Jack Jordan, former Sun-Times artist, dies at 89
BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter January 15, 2014 7:44PM
Sun-Times artist Jack Jordan
Updated: February 17, 2014 8:48AM
Jack Jordan was a mapmaker, illustrator, writer, photographer, Morse code expert and merchant seaman.
That wasn’t all.
He was a prankster extraordinaire — and screener of “crackpot” letters for the Ann Landers advice column.
A longtime Chicago Sun-Times artist, Mr. Jordan died Saturday of lymphoma at his Door County home. He was 89.
The son of a Ziegfeld girl — those chorine confections who adorned Flo Ziegfeld’s theatrical revues — Mr. Jordan was born in New York but moved to Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood to live with his grandfather. He attended Lane Technical High School and was editor of the school newspaper, said his wife, Raeona Jordan.
After high school, he served in World War II in the U.S. Merchant Marine on ships that bore supplies to and from England. They were vulnerable to submarine and kamikaze attacks.
Half a century later, he recalled a tragedy that haunted him. “The ship in front of them got sunk and sailors in that ship were swimming in the water calling for help, and they couldn’t throw their own life preservers because they had to save them for themselves,” said his son, Matt Jordan. “It was a very sore spot. He just felt it wasn’t fair.”
During a newspaper career that spanned the 1940s to 1994, Mr. Jordan went from drawing with pencils to computers.
He specialized in “cutaway” art. One of his cross sections showed the insides of the Mirage tavern, a Sun-Times-operated bar hit with rampant shakedowns by government inspectors. And his diagram of an Addison Street jewel heist was so accurate that police paid him a visit to ask how he knew so much about the case, relatives said.
His work also explained the infamous nighttime raid on the Black Panther Party in which party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot to death. The chief of the 1969 raid, Cook County State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, claimed officers had been fired upon. A Chicago Sun-Times investigation showed the “bullet holes” from the Panthers were actually nail heads.
“He did the cutaway drawing of the whole apartment, and he said, ‘It’s not what they’re [officials] saying,’ ’’ his wife said.
Mr. Jordan was a skilled cartographer, and his bird’s-eye view maps showed downtown in Lilliputian detail.
“We would see him at his drawing board with earphones on, and you would think it was music, but it was Morse code,” said retired Sun-Times artist John Downs. “He would get [Morse code] tapes to keep his skills up” from his Merchant Marine days.
He was a prankster who put a lot of thought into his pranks, including a memorable hat trick he orchestrated on a co-worker.
“They went out and they bought two hats, one a half size bigger, one a half size smaller, so every night they would change his hat,” said former Sun-Times artist Bill Linden. “Some nights the hat would slide over his ears, and sometimes it would sit on top of his head because it was too small, and sometimes, it would fit, because they would use his old hat.”
Before Eppie Lederer took on the Ann Landers nom de plume, the advice column was handled by Ruth Crowley.
“You can imagine some of the mail you get, and some of the crackpot stuff,” said Raeona Jordan. “She was like, ‘I’m not dealing with that stuff,’ and Jack would open it or screen it before it went to Crowley.”
He met Raeona, his wife of 48 years, when she worked as the administrative assistant to Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet.
In 1948, Mr. Jordan helped cover the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where he witnessed President Harry S. Truman’s electrifying address.
“In punctuation to each point of his speech, he rose up and down on the balls of his feet, his right hand pumping the air, as the crowd’s enthusiasm mounted,” he wrote in a recollection. “Finally, as Truman declared he would re-convene the Republican-dominated ‘do-nothing’ 80th Congress . . . the delegates went wild, whooping and cheering to shouts of ‘Give ’em Hell, Harry!, a phrase that would become his motto.”
An amateur radio operator, he enjoyed talking to other “hams” around the world.
Woe unto the kid who touched his system. “He would come home and, ‘What happened to my radio, have you been playing with the knobs?’ ’’ Matt Jordan said.
Mr. Jordan also was a longtime union activist who participated in many contract negotiations at the newspaper.
For more than 20 years, beginning in 1987, Mr. Jordan drew “Behind the Door” cartoons about life on the Wisconsin peninsula for the Door County Advocate newspaper. He also did a weekly sky chart for stargazers. His final chart — No. 853 — ran three days before he died.
Even though he’d been retired from the Sun-Times for 19 years, his wife said, he still had anxiety dreams about missing a deadline.
As a young man, he visited pre-revolution Havana, where he enjoyed Cuban music. He was thrilled to see a performance by the Buena Vista Social Club at Orchestra Hall last September.
Mr. Jordan also is survived by his daughters, Melissa Jordan Drummond, Maureen Jordan Hurley and Wendy Jordan, and three grandchildren.
His family plans to scatter his ashes at his favorite places in Door County.