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Your Saturday history briefing

Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition
Welcome to the “This week in history” newsletter, part of Afternoon Edition! Every Saturday we take a break from recapping the day’s news to bring you a deep dive into Chicago’s fiery, rollercoaster-riding and sometimes laugh-out-loud history. For more historic photos, follow us at @CSTphotovault on Facebook and Instagram.
— Alison Martin (@miss_alison_m, follow for extra history plus rants and dogs throughout the week)

This week in history: City commemorates 25 years since Great Chicago Fire
The Water Tower was among the few structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire. | J. Paul Getty Museum
The Water Tower was among the few structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire. | J. Paul Getty Museum
In 1896, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 would have been a still-fresh memory for many residents in the same way the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks still felt raw for many on the 20th anniversary last month.
But on the 25th anniversary of the fire that year, the city decided to go all out to celebrate its comeback and “unparalleled triumph,” according to the Oct. 9 edition of the Chicago Daily News, with a parade of over 100,000 marchers led by Gen. Joseph Stockton.
Chicago’s rise from the ashes of the destructive fire, which began on Oct. 8, 1871 and burned until Oct. 10, astounded many. Over 300 people died in the fire, and another 100,000 were left homeless. The fire destroyed more than 17,000 buildings and 1.5 million acres of the city. Recovery, however, moved swiftly despite other setbacks (including more city fires), and by 1896, residents felt ready to celebrate.
“When the parade commenced to move from the lakefront at 10:12 o'clock this morning, the downtown portion of the city was crowded with struggling but good-natured humanity,” a Daily News reporter observed. “Business had been for the greater part suspended in order to bring into line the army of employees and employers of downtown business houses. Everyone who could get away had hastened to the central thoroughfares to watch the progress of this procession that was to be 13 miles long.”
The parade started at the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue, the paper reported. People watched from the balconies of the hotels along the avenue, the report said, as the procession turned onto Van Buren Street and passed the unfinished L tracks, on which “such a mass of people that a spectator could not have told whether their perch was an L road or a reviewing stand.” From there, the parade wound its way around downtown.
Read more on the day’s festivities here. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the Chicago Sun-Times dug into the archives to show readers how the fire started and what finally stopped it. Columnist Neil Steinberg also caught up with descendants of those Chicagoans who survived the fire. And don’t forget to browse the wealth of information available at greatchicagofire.org.
Talk of the town
Bernie Mac was a Chicago comic through and through. Born and raised on the South Side, Mac, who was born Oct. 5, 1957, became a local comedy powerhouse in the 1990s and later one of the “Kings of Comedy” alongside D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer. He stole scenes in “House Party 3” and the “Oceans” remakes and headlined in “Guess Who?” and “Mr. 3000.”
In 2001, Mac landed his own sitcom on Fox, and it became a hit with both audiences and critics alike.
“Based loosely on Mac’s own life,” Chicago Sun-Times critic Phil Rosenthal wrote, “this new laugh-track-free series has him playing a Los Angeles comedian named Bernie Mac who, with his executive wife (Kellita Smith), has parenthood suddenly thrust upon him when his sister’s drug problem makes her unable to take care of her son (Jeremy Suarez) and two daughters (Camille Winbush and Dee Dee Davis).”
But the show, the critic assured readers, would not devolve into an after-school special.
“Yeah, my sister’s on drugs,” Mac announces to viewers in the pilot episode. “That’s OK. Some of your family members are messed up, too.”
Mac and producer Larry Wilmore infused the comedian’s own “cranky truth-teller” style into each episode to create a “funny, utterly unsentimental series about parenthood in the ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ mold, meaning that even after all is said and undone, there’s a certain sweetness at its core.”
Rosenthal hoped the show would turn Mac into the “household name he deserves to be in households where he somehow isn’t already.”
If you need a laugh, check out this video tribute and compilation of some of the funniest moments from “The Bernie Mac Show.” Read the latest on Mac’s upcoming biopic here.
Snapshot
On Oct. 3, 1967, Riverview Park closed its doors for good. The amusement park, located in Roscoe Village, welcomed thousands of visitors each year since its opening in 1904. Its most famous rollercoaster, the Bobs, debuted in 1924.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent a photographer to the park on Jan. 31, 1968 as crews worked to dismantle and demolish rides and attractions. Here’s a look at the park’s condition on that day.
Of all the attractions at Riverview Park, the Bobs rollercoaster offered the best thrill ride. Here it is partially demolished on Jan. 31, 1968.
Of all the attractions at Riverview Park, the Bobs rollercoaster offered the best thrill ride. Here it is partially demolished on Jan. 31, 1968.
Rides and buildings at Riverview Park in states of demolition and decay on Jan. 31, 1968. From the Sun-Times archives.
Rides and buildings at Riverview Park in states of demolition and decay on Jan. 31, 1968. From the Sun-Times archives.
Several buildings at Riverview Park stand partially demolished. The photo was taken on Jan. 31, 1968. From the Sun-Times archives.
Several buildings at Riverview Park stand partially demolished. The photo was taken on Jan. 31, 1968. From the Sun-Times archives.
A tram sits empty at Riverview Park. Behind it, a group of cars are parked behind a pile of garbage on Jan. 31, 1968. From the Sun-Times archives.
A tram sits empty at Riverview Park. Behind it, a group of cars are parked behind a pile of garbage on Jan. 31, 1968. From the Sun-Times archives.
The Riverview Carousel survived the demolition of the park. In fact, you can still ride it at Six Flags Over Georgia in Austell, Georgia. To relive the park’s glory days, check out “Laugh Your Troubles Away: The Complete History of Riverview Park, Chicago, Illinois” by Derek Gee and Ralph Lopez.
First mention/Last mention
Rev. Jesse Jackson receives a commemorative gift from Mayor Harold Washington on Jan. 10, 1984, after returning to Chicago from freeing a captured Navy airman from Syria. At the time, Jackson was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. From the Sun-Times archives.
Rev. Jesse Jackson receives a commemorative gift from Mayor Harold Washington on Jan. 10, 1984, after returning to Chicago from freeing a captured Navy airman from Syria. At the time, Jackson was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. From the Sun-Times archives.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, born Oct. 8, 1941: The Rainbow PUSH Coalition and former residential candidate turns 80 this year. His first-ever mention in the Chicago Daily News came on Feb. 4, 1966. At the time, Rev. Jackson, then just 24 years old, worked as convener for the newly formed Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization. He told the paper the organization’s first aim was “to rid the area of slum housing.”
Charles Wilbert Wright, died Oct. 3, 1979: A Chicago-born artist best known for his large-scale paintings and drawings that captured the beauty and power of the Black community, Wright received his last mention in the Chicago Sun-Times three years before his death. On Feb. 17, 1976, columnist Irving Kup mentioned the famed artist would be making an appearance at the South Side Community Arts Center that day.
Rev. Jesse Jackson has delivered countless sermons and speeches over the course of his long career. Listen to his 1984 Democratic National Convention speech here and 1988 speech here. Charles Wilbert Wright came up through the Black Renaissance in the 1930s and 1940s in Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago offered him a scholarship to study after high school and invited him to exhibit his work in the institute’s Twenty-First International Exhibition of Watercolors in 1942. Read more about him here and see some of his work from the Art Institute’s 2018 retrospective.
Thanks for reading! Want to share your thoughts? Your favorite moment in Chicago history? Your complaints? Send them to amartin@suntimes.com.
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Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition

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