchange on Clark Street.
Here barflies, bums, tramps and the homeless could find beer for a nickel, a free lunch and a job as a “repeater”, come Election Day. Given pre-marked ballots by “Ward Heelers” who walked the district, these men spread out to various polling places, where they would trade their pre-marked ballots for blanks. They then returned to the Exchange and handed in their blanks for payment of fifty cents each. While they drank a free beer, their new ballots would be marked and the game would go another round. In twenty years neither "Hinky Dink" nor "Bathhouse" John Coughlin ever lost an election.
“Bathhouse” earned his nickname because he began as an attendant of a bath house, a Levee euphemism for a gambling joint. Coughlin was oversized and overdressed and prone to outbursts of poetry, such as his infamous “She sleeps by the Drainage Canal” and “Why did they build the lovely lake so close to the horrible shore?” His typical “Signs of Spring “concluded, “There are many other signs of spring which come by wireless wire; One of which is Yours Sincerely, who is tuning up his lyre. Just to twang a song to nature 'bout the brooks and fields of green; O, I wonder if I'm understood; I wonder, yes, I ween.”
One of Chicago’s mayors asked Hinky Dink if Bathhouse was just crazy or a drug addict. Hinky Dink replied, “To tell you the god’s truth, Mayor, they ain’t found a name for it yet.” These two men had a genius for skimming protection money from the Levee. Their enforcement arm was the Chicago Police, and in addition to their weekly take of up to a thousand dollars per establishment, they sold tickets to the annual First Ward Ball. In the words of one web site, “Every employee of a house of ill-repute or gambling den, every robber, pickpocket, safe-cracker, and streetwalker, and every bartender, bawdy house entertainer, and low groggery proprietor, all were required to buy tickets…”
The Ball was held each December, and Ike Bloom, owner of “Freiberg’s Dance Hall”, was responsible for selling the tickets. Ike was half clown and half cold blooded killer, whose club was “the most notorious place in Chicago”, which was quite a charge, considering. The ball was billed as a charity, and in 1906, as the press began to unearth the Levee on their front pages, a reporter from the Tribune asked Hinky Dink where all money went. Hinky Dink replied, “Charity, education, burying the dead, and general ward benefits for the people” Asked what he meant by ‘education’, Hinky got a little testy. “It consists of hiring good halls and good speakers to teach the people of the First ward to vote the straight Democratic ticket.” And that was the end of that interview.
Each year the First Ward Ball grew in size and sank in reputation. The 1908 festivity attracted “20,000 drunken, yelling, brawling revelers” who filled the Chicago Coliseum on South Wabash Avenue and clogged the streets outside. When the Law And Order League tried to stop the orgy, they inspired Bathhouse to write, “Strike up the march, professor, and I will lead the way; We'll trip the light fantastic too, until the break of day. Who knows that ere another ball, we'll be outside the city hall; Be gay, but not too gay.” And Hinky Dink groused, “But whenever you hear one of them fellows shouting that Hinky Dink is a menace to society and that he has horns, just keep your hand on your watch. Savvy?”
One newspaper  attempted to describe the scene inside the Coliseum. “The crowd was so enormous that when women fainted – a common occurrence – they had to be passed overhead from hand to hand towards the exits. Cigar smoke settled on the floor in such thick fogs that visibility was no greater than 30 feet in any direction. The noise of shuffling feet and murmuring overpowered the sound of the dance band, and fist-fights and shoving erupted in all quarters. When Lyman Atwell, photographer for the Tribune…began setting up his flash and tripod, security notified (Bathhouse) who…personally jumped on Atwell, breaking his camera and knocking him to the ground…
"As usual, things started to get interesting at midnight, when the regiments of madams and their inmates showed up, led by the Everleigh Sisters. This caused another influx of thousands of men to attempt to enter the building…”  Hinky Dink lorded over the affair from a table off the main floor. Then, at midnight, Bathhouse, wearing a green jacket, a mauve vest, lavender pants and a stove pipe silk hat led a winding Conga Line called The Grand March. Said the newspsper, “The most infamous party in Chicago history lasted until 5 a.m., when the last drunken revelers staggered out…”
But, since the death of the Fields, the millionaires were speaking with their feet, abandoning their mansions, and moving to the safer Gold Coast and later to the northern suburbs. One newspaper observed that Prairie  Avenue had become undesirable to those who it was affordable, and unaffordable to those for whom it was desirable. At the same time it seemed the reformers were gaining power. The establishments in the Levee began to scatter. The 1908 First Ward Ball would prove to be the last.
