Chicago Mythbusters

by Jane Ellis, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Sep 22nd 2010 08:45 PM

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Chicago Mythbusters

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Poor Chicago. No matter how hard it tries, the Windy City always seems to fall just short of number one. For a time, the Windy City was home to the tallest building in the world, the Sears Tower, now known as the Willis Tower. Completed in 1973, the Sears Tower was taller than any other building in the world, but is no longer number one. One of Chicago's nicknames even reflects its runner-up status-Second City. There is one area, however, where Chicago takes the cake-urban myths. From Mrs. O'Leary's cow to Al Capone, Chicago urban legends never seem to disappoint. A little research, and you'll discover why Chicago mythbusters debate most of these legends.

1. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was caused by Mrs. O'Leary's cow. Believed to be false.

The famous 1871 fire nearly destroyed Chicago, killed approximately 300 people, and left another 100,000 homeless. From the ashes of the blaze came the birth of one of Chicago's most famous urban myths. While incident reports and the Chicago Title Insurance Company's records show that Mrs. O'Leary did have a barn behind her house with milking cows and that the fire did start in this vicinity, it has never been proven that a cow started the fire. In fact, investigations of the fire have shown that a witness may have lied and that news reporter, Michael Ahern, may have made the story up. In 1997, the Chicago City Council approved a resolution that absolved Mrs. O'Leary's cow.

Either way, the magnitude of the fire was definitely not Mrs. O'Leary's or the cow's fault. Homes in Chicago at that time were mostly cheaply constructed and were crowded together. Because Mrs. O'Leary's home was located in the middle of Chicago's business district, the fire spread quickly. The city eventually rebuilt, but the urban legend of Mrs. O'Leary's cow never burned out.

2. The Lady in Red was behind the demise of notorious gangster John Dillinger. True, except for the red.

One of the most popular stories among Chicago mythbusters is that notorious bank robber and Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger, was allegedly set up by a lady in red. The woman's name was Ana Cumpanas, but she was known in Chicago as Anna Sage. Working as a brothel madam, Sage was on the verge of deportation to her native Romania and informed the FBI of Dillinger's whereabouts on the night he was killed, thinking her compliance would allow her to stay in the U.S.

Sage's friend, Polly Hamilton, had been seeing Dillinger, and Sage informed the FBI that the three of them were planning to go to Chicago's Victory Gardens Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. According to the FBI, Sage also told the FBI that they could identify the trio because she would be wearing an orange dress. Following her tip, the FBI waited outside the theater until the end of the show and then moved in for the arrest. Dillinger was killed when officers claimed he reached for a gun. Sage was eventually deported, and this Chicago urban myth was born.

Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614, (773) 871-3000

3. The Chicago Cubs will never return to or win the World Series because of a billy goat curse. True so far.

In 1945, William Sianis owned a business called Billy Goat Tavern and brought his pet goat, Murphy, to a World Series game between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. After a short spell at the game, Sianis and his goat were asked to leave due to the animal's odor. Sianis apparently told Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley that his team would never return to the World Series while the goat was alive unless it was allowed into the stadium. The Cubs eventually lost the 1945 series, and Sianis was rumored to have sent a telegram afterward asking Wrigley, "Who smells now?"

The Cubs have yet to return to the World Series, but this Chicago urban legend remains a grand slam.

4. The Chicago Blackhawks hockey team was once under the Muldoon curse. False.

From 1926 to 1927, Pete Muldoon was the Black Hawk's (the team name would later change to the Blackhawks) first coach, and after just one season he was fired by the owner, Major Frederick McLaughlin. Legend has it that Muldoon then said he would put a curse on the team and that the Black Hawks would never finish first in the league. At that time, finishing first was more important than winning the Stanley Cup. The curse seemed to work until 1967 when the Hawks finally finished first in their division.

Team publicist, Joe Farrell, made up the Curse of Muldoon to drum up interest in the Black Hawks and created one of the most well known urban myths in Chicago sports history.

5. Chicago dyes its river green every St. Patrick's Day. True.

For over 40 years the Chicago River has been dyed bright green on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day by the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union. The original dye used to stain the river was traditionally used by plumbers to find leaks. Today an eco-friendly food coloring is used instead, giving truth to this colorful and historical Chicago urban legend.

6. There are sharks in Lake Michigan. Highly unlikely.

Though it is very rare to discover a shark in a body of fresh water, an alleged shark attack in Lake Michigan in 1955 cast doubt on the statement. The Global Shark Attack File lists an attack on a boy named George Lawson who reportedly had his leg bitten off by a bull shark in Chicago's neighboring Lake Michigan. Additionally, a man claimed to have found a dead shark in Lake Michigan in 2008. Despite the man's claims, however, experts believe the shark's body was dumped in the lake. Fact or fiction, Lake Michigan's shark mystery is one of the most perplexing and scary Chicago urban legends.

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