The Beacon of Progess: A Skyscraper that never was

When preparations were underway for the World’s Fair in 1893, everyone wanted something that would top the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They eventually went with the giant Ferris Wheel (three times the size of the one now at Navy Pier in diameter), but the obvious choice before they landed on that was to simply make a building taller than the Eiffel. Indeed, Eiffel offered to build another tower that was pretty much the same as the one he’d done in Paris, only taller. They turned him down – but the fair as it stood inspired a building concept that could have put Eiffel to shame.

At the right stands The Beacon of Progress, a design created by Constant-Desire Despradelle. It would have had 13 obelisks (representing the original colonies) merging into a single spire 1500 feet tall – a little taller than the Sears Tower / Willis Tower / Big Black Willie. The top – above what you see in the picture – would have looked about like the Washington Monument. The French approved the design and actually made plans to build it in Jackson Park to commemorate the fair seven years after it ended.

Contrary to common misconception, it wasn’t designed FOR the fair – Despradelle simply visited the fair and was so awed by its splendor that he started to work on a design for a giant spire to commemorate it. Most of the drawings weren’t made until a few years later. They’re really works of art in themselves.

In 1900, the Tribune announced that the monument would be built using funds from private subscriptions. However, obviously, nothing came of it – Despradelle’s name doesn’t come up in the Trib again until his death in 1912. In any case, by 1900, traffic at the fairgrounds was basically dead. Enough work went into figuring out what the cost would be etc, was done to show that this was certainly something intended to be built, not just an academic exercise in designing a cool building, but it’s hard to fathom what in the world we’d have done with such a tower in that location is hard to fathom – but the base was to house a massive ampitheatre where, Despradelle suggested, “orators and savants” could inspire crowds. Can you imagine how awesome that would have been as a venue for rock music?

More info from MIT:

A Night at the Whitechapel Club – Part 4

(concluding our series serializing an article on the mysterious whitechapel club from 1890)

“To our patron saint and president,” says the chairman, raising his glass of punch.

Then the health of Jack the Ripper is drank. It is drank until hte framed panel containing the club’s charter from the state of Illinois – the object: social reform – shakes with the acclaim.

Dr. G. Frank Lydston or some other medical celebrity who happens to be a member reads a paper on “knives.” The knives he tells about are the sort with which Jack the Ripper carves up his victims. Cheers and an orgy follow.

Billy Mason, the congressman, an “inert” member – because he cannot be an active one, owing to his residence in Washinton during the winter – tells a story. He is in the city of his constituents over Sunday, and he improves his fame this saturday night. He tells a good story, and applause for four minues succeeds.

The lights that shine with ghostly glare thorugh the skulls eyes are turned down to stars. A member has been struck by the puch – the Whitechapel punch. His head hangs over his breast. The Whitechapel death-chant is sung:

“Flee as a bird to the mountain
Ye who are weary of sin.”

Prof*. Steinbach plays “Peace and War” on his zither. The club goes wild over it.

Then songs, stories, repartee and jokes follow until 5 o’clock comes and it is announced by the purveyor that it is time for its members and guests to turn into the nearst Turkish bath house.

NOTE: it was probably on the night of this article that the club wired Chauncey Depew, New York senator, with the phrase “When may we see you on the dissecting table?” He replied “I am at your service when ordered and quite ready after today’s events to contribute my body to Chicago science.” Dr. Depew visited the club a year later, and remarked that the problem with Chicago was that the buildings were too tall.

* – piano players at the time were often called “Professors.”

A Night At the Whitechapel Club – Part 2

(continuing a serialization of a Tribune article on The Whitechapel Club fro 1890, just after Chicago was chosen as the World’s Fair location).

The room is triangular. Long, narrow tables run through the center spaces. But this goes for little. It is the walls that give The Whitechapel Club a distinctive character. There one finds the rope that hanged the three Italians who did that ghastly murder on the west side*, and the handcuffes that safeguarded Burke on his unpleasant journey from Winnipeg jungle against the chandelier; the walls are dark with pictured crims – Japanese and others – and the ceiling flares down with synchromatic wickedness.

The fireplace glows with a whimsically drunken light; there is an inspiring facetiousness in the gurgle of the emptying brandy bottles.

For it must be admitted that the Whitechapel man drinks now and again. The punch is brewed in a Japanese bowl that fancies forth the old Goddess of Death. And then it is turned out – the punch, of course – into skulls, fashioned as cups. The king cup of the all is made from the cranium of “Bad Charlie.” A few years ago he was lynched in Wyoming.

And why?

Incidentaly, he had murdered a woman and three babies, an a few men who thought they recognized a breach of ettiquette in the affair shot him down on the windy, gray-grass plains.

There is a rack in the Whitechapel Club. It lies along the western half of the alcove. There one stumbles on pipes and tobacco. Clay pipes, mark you, and the long-stemmed church wardens. The Hon. Chauncy Mitcheli Depew** smokes just such a pipe as this when he loafs over his 5 o’clock cigar in his offices in 42nd street.
In the Whitechapel Club are merriment and good-fellowship and the quaint, irritating microbe that sets the brain of wit and kindliness afire.

There are no strangers in Chicago, for every one who is worthy of being alive in Chicago at all is at home in Chicago. An in this sense it goes without saying that Chicago is the “Whitechapel Club”

* – this refers to The Trunk Murder of 1885 – see our book!
** – Depew was a NY senator who worked HARD to get the fair in New York, not Chicago. The meeting this night would be the night they sent him a telegram to rub his nose in Chicago’s victory….


A Night in the Whitechapel Club – Part 1

One of the most bizarre famous social clubs in the history of the city was The Whitechapel Club, a morbid club for news reporters whose headquarters featured body parts, a coffin, and all sorts of grisley stuff.

In 1890, the Tribune ran a GREAT article called “A Night at the Whitechapel Club” that I’ll be serializing here. It came JUST after Chicago had been announced as the location of the World’s Fair.

A Night in the Suddenly Famous WHITECHAPEL CLUB

How Convival Spirits Drink Their Punch In Honor of Their Patron Saint, Jack the Ripper
– Emblems of Wickedness Thrown From the Walls – Startling Roll-Call of the Members –
Proceedings Cut Short Promptly at 5 a.m.

Within the last few days the Whitechapel Club of Chicago has drawn itself the eye of the Nation. Chauncey M. Depew and Roswell P. Flower have wired it weird congratutions over the location of the world’s fair.
And this is the Whitechapel Club!
One turns out of Clark street into a misty, muddy alley; barrels and rubbish clutter the way; then there comes LaSalle Street.
One blunders over the car tracks and dodges flickering cabs and finds one’s self once more in the dark and dingy alley.
A few steps more; this is Calhoun place. On one side is the basement den where the messengers do congregate; on the other shine the lights that “burn o’ nights” over the Whitechapel Club.
One might almost imagine one were in the dark depths of Berner’s court in London, where in months gone by Jack the Ripper carries on his investigations in the phsyological vein.
But outside it is all imagination; inside it is all reality.
For inside one finds all the weird horros that took their birth in the odorous slums of Whitechapel.
Skulls of murderers lie on the table, and out of them “Whitechapelians” drink buoyant punches, as Byron did of old. And, bu the way, Byron was the first and charter member of the club. In a spiritual sense, of course, for Byron was nothing but spirituous.
And so one enters the swinging, glazed doors of The Whitechapel Club…

(coming tomorrow, the article continues! See also: The Weird Chicago book!)