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Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Artifact


     What is our responsibility to the past? To preserve it, of course. Because if history isn't passed along, then it's lost irrevocably, and the present isn't always a good judge of what is important, what insignificant.
     The thing about the past, though, is there's so much of it. You can't preserve everything. What to hold onto? What to let go? Words and images can gather in an endless collection of files without jamming our capabilities. But not everything is stories and pictures. There is stuff, and lots of that, too. What to do with it?
     I met a neighbor for breakfast at Leonidas last week, the cute little Belgian chocolate shop a few blocks from my house. An almond croissant, a cup of joe, and all was right with the world. He came bearing a gift: a round plastic container holding the cookie above. With it, came a story, related to Ed Hanrahan, who 50 years ago was the Cook County State's Attorney. I knew the part about Hanrahan leading the Dec. 4, 1969 raid against the apartment where Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was sleeping, killing him and an aide, Mark Clark. My neighbor filled in some interesting details, such as that the cops on the raid were not regular Chicago police, but Cook County State's Attorney police, older, semi-retired, not particularly skilled at what they did.
     The murders — Hampton died in a fusillade of bullets, Hanrahan lied and claimed it was a fierce gunfight, pointing to nail heads in the wall and pretending they were bullet holes from Black Panther fire — scuttled Hanrahan's political career, in the way Rahm Emanuel's wrecked on the killing of Laquan McDonald. The then-powerful Democratic Party wouldn't slate him. 
     But he did not go quietly. He ran without party endorsement. As part of his efforts, Hanrahan marched in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, and arranged some piece of hokey business where he paused in front of Mayor Daley and doffed his top hat, whereupon a white dove of peace was to fly out. Only the poor bird, no doubt nearly smothered in its confinement, merely tumbled dazed to the street, a classic political moment if ever there were. 
     As part of Hanrahan's similar flailing efforts to rehabilitate himself, my fellow Northbrookite, then a wisp of a young operative, donned a white busboy tunic and slipped into the banquet hall where a Democratic dinner was about to be held and set one of these green fortune cookies at each place setting. I guess the idea was the party stalwarts would see the cookie, smile, and conclude that yes, indeed, Hanrahan is the man.
    It worked, kind of. Democratic voters, who can be a forgiving lot, gave the nomination to Hanrahan, who promptly lost to Republican Bernard Carey in the general election.
     Though notice how the story — which must no longer be familiar to many after the scouring hand of time rubbed it away for half a century — is evoked by the cookie, which he had guarded for 50 years. My friend was in the process of unburdening himself of such ephemera (And burdening me with it, I thought, accepting the token). He didn't intend on me to keep it, but his idea was for me to convey the cookie to Mike Sneed, the Sun-Times gossip columnist who at the time was a Tribune gossip columnist and, he said, reported on the cookie prank.
     I didn't find any evidence of that, though I did find mention of the cookie caper. With our office on North Racine shutting down next week, ahead of our move to Navy Pier and the Old Post Office, and rolling dumpsters being filled with crap, I couldn't see conveying this lone cookie to work and trying to find it a home. My colleagues would think I'd gone mad. My initial thought was to simply mail it to Sneed and be done with it. But that would require a small investment of time and money, so I dashed off an email: do you want this?
     "Good grief! He kept the molding cookie all this years?" she replied, neatly expressing my own thoughts. "Did he tell you what the gag was or just a campaign cookie at a political event? I can still hear Ed’s laugh. It was everything Irish back then. I think I was in my 20’s still when Ed was in office. .. Now in my dotage, I am trying to toss the dross of my newsie past. I will now choose to give the cookie a pass."
    Smart woman. Can't say I blame her. But I am nothing if not a conscientious steward of the past. I went online, where the Chicago History Museum has a form where you can offer to donate artifacts related to the city's past to the museum's collection. I'm not expecting them to send curator's with white gloves, but I could see this cookie being part of some exhibit on political mischief. Staffing being what it is, I figure I'll hear from the museum in a matter of weeks or months or never. Until then, my office at home is such an uncurated clutter of crap that another cookie more or less won't matter. Once it's gone, it's not like it could be easily replaced, and I imagine the city isn't silly with them after half a century. Though you never know.