The mayor finally ordered the Everleigh club (above) closed in October of 1911. The sisters walked away with $1,000,000 in cash. Minna took the change philosophically. “If it weren't for married men”, she admitted, “we couldn't have carried on at all, and if it weren't for cheating married women we could have made another million.” Minna died in 1948, Ada died in 1960. She was 93.
Bathhouse John Coughlin served 46 years as a Chicago Alderman. He died in 1938, $50,000 in debt. “Hinky Dink” Kenna spent the last years of his life alienated from his family, living in a suite in the Blackstone hotel, cared for only by a male nurse. He died in 1946. He left behind a million dollars…in cash. His will stipulated that $33,000 of it should be set aside to construct a mausoleum for his grave. His survivors had Hinky’s the will set aside. Instead they marked his passing with an $85 wooden tombstone.
At Hinky’s funeral, half the pews were empty, and few sent flowers. As one old First Ward lobbygog (Ward Heeler) put it, “If you don't go to other people's funerals, they won't go to yours.”
In truth it was not the reformers or the Law and Order League that put the Levee out of business. Few were foolish enough to believe that all those sinners had repented. What killed the sin of the Levee was the coming of Prohibition, which freed the Levee from its confinement, and let it spread out and multiply. The new Prince of Chicago sin was “Big Jim” Colosimo, the man who brought Al Capone to Chicago and who married Victoria Shaw. As Hinky Dink explained, “Chicago ain't no sissy town.”
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

S'NOUT YOUR BUSINESS

I don’t know why they call it the “Pig War”. The pig wasn’t mad at anybody. From the sketchy description we have it seems likely he was a Large Black, a breed “…known for its very docile nature, and …unaggressive temperament…”, according to Wikipedia. It would seem more logical then to call it “Lyman Cutlar’s War”, since he was the one with the musket, and he was pretty worked up on the morning of June 15, 1859, when he said he discovered the "scrofa domesticus" rooting in his potato patch. An unidentified male human was, according to Lyman, leaning on Lyman’s fence and laughing at the pig’s efforts. So outraged was Lyman that he immediately fetched his musket and dispatched the offending porker to Hog-Heaven, whereupon the human ran into the woods;' or so Lyman said.
Okay, it wasn’t charging Cossacks, and the pig wasn’t Napoleon from Animal Farm. But Lyman was an American and the two-toed ungulant was the property of the English owned Hudson’s Bay Company - and you get the feeling that somebody was looking for an excuse to start a shooting war.
In 1846 the United States and Great Britain thought they had avoided just this kind of trouble by agreeing to a Canadian border along the 49th parallel westward from the Rocky Mountains to the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The border line on the map then made a jog to the south to allow the already settled Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island to remain on the British side of the border.
The problem was that right in the middle of the strait were the San Juan Islands, the largest of which was the 54 square miles of the island of San Juan. When the original border was drawn nobody in London or Washington knew the islands were there. But as soon as London realized the truth, The Hudson Bay Company opened a sheep ranch, Belle Vue Farm, on the south coast of San Juan island, and notified the Americans that they now considered all of the San Juan islands to be English property.
The Americans countered, in 1853, by creating Washington Territory, and incorporating the islands into its Whatcom County. Washington Territory even dispatched a sheriff to San Juan to collect taxes, and arrest the scofflaws, i.e. English citizens. But Charles Griffin, the Belle Vue Farm manager, (and owner of the aforementioned pig) treated the warrent as if it were a joke. The sheriff returned home, dragging 30 kidnapped and bleating sheep as compensation.
And there the situation probably would have remained, except that in March of 1858 gold was discovered in British Columbia. This drew an instant wave of American prospectors, the vast majority of whom did not find any gold. But, over the winter of 1858/59, about 30 of the ambitious, restless but thin-blooded Americans, including one Lyman Cutlar, escaped the brutal Canadian winter along the Fraser River by moving to the more temperate coastal climate. Once aboard San Juan island, and being belivers in "Manifest Destiny", they immediately started behaving as if they were the landlords, including executing English pigs for eating American potatoes.
This might be the place to point out that I think Layman Cutlar’s story is too convenient. He claims the pig invaded his potato patch on the very anniversary of the signing of the 1846 treaty, June 15th. Secondly, he mentions a human witness and a fence, both important proof of ownership under American homesteader law. And then there was his behavior post his pork-a-cide.
