Strange but true tales from Chicago that could only happen here
Truth is stranger than fiction, and that’s definitely true in Chicago. On this July 4 holiday, fire up your Weber Grill, made by a Mount Prospect man inspired by Lake Michigan buoys, and read these weird but true local yarns.
Cold as ice
On a bitter February night in 1951, South Side resident Dorothy Mae Stevens Anderson, 22, stumbled into an alley, drunk on whiskey. She was found there, frozen, her body temperature at 64 degrees and her pulse at 12. Pronounced dead, she was shipped to the city morgue. A toe tag was attached, but a worker didn’t put her in the freezer immediately, choosing instead to take a lunch break.
While he ate, she thawed, and some say a single tear rolled down her cheek. A morgue worker noticed her eyelids flickering and realized she was alive.
She was rushed to Michael Reese hospital where several fingers and both legs were amputated. Doctors speculated that the alcohol may have acted as anti-freeze. Her miraculous story made national headlines and she spent her life known as the “Frozen Woman” and “The Deep Freeze Woman.”
“My handicap has been a blessing because it led me to God,” she told Ebony in 1973 in a “Whatever happened to . . . ” feature. Anderson died in 1974 of pneumonia.
Every day for more than a dozen years, Edward Danis, an Orland Park senior citizen who worked as a school crossing guard, willingly participated in “urine therapy,” drinking his own urine, massaging it into his skin and putting nine drops in his eyes to improve his sight.
“Your own urine knows where to go, what to do to keep you healthy,” he told the Daily Southtown in 2006. “You don’t have to tell it.”
Danis claimed “urine therapy” helped his joints, once cured a case of the flu, kept skin cancer at bay and led to overall health into his 80s.
While Danis was enthusiastic about promoting urine’s “natural healing powers,” the public was not as receptive to his message. He was suspended from his crossing guard job after pictures appeared in the paper of him drinking urine in his uniform. He told a Southtown reporter at the time that while he would miss his job, his special cure kept his spirits high.
“I told you that nothing bothers me anymore” after he started drinking 18 ounces of his own urine daily, he said.
North Side cougar
Chicago police gunned down a 124-pound wild cougar roaming through Roscoe Village on April 14, 2008. The first cougar found in Cook County since 1855, it likely started its young life in South Dakota, traveling through Wisconsin before prowling the sidewalks and alleys of one of Chicago’s most kid-friendly neighborhoods.
Less than two weeks after the cougar’s death, a letter was sent to Mayor Richard M. Daley threatening to torch the mayor’s Michigan vacation home as payback for the cougar shooting. Two days after that letter was opened, the multimillion-dollar Michigan home of Daley’s neighbor burned down.
The cougar’s skeleton, skull and tanned hide are in storage at the Field Museum.
Champagne from a shoe
Why use a flute when you can use a shoe? This bizarre tradition got its start at Chicago’s famed Everleigh Club, run by sisters Ada and Minna Everleigh. The Everleigh sisters’ opulent turn-of-the-century palace on South Dearborn Street offered a ballroom, library and 30 sound-proof rooms each with a brass bed and a prostitute.
In 1902, Prince Henry of Prussia was paying the Everleigh Club a visit when a woman’s shoe, which had fallen off during a dance, hit a glass of wine causing wine to spill into the shoe. A man drank from it and other men borrowed shoes from their lady friends, drinking champagne and toasting the prince.
City Council’s poet laureate
And you thought some of today’s aldermen are long-winded. From 1883 to 1939, First Ward Alderman “Bathhouse” John Coughlin, a former Turkish bath masseur, recited original city-themed poems like “They’re Tearing Up Clark Street Again” and “She Sleeps by the Drainage Canal” at city council meetings. Turns out Coughlin wasn’t the writer — a local journalist wrote many of the odes.
Grant Park, the city’s front yard, was designated Lake Park in 1844. The Illinois Central Railroad laid track on a lakefront offshore causeway eight years later, creating a lagoon. But the lagoon stagnated, and in 1871 was filled with debris from the Great Chicago Fire.
On April 13, 1992, a leak in an underground tunnel blew, submerging the Loop in 250 million gallons of river water and causing an estimated $300 million in property damage.