13 comments:

  1. As with many historical artifacts, the item itself isn’t what’s important but of course what it represents is. I wasn’t aware of Hanrahan’s involvement with Fred Hampton’s assassination however the loss of this rising star and the way it happened is a significant chapter in Chicago history.
    If you sent a copy of this column with your donation offer I am sure you’ll hear from them in the near term, gladly accepting the cookie. Keep us posted.

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  2. Moving to Navy Pier and the Old Post Office?!? How is that going to work?

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    1. How does any company have more than one office? We have workspace at Navy Pier, shared with WBEZ, and a new space at the Old Post Office.

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  3. Since this *is* an artifact somewhat related to a significant event in the city's history, I guess I could see the Museum accepting it.

    However, with regard to personal possessions, as I'm also in the tossing rather than accumulating phase of dross management, I would find the photo to be an adequate representation of an item such as this.

    Any bidders for a Don Mossi baseball card out there, BTW? ; )

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    1. I'm also at that age when I'm tossing things that I thought I never would. However, I'm not getting rid of my Gus Zernial card, when he played outfield for the Kansas City Athletics

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    2. Can't say that I was familiar with Mr. Zernial, but more power to you! I see that he led the league in HRs and RBI in 1951, and hit 42 home runs and led the league in intentional walks in 1953. That was evidently before he joined KC, alas.

      My primary reason for remembering Don Mossi is because I always thought he was the homeliest-looking chap in my collection, not that that's very sportsmanlike of me to note...

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  4. I'm voting for the History Museum to accept the whole cookie, not just the story about it. Heck, if that piece of green bakery has survived half a century of storage, another fifty years on display won't bother it either (though I am relieved to read that it was dyed green to begin with, and didn't turn that color on its own initiative).

    Seeing the item itself delivers a much bigger impression than just stories and photos. Some years back, the Museum of Science and Industry had a temporary display on Wild Weather (beyond their current Science Storms exhibit), featuring huge, practically life-sized photos of tornado damage in towns down south, but then someone had gone the extra mile and actually pulled together some damaged artifacts seen in those specific photos (e.g. a bent Stop sign, and other pulverized everyday items). It was impressive enough seeing photos of the storm's aftermath, but encountering the real item(s) themselves in the same display took things to the next level.

    So yes, please file the application to get that cookie submitted to the History Museum, and hopefully they will do the right thing.

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  5. December 4 is always a day of mixed emotions for me. On that date in 1965, I met my wife on a blind date. It's the date of our wedding anniversary (not a coincidence, I purposedly arranged that). But December 4, 1969, was another of Chicago's many days of infamy, when the West Side apartment where Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was sleeping was shredded by police bullets.

    Do other big cities, and other jurisdictions, have "State's Attorney's police" like Chicago has? When I was growing up, and even as a young adult, they seemed more like TV cops, prone to flamboyant "raids" and breaking down the doors of bookie joints and illegal casinos and brothels, just like Robert Stack and his boys on TV's "The Untouchables."

    After the fiasco of 1968, I was a self-styled, militant "student radical"...so the set-up and assassination--Hampton was liquidated in his bed after being drugged by an undercover FBI agent, so that was what it was---made me despise Ed Hanrahan and regard him as not just another Irish thug with a badge, but as one with his own personal Waffen SS. Harsh words, perhaps...but those were harsh times.

    Fifty-plus years have fuzzed up my recollections a bit, but I do know that things were a lot looser than they are now. Neither the city nor the cops secured the apartment after their preliminary investigations, and it became a media circus and something of a museum of death, curated and administered by the surviving Panthers. That was how Hanrahan's lies were revealed, and how the "bullet holes" were found by reporters to be nail heads. Almost anybody could view the site, and a lot of people did.

