12 Fateful Days in Chicago, by City of Scoundrels Author Gary Krist
In City of Scoundrels, journalist Gary Krist shares the story of twelve disastrous days in Chicago that helped shape the city into what it is today. Here, he boils down his book to a timeline that will quite likely leave you thinking about a whole other side of the Windy City.
The history of any large metropolis is a litany of conflict, punctuated by frequent periods of civil unrest, political dysfunction, and natural or manmade disaster. But few cities have ever been tested the way Chicago was in the chaotic summer of 1919, when the city went from a state of high optimism about its future to the brink of civic collapse and martial law, all over the course of a few short weeks. The crisis culminated in the last twelve days of July, when Chicago suffered a bizarre series of disasters that was arguably the worst thing to hit the Second City since the great fire of 1871. Chicago would survive, of course, but the effects of those twelve days of urban mayhem would be felt for many years to come.
Monday, July 21
The Wingfoot Express, a Goodyear blimp making an afternoon exhibition flight over the city, catches fire and crashes into the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank in the Loop, leaving thirteen dead and dozens wounded.
Tuesday, July 22
City officials launch an inquest into the Wingfoot disaster as transit talks begin to falter. Rumors fly of an impending strike that would paralyze the city.
Six-year-old Janet Wilkinson goes missing on the city's North Side.
Wednesday, July 23
All-out search for Janet Wilkinson consumes the city.
Thomas Fitzgerald, Janet's next-door neighbor, arrested as prime suspect.
Thursday, July 24
Round-the-clock interrogation of Fitzgerald. He admits nothing, but Mrs. Fitzgerald is overheard whispering to him: "You did it! You did it!"
Friday, July 25
Transit talks move closer to a breakdown.
Panicked Chicago parents call for action against a perceived epidemic of child predators.
Saturday, July 26
City residents demand action as police launch last-ditch effort to get Fitzgerald to talk.
Sunday, July 27
After an all-night "fourth degree," Fitzgerald breaks down at dawn and confesses to the murder of Janet Wilkinson. He leads police to her body in his basement.
Fueled by tensions building all year, a late-afternoon racial incident at a South Side beach spirals into one of the worst race riots in American history.
Monday, July 28
Illinois militia called and "held in readiness" at armories across city.
Transit talks reach impasse as Mayor and Governor clash.
Rioting intensifies at nightfall, much worse than the first night — 18 dead, 172 injured.
Transit strike begins, immobilizing the city at its most vulnerable moment.
Tuesday, July 29
Chaos reigns as Chicago tries to function without trains or streetcars. Thousands forced onto the dangerous streets.
Janet Wilkinson is buried as rioting spreads throughout the city — North Side, West Side, even the Loop. Calls for militia go unheeded. "Chicago," Ida Wells-Barnett writes in the Daily Journal, "is weak and helpless before the mob."
Wednesday, July 30
Mutiny in the City Council as aldermen demand martial law. The Mayor refuses.
Rioters turn to widespread arson as violence escalates all over city — death toll reaches thirty-six, hundreds more injured.
9 PM: After days-long standoff with Governor, Mayor finally relents and orders deployment of the militia.
Thursday, July 31
Armed troops march through city, engaging rioters in all-out gun battles that resemble war scenes.
Violence gradually brought under control as troops lock down entire sections of the city.
Friday, August 1
Transit strike ends as militia troops gain the upper hand.
Arsonists torch Back o' the Yards neighborhood — the last act of the riot before order is restored.