Category Archives: History Article

AIR FORCE PILOT, HERO AND MOVIE STAR – JIMMY STEWART AND THE NEED TO FLY

(Excerpt from the book)
Not long after his 1908 birth in Indiana, Pennsylvania, already nearing the end of its coal-mining prosperity, Jim Stewart knew that he had to fly. Something about the open environment in the sky suited his nature. Inherently reticent and modest as boy and man, a distinct speech pattern of part stutter and part slight pause showed both strength and vulnerability, an unexpected advantage during his years of success in movies.

Soon after the century’s first great war ended in 1918, barnstormers and flying circuses offered rides at a flat farm field in town to anyone with $10 for ten minutes or $15 for fifteen minutes. The pilots flew in the war for the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and now demonstrated to an eager public a new way of warfare, and, soon, mass transportation. The shows had wing-walkers, stunt parachutists, mid-air wing to wing plane transfers, performers, and the daring pilots themselves who did barrel rolls, breath-taking spins and dives, even top-speed hurtles through open barns, although not always with a safe landing. The Curtiss JN-3 “Jenny” bi-planes they trained-on during the war cost the government $8,100 each, but were eagerly bought by the same pilots, now civilians, for as low as $1,000 each.

Taking time off from flying model airplanes on the roof of the family home, and building crystal radios with cereal boxes and wires, the reliable Jenny became not only the first aircraft that Jim saw, but the first he flew in as a pre-teen rear seat passenger. He saved for the first of four rides from wages earned at J. M. Stewart & Co, the hardware store owned by his father, Alexander. Alex served in both the Spanish-American and the Great War repairing ordnance equipment. Service to country ran in Alex’s family. His father, uncle, and father-in-law all fought in close combat for the Union in the Civil War.

In his bedroom Jim mapped every rapturous report describing Charles Lindbergh’s historic 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic, never imagining that thirty years later he would be type-cast as the shy and reserved “Slim” Lindbergh in the Spirit of St. Louis. Years later he described the freedom that he found in the air: “It was the ultimate feeling of being in control…and being alone. I’ve always been a loner…I enjoy being on my own.”

DISTANT SOUNDS OF WAR
After graduating from Princeton in 1932, Jim did summer stock with a Cape Cod theatrical company and became close friends with Henry Fonda, another aspiring actor. Along with Fonda and Joshua Logan – to become a celebrated stage and film director – and with periodic residency by actor Burgess Meredith, he rented a small apartment on Manhattan’s then scruffy West 63rd Street. By January 30, 1933, the day Hitler became Chancellor, Jim made his professional debut on Broadway in “Goodbye Again,” appearing 216 times as a chauffeur, to speak only two forgettable lines. By taking other secondary parts on Broadway he built a solid resume, leading to a 1935 screen test with MGM in New York. Metro signed Jim to a three-month contract at a very respectable $350 per week and he headed for Hollywood, to become established in 1937 in a series of secondary parts in B films.

Also by the end of 1937, a continent and two oceans away from Hollywood, Hitler had fully committed Germany to prepare for all-out war. That year Buchenwald opened, the first concentration camp in Germany. It later became an extermination site for anyone who disagreed with the goals of the Nazi revolution. The captive dissidents included actors, doctors, political prisoners, homosexuals, and, especially, Jews in any profession or occupation. By the end of 1938 Jim had appeared in 18 films, including the breakthrough Frank Capra directed, You Can’t Take It With You, which won 2 Oscars with 5 nominations.

In 1939, now an A list screen star, Jim made another Frank Capra film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, earning him the New York Film Critics award for Best Actor, with 11 Oscar nominations for the film. Britain’s second month of its six-year war of survival with Nazi Germany had scant notice at the movie’s October 7, 1939 premiere at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.


(The book’s narrative then describes Jim’s continuing success as a movie star, his flying lessons and certification as a commercial pilot, induction into the U.S. Army on March 21, 1941, re-assignment to the Army Air Force, two years training on B-17s and B-24s, passage to England on the Queen Mary, posting to newly opened Tibenham Army Air Force base near Norwich, England (L), leading to his first combat mission as command pilot on December 13, 1943.)

MANY MISSIONS, LITTLE REST, MAJOR LOSSES

On November 24, 1943, the day the 445th and its four squadrons arrived in Tibenham, the runways Jim and the crew saw from above resembled a triangular ‘A’ frame, as did most of the scores of Eighth Air Force bases under feverish construction. With three converging concrete runways positioned for the prevailing winds, the main runway, or the bottom of the ‘A’, extended 6,000 feet, with two intersecting 4,200 ft. auxiliary runways. A 50ft. wide concrete perimeter track with 36 open “frying pan”, or at other bases, looping “spectacle” hardstands for two bombers, were dispersed along the perimeter to minimize damage from German attacks.

The 445th settled into their new surroundings for more classroom instruction in tactics and practice missions over East Anglia. They learned how to recognize the difference and locations of the navigational Buncher beacons at each base, and the numbered Splasher beacons along the coast. In a pinch, visual landmarks near Tibenham included an adjacent rail line and the bell tower of the 13th Century All Saints Church near the end of the main runway

Off duty, it didn’t take long to learn the easiest route on foot or bicycle, of which there were hundreds on base, to the Greyhound Pub and its two bars and log fireplaces. Since its opening in 1713, the solid brick building, always with an abundance of empty kegs near the entrance, had seen many young men off to war.

On December 13, 1943, three weeks after landing at Tibenham, Jim’s 703rd and other squadrons in the 445th BG squeezed on to narrow benches in the Ops shack for a pre-dawn briefing. After overnight servicing and arming by ground crews, trucks stood-by to bring crews to their aircraft. One of four simultaneous “maximum effort” missions this day, it would be the first major attack of the European air war and the first time that over 600 bombers would simultaneously hit multiple targets. As another milestone, it would also be the first mission shared by both B-17s and B-24s. For Captain Jimmy Stewart and the 445th, it would also mark the first time they flew in combat, and it wouldn’t be a “milk run.”