    The reason I know this? First-hand? Because a far-left professor I knew organized and orchestrated an actual, honest-to-God, Saturday-afternoon BUS TOUR of the crime scene. A large contingent of leftist students and faculty members made the hour-long trek to the apartment on W. Monroe St. I could easily have joined them, but I begged off, got high, and went to see "Butch Cassidy" instead. Some radical.

    I'd already read the extremely graphic and disturbing Sun-Times accounts of what was left behind after the '"raid." Frankly, I didn't have the stomach for viewing it. I was, and still am, pretty squeamish. But friends of mine saw the nail heads and the bullet holes, the walls that were thoroughly ventilated, and the blood-soaked mattress. Some of them came home with bloody shoes. I heard too many first-person accounts of what they saw and smelled. I won't go there.

    Edward Hanrahan's reputation was toast after 1969. So was his political future in Chicago. In some circles, his name was also used as a derisive label, much like Trump's is today. An example: In 1972, a Sunday Sun-Times story entitled: "Sheffield: North Side's mini-melting pot" profiled the rapidly diminishing diversity and the increasing gentrification of the residential streets bisected by both Webster Ave, and the "L" tracks, west of Halsted. A neighborhood resident predicted: "The poorer families and lower-income renters are being cleared out...and now the neighborhood is going to fill up with conservative, Hanrahan homeowners."

    The attorney's name had become both an adjective and a pejorative. For the reader, no explanation was necessary. The man responsible for Fred Hampton's death returned to his law practice until his own death, at the age of 88, in 2009.

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    1. I dont know if you saw the recent film : Judas and the Black Messiah . Its a fairly accurate retelling of the life of Fred Hampton

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    2. No, I haven't. In the years before 2020, I didn't go to many movies. Since the beginning of the Plague, I've gone to one or two. If it's not on U-verse or reviewed by the New Yorker, I probably don't know much about it.

      I did read about the Hampton movie in the Smithsonian Magazine, and I'd like to see it. I have to admit that I've rarely thought much about Fred Hampton in recent years, at least until Mr. S wrote about those green fortune cookies. Just seeing that one word--Hanrahan--unleashed a flood of half-century-old recollections, including some about the Chicago Panthers.

      I never met Fred Hampton, but I knew a few people who did. I did some research about him yesterday. Didn't realize he'd died at just 21. He was an accomplished athlete who dreamed of playing for the Yankees. His mother was a babysitter for Emmett Till.

      Had Fred Hampton grown up in a different decade, his life...and 20th-century American history...might have been much different. Instead, he met the fate of too many other young Black men who cared about evil and social injustice.

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    3. I'm assuming from your comment that you don't subscribe to any streaming services, Grizz. That movie, which was excellent, and sports 97% positive reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website, is available on HBO Max and for rental on Amazon Prime and Apple TV. Last year, it was one of the many movies released simultaneously in theaters and via HBO Max, so we took advantage of the opportunity to see it on TV on the opening weekend. A tragic story that I knew little about, but the film was very well made.

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    4. My old man was an "early adapter"...so there were LPs in our house before 1950 and a TV at about the same time, and I was making and editing reel-to-reel tapes by 1958, at the age of 11.

      I'm just the opposite. A kicking and screaming "late adapter." I still have a VCR and CDs and cassette tapes. Only reason I can't use all that technology anymore is because the remotes died.

      So, no, I don't have any streaming services, although I've had them explained to me by the kids of friends. I just keep hanging onto U-verse, which I've had for over a decade. If it works, don't...futz...with it. That's always been my motto. Hell, I can't even manage to watch everything worthwhile on the hundreds of channels I already have.

      But you're absolutely right. And, unfortunately, I already know all too well about the demise of Fred Hampton. He was my age, and I was around here then, so I lived through it. Another martyr to The Cause.

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