Monday, October 19, 2009

Hey Queen -- How Do Ya Like Chicago So Far?

While riding on the MWRD bike path near Evanston on this past beautiful Sunday afternoon, I ran into a very nice girl from the North of England. While riding astride for a mile or more, we chatted about the odd British propensity for class consciousness, the Falkland's Island war, the impending demise of the British Labour Party, George Orwell, Patrick Pearse and sundry other matters that quite appealed to my Anglophilic disposition.

I found it telling that she, English born, was riding an American-made Trek, while I, Chicago born, owned a Nottingham, England-made Raleigh.

But it got me thinking about the English in Chicago.

There is a rich tradition of English and English-American involvement in Chicago, but it has been largely overshadowed by the much more populous subsequent waves of immigration.

The first Mayor of Chicago was a total WASP named William Butler Ogden.

He traveled here from New York in 1835, because his nincompoop brother-in-law had sunk $100 k as a real estate investment into swampy, onion field land alongside Lake Michigan in a place called Chicago.

Ogden came here to sell off the deeds for anything he could possibly get for them -- pennies on the dollar, if need be.

He was amazed when after selling merely 1/3 of the holdings he had already recouped all of the investment. The WASPs were sharpies back then, and Ogden bought as much Chicago real estate as he could possibly get his hands on, sold it, became a de-facto billionaire by today's standards, decided to hang around and was elected Chicago's first mayor.

The Brits entered the picture again in 1871. After the Great Chicago fire devastated the city, Queen Victoria ("we are not amused") was anguished at word that the great Chicago library was destroyed and at her own initiative, scoured Britain for books to send to Chicago to rebuild its library collection.

That was nice of the old girl.

Fast forward to 1920.

That was when Chicago had its last Republican mayor, Big Bill Thompson.

Today Republicans like to claim moral superiority over the corrupt Democrat machine (as well they can -- but it's easy to be as pure as the driven snow when you have no boodle to pass around) but back then the GOP machine were total crooks.

Big Bill's chief financial backer was a well known Chicago philanthropist by the name of Al Capone.

Enough said.

But by 1920, waves of Irish and Germans had descended upon Chicago (my ancestors on both sides included) and had become the dominant electoral cohort in the city.

The Micks and the Krauts were not at all favorably disposed toward the British Limeys.

Big Bill knew which side his electoral bread was buttered on, so in 1920, when King George V of the House of Windsor was touring the US, Mayor Thompson told him to stay the hell out of his city.

When a reporter asked Big Bill what he would do if George V decided to come to Chicago anyway, Mayor Thompson said, "If King George sets one foot in Chicago, I'll punch him in the snoot."

The King stayed away. Big Bill was re-elected.

Fast forward to 1959.

Then the child-Queen, Elizabeth II, only 33 at the time, came to Chicago to celebrate the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which linked Chicago and ports in the British Dominion of Canada with the Atlantic Ocean.

When the Queen was alighting her ship in the port of Chicago, a throng of gruff, boozy, Chicago newsmen gathered around her and began shouting questions.

When she had been ashore no more than a minute or two, one of the paunchy, red-nosed scribes yelled out, "Hey Queen!! Howdya like Chicaguh so far???"

Not, "Your Royal Highness, what are your thoughts upon coming to Chicago?"

But "Hey Queen!! Howdya like Chicaguh so far???

The answer is lost to history.

But the question and questioner will be long remembered.

Is this an amusing place, or what?

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