When the curtains opened in the blacked-out ops room, the lines extending from Tibenham on the big map showed that both the P-47 and P-51 fighters, the much appreciated “little friends,” would escort the bombers but only as far as the P-47s two internal fuel tanks and the P-51’s 255 gallon capacity would allow. The Mustang had longer range, more agility in climb and maneuver and had a streamlined look the Thunderbolt’s lacked, but the pilots who flew the heavy “Jugs” preferred their durability in a dogfight.

With 30 seconds between takeoff’s and about an hour to form-up, the group flew a twisting S to reach altitude, and then a racetrack pattern to await the others. Then they saw their assigned “Zebra,” a garishly decorated B-24, one of several stripped-down bombers serving as assembly points for different groups. After “joining-up” and now a combat wing, they flew as one formation for about 15 miles to the North Sea and across the tip of occupied Holland to cross the northern top of Germany. Some of the groups would hit the port of Bremen, while others, including Stewart’s 445th, would bomb the Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) shipyard, and U-boat works and their pen shelters in Kiel. The U-Boat factories, bases, and aircraft assembly plants were the most heavily defended in the Reich and everyone knew it. Early in the war Hitler had correctly concluded that only by severing the convoy lifeline connecting Britain and North America, would he have any chance of winning the war. U-boats were essential to that goal.

With ten 500-pound general-purpose bombs racked on each Liberator for the long-range missions, the crews could only guess why the U-boat bases remained undamaged mission after mission, although from 25,000 feet they could see for themselves the lack of results even from direct hits. They couldn’t know that a kinetic weight of only 500 pounds exploding against the multi-layered reinforced concrete roofs of the U-boat armored shelters, had an effect akin to fragments being chipped from a pottery container. (Author photos present-day former Lorient, France U-boat base)

(The chapter narrative continues with a description of Jim Stewart’s missions, the horrifying losses of up to 88% returning from a mission, and Jim’s post-war resumption of his “wonderful life.” Rising 11 ranks from Private to Brigadier General after the war, James Maitland, “Jimmy” Stewart, movie star and war hero played his greatest role in the defense of his country.)

Return for additional periodic insertions of chapters from THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II, to be published by Lyons Press, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group in March 2019, in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in 2020.

LAUNCHING THE INVASION – SOUTHWICK HOUSE AND D-DAY – FIRST LOOK AT THE BOOK

General Eisenhower and his chiefs in and outside Southwick House and the same 1944 plywood wall map today

In spring 2019, as a preliminary to observing the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in 2020, a major work by the author will be released by Lyons Press/Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Each of 22-chapters will examine overlooked aspects of the war. The 87,000-word book, with scores of rarely seen photos, results from decades of investigation and includes author photos comparing the appearance of the same locales from then to now. Additional excerpts will be periodically added.

Coming soon to these pages in 2018 will be dramatic then and now photos and a chapter excerpt from THE USAAF IN EUROPE, and a return three quarters of a century later to the remains of the same bases from where the “Mighty Eighth,” the Eighth Air Force launched thousands of attacks on Nazi Germany. Hint: much more remains than previously thought.

(THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 11 – LAUNCHING THE INVASION – SOUTHWICK HOUSE AND D-DAY)

“HISTORY DOES NOT LONG ENTRUST THE CARE OF FREEDOM TO THE WEAK OR THE TIMID” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
0500 SUNDAY 4 JUNE 1944 DELAY AND DISAPPOINTMENT
Shortly after a 415am weather briefing on June 4, General Eisenhower stepped-out for another smoke under the portico with the eight Doric columns of the immense 1841 three-story mansion near Portsmouth on England’s southeast coast. Into the first of up to four daily packs of Camels and fifteen cups of coffee, before dawn he and his subordinate commanders had already completed the first of two daily weather briefings with British meteorologist, Group Captain J. M. Stagg. Within the elegant interior, Stagg and his staff had just recommended a delay to the start of Operation Overlord, the liberation of the European continent from Nazi oppression. Ike had immediate major decisions to make.

Throughout the mansion’s spacious gardens were scattered numerous half-cylindered corrugated steel structures named after their inventor, Peter Nissen. Tents of various sizes and temporary housing extended from the surrounding woods almost to the mansion’s entry. For a brief time the ancestral home of the Thistlewaite family, Operation Overlord’s pre-assault naval communication center, would be the most important place on earth.

From where the stately home resided in the low hills above Portsmouth Harbor, Ike could almost see the water and part of the vast armada containing every type of naval vessel afloat. In addition to Portsmouth, eleven other British ports were equally laden with so many ships that it was almost possible to walk with dry feet from one vessel to the other, so closely were they moored. The supreme commander of history’s mightiest invasion force knew that every man from general and admiral to mechanic and rifleman, all 156,000 of them and millions more behind, awaited his command to instantly move from camps to landing vessels, or from the ships to the beaches. But it wouldn’t come that day and it wouldn’t come the next.

The first met report that June 4 – the second weather update would be at 645pm – painted a discouraging picture of high winds, low clouds, and reduced visibility predicted for June 5, the date of the invasion. Any one of the expected weather disturbances would hinder accurate naval gunfire and make certain the swamping of LCVP landing craft – the Higgins Boats – at the moment of dropping their bow ramps on the beach, if they even made it that far. Without fair visibility, erroneously dropping 300 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Pathfinder teams, could fatally divert the 23,000 jumpers in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to follow. Any expectation of air cover over the beaches on June 5, Ike had been bluntly told, would be “impossible.” The ceiling would be under 1,000 feet. Yet, on June 4 major elements of the naval forces were already at sea, and, as Churchill would later write, “the movement was as impossible to stop as an avalanche.”

