This week in Illinois history: Dec. 17-23
Dec. 17, 2003 — Chicago. A federal grand jury indicts former Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, on racketeering charges. After a decade-long investigation, Ryan faced charges surrounding his involvement in an illegal scheme to sell drivers licenses while he was Illinois Secretary of State. As the Chicago Tribune reported, a trucker with an illegal license purchased through this scheme accidentally killed six children in a vehicle crash. The scandal tainted Ryan and many in his administration, resulting in the indictment of dozens of ex-employees. Ryan received six and a half years in federal prison.
Dec. 18, 1896 — Illinois. The first interscholastic basketball contest in Illinois pits the girls’ teams from Austin and Oak Park high schools. According to the Chicago Tribune, this first girls high school game happened more than 120 years ago, rather than the 1970 date modern historians gave. Sportswriter Robert Pruter uncovered the earlier game during research on the sport’s Illinois history. “If Pruter’s findings are accurate, the girls were shooting hoops when boys were confined to playing indoor baseball with a 16-inch softball during the winter,” the Tribune states.
Dec. 19, 1834 — Illinois. Jasper County's 1831 formation is approved. Though they fought Revolutionary War battles in South Carolina, Sergeants William Jasper and John Newton have namesake cities and counties in states across the country. So it is with Illinois’s Jasper County, and its county seat, Newton. As the town’s historical website says, some 60 years after the two fought their battles, the Illinois town was formed. Today, the city boasts almost 3,000 residents.
Dec. 20, 1976 — Chicago. Mayor Richard J. Daley dies in office. As the progenitor of a two-generation political dynasty, Daley “was among the most famous big city mayors of the 20th century,” the Illinois Historical Society reports. The fame also made him a target of critics of his handling of racial violence upon the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Daley’s son, Richard M. Daley, was mayor from 1989-2011, eclipsing his father’s 21-year tenure in office by one year.
Dec. 21, 1978 — Des Plaines. Police arrest John Wayne Gacy for murder. After search warrants uncovered “a 1975 class ring, other people’s drivers licenses, handcuffs, a syringe” and human remains in a crawl space at Gacy’s home, police knew they had the man behind the disappearance of more than two dozen teenage boys over the previous six years. According to ReasonableDoubt.org, the notorious serial killer ultimately confessed to a string of lurid crimes, leading to his conviction and 1994 execution.
Dec. 22, 1910 — Chicago. A fire breaks out in Union Stockyards’ Warehouse 7. Four decades after the Chicago blaze allegedly started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, another conflagration wrought mayhem on the Windy City’s business district. The fire inside a meat-packing plant caused a wall to collapse, claiming the lives of 21 firemen. It remained “the deadliest building collapse involving firefighters” until the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Dec. 23, 1824 — Illinois. Settlers honor statesman and Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay by forming his namesake county. Clay’s loss of the presidency to John Quincy Adams did little to dampen Illinois’s appreciation of Clay’s accomplishments, including his service in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State under President J.Q. Adams. Opposition to President Andrew Jackson’s stance on blocking a national bank charter and enacting agricultural tariffs marked Clay’s later senate career.