During the six days workers struggled to staunch the flow, a retired Navy officer proposed clogging the hole with mattresses, saying he had seen something similar while working on submarines. The idea was considered but rejected. The city initially dumped concrete chunks, rubble and 400 cubic yards of quick-setting concrete into the hole though that did nothing. Ultimately, using sandbags, boring with giant rigs and installing permanent plugs cleaned up the mess.
It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
A number of young swimmers and their parents got an eyeful at the former North Side New City YMCA in 2004 when they walked in for a swim meet to find a transgender fashion show and 400 enthusiastic audience members.
Parents complained, and YMCA staff barred the “House of Escada” show participants from using the bathroom and locker rooms. This upset the party-goers, and they clashed with parents. A chair was thrown and someone mistakenly reported that shots were fired. Private security guards and Chicago police officers were brought into break up a scuffle.
Nothing symbolized the end of the Cold War like thousands of Germans tearing down the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. And apparently no place seemed more fitting in Chicago to put a large piece of this symbol of freedom on display than the Western Avenue station on the Brown Line. The station runs through the historically German Lincoln Square neighborhood. The wall chunk was installed in Chicago in 2008.
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
West suburban Darien’s 2,472-acre Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is known for woods of oak and maple and 11 miles of covered trail for hikers, bikers, horseback riders and cross country skiers. Although there is a 6-foot-high man-made waterfall, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the forest preserve was named to honor Seymour “Bud” Waterfall, a former chair of the DuPage County Board and president of the forest preserve district.
The Water Tower building is an icon in limestone, a testament to the perseverance of the city that rebounded from the Great Chicago Fire. It’s also the noble model for White Castle restaurant buildings, said Mike Hutchins, the fast-food chain’s spokesman.
In 1999, a grinch stole Jesus away from its manager in Daley Plaza. Two days later, Chicago police received a call from someone calling himself “Thelonius Monk” using a Union Station phone with a tip that Jesus was in a pay locker there. “If you can get to this locker in the next 30 minutes you can have Baby Jesus for free,” before the paid timer expired, “Monk” said. Police rescued Jesus and the co-chair of the Nativity Scene Committee identified the baby at the Central District station.
Many go to the chapel when they’re gonna get married. Others head to city hall. For a select group of local women and men, their marriage day is at the Cook County Jail, where one half of the couple is incarcerated.
In 2003, two women arrived at the jail to marry the same man. He stayed in his cell. This year, the sheriff’s staff is processing 65 requests for jailhouse nuptials, which will be held later this month.
Buns of Steel
In 2003, Chicago Police Officer Frederico Andaverde and his partner, Officer Andrew J. Dakuras, were at the end of their shift, heading to get approval for a search warrant. They heard gunshots near a school and sped to the scene near Grand and Austin. They were shot upon and one 9mm bullet went through Andaverde’s wallet, credit cards and money, stopping before penetrating his HMO card. The bullet didn’t hit his backside but did leave him with a bruise.
Fellow officers left copies of the “Buns of Steel” workout in his locker and he found himself the “butt” of many jokes.
In 2004, Andaverde and Dakuras were honored with the department’s Lambert Tree Award, the year’s highest honor for police bravery.
Andaverde is now a sergeant. He carries a laminated $20 bill missing a piece from the bullet in a new wallet.
The United State’s first blood bank was opened in March 1937 at Cook County Hospital by Dr. Bernard Fantus. Although storing blood goes back to World War I, Fantus developed techniques to keep blood fresh for up to 10 days.
Bridge over troubled waters
In December 2004, Richard Dorsy, 36, was found living under a Lake Shore Drive bridge. He told police he had lived there for three years but later told a Sun-Times reporter he lived there for six years. He tapped into the electrical wiring of the bridge, allowing him to watch the Bears and play video games. He washed himself in the bridge tender’s office.
“I had the sense of just about total freedom,” he said of his wooden shanty home before he was arrested and charged with criminal trespass. He told the Sun-Times he lived under the bridge because of learning problems, a bad attitude, and, because he was adopted, lingering emotions over his birth mother’s decision to give him up.
Chicago doctor Richard Phillips claimed in a lawsuit that his ex-fiancee, Sharon Irons, also a doctor, performed oral sex on him, left the room, secretly impregnated herself with his sperm and then sued him for child support. He called this “extreme and outrageous” conduct that was causing him emotional distress. Medical experts called the scenario theoretically possible. Irons called it “a pack of lies” and said she got pregnant with Phillips’ child the old-fashioned way.
