Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Lost Storey Mansion

It's always fun to read old newspaper articles with hindsight and see who really had a grasp on where the world was heading and how was out of his mind. Falling firmly into the latter category was Wilbur F. Storey, editor of the Copperhead (anti-Lincoln/Union) journal, The Chicago Times. His paper was practically a celebration of racism at various times. Among his more notable accomplishments:

- He once described the president's latest speech as "flat, silly, dishwatery utterances" that should make "the cheek of every American tingle with shame." That speech was the Gettysburg address.

- He may have invented the story that Mrs. O'Leady was responsible for the Chicago fire. In fact, in his earliest stories, he claimed that she did it on purpose. He was extremely anti-Irish.

- After his paper was shut down by the Union Army (and re-opened at Lincoln's own order), he posted a ghastly parody of "The Battle Cry of Freedom" that championed fighting for "white rights."

In one of his more famous articles, he claimed that Lincoln was getting advice on how to run the war from dead people through the aid of spirit mediums. But as he grew older and lost what grip on sanity he'd had in the first place, he began talking to spirits himself.

In particular, he claimed to be speaking with an Indian maiden who was called "Little Squaw" and called him "White Chief." At Little Squaw's direction, he began to build a sparkling marble palace for himself on 43rd and Vincennes (ironically, in what would later become Bronzeville). To his face, people called it The Storey Castle. Behind his back, it was known as Storey's FollyThe cost of the materials alone for this "wigwam" was estimated in the $200,000 range, and the cost of rebuilding it as the spirits directed him doubled the price. Far gone from his senses (but still running the paper), he would go inside the unfinished building, and freak out over the "snakes" coming up through the floors (pipes, most likely) and order everything redone. The drawing at the right is the only image I've found so far, but mid-20th century articles show that lived on in the imaginations of people who saw it. It was sort of legendary around Chicago for quite a while.

At his death, the massive structure was still unfinished, and it sat empty until around 1892, when his heirs finally gave up on trying to sell it. It was torn down, and 400 tons of iron beams and girders were sold off. There remained about a million and a half bricks, and a whole heck of a lot of marble. Much to if was used to build new houses around 43rd, Vincennes and Vernon - builders estimated that at least 50 good-sized houses could be built from the rubble.

Some of these houses may still be standing. Anybody know?

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