…As Eisenhower asked around the room for opinions, General Bernard Montgomery told Ike of his keenness to go, but none of the others were as hopeful. Each had a reasoned objection to explain why his part of the invasion force faced operational hurdles if not defeat. On that June 4, 1944 pre-dawn, weather made the decision: the invasion planned for June 5 stood-down as a no go. While a disappointment, it was not yet a setback. At least two, perhaps three days remained within the window of ideal low tide and bright lunar conditions needed to launch the invasion. But if the elements continued sour, the next time the moon and tides aligned wouldn’t come until June 19.

Waiting another two weeks came with the potential of defeat at the water’s edge. Keeping men already at sea or fenced-in at temporary camps another fortnight risked discovery and a loss of the vital edge needed for soldiers approaching sudden combat. Fresh troops rotating into the camps expected to be vacated by the invading soldiers would have nowhere to go. Miles of pre-positioned equipment on roads and at supply depots throughout England would need to be re-situated, presenting a logistical muddle on the narrow roads.

Some of the 6,939 vessels of all types, including 59 convoys stretching over 100 miles, would need re-fueling or re-positioning. By then, German spies or overhead recommaissance might have concluded from the evidence of masses of troops at scores or camps, and lurking ships in all the harbors, that the invasion wouldn’t happen at the Pas de Calais as expected. Maybe, the German high command could have concluded, maybe the invasion would begin at an obscure location not as well fortified. Maybe it would begin in Normandy.

(NEXT – Buffeted by coils of lashing wind and rain – Ike returns to Southwick House in the pre-dawn hours of June 5 to make the decision of the century.)

“THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II” COMING IN SPRING 2019. PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON


WHERE IKE MADE THE DECISION OF THE CENTURY

Less than a mile from one of the D-Day embarkation ports in Portsmouth, England, unchanged Southwick House is where General Eisenhower made the decision of the century – the go-ahead to invade the European continent. It is one of 22 chapters in a new book to reveal – often for the first time – the little-known or even fully ignored but essential people, places, and great events of civilization’s greatest war. A release date of spring 2019 is expected by Lyons Press/Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Group. To include scores of photos, many never before seen, the book will bring readers into the existing places essential to the conduct of the war and its outcome. It will connect the past with the present by bringing readers to the same places that time forgot. Reserve your copy on Amazon.com now for release on March 1, 2019.

Return for periodic insights, including portions of chapters including rare vintage and current photos by the author taken at the same locales where the history of our time was made. Regular previews here will include the considerable remains of the Eighth Air Force bases in England, from where thousands of attacks against occupied France and Nazi Germany were conducted. (The Eighth AAF had ten times the losses incurred by the U.S infantry.) The rarely-visited and virtually unknown remains of scores of bases are scattered throughout the East Anglia regions of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Each chapter includes deeply researched historical insights and vivid then and now photos of the locales that changed the history of our time.

THREE QUARTERS OF A MILLION HITS AND COUNTING

Thank you to the unknown 500,000th reader to access this site somewhere in mid November 2016, and to the other half-million, each and every one of you. Indeed, by spring 2018, the count reached three quarters of a million, necessitating a restructuring of the site and part of its contents.

This site continues to be one of the most read on the internet. Your interest in the war that defined the world of today contributed to a major international publisher approving a comprehensive literary work with photos that will enter and describe many of those same places critical in wartime but lost to history. Yet, almost all exist to this day. Expect that the new book, my first, will reveal even more “secret places” associated with the war and the European Theatre of Operations. They are in America and Europe, and include the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Russia. I visit and extensively photograph and research every locale, so you the reader may be assured of the most up to date descriptions and tips on visiting them for yourself. Thank you for your support and return often for updates.

Jerome M. O'Connor will release a new book in 2019 describing many of the top secrets of the century, Allied and enemy.
O’Connor’s new book in 2019 will describe many of the war’s top secrets, Allied and enemy
Trent Part Tattletales
Near where the Beatles made history, another kind of history was made daily during the war – and it’s still there at the unknown Western Approaches Command Centre in Liverpool.
TRENT PARK TATTLETALES
TRENT PART TATTLETALES where scores of Nazi generals were given the run of the house and where every word they spoke was secretly recorded

 

 

 

 

 

BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS – THE GRAND PLAN FOR THE MIDWAY AFTER THE 1893 CHICAGO WORLD’S FAIR

(ANOTHER VERSION OF THIS COVER FEATURE, MY FIRST ARTICLE,ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE CHICAGO SUNDAY TRIBUNE MAGAZINE, OCTOBER 24, 1965. THIS IS THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY REPRINT )

The Midway, along with Jackson and Washington parks, comprise Chicago’s most enduring reminder of the 640 acre fair that placed the dynamic young city on the world map, attracting 45% of America’s entire population to the glittering “white city.” But it didn’t start with the great fair. Almost 23 years before the April 1, 1893 opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Frederic Law Olmstead, dean of American landscape architects, had already proposed a system of parks and boulevards to cover the prairies and marshes 7 miles from downtown Chicago. MIDWAY FOUNTAIN OF TIME 004 At the invitation of the South Park commissioners, Olmstead designed (L) two large parks of almost the same size, one extending along Lake Michigan and the other parallel to the first but one mile to the west and connected by a 700 ft. wide grassy esplanade Olmstead platted as the “Midway Plaisance,” because it was situated between the two parks. The lakeside area became Jackson Park, later to become the location for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and the other park was named for George Washington. MIDWAY FOUNTAIN OF TIME 058Although the massive exhibition buildings drew millions, it was the connecting strip with its 26-floor rotating wheel, the first ever, that drew the greatest attention. (L) ferris1CLOSEUP 22508 Located in the center of the Midway and visible for miles, engineer George Washington Ferris, a last-minute entrant in the competition to propose an attraction comparable to the 1889 Eiffel Tower, presented a radical design to skeptical officials that would immortalize both his name and the daring of his plan. The Midway and the 264 ft. rotating bridge – the world’s first Ferris Wheel – would become part of American and world culture.

