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Tales of Forgotten Chicago

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

On March 9, Rich Lindberg regaled the Levy Lecture crowd with wonderfully detailed stories about obscure happenings in and around Chicago in a presentation titled, “Tales of Forgotten Chicago.” As the author of a book with the same title — one of 20 he has penned — Mr. Lindberg skillfully meshes his skills as a journalist, historian, and writer in his presentations, aided by photographs of people, maps, and other ephemera.

Lifelong Chicagoans are as captivated by his anecdotes as those who are new to the Midwest. Mr. Lindberg specializes in American history from the period after the Civil War until about 1918. Some of the stories he discussed were about famous Chicagoans like the humble Montgomery Ward and the pragmatic William Wrigley Jr., as well as Chicago landmarks, such as Grant Park and Wrigley Field.

Mr. Lindberg described the rise and fall of the haunted Schuttler House; he told how, in November 1916, the new Archbishop of Chicago, George W. Mundelein, escaped a brush with death a mere three days after arriving in Chicago from Brooklyn, N. Y.; and he shared the sad tale of the Rouse Simmons, Chicago’s Christmas Tree ship.

The section “Where Time Began” explained how the United States’ 8,000 regional time zones were effectively collapsed into four by Dr. Charles Ferdinand Dowd. Dr. Dowd came up with a practical, easy- to-implement, and efficient solution in 1869 to end the time zone chaos, but powerful railroad barons refused to consider it or make any scheduling changes.

Eventually the changes were adopted at the Railroad Time-Table Convention held in Chicago at the Grand Pacific Hotel, October 11-13, 1883. A plaque on the exterior wall of 231 S. LaSalle Street commemorates this event and marks the location of the former hotel where the Railroad Time-Table Convention took place.

Perhaps the most shocking story Mr. Lindberg shared was about Elisha Gray of Highland Park. Mr. Lindberg posited that Mr. Gray should be the rightful holder of the patent for the invention of the telephone instead of Alexander Graham Bell. There were bribes offered and accepted, lies told, and a corrupt official in the U.S. Patent Office who shared Mr. Gray’s proprietary research with Mr. Gray’s competitor, Mr. Bell.

Congressional hearings and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court came close to achieving justice for Mr. Gray, but in the end, fell short.

Despite the disappointment about the telephone patent, Elisha Gray did not stop inventing. He developed an effective method of underwater communication: he invented a way for submarines to signal their locations and avoid collisions with one another. Mr. Gray died in 1901 in a suburb outside of Boston, Mass. An encore of Mr. Lindberg’s presentation and the Q&A period that followed is available on the Levy Senior Center Foundation’s YouTube channel.

By Wendi Kromash as published in the Evanston RoundTable. Ms. Kromash is a member of the Levy Center Foundation Board; she manages and moderates the Levy Lecture Series.


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