Thursday, July 21, 2016

This day in Chicago history

Former Channel 7 reporter Paul Meincke posts these incredible "This day in Chicago history" segments on his facebook page. You should check them out. This is the one he posted today, and it's a story I have never heard before...

July 21 - This day in history - 1919: The hydrogen-filled dirigible Wingfoot Air Express takes off from Grant Park for a short trip to the White City Amusement Park. Chicago Daily News photographer Milton Norton asks if the dirigible can make a swing over the downtown area so he could take some pictures of Chicago's changing and already impressive skyline. Pilot Jack Boettner says OK and the Wingfoot starts a slow pass over the loop. Suddenly a small fire breaks out, and with hydrogen to feed on, it becomes an immediate inferno. Boettner and his chief mechanic Harry Wacker have parachutes and jump to safety. A second mechanic, Henry Weaver, died when his parachute caught fire. Passenger Earl Davenport, a publicity agent for the White City amusement park jumped, but his parachute got caught in the rigging and he did not survive. With its superstructure engulfed in flames the Wingfoot crashes through a huge skylight at the Illinois Trust and Savings bank at LaSalle and Jackson. The flaming debris falls on top of dozens of bank employees who are finishing their work day. Ten of them are killed in what was - at the time - the worst dirigible disaster in U-S history. Photographer Milton Norton broke both legs when he jumped. He later died in the hospital but not before continually asking if his photography had survived the crash. It did not. The Wingfoot tragedy would begin one of the most remarkable weeks in Chicago history - a week that included fierce racial tension that led to riots, a crippling transit strike, the murder of a young girl that stunned the city. The incredible week (actually 12 days) is documented in Gary Krist's compelling book "City of Scoundrels".