Sunday, December 25, 2022

Chicago Christmas, 1945

Chicago Daily News, Dec. 24, 1945

     The story I originally tell for Dec. 25 in my new book, "Every Goddamn Day," takes place in 1973, when a 350-pound slab of marble detached itself from the newly-constructed Standard Oil Building and fell onto the roof of the Prudential building next door. The opening salvo of a shower of chunks of stone falling over the next decade. Leading to, in the early 1990s, the entire skin — 43,000 slabs of white carrara marble — being replaced with granite at about half the cost of originally constructing the building itself.
     I love that story. In a city that reveres architects, it's good to remember that sometimes they just don't think things through — the guys building Big Stan obviously believed they were building a skyscraper in Miami, and hadn't properly considered the expansion and contraction that comes with the 100 degree shift between summer and winter in Chicago.
     But I had overlooked something key myself, a lapse my wife neatly summarized when I mentioned the falling stone story to her.
     "It's CHRISTMAS!" she said, or words to that effect. "Can't you find something a little, oh, Christmasy?"
     Not being entirely without sense, I saw her point. The question was then, "Which Christmas?" I figured the one immediately after World War II would have stories, and I was right.

Dec. 25, 1945

     The soldiers have been mustering out for months. But that barely dents the 12 million Americans in uniform. The arrival of the first peacetime Christmas in five years only intensifies the rush to get them home as quickly as possible.
     There are so many, and they keep coming. Today alone, 20 troopships arrive in eastern ports, and on the West Coast, California has 150,000 demobilized troops waiting for rides. The trains are full—the Southern Railroad estimates that 94 percent of passengers are military vets. Hundreds of civilians simply give up their reservations for veterans. Chicago train officials say Christmas breaks a passenger record. Though some trains are eight hours late, they all depart, eventually. Six marines grab a cab in San Diego and hire it to take them to New York City. Illinois servicemen who borrowed a furniture van in Denver are spending today snowbound in Kansas City. As the nation’s rail hub, Chicago hosts an occupying army of stranded vets. The city’s four Service Men centers host 132,000 uniformed soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen for the holidays. One sees boxer Joe Louis arrive at Municipal Airport, on his way to visit his daughter, ill at Children’s Memorial Hospital. In asking for an autograph, the vet explains he’s been marooned at the airport for two days. The champ reaches into his pocket, removes a Chicago–to–New York ticket, and gives it to the soldier. “Here, take this,” he says. “And have a merry Christmas with your folks.”
     Those who can’t go home phone instead. Bell Telephone reports that all its long-distance operators are on duty, a first. In part, because the pricy calls are being given away. One thousand wounded vets recovering at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital each get a five-minute call home, paid for by the Phone Home Fund, financed by readers of the Chicago Times.
     Compounding the chaos, Chicago, like much of the Midwest, is glazed by ice, the worst since records have been kept. A navy plane carrying nine sailors east lands at Municipal Airport but can’t take off again.
     Dale Drew and June Kemper, two young ticket agents for Consolidated Airlines, see the Pacific vets sulking around the airport this morning. They phone their mothers, who are already preparing Christmas dinners for 11 and eight, respectively. What’s a few more? The sailors are split up and sent to their homes, where presents materialize under the trees. After dinner, they gather at the Drew home, where friends of the two agents arrive. The carpets are rolled back, and there is dancing and singing.
Before they leave, the nine sailors draw up a resolution: “This has been a wonderful Christmas for us,” it reads. “One just like you read about in books or see in the movies. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” They all sign.


  1. Your wife was right. And what a lovely piece. Happy holidays!

  2. Barbara Maginnis PalmerDecember 25, 2022 at 7:07 AM

    I liked reading this!

  3. Another fine column in a career full of them. Happy Hanukkah Neil and Merry Christmas to all.

  4. Enjoyed this reading your book. Loved it on Christmas morning! Thanks for the cup of cheer to share with my family.

  5. My remembrance of replacing the thin cut marble with white granite on the Standard Oil Building was the building cost $80 million & replacing it cost $100 million.
    I saw the stacks of removed marble while walking next to the site on the newly opened extension of Columbus Drive. They were really bowed, at least 1 inch from the center of each piece & the original marble was cut at 3/4ths of an inch thick in Italy.

  6. A nice story and interesting info.

  7. Read that Dec. 25 story three weeks ago Mr. S, when I got EGD as a 30th anniversary present from my wife. Gotta wonder what the cab fare was from San Diego to New York. Had to be a nice chunk of change, even in 1945. Hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah, Mr. S. We did. Food, family, love, and loot. Need more shelf space...for all the new books!


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