After the fair, the eminent Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft, envisioned a dramatic re-use of the now famous but empty Midway (L). All of it would be transformed into a mile-long canal surmounted by three Parisian-like ornamented bridges. Along the canal’s tiered sides, statuary groupings would represent civilization’s great thinkers and artists. midway_plan 22508 To view and be astonished by the display, passengers on electric boats or hand-made Venetian gondolas would traverse along the canal’s entire length from near the Illinois Central tracks on the east to Cottage Grove on the west. The new attraction had an additional benefit of unifying two separate parks into one enormous green space. At the time of Olmstead’s death in 1903, excavations for the canal had already hollowed-out the entire center of the Midway end to end, as Taft completed the most audacious part of the plan to be the first of its type anywhere. Each end of the re-purposed Midway would be crowned with two immense and powerfully dramatic fountains, one portraying a realization of creation based on the classic myth of Deucalion, the Noah of Greek legend, who with his wife Pyrrah, were the only mortals saved by Zeus from the great flood. At the west end, the Fountain of Time would represent man’s passage through life as viewed by the inscrutable figure of time itself. In its breath-taking totality and grandeur, the Fountains of Creation and Time would enclose the canal, its bridges and statuary and its awed visitors in a mystical embrace of life and eternity. Fountain_of_Creation1910Fountain_of_Time_in_Midway_Studio GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 083

Beginning in 1910 from his airy Ingelside Ave studio (L) adjacent to the Midway, Taft first produced in plaster a quarter-sized scale model of each work, from which the full size monuments would be cast from hundreds of individual forms, all produced from life poses in the studio. Interrupted by World War One, it would take another five years to complete and install a full-size plaster model of the Fountain of Time near Cottage Grove. After approval by the South Park Commissioners, Taft unexpectedly decided on an enhancement for the finished work. It would be clad with a previously untried concrete aggregate mixed with quartz-like pebbles from the Potomac River. The finished fountain would then glow invitingly day and night, or so it was thought.

But Taft’s plan was now delivered a near fatal setback. The Belle Epoque art era was over and funding nearly ended. The canal, already partially completed, would never be filled with water from the Washington Park lagoon. The great bridges would never inspire future generations, and the Fountain of Creation would never occupy the east end of the Midway or anywhere. But the Fountain of Time. the most important of the two monumental works, was approved with construction taking-on a new urgency; finish it before it was also canceled. The slurry mix was hurriedly shaped over the full-size hollow forms, now presenting as ghostly entities on the muddy Midway’s west end, perhaps causing speculation from university students as to its final appearance. Little did Taft or anyone know that time itself and Chicago weather would later take their toll, but that was in the future. Now it was 1922 and the vast work (below) was finally in place, dedicated, and revealed to the city and the world. Fountain_of_Time_in_1920

Taft’s allegorical portrayal of humanity, his sermon in stone, began with the appearance of a single figure emerging from a wave, suggesting the water origins that gave birth to all. GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 061The figure then evolved into a loving couple (L), then to family groupings, children at play, and other individual figures, all journeying as if in lock-step across the monument’s entire 125 feet in front and equally across the rear. Its scores of moving figures had separate beginnings, but all were destined for an identical and inevitable conclusion.

As Taft visualized it: “I saw before me the mighty crag-like figure of Time…watching the endless march of humanity surging in a wide circle around the form of the lone sentinel, and made up of the shapes of hurrying men and women in endless procession ever impelled by the winds of destiny in the inexorable lock step of the ages.” GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 064GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 063 As new waves and new figures joined the procession, a kind of uniformity or collective purpose became clear. Both as individuals and as members of a group, all were on the same journey. GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 056 GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 052 Taft’s homily to humanity had a clear message: while life has meaning and purpose, it also has a conclusion that all share equally. Thus, in the rear, Lorado Taft, head bowed but resolute,(L) hand in hand with his Italian assistant, became part of the same ensemble of movement and conclusion. Finally, at the end of the progression, the final figures, aged, lame and fearful, their arms outstretched in contemplation of achievements or failures, now faced another certainty.

While Taft’s magnum opus affirmed the belief that life should be well and truly lived, he also inserted another dominating, all-seeing presence somewhat apart from the main grouping, but one that perceived every action. Its invincibility represented another type of certainty and it could never be vanquished or refuted. It was forever. It was Time itself.

Ironically, the passage of time, the very continuum whose spiritual values he molded in stone, finally defeated Taft’s effort to reshape the Midway into an unsurpassed expanse of art and grandness. The neglected and decaying masterwork then endured decades of deterioration resulting from the imperfect process of its construction and scant public attention. (TWO IMAGES BELOW)

Now, nearly a century later, walk the Midway and imagine what it almost became. Stand at the base of the statue to Jan Masaryk at the east end where the Fountain of creation was to spill its waters into the canal and look down its long green expanse. The sunken center of the Midway is still there, while the location where George Ferris’s great wheel once stood is now a seasonal ice rink. Then, at the edge of the Midway, in shabby magnificence, appears Taft’s great Fountain of Time, now alone, out of place and forgotten. It stands in review before the inscrutable figure of its mentor, Time. Cars hurry around its expansive base, the occupants unknowing of its purpose. Are they curious about why such an immense work is on the Midway? The dream awaits fulfillment.
GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 069 GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 051 GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 067 GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 066 FATHER TIME BEFORE BEFORE RESTORATION4 AUTHOR’S FIFTY YEAR ANNIVERSARY RETROSPECTIVE
CHICAGO TRIBUNE FOUNTAIN OF TIME 1965 001 CHICAGO TRIBUNE FOUNTAIN OF TIME 1965 002 It was my first article and it showed; I’ve gotten better since, and for this anniversary reprint, I also re-edited some of my less than soaring 1965 rhetoric. But there is also the good fortune of having determination and the right idea at the right time as factors.

