Gary Krist's new book is City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago.
From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:
Q: What happened in Chicago in 1919?The Page 69 Test: Gary Krist's The White Cascade.
A: You had a city going from a state of high optimism about the future to the brink of civil collapse and martial law.
The war was over, the influenza epidemic was tapering off, the crime rate was low, and people had this plan for Chicago in view.
[Architect and urban planner] Daniel Burnham had this visionary plan that was going to turn Chicago into the Paris of the prairies, and people were very optimistic about this.
Then the postwar pressures just set in. And what started out looking hopeful disintegrated into this 12-day period when the city descended into chaos.
It started with a blimp crash, the first major aviation disaster in American history. And even before people had time to digest that, a child disappears from the North Side of Chicago, which created this hysteria about whether our children are safe from our neighbors.
The real mayhem began when a pretty minor incident at a South Side beach spiraled into one of the worst race riots in American history. As if that weren't enough, a transit strike was called.
Q: How were the ordinary people of Chicago affected by all this?
At a certain point, people wondered if Chicago would...[read on]