Lyman offer to pay ten dollars for the deceased little ham hock, a fair price back east. But this being the wilds of British Columbia Mr. Griffin (above) demanded one hundred dollars, a more accurate if slightly inflated quotation. When Lyman refused to even counter that offer, an arrest warrant was issued for Lyman Cutlar. And even though the warrant was never executed the Americans appealed to their local governor of Washington Territory, for a redress of grievances.
That request eventually went to Brigadier General William Selby Harney (above), a native Tennesaen who had inherited Andrew Jacksons hatred of the British and the command of Washington Territory. Harney immediately dispatched 66 soldiers to San Juan, under the command of the mecurial Captain George Picket.
Being a hopeless romantic George Picket arrived on San Juan and announced, “We’ll make a Bunker Hill of it”, even though his orders were to avoid shooting (and evidently not remembering that Bunker Hill was a defeat). Picket encouraged his men to taunt the British sailors and marines dispatched to keep an eye on the Americans. It seems he was also hoping to start a shooting war.
Pickett's provocative behavior led to British and then American and then to more British reinforcements, until there were five British warships with 2,000 men and 70 cannons anchored off San Juan island, facing less than 500 Americans with 14 cannons. The island had become a powder keg guarded by children playing with matches.
It was at this point that President of the United States James Buchanan first learned about the dead pig on San Juan…from the newspapers. He ordered 77 year old General-in-chief Winfield Scott to get out there and get things under control. The President would probably have agreed with the British Admiral who said the players on the scene seemed determined to “…involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig”.
It took the ancient Scott (above) eight months to travel from Washington, D.C. across the Isthmus of Panama and then up the coast to Washington Territory. But once there he quickly negotiated a truce. Both sides agreed to reduce their forces to 100 men each, and, at British insistance, Picket was replaced. Immediately a sensible calm was restored.
Tourists boated out from Vancouver to observe the dueling artillery practices and stare at the soldiers , while officers from both sides shared whiskey and cigars in manager Charles Griffin’s home. I'm willing to bet that they also shared an occasional ham. Certain that an eventual compromise would be reached, and having the distraction of a civil war looming back on the East Coast, Scott wasted no time in returning.
But almost the minute General Scott left Washington Territory, General Harney ordered Picket back to San Juan Island to resume his beligerant command. Clearly Harney’s intent was to stir up more trouble. But when word of Pickett’s reinstatement reached Washington, D.C., Harney was immediately relieved of his command. And that was pretty much the end of General Harney’s career. He was allowed to quietly retire in 1863, just about the time that his former junior officer, George Pickett, was directing a charge of 15,000 rebels across the battlefield at Gettysburg.
If Pickett had succeeded in starting a war with England over San Juan Island in 1860, I have to wonder if he would have still resigned his commission that year and joined the Confederacy. Or perhaps his and Harney’s plan had been all along to distract Washington with a war against England, making it easier for the South to seccede. There were plenty of Americans in 1860, including Abraham Lincoln’s new Secretary of State, William Seward, who thought a war with England would rally the south back to defense of the American Union.
All such ideas were pipe dreams. It is not an accident that Lyman Cutlar disappeared from history when no war was fought in defense of his potato patch. He also disappeared from San Juan island. The border dispute was finally settled in 1871, when America and England submitted to “binding arbitration”, overseen by Kaiser William I of Germany. And in 1872 The Kaiser awarded the San Juan Islands to America. So America won the islands without anybody else being killed, not even another pig.
Every morning on San Juan Island, Washington state, U.S. Park Service Rangers raise the stars and stripes over the "American Camp" on the south coast of the island, and the the British Union Jack over the north coast; this is the only spot on American soil where the U.S. government affords honors to a foreign flag, in memory of two nations too sensible to fight a war, and of a pig who gave his life that others might  live.
http://www.nps.gov/sajh/historyculture/the-pig-war.htm
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

HOW TO END A WAR - PART SIX OF SIX

I have to wonder what the thoughts were of the Japanese emissaries, as they arrived back in le Shima Island. Were they seeing their lives as sacrificed in the service of their country? Were they daunted by what the future might hold for Japan, for them? Were they encouraged by the firm courtesy they had found in Manila? The long flight back to la Shima must have been a flight in the dark, across the sunny western Pacific.
Then, upon landing back at le Shima, there was bad news. The Betty damaged upon landing was not yet ready for a return flight to Japan. Within the delegation suspicions were raised about possible American sabotage. Quietly, all documents related to the surrender arraignments were divided between the two aircraft,  for safety.