The cover lede and four inside color pages at a time when people actually read newspapers resonated with many of the Chicago Tribune million plus Sunday readers and, most especially, with the Chicago Park District. They were the nominal but unknowing landlords of Lorado Taft’s greatest work, which also includes the Fountain of the Great Lakes in the south garden of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Not long after the feature’s publication in the then high-quality Tribune Sunday Magazine, I was contacted by the Chicago Park District administration and asked to address its Board of Directors at their Christmas Eve annual meeting in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. I vigorously pleaded for restoration of the great fountain, then in a severely deteriorating condition. (2 images above before restoration). After the conclusion of the three-minute presentation I was approached by a board-member, a short, rather undistinguished appearing elderly man. “We will appropriate money to restore the fountain,” he said, “and it will start in the spring.” He added something else; “Young man, you should be in politics and in the Democratic party. Call me.” It was Col. Jacob “Jake” Arvey, the decades-long national, state, and local political kingmaker, and a favorite of then Mayor Richard J. Daley. I never accepted Arvey’s meeting invitation to follow a political path and never regretted it either, But looking-back decades later the possibilities make for interesting speculation.

GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 055 GEHRY MILLINNIUM PK ADDS 111311 058 Only a year later the Fountain of Time was indeed stabilized and rededicated, this time with the Chicago Fire Department Band, Mayor Richard J. Daley, and Sen. Paul Douglas making the dedicatory remarks, with myself also in attendance and rather astonished by it all. It was the first of several restoration’s that included much-needed floodlighting and repair of the water-filled basin.

Although I have no journalism training, that first article served as the impetus for many more to come, resulting in being awarded the year 2000 U.S. Naval Institute “Author of the Year.”  It continues to the present day as adjunct instructor in adult continuing education at 3 Chicago area colleges, and forty-three years as a Chicago tour guide. Also unchanged is a continuing quest to locate and report on the still-existing places that changed or made history, and that are essential to a decades later re-examination of the living history of our times. Invariably, these places have been overlooked by other historians or considered as no longer existing.  As the features on this site demonstrate, the places that time forgot are very real indeed.  Jerome M. O’Connor.

THE I & M CANAL AND THE ORIGINS OF CHICAGO

ILLINOIS MICHIGAN CANAL LOCK 1CHICAGO RAIL ORIGINS BRIDGEPORT 029CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 005For many of the fifty million plus annual visitors to Chicago,the city’s origin could be assumed as being at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive.  It’s understandable; diagonal bronze lines in the pavement show that Fort Dearborn stood at that very location.  It could thus be concluded that the city to-be began from there,but it didn’t.  The fort was established in 1803 to be a sentinel against encroachment by foreign powers into the interior from the Chicago River.  The I&M Canal, the waterway that connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico thru Chicago, wouldn’t begin construction until 1836 – thirty-three years later.  It started from the Bridgeport neighborhood, about 5 miles from downtown Chicago.   When it was finished in 1846 the canal would intersect a portage traveled by Marquette and Joliet in 1673, and that 173 years later would connect Chicago via the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.   Thus, Chicago was born with the building of the I & M Canal, and for decades it would be the fastest growing city in the world. CHICAGO IM MAP

Although the North American continent had been partially explored and settled by French, English and Spanish explorers and settlers, until Marquette & Joliet’s Voyage of Discovery no one had explored the great river the Indians called ‘Missipi’ from the Great Lakes.

Finding the “father of waters” would establish the long sought connection from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico through the Great Lakes.  Starting from present-day Green Bay WI,  the two explorers voyaged the Fox and Wisconsin rivers to Prairie du Chien, and were then carried downstream on the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas River.  On the return journey, anxious to report their findings to the governor of New France at Quebec, they were told of an easier way back to Lake Michigan by paddling along the Illinois and DesPlaines rivers (see map), encountering only a two-mile portage, over which they carried the canoes.  (En-route, they also discovered a mini continental divide where the waters of the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers flowed back to the Mississippi.)

They then entered the Chicago River, passing along its south branch to the river’s single leg at Wolf Point, and along what is now downtown Chicago to nearby Lake Michigan and back to Quebec.  Although the voyage of over 2,500 miles was a major success, it would take another 163 years for the Illinois and Michigan Canal to make the connection that would also create a dynamic city from a frontier town.  Marquette returned to the Chicago area in 1674 to winter in the bleakness of a region so desolate even the Indians avoided it, thus becoming the first European to reside in Chicago.   When the I&M Canal began construction in 1836,  mostly built by Irish immigrant laborers, Chicago had a population of 400. Fifty years later it would be over 1 million with Chicago now connected by water – the most economical and fastest means of travel – with the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and all that lay beyond. With the opening of the canal, grains, corn, soybeans, lumber and agriculture would flow westward from Chicago, while sugar, molasses, salt, tobacco and oranges would travel from the south.  In 1854, Chicago  received an additional boost from the start of the railroad era, soon to establish the rapidly expanding city as America’s rail center.  As shown in the images below, Bridgeport, where it all began, transitioned from Irish to Polish to Hispanic and Asian, while maintaining its blue-collar roots.  Bubbly Creek (the West Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River, a few hundred feet from where the canal began,) forms the west boundary of today’s Bridgeport, about 5 miles from downtown Chicago.

