Imagine a city at a crossroads. Imagine a Chicago with a lame duck mayor wary of making big plans because the new mayor might have a different vision. Come on, I know it's really not so hard if you try. Now imagine it's October 11, 1871 and 1/3 of the city is burned, 1/3 of the city's population is homeless, and hundreds of lives have been lost. What would you expect that mayor to do? Well if you are Mayor Roswell B. Mason, apparently you call in Civil War hero General Philip Sheridan and allow him to institute martial law.
Chicago Fire, please win this game for the troops called in after the Great Chicago Fire
Mayor Roswell B. Mason was essentially a caretaker mayor. His first and only political candidacy was supported by the business community that he was a part of as a railroad manager by trade. Mason ran essentially because the 'Citizens' Party' needed someone to run against the Chicago Republicans that saw their guy John Blake Rice turn the mayoral office into a place filled with gambling, graft, and prostitution. Rod Blagojevich might have had a chance against JBR's Republican party and it was no surprise when Mason and his Citizen's Party won the 1869 mayoral election fairly easily. Mason's Inaugural address started off:
GENTLEMEN: In compliance with the usual custom and in accordance with my duty, I lay before you such matters pertaining to the interests of the city as the brief period since my election has enabled me to become familiar with. More definite information may be given hereafter from time to time, as circumstances require.
So yeah... not exactly the link between Abraham Lincoln and William Jennings Bryan in the chain of great American orators. Mason wasn't much of a leader either and it was actually 'prominent civic leaders' who asked General Philip Sheridan to take the reigns of the city over the course of 24 hours before Sheridan actually said yes on October 11th. As soon as the fire reached epic proportions on October 9th, the message went out for companies of infantry to get to Chicago and help with the recovery. Giving martial law to Sheridan seemed a natural extension to those who had business interests they wanted protected at any cost. Mayor Mason used an unusual power granted to the mayor of Chicago that allows control of the city to be given to anyone the mayor wants in 'time of crisis'.
Hesitant to invoke martial law when first asked, Sheridan dove right in once he had it. He ordered his troops to do little things like set food and hotel prices throughout the city. If merchants were found to be overcharging for nourishment, Sheridan's troops took the goods and started selling the food themselves. If hoteliers were gouging suddenly homeless Chicagoans, the property was confiscated and the 'proper' rates were charged. The troops dug down and helped clear away debris and charred rubble. They also prevented looting, petty thievery and other things that would have made a tragedy all that more tragic. Moves like that were unanimously cheered (outside of the merchants and the looters trying to make a fast buck of course) but there was a dark side to Sheridan's rules.
Every soldier was authorized to shoot anyone that did not obey an order and a strict sundown curfew was put into effect. This was indeed martial law, make no mistake. Sheridan also stationed his troops in disproportionately high numbers around the downtown business district and the exclusive Prairie Avenue neighborhood. The same Prairie Avenue neighborhood where the best houses remaining in Chicago stood and even housed many temporary residents who came from the equally wealthy Gold Coast area. Meanwhile the North side went almost completely ignored and parts of West and South side received lower quality assistance.
The honeymoon on martial law officially ended when a man named Thomas Grosvenor was out at 1:00 AM on October 20th. Grosvenor was asked to halt by a University of Chicago student from Wisconsin. Like most sensible Chicagoans who are yelled at by university students from Wisconsin at 1:00 AM, Grosvenor ignored this person. The problem is said Wisconsin university student belonged to one of the volunteer units under Sheridan's command. For whatever reason the volunteer took it upon himself to act out the authorization to shoot anyone not obeying the military's orders and Grosvenor died. Illinois Governor John M. Palmer had been against the whole idea of Chicago being put under martial law from the very beginning (you can read his complaints and a little more background on the shooting in Palmer's letter to Illinois Attorney General Washington Bushnell published by the New York Times on November 6, 1871) and this was the final straw for him. Chicagoans who were suspicious of martial law from the beginning went into overdrive and even some of Sheridan's die hard fans began to have second thoughts. Under immense political pressure... and immense common sense from where I'm sitting... Mayor Mason discharged Sheridan of his 'peace-keeping' duties on October 23rd and the Chicago police were reinstated as the primary civic order force in the city once again.
The Chicago Fire Soccer Club enters the 2011 season in what many fans believe to be a state of disaster. It is true that the original C.J. Brown is not only gone but working for another MLS team. Brian McBride, John Thorrington, Wilman Conde, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Chris Rolfe, Chris Armas, Zach Thornton, Jesse Marsch, Ante Razov, Diego Gutierrez, and Peter Nowak won't be there either. When the Chicago Fire take the field tonight, it will be the first time since that very first game in 1998 that the Fire will not have a single player on the roster that is in the franchise's all-time top ten in goals, assists, and countless other categories. The team is facing the very real possibility of not making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the fist time in the distinguished history of cf97.
However tonight's starting 11 will feature players that are ready to be the new legends, ready to answer a new call to glory. Chicagoan William Bross witnessed his house burned down to the ground and he was at a loss. Only thanks to a friend did he have shelter on October 11, 1871. He had to be sitting in his friend's kitchen thinking, 'what's next, how did I move on?' when he heard a rumbling from the down the street.
As I sat sipping my coffee over some cold ham, I saw Sheridan's boys, with knapsack and musket, march proudly by. Never did deeper emotions of joy overcome me.
These troops did not wear the most decorated uniforms and they didn't bear names of the greatest Civil War heroes but they did have one of the most vaulable forms of currency among human beings - a helping hand. In the fall of 2010, I could not have told you the names of Jalil Anibaba, Orr Barrouch, Diego Chaves, Marko Marić, Josip Mikulić, Daniel Paladini, Davis Paul, Gaston Puerari, and Mike Videira but they stand before us today with an outreached hand. When they walk through the tunnel with jersey and badge, it will be time to embrace the players that have answered Chicago's cry for help. Perhaps there is a Grosvenor's shooter in the mix but we'll deal with that when the time comes. Grab a broom, place a brick, and work together with your fellow neighbors and supporters. The reinforcements have arrived. It's time to rebuild Chicago. As friends, as a city, as a club, we will rise again.