This week in Illinois history: Jan. 7-13
Jan. 7, 1967—Chicago. Fire ravages McCormick Place on Lake Shore Drive. In the wee hours of the morning, during a housewares exhibition, a trickle of smoke caught the attention of some janitors. Though well intentioned, their efforts to douse the flame without sounding an alarm (they used carpet and brooms to try to smother it) proved disastrous. Unfortunately, the small blaze soon grew into a five-alarm catastrophe, made worse by lack of water pressure at nearby hydrants. By the time it was over (10 a.m.), the exhibition hall was in ruins.
Jan. 8, 1993—Palatine. Brown’s Chicken and Pasta owners Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt are killed along with five other workers in a robbery gone bad. Once the robbers seized $2,000 in cash, they turned their deadly aim toward the couple and five employees. Police learned of the crime hours later, when family members reported the workers didn't come home from work. A decade later, police implicated a former worker and his cohort in the massacre.
Jan. 9, 1893—Chicago. World's Columbian Exposition draws enthusiastic crowds. According to the Illinois History Journal’s Digital Research Library, this gala was a triumphant return of sorts for the city damaged by an infamous fire two decades earlier. Companies closed their doors to allow employee attendance, and “tremendous crowds, fabulous parades, special ceremonies and breathtaking fireworks” greeted the revelers. Almost three-quarters of a million people attended, the journal says.
Jan. 10, 1949—Springfield. Gov. Adlai E. Stevenson takes office. Known as an “eloquent speaker” and a man of great intellect, Stevenson nevertheless lost the presidency twice to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1950s. Critics said he was “out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.” But voters still felt his political impact. In the 1930s, he urged his fellow Midwesterners to defend Europe in WWII, and as a United Nations ambassador, he spoke in favor of addressing the blight of poverty.
Jan. 11, 1998—Springfield. Democrat Jesse White becomes the first African-American secretary of state. An Alton native, White came to politics after graduating from Alabama State College, serving in the military and playing professional baseball, according to his biography on The History Makers website. After several years of teaching physical education in Illinois schools, he ran for a seat in the General Assembly in 1974. Eighteen years later, he switched to local politics as Cook County recorder of deeds, and by 1998, he became Illinois's secretary of state.
Jan. 12, 1857—Springfield. William H. Bissell is sworn in as governor. Though Bissell was a medical doctor (he graduated from Philadelphia Medical College in 1835), he later earned a law degree and served in the state legislature. After serving in the Mexican War, he again practiced law and later was elected governor, despite a case of paralysis of his legs. Unfortunately, he contracted pneumonia and passed away in office.
Jan. 13, 1960—Gurnee. Actor Kevin Anderson is born. A performer on both stage and screen, Anderson has co-starred with Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Michelle Pfeiffer and other big names in Hollywood. His ambition landed him a role in Risky Business, the 1983 Tom Cruise vehicle. He later had roles in Miles from Home, In Country and Death of a Salesman. In a Chicago Tribune profile, he once admitted liking pizza, beer and hot fudge sundaes and owning a yellow Jaguar XKE.