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The first of what would become 15 lift locks became the reason for starting a new town 35 miles from the canal’s Chicago origins, and appropriately named after the lock itself, Lockport, IL.  Calling itself with some justification, CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 026“the town that made Chicago famous,” Lockport thrived on the now rapidly developing canal traffic that had 288 boats CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 085by 1864, and would move one million tons CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 041of cargo in 1882, its CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 001busiest year.  The 1837 (L) Gaylord Building, an imposing structure that many believe was the canal administration headquarters, actually served mostly as a warehouse for parts and materials used in constructing the canal, but has survived to the present day as an example of what a young country could accomplish, even though most of the country’s interior had yet to be explored or made a part of the United States.  Extending 96 miles from Chicago, where it joined the Illinois River at La Salle and continued to the Mississippi, the I & M Canal also had 5 aqueducts and 4 hydraulic power basins, many of which can be viewed today.CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 007  As seen in this early photo and a current CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 008image, the same rings used to tie the canal boats to the Gaylord Building are still in place.  But even with the canal now fully paid by tolls and land sales, and with new CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 063CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 022towns sprouting along its path, its fate had already been sealed by the coming of the railroad just 6 years after the canal had fully opened from Chicago to the Mississippi.  Today, as Metra, the once Chicago & Rock Island railroad still operates from the same tracks known as the Heritage Corridor.

Although rarely visited, a tattered ten-room white-frame building from 1837 served as the CHICAGO IM CANAL LOCKPORT 066canal headquarters.  The mostly uncatalogued clutter of thousands of records, faded legal documents and dusty artifacts, all contribute to the little-known saga of the town and canal that made Chicago famous.
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LOUIS SULLIVAN AND THE ART OF ARCHITECTURE

 

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ARCHITECTURE THEN TO NOW – THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE                        Viewed as an expression of structure, form and content, architecture may seem to be a rigid profession, bound by rules, science, and technology, and generally lacking in vision and idealism.  For the majority of early architects who used available materials and rushed to build the great American cities, being a visionary was not a part of their architectural vocabulary.  What was needed was to build a structure with a limited budget, and do it quickly.   But for the handful of  great architects from then to now,  their craft was anything but a dogmatic and unyielding job; for them architecture was a calling.  Consider Jeanne Gang’s Aqua in Chicago and Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, (R above), in New York as contemporary examples.

ARCHITECTURE FLW FL SO 010614 019The greatest of  America’s late 19th and early 20th century architects were unafraid to take risks, to become adventurers and boldly explore all that the science and technology of the era would allow.  Also consider Frank Lloyd Wright’s little known Florida Southern College campus (L).  By disregarding the comfort of endlessly repeating classical styles, they embraced an uncertain future, but they also knew that America as a new nation also needed to express its own architecture, just as did earlier civilizations.

By imagining what their work would give to the future, they became visionaries in setting themselves apart from the conformity and classical repetition so characteristic of late 19th OLD STOCK EXCHANGESULLIVAN AI 081210 002SULLIVAN AI 081210 001century architecture. Thus, they were also pioneers,  never fully certain where the new direction would take them, their clients, or the environment they designed.  In creating  the new movement, to be called the Chicago School of Architecture, the early architects became adventurers, of whom none had more influence on the future than Louis Henri Sullivan.  (L & above)1893 Chicago Stock Exchange and 1899-1904 Carson Pirie Scott).

 

 

TWO OVERLOOKED MASTERPIECES                                                                                                              After Carson Pirie Scott, Adler & Sullivan received few major commissions,  caused by a combination of a change in styles, disagreements between the partners,  and Sullivan’s continuing emotional problems and alcoholism.  After the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, most of Sullivan’s commissions consisted of nine small but powerfully expressed banks in small Midwestern towns built between 1908-20 – his “jewel box” banks, and one final work of greatness in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.  Although mostly re-purposed, all of the one-time banks still stand, as does a final work of daring and inspiration, Krause Music store.  The banks and the award-winning former music store validate the kinship between art and architecture.     

BLETCHLEY PARK, ALAN TURING AND ENIGMA – UPDATE AND NEW DETAILS

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ULTRA – THE SECRET OF THE CENTURY                                           Along with the Manhattan Project, STATION X or Bletchley Park and its war-winning breaking of the ENIGMA cypher machine (shown here with a front-line German signals unit) were the major secrets of World War Two.  In preparation for the 1997 feature, the first to be written about Bletchley and it war-winning secret, I visited and photographed the the lonely “huts” and the hulking mansion.  I was in the presence of history and felt it deeply, but for most of the day I was also the only visitor.  It was little-known then, but fast forward to the present day and witness its conversion into one of the world’s most unique indoor and outdoor museums.

Churchill delightedly referred to the war-winning secret and the thousands who never BLETCHLEY PARK BOOK 060515 010revealed it as “the golden geese that never cackled,” but today the place where it happened is as easy to see as taking a fast train from London’s Euston Station, and a short walk to the front entrance.  History awaits.  Like a many-chambered nautilus, the stark “huts” extending from the mansion took on a different appearance and function as the war progressed and the skills of the code-breakers improved. There they stand in hasty variety, scattered over 50 acres, finished in pine and peeling paint or raw brick, some with portions of unfinished bomb blast walls, and, until recent years, all were hollow with abandonment.

800px-Hut6                          798px-Hut-1                                                                                  The odd-bodies and boffins summoned to BP were a curious lot even by the casual standards of the time.  Tweedy dons came from Oxford and Cambridge, with droll linguists and pedagogues from newspapers, publishing houses, museums, and rare book stores, with crossword puzzle experts, chess masters and philosophers completing the eccentric aggregation.  The unorthodox ensemble was needed because secret messages no longer were produced by humans using words – as in World War 1 – but by machines generating an ever-changing confusion of letter combinations.

