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.