A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Chicagoans rang in the new year with optimism in 1919. The world war was over, and the influenza epidemic had subsided. The city’s industrial infrastructure was expanded, and the mayor was determined the city would develop architect Daniel Burnham’s visionary plan for the lakefront and central city. If everyone worked together, the future was bright. 1919, however, proved to be a difficult year, according to Gary Krist in his new history City of Scoundrels: The Twelve Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago.
Mayor William Hale Thompson, the key scoundrel in the story, pursued a political path that increased divisions among citizens. His story ran in all the daily newspapers, along with headlines about the murder of a child, a terrible airship accident, the start of Prohibition, race riots, and a transit strike. Later, members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to lose the World Series. Krist weaves the many plots together, focusing much of the book on the hot days of July when the riots tore through the South Side.
As a reader, I am not really sure how Chicago was changed by these events. Corruption, violence, and prejudice were at high levels before and after that year. Perhaps pessimism grew, but Chicago was becoming modern long before 1919. Nonetheless, Krist tells a great story, and I enjoyed learning about the many players in the tragedy of 1919, not all of whom were scoundrels. City of Scoundrels is a quick read that will be enjoyed by those interested in American history. – Review by Rick