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BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 011The standard three-rotor Enigma shown here with two spare rotors, messages sent in Morse code into unintelligible cipher text.  The mystery to solve was not what went into the machine but how to get the message out, and to do it while there was time to change the outcome of a battle or shift the course of a convoy.  The three-rotor Enigma could encipher 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible combinations.  But in 1942 the Germans introduced even more elaborate machines with up to 12 wheels, including the M4, that locked-out the BP codebreakers for ten desperate months as the Battle of the Atlantic raged on and under the sea.

As part of an intricate process, the names of people, places, battles, units, enemy radio stations, even cover names, were BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 016punched into data processing machines that sorted, collated, and cross-referenced the cards into a mammoth index.  The punched cards were then stored in constantly expanding one-story buildings in Block C. The mostly women clerks searched up to two million cards weekly to winkle-out the smallest detail to help the codebreakers in the other huts.

During my 1998 visit to view a collection of buildings with few BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 018exhibits and even fewer visitors, one’s imagination needed expansion to envision what took place then compared to today’s still evolving information age.

Between then and now an amazing transformation has taken place.  Where there was emptiness in 1996 there is now major activity.  On the day of my 2015 return visit, twelve fully loaded motor coaches plus hundreds more visitors who came by rail or auto now visited what was once the most secret place in war torn Europe.  Compare the original photo above with the same room now.

As early as January 1940, only 5 months after the war’s start, BP codebreakers already had entered Enigma’s labyrinth.  They were aided by the curiously named “bombe” (below) an electro-mechanical machine that could be plugged with clues or “cribs” to produce menus for possible solutions or “break-in’s.” It was intended to mimic the same

BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 077way that an Enigma may have been set by its operator.  With number and letter instructions gained from results from the hot and noisy sprocket driven machines, one or more of the “bombes” would clatter to a stop, followed by the report of “jobs up,” meaning that Enigma had been penetrated again.  An unexpected intelligence coup saved months of labor when Polish mathematicians gave the British plans for the “bombe,” and the Polish secret service gave the British an actual working Enigma.  With thousands of solutions from the Enigma riddle during the war and with over 12,000 on the staff, only four persons had full details of the secret.

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BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 008Farther afield, thousands of radio operators at coastal intercept stations, supplied masses of raw, encrypted Enigma messages that often originated under appalling conditions. Enemy transmissions alternated among 226 radio frequencies, with Enigma messages averaging only 10 seconds in duration.  Successful detection had to overcome constant frequency changes, enemy jamming, static, howling whistles and squeals, and the ordinary sounds of music or dialogue. Once intercepted at the ‘Y’ or coastal listening stations, raw messages were packed into the side compartments of motorcycles, including this one, and delivered – up to 50 per hour – to BP for potential solution.  Later in the war secure teleprinters greatly improved the process from intercept to analysis.  Choice intercepts were sent to Churchill in his own secret complex at the Cabinet War Rooms in central London.  (Jerome O’Connor was the first to reveal the existence of the mythic war rooms.  The original Chicago Tribune feature is elsewhere on this site.)

The joint military and civilian staff worked on trestle tables set up in drafty, poorly lighted,and hastily constructed temporary buildings extending from the mansion, with women outnumbering men eight to one.  The military wore uniforms without badges of rank or unit markings.  Civilians dressed in tweed or corduroy, and everyone worked furiously, eight hours on and eight hours off around the clock.  From the day the war started until the day it ended six years later, the pace continued unabated.

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Still little-known is the presence  in Block D of 230 American cryptanalysts.  This block was so privileged – a secret within a secret – that its 1,000 member staff  was itself separated by individual departments, none knowing what the others were doing on the other side of  separating walls in the same building.

BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 050BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 021There was good reason for the added security deep within what was already the most secure place in Britain.  Within Block D a traffic analysis section known as SIXTA assembled individual puzzle pieces from scores of thousands of Enigma intercepts.  The history-changing result disclosed the German order of battle and the location of every unit and vessel.  It contributed to a vast deception with the Nazi’s believing that the June 6, 1944 invasion would happen in the Pas de Calais instead of Normandy.  Churchill gave top priority to Bletchley’s revelations and shared the results with his friend and savior, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

BLETCHLEY PARK AND MISC 091ALAN TURING – THE ENIGMA  The inaccuracies in the film The Imitation Game aside, the history-changing accomplishments of the Bletchley Park codebreakers were now fully revealed to a world audience.  The genius who was a major figure in the breaking of Enigma was at home in his world of figures and computations, but seldom elsewhere. Peculiar practices clung to Turing like layers of moor fog.  To his BP colleagues he was “the Prof,” often seen distractedly hurrying to or from the mansion and Hut 8, the section struggling to break the U-Boat code.  To his neighbors in nearby Shenley Village, he was the odd one on the bicycle wearing a gas mask, the best thing for relief of chronic allergies, he believed.  He was iconoclastic, contradictory, and eminently mysterious, the perfect ingredients for an eccentric scientist, or for a demented uncle locked in the attic.  His mind was occupied with constant calculation.  In determining that a loose bicycle chain would come off after 14 turns, he would stop to adjust the chain after each 13 revolutions.  But he also knew that this habit was also part of the chain of inferences necessary for breaking Enigma.  The inferences led to either a contradiction (you were wrong and moved to the next position on the rotor) or a confirmation as the likely letters were transformed into words and then a solution.  Scientists then and now use the same approach to determine the probability of any assumption: observe and conclude.  The Bletchley gift store recognizes Turing’s fame with various books, and with his Hut 8 office open to view nearby.