Late in the afternoon the single Betty carrying the head of the delegation, General Torashiro Kawabe (above), and seven other members of the group, lifted off from the le Shima airstrip.
They were accompanied by American fighters for a short time before continuing the flight back to Japan alone. It had been an emotionally exhausting forty-eight hours. They had been, and remained, in constant fear of being shot down – by fanatics from both sides. And then there had been the uncertainty of what to expect from the enemy, along with the shame and humiliation of having to help their nation surrender to the hated Americans. It is no wonder that shortly after the plane left the ground General Kawabe and the other passengers fell asleep.
And then, just after midnight, August 21, one the pilots woke up his passengers to inform them that a fuel tank had sprung a leak, and one engine had begun to miss...and they were losing altitude and were about to crash into the dark ocean. Life jackets were quickly pulled on.  All of the surrender documents were given to Foreign Ministry representative, Katsuo Okazaki, because he had once been in the Olympics (in 1924!).
Then, before they were really ready, the plane slammed into the ocean. The passengers were thrown about the cabin as the plane bounced, and again, off the wave tops, until suddenly it stopped, and seemed to settle for a moment into the waves. Both pilots rushed from the cockpit, and while one tried to calm the passengers, the other ripped opened the rear door. Water rushed into the cabin and the pilot leaped out…into waist deep water. Somehow the crew had managed to bring their injured aircraft back right to the shore line of Japan.
Through twenty feet of surf was the beach in front of the tiny village of Hamamatsu, about 130 miles south of Tokyo. The passengers quickly waded to dry land. A fisherman was rudely awakened and reluctantly enlisted to show the soaked delegates to a telephone. A call to a nearby air base provided transport back to the capital, where, at last, half of the required documents arrived just seven hours behind schedule.
The next morning the second Betty, carefully repaired by the Americans, made an uneventful flight back to Japan with the other half of the surrender documents.
And on September 2nd , 1945, crash survivors General Kawabe and Katsuo Okazaki stood on the deck of the USS Missouri to sign the surrender documents, another emotionally exhausting day.
What had been settled in Manila, in simple direct conversations, was that all Japanese soldiers would be disarmed by their own officers all across China and Burma and Japan, before Allied troops arrived in their area; another compromise.  But when the Americans (or British or Australians) arrived, the arms were then turned over to them; another compromise.
It was not the draconian surrender required in the Potsdam Statement, but rather a compromise, because suddenly peace was more important than complete and unconditional surrender.
The Russians had not abided by the American/Japanese ceasefire. They were still grabbing Japanese territory, right up until the occupation had begun.  Their occupation of the Northern Japanese islands was the event, not the atomic bombs, that shook both the U.S.'s and Japan's narrow view of the conflict. and the compromise by the two enemies stopped the Soviets before they could grab a share of the main home Japanese islands. Both partners in the Pacific bloodbath came to the realization that the issue was not just victory and defeat, but what sort of victory, and what sort of defeat.
So the speedy U.S. occupation of Japan was now the allied interest of both winner and loser. The entrance of a third party - The Soviet Union - had broken off the blinders. On the American side the hunger to humiliate the Japanese was sublimated by the practical pragmatic desire to end to the killing and stabilize Japan as quickly as possible.
And at 9AM, on August 28, an advance party of 150 communications engineers had landed at Atsugi Naval Airfield, 20 miles southwest of Tokyo. They were the first Americans to land in Japan, and they were met by disarmed and obedient Japanese soldiers and sailors. Three hours later 38 C-54 transports arrived with security forces, supplies and equipment required to prepare the airfield for the arrival of U.S. forces. And then, on August 30th, the main occupation began. One C-54 carrying 44 men landed every three minutes, bringing in over the course of the day over 4,200 combat ready troops of the 11th Airborne division. At the same time men of the 6th Marine division landed without opposition at Yokosuka Naval base. The entirely peaceful occupation of Japan had begun two days before the peace treaty was signed aboard the battleship. It would continue, peacefully, until 1951.
The Second World War in the Pacific was finally over. Two icons of a by gone era posed for the image to mark the end of a war neither had clearly understood, even now that it was over. But at least the mass murder had stopped, for awhile. The atomic bombs had not ended the war, but they had contributed to the end. They had brought on the revelation in Japan that the goals that justified starting the war were no longer dominant. And once again victors and vanquished had learned anew, that no matter how unconditional the victory, no matter how total the defeat, no war ends without talking to the enemy. And the ending of this war, like the ending of all wars,  required courage and conversation and compromise, despite what you might have heard elsewhere.
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