I was recently doing some research about a couple of fellows, John Kinzie and Cap’n Streeter. These are men I’ve researched and read about over and over, but for some reason, this time, something struck me: Both men were not such great men. And not just that, but these two men are given honor, big honor, in our history. So, it got me thinking, but first…
John Kinzie was one of our first settlers, a fur trader at Ft. Dearborn. He acted as a liaison between the Indians and the government dudes at the Fort. He was respected by both parties and was a successful man by most accounts, but mostly because he did things under tables and not above boards – IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.
Mr. Kinzie is also our first murderer! On June 17, 1812, Kinzie stabbed and killed Jean LaLime. Kinzie swore it was self-defense, but LaLime was also working for the Fort. It was LaLime’s duty to find corruption. Well Kinzie is Kinzie and Chicago is Chicago, even in 1812. After claiming self-defense, Kinzie ran off to Milwaukee before anyone could really ask him about it. He returned home just in time to survive the Battle at Ft. Dearborn in August of that same year.
Streeter was his own brand of viciousness and is considered one of our more lovable characters. Cap’n Streeter has a fake story and a real story. The fake story goes that in 1886 Cap’n Streeter crashed into a sandbar near Chicago during a storm. The ship silted into place and Cap’n Streeter named the land the United States District of Lake Michigan and said it was separate from the city of Chicago. He starts selling deeds to the land while his wife, Ma Streeter, protects it all with her rifle. This fight continues all the way until Streeter’s death in 1921.
The real story of course is that there was no storm the night Streeter rolled into town. Streeter purposely set his boat there and purposely bilked the wealthy landowners out of their money. What Streeter did next was to start selling the land to people even though the land wasn’t his. There was no land and a bunch of people got screwed – Chicago style.
Streeter is adored around here, but he was a liar and a cheat and he ruined people’s lives. Not only does he have a whole neighborhood named after him, but he has a really decent sculpture – that seems pretty nice for a guy who did mean things.
This got me thinking, who else out there is a jerk and has something named after him? I asked on Twitter and got resounding and emotional answers.
The first first one to sound off was the estimable Gary Krist who wrote City of Scoundrels. He piped up with “Hoyne!!” I asked him why, he told me to turn to his book, WHICH I TOTALLY HAVE because I do the Disaster! Tour and Gary’s book is gorgeous for that particular topic – here’s what I learned about Hoyne:
Maclay Hoyne was the States Attorney for Chicago during the race riots of 1919. Turns out he was prosecuting riot cases and he was only charging black people, only black defendants. It got so bad that the all-white grand jury staged a strike until maybe even one white defendant was brought in. Hoyne even went so far as to stage a raid while the mayor was out of town. Not surprisingly, there were protests, 10,000 blacks met at The Armory to get Hoyne dismissed.
This dude? He gets a street?
Many cried for Balbo’s head when I asked this question and for good reason. Balbo Ave. used to be 7th street. During the 1933 Worlds Fair, a squad of Italian seaplanes flew over the Atlantic and landed at Lake Michigan. Mayor Kelly apparently thought it was so cool when Balbo stepped off the plane and commented on the view, Kelly named the street after him. The problem here, besides that just not being enough in my view for a street name, is that it turns out our good buddy Balbo was a fascist working under Mussolini, kind of his right hand, really horrible guy.
So who else? Who else doesn’t deserve their honor?