THE “MAIN HOUSE” – WHERE IT ALL BEGAN  

The 1870s mansion, known as the Main House, was the headquarters and center of the entire operation.  Shown below is a rare wartime photo and the same view today.  Until April 1942, when a separate building served as the staff canteen, the main dining room below served as the cafeteria, and then became the dining room for senior staff.  The Main House continuously served as offices for the senior staff, with the former billiard room converted into a telephone exchange, later to be moved into its separate blast proof hut.  The telephone exchange switchboard facilitated communication later in the war from teleprinters then installed in the ‘Y’ or coastal listening stations.  The teleprinters largely replaced the delivery of messages by motorcycle.

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After VJ Day and the end of the second great war of the century, the codebreakers went back to their lives secure in the knowledge that they had helped save civilization.  What part of it they had saved they didn’t know, not until their first reunion  in 1996 at, of course, Bletchley Park.

As required by the Official Secrets Act until its 1972 expiration and which everyone signed, all who served at Bletchley were obliged to never disclose the secret of the century.  Its violation in wartime could have resulted in death.  But the “golden geese never cackled” and the secret was never revealed.

The epic achievement of the BP codebreakers will be remembered as one of history’s greatest accomplishments in war or peace.  As the direct result of the breaking of Enigma and the later solution to the Nazi’s “secret writer” machine, many thousands of Allied and enemy lives were spared.  Battles were won or avoided; wolf-pack lanes skirted or attacked.  Top Secret Ultra knew enemy intentions often before they were communicated to the field. Ultra revealed orders of battle, situation reports, details of fuel and ammunition reserves, manpower shortages, spare parts inventories; indeed, the state of readiness of every unit in the armed forces.  Ultra knew the exact number of men, aircraft and tanks committed to a battle.  What the Germans did not know about Allied strategy was as vital as what Ultra DID know about enemy plans.

D-Day took place in 1944 instead of 1945 because Ultra knew that the Germans were confused about the actual landing area and that 19 German divisions were waiting for an attack from the nonexistent army of Gen. George Patton to a never-intended landing area, the Pas de Calais.  Ultra helped win the Battle of the Atlantic, the crucial battle of El Alamein, and contributed to the American breaking of Japanese codes that helped win the Battle of Midway.

America’s major accomplishment in breaking the Japanese diplomatic “Purple” cypher began well before the attack at Pearl Harbor, was also known by only a few and called by its own code, “Magic.” However, the content within Purple was unable to provide sufficient detail to know the precise location of the December 7, 1941 attack, only the likelihood of an attack somewhere in the Pacific.  Shortly after Pearl Harbor the Japanese naval code was also broken, which produced the battle-winning clues leading to the decisive victory at the Battle of Midway.  The U.S. Navy’s decisive victory at Midway permanently stopped the Japanese advance across the Pacific.  Because of a finally awakened United States citizenry, everything before Midway was loss, but all that followed was victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WORLD WAR ONE REVISITED – CLASSES IN CHICAGO AREA NOW

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Beginning in 2014 the world will observe the centenary of the “Great War, a war that served only as a bookmark for the even greater war to follow a generation later. In preparation for a series about the war at Chicago area colleges and for various social and fraternal groups, major battlefields were visited and extensively photographed in HD during two trips in 2013.  The research began with comprehensive exploration of the seldom visited but well-preserved battlefield and forts near the town of Verdun.

As shown in images to be continuously added, the combined 700,000 casualities in 10 months of increasingly savage fighting in the Battle of Verdun resulted in the war’s longest battle.  Verdun demonstrated the futility of forts, the ascendency of artillery in war, and the permanence of the trench warfare that characterized the entire war.  But when it ended in 1918, little change in territory had taken place.   A century later, the still-existing trenches, gun emplacements and forts are testimony to the futility of the entire war and its aftermath.

Visiting the Verdun battlefields other than by car or organized tour takes careful planning.  Getting to Verdun by rail is not recommended. The  available hotels, especially in the town of Verdun, differ greatly in quality, but the nearby battlefields are well marked, uncrowded, and among the best preserved anywhere. Walking the miles of trenches, hiking the cratered battlefields, and entering the underground galleries of Fort Douaumont is an exceptional experience for those seeking to relive history where it happened, with only the surrounding silence as witness.

AVAILABLE CLASSES  A two-part historical travel series will visit with dramatic images the same battlefields as they were then and as they appear today – the best preserved of the Great War.  See vivid then and now images including Jerome O’Connor’s visit to the recent opening of the expanded WW 1 galleries at London’s Imperial War Museum.

(Shown above left to right: The mostly underground Fort Douaumont, hit by shells numbering in the millions, one of two retractable 155mm gun turrets, a two-man armored machine gun position, and, a century later, one of many intact communicating trenches. (Below) With 150 tons of chlorine launched by artillery, the Germans were the first to use poison gas in the First Battle of Ypres in April 1915.  The Allies quickly adapted with clothing and face protection and their own poison gas.

 

GASSED IN THE TRENCHES THE BLIND LEAD THE BLIND
GASSED IN THE TRENCHES THE BLIND LEAD THE BLIND

FORMER B-29 ENGINE FACTORY TOUR NOW AVAILABLE

ARSENALB-29[1]Your group can now visit the one-time world’s largest war factory located near Chicago’s Midway Airport. There is nothing like it anywhere. Five engines for every one of the over 18,000 B-29s that ever flew were made from scratch in this war plant. Exclusive access to the re-purposed multi-million square foot original building, now Ford City. Visible and available for viewing inside and out will be the mammoth assembly building,  numerous out-buildings, connecting underground tunnels, original artifacts, even the re-purposed but fully intact B-29 engine test stacks. See the same wartime housing built for many of the 35,000 employees. Chicago-area organizations can include a pre-lecture by Mr. O’Connor, featuring rare original wartime images from inside the plant.  Learn how Chicago and America’s manufacturing abilities made possible the World War 2 victory. For more information use the contact form. Please furnish full details including date, group size and type, contact information, and transportation needs.