The Cubs and the Curse of the Billy Goat

“You know the law of averages? they say anything will happen that can / but the last time the cubs won the national league pennant / was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan!” – Steve Goodman, 1982. Still correct.*

Every Chicagoan knows the story – in 1945, the last time the Cubs were in the World Series, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern tried to bring a live goat to Wrigley Field. In some versions of the story, the goat was a regular spectator. When the owner was told that he had to get the goat out of the stadium, he put a curse on the Cubs, saying that they would not only lose the world series that year (which they did), but they would never win the pennant again. Over 60 years later, the curse seems to be in full effect.

Columnist Mike Royko publicized this story back in the 70s, when the Cubs string of years without a pennant was starting to seem noticeably long. In our dig through the Tribune archives, we actually found a story that backs the story of the goat up – at least a little. More than I expected, anyway:

from the Trib,Oct 7, 1945:
“Andy Frain employed 525 ushers and other attendants to handle the capacity throng…he had trouble with only one fan, Billy Sianis, owner of a tavern near Chicago Stadium, who insisted on bringing a goat into the box section…. Sianis had a ticket for the goat, which was paraded through the American league area of front box customers…The critter wore a blanket on which was pinned a sign reading “We Got Detroit’s Goat.”….Frain finally convinced Sianis goats should be with the Navy football team.

* – contrary to rumor, Goodman’s ashes are not underneath home plate. Most likely, his ashes were scattered at the field surreptitiously by his friends.

The Chicken Man #2

We’ve already talked a bit about the Chicken Man of Chicago, but he’s worth another post just so I can post this wonderful photo that I got from Joe at Imperial Hardware:

“That chicken did everything but talk!” says Joe.

The Chicken Man’s real name was Anderson Punch, but he went by Casey Jones, after the song he sang most often, for much of his life. Born in 1870, he came to Chicago around 1914 and went to work as a street musician. After his accordion broke, he took up training chickens. At any given time, he had three or four trained chickens, traveling around the city having them do tricks and dancing to his accordion and harmonica. He was a well known figure around the city for more than half a century; when one of his chickens died, there was a public funeral at a vacant lot on State Street. On more than one occasion he was hauled into court for one reason or another (usually obstructing traffic) and got out by having his chickens do their act. In 1971, he was still performing on the south side when he celebrated his 101st birthday. He died in 1974.

One interesting thing to note is that he hit every corner on the south side, but, as of the 1940s, said that his favorite place, financially, was at 63rd and Halsted – only a couple of blocks from the site of the H.H. Holmes murder castle. Imagine standing outside of the castle (which was still standing until 1938) and watching a dancing chicken in front of it – how surreal can you get?

Look for more on the chicken man and other such Chicago icons in our upcoming book – up for pre-order soon!

The “Curse” of Captain Streeter

Another guy about whom we have an insane amount of contemporary documents is the one and only Captain George Wellington Streeter – creator of Streeterville. As of the 1880s, Lake Michigan went all the way to Michigan Avenue. In much of the downtown area, everything east of Dearborn St. was still sand.

But then along came Cap Streeter. He had been sailing his houseboat around Lake Michigan, intending to sail to South America to become a gun runner, but, after crashing on the shore near the city, he hit on a different business plan: charging people money to dump their garbage around his boat. The massive landfill he created is still called Streeterville today.

But, being a bit of an eccentric, Streeter decided that the land was not only his property, but his own country, The District of Michigan, of which he was “lord emperor.” Soon, it seemed that every bum in the city was emigrating to the “deestrickt,” and a regular shanty town was set up, blocking the rich people’s formerly unobstructed lake view.

This set of a thirty year battle between Streeter and the city that included both courtroom drama and actual gunfights. Streeter was one of the best known characters in the city.

In interviews with the guy that we’ve dug up, he sounds quite a bit like Popeye, only considerably more verbose – the city might be a very different place today if he’d ever gotten ahold of a can of spinach!

Having lost The Battle of Garbage Hill, Streeter died in the 1920s a disappointed man, still insisting that the district was his. Rumor has it that he cursed the whole district on his deathbed, but, given that Streeterville is now just about the fanciest part of the city, I have to imagine that if the curse story is true, he must have been TERRIBLE at cursing things. We do know that he passed ownership and the title of emperor on to the owner of the infamous Dil Pickle club, whose attempts to run people off the land and take possession of it lasted about five minutes.

Bughouse Square #1 – The Bird Woman

Bughouse Square, the park formally known as Washington Square on Clark Street just above Chicago avenue, was known for decades as Chicago’s Free Speech Park. People used to gather nightly to make speeches and heckle other speakers – up to 3000 people per night would show up when the weather was good. It was THE place to be for Chicago area weirdos for nearly a century up until about 1960. Today, we launch a new series that will feature some of these historical Chicagoans individually, beginning with…


While not known to make speeches, the Bird Woman was a familiar site in the park around the 1930s and 40s. She was sort of like the “Feed the Birds” woman from “Mary Poppins,” with one major difference: she was psychotic!

During this time, Bughouse Square was pretty generally thought of as a real dump, littered with drunks, bums and garbage. But the little old bird woman would stake out a spot early each day, asking “have you fed the birds today, dearie?” to anyone passing by.

If you were so foolish as to say you had not, she would work herself into a fever pitch with a tirade that the Tribune quoted at length in 1942:

“And the life of man who walketh upon the Earth is not worth one cent!” she would rail, “while the life of birds who fly in the air transcends all! And you, you transgressor who feedeth not the birds, your life is not worth half of one cent! I am the one appointed by God to feed his birds! God in heaven smiles at me, but you, but you….”

