…a crisply focused affair that relates how a blimp disaster, a transit strike and a race riot made for a particularly hellish July of 1919…Krist shows an admirable ability to interweave so many threads while breathing life into a host of supporting characters…As a page-turner that offers resonant insights into the inflammatory political and racial dynamics of an earlier time, City of Scoundrels works just fine.
Drawing readers in by focusing on the stories of individual Chicoans affected by a series of tragic events, Krist (The White Cascade) describes a Chicago that was “push… to the edge of civic disintegration” by 12 days of crises in the summer of 1919. On Monday, July 21, an experimental Goodyear blimp flying over the densely populated downtown Loop district to promote an amusement park suddenly burst into flames and crashed into the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank, injuring 27 and killing 13. The next day, the six-year-old daughter of Scottish immigrant grocers was snatched and choked to death by a neighbor who buried her body in the basement of their apartment building. On Saturday, July 26, a highly regarded municipal court judge committed suicide by jumping from his City Hall chambers, and on Sunday, a black youth’s death caused by a white bather at a whites’-only beach sparked a race riot on the South Side. As the rioting continued, a transit strike paralyzed Chicago on Tuesday, July 29, and endangering lives by playing politics, the controversial Mayor Big Bill Thompson dithered about calling in the National Guard to quell the violence. Krist serves up a solid, well-informed, and vibrant slice of urban history. Map. (Apr.)
"(An) eager narrative that delivers vivid reading."
"The most compelling adventure yarn, full of crashing dirigibles, bloody riots, and classic crooks. Loved it."
—Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent
"A lavishly intricate, well-paced account of a great city lashed to the breaking point by a political perfect storm."
—New York Times
Think you've had a rough couple of weeks? The author of The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche (2007) returns with a tale of air disaster, race and ethnic riots, labor violence, child murder, political corruption and more--all in a Windy City fortnight in 1919. Employing a zigzag style throughout his entertaining, troubling narrative, Krist corrals several plot threads: the fiery, deadly crash of the blimp Wingfoot Express into a Loop bank building, the disappearance of and frantic search for a little (white) girl, a violent race riot that transformed the South Side into a war zone (it took the National Guard to restore order), a looming transit strike that threatened to put more angry people on the street, assorted ethnic clashes, the emergence of crisis-oriented journalism and the vicious political struggle between Chicago Major Big Bill Thompson and Illinois Gov. Frank Lowden. Krist also includes regular commentary by a young woman diarist, Emily Frankenstein (whose father, incredibly, was named Victor--and was a doctor), who pops up too often to offer banalities about her life. The blimp crash seemed to ignite kindling that was already smoldering, and soon the city blazed with riot and fury. Snipers and hooligans abounded; cops struggled (though not enough, claimed some aggrieved black residents); politicians lied, changed the subject and tried to cover their asses. A suspect in the abduction waxed arrogant--at first; Ring Lardner, Carl Sandburg, Edna Ferber, H.L. Mencken and others weighed in. A grim but eager narrative that delivers vivid reading.