Romancing the suburbs
Wherefore art thou Romeoville?
The Chicago area once had a Romeo and Juliet. In 1845, Juliet was renamed Joliet. Fifty years later, the town of Romeo, so named initially because of the town of Juliet, was renamed Romeoville. No word on whether the towns smell as sweet with the new names.
Lincoln Park’s celebrity
In 1950, Time magazine declared that the “best known and most popular civic figure in Chicago” was Bushman, a gorilla who at that point had lived for two decades at Lincoln Park Zoo.
“[Bushman] is one of the most unabashed hams that ever trod the boards,” a Time writer wrote in 1950. “The spectacle of Bushman lying at ease like a Roman, munching grapes and gulping quart bottles of milk handed in by his keeper (when in a good mood he politely hands them back), has won the hearts of the multitude.”
The orphaned lowland gorilla was brought to Chicago from Africa in 1931 and died on New Year’s Day in 1951. Thousands filed past his empty cage in honor of Chicago’s gorilla.
Like the Roscoe Village cougar, Bushman now resides at the Field Museum.
Bushman the gorilla was a ham. Binti Jua the gorilla was a hero.
In 1996, the Brookfield Zoo’s Binti Jua rescued a 3-year-old boy who had fallen into the zoo’s primate pit. After the boy’s tumble, Binti Jua walked over, picked him up gently and carried him to a doorway where he was taken by paramedics. Binti Jua became an international celebrity with calls from England and Germany, among other places, offering to send Binti Jua pounds of bananas.
One Last Ride
In 1984, Chicago drug dealer William “Flukey” Stokes wanted to give his 28-year-old son Willie “Wimp” Stokes Jr. an unforgettable funeral after the younger Stokes was murdered. Willie “Wimp” Stokes’ body was arranged sitting upright in a casket that looked like a Cadillac Seville, complete with flashing lights. The elder Stokes put rolled up $1,000 bills between each of his son’s fingers, which were positioned on the steering wheel.
“It’s not flashy,” the older Stokes said. “It’s just everyday living.”
More than 5,000 reportedly filed into the A.R. Leak Funeral Home to witness the macabre spectacle. Twenty-four limos were in the funeral procession to Oak Woods Cemetery on East 67th Street where the younger Stokes was buried in one of 16 crypts his father purchased.
Ship of Fools
Before William Hale Thompson was elected Chicago’s mayor in 1915, he made headlines of a different sort — entering his 81-foot schooner, Valmore, into the storied Race to Mackinac. Valmore won three straight races.
In 1927, Thompson’s yacht sank in Belmont Harbor after too many people crowded aboard to celebrate his re-election.
Former Ald. Tom Keane (31st) was a City Council floor leader and close ally of Mayor Richard J. Daley. He was also a crook — in 1974 he was convicted of 18 counts of federal mail fraud and conspiracy.
There’s nothing strange about an alderman with a criminal conviction. What makes this story stand out is when his wife, Adeline, took over his City Council seat, she wanted to reach out to the Hispanic community. She did this by announcing her support for teaching Latin in schools.
On Oct. 18, 1974, Police Officers Leonard Ciagi and Michael Byrne responded to a call from a Northwest Side resident who said a kangaroo was sitting on his porch, staring at him through the front window. They cornered the beast in an alley and tried to cuff it, but the kangaroo fought back before bounding over a fence. This started a rash of kangaroo sightings in the area, some as far away as Plano. The kangaroo or mob of roos was never rounded up.
At today’s cookout we have one local man to thank. In 1952, George Stephens was dissatisfied with the grilling options at his Mount Prospect home so he created his own grill at the Weber Brothers Metal Works, where he worked. The Chicago custom sheet metal shop made half-spheres welded together to be used as buoys in Lake Michigan.
The Weber Grill, first called George’s Barbeque Kettle, was born.
Also invented in Chicago — Twinkies, Cracker Jack, the zipper and roller skates.
Contributing: Lauren FitzPatrick
Sources: Chicago Sun-Times; Metro Chicago Almanac; Strange But True Chicago: Tales of the Windy City; Weird Chicago