At this point, according to reporters who dared not quote her further, the speech would descend into a mix of religion and profanity as she chased the poor people through the park.

For more on Bughouse Square, see here.

“Al Capone, a punk hoodlum…”

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of running a mini walking tour of a Capone site for a group of 11 year olds from Evanston who were part of a book group that just read an excellent book called “Al Capone Does My Shirts.” We got snowed on pretty badly, but I, for one, had a great time.

Capone walking tours are tricky, because the few actual Capone-related sites left in the city aren’t really walking distance from one another. There’s hardly a building in the city that Capone isn’t said to have owned or used as a hang out, but practically none of those stories are true. Capone was only in charge of the city for about five or six years, spent most of that time at his Miami retreat, and had to keep a low profile when he was in the city to keep from getting killed. Buying up buildings wouldn’t have been safe for him, as it would have made it that much harder for him to cover his tracks and his finances. Strip away the myth from the man and what you have is a thug with a great sense of PR. It’s true that Capone and his fellow gangsters had tunnels all over the place, but they didn’t BUILD them; they just used them. Most of them were built for drainage, coal delivery, etc. They certainly were convenient for the gangsters, though!

By way of getting some of the real facts about him, the IRS has just released several historical records related to Uncle Al, one of which describes him as “a punk hoodlum.” Fascinating stuff!

The Foolkiller Submarine

NOTE: the post below is from the very early days of the blog. We now have a FAR MORE DETAILED POST ON THE FOOLKILLER HERE



original post:

For all our talk of ghosts and murderers, my favorite thing to talk about may be The Foolkiller Submarine that was found in the Chicago River in 1915. We even have old advertisements for it on our bus!

It was found a few months after the Eastland Disaster by “Frenchy” Deneau, a diver who had dragged up about 250 bodies after the infamous disaster, and raised very late in 1915. In 1916, they found the remains of a dead guy and a dead dog inside of it. For a while, they put the thing on display on South State Street – for a dime you could see the sub, the bones, and a speech by Deneau himself. If you brought 10 or more kids on Saturday morning, they got in for half the price. Imagine: “Hey kid…wanna see a dead body? Got a nickel?”

So, how long had the sub been in the river? Who was the dead guy on board? What happened to it?

The short answer is, we don’t know. The Tribune initially said it was a craft built, and sunk, around 1870, then was raised, and promptly sunk, by Peter Nissen. They may have said this just because it seemed like the kind of thing he would have done, though. Then they started saying it was owned by a guy named WILLIAM Nissen, but that may have simply been a mistake. Most of the recent speculation is that it was built by an Indiana shoemaker named Lodner Darvantis Phillips in the 1840s. None of these stories is necessarily the correct answer, though.

One again, we now have far more info right here!

H.H. Holmes in Wicker Park #1

We’ve dug up more information that makes us feel that we can now confidently say that the Frank Wilde who owned Frank Wilde’s Fruit and Candy Store was actually just an alias for H.H. Holmes, the murder castle builder of newfound “Devil in the White City” fame. The location of the place was variously given as 1151 or 1152 Milwaukee in the Tribune, but other papers went with 1151 and it seems as though 1152 was never an actual address. After the 1909 renumbering, that would put the location of H.H. Holmes’ candy store at what is now 1513 N. Milwaukee.

See where the AT&T building is? It would have been right there. The building itself is, like just about every Holmes’ building, long gone – we’re working on a database of all the buildings he rented, owned, or even worked in, and haven’t found one (with the possible exception of one wall) in Chicago that’s still standing. In descriptions of his buildings, you run across the words “ramshackle” and “rickety” a lot. Not the sort of stuff that lasts a century.

It was at this spot, though, that Holmes seduced -and probably killed – Emily Van Tassel. Not one book on Holmes has quite gotten this story right; most say she worked for Holmes at his murder castle. In fact, she worked at the candy store, having previously been employed by a photographer a few doors down. She lived with her mother at a Damen street home right about where the Pritzker School is now, across from Wicker Park.

Her mother said that she met Holmes four times, and that she accompanied them on a date once or twice, for long walks and ice cream, but that Emily, who was 16 or 17 and taught Sunday School, was a “good girl” and wouldn’t have gone off with him without telling her. She went missing one day, and Mrs. Van Tassel knew what had happened the moment she saw a drawing of Holmes in the papers.

The police questioned her and her neighbors at great length before deciding to believe her, but as of 1895 they were confident that Wilde was a Holmes alias (the 1890 census only exists in fragments, but there’s certainly no one by that name in the 1880 or 1900 ones in Chicago). For a time, it was believed that he had stashed her body in the basement of the candy store, but most decided that it was more likely she was taken to the castle, murdered, and disposed of in such a way that would leave no trace. Even more likely, though, she would have been taken to the house and “glass bending” factory” Holmes was in possession of a few blocks North of the candy shop.

The Murder Castle of H.H. Holmes #2

From our historical files, here’s a political cartoon from the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean the week that they were first excavating the basement of Holmes’ “Murder Castle:”

Other than the Hawaiian annexation part (which I suppose we can now safely say wasn’t the end of the world), a good chunk of this shows that people in the 1890s argued about a lot of the same stuff we do today! You come across the now-archaic spellings “grewsome” and “clew” a lot in this research.

Check out our Murder Castle ebook – featuring maps, diagrams and first-hand accounts that haven’t been printed since the 1890s, including a long-lost interview with Holmes himself. Now expanded to full length!

Just 3.99 on Kindle!
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