While several alternate creation myths exist, most Uratha accept that the death of Father Wolf is the true account of their origin. According to the story, long ago the world was a paradise known as Pangaea, where the spirit and material worlds mingled freely. Balance was kept by Father Wolf, a being of great power who patrolled the borders between the worlds. Luna, spirit of the moon, was impressed by his strength and wisdom and, in her human form, took him as her lover. From their union the Uratha were born: part spirit and part flesh, part human and part wolf.
As the years went by, some of Father Wolf’s children saw that he had become weak, and to prevent him failing in his duties rose against him and killed him, intending to take his place. Their rash action had unforeseen consequences: the death of Father Wolf raised a barrier between the worlds, making it impossible for any being to cross except at certain places. Pangaea was lost, and gradually became the world we know today. Luna, stricken with grief, cursed all Uratha, though those who participated in Father Wolf’s death later swore an oath to her to carry on Father Wolf’s tasks, regaining some of her favour – but costing them the enmity of the spirit world. These Uratha became known as the Forsaken. Those who did not participate in his death also did not swear the oath to Luna; they are much more numerous in the modern world, and are known as the Pure. They seek to destroy the Forsaken in retribution for Father Wolf’s death.
Chicago HistoryBefore European settlement, the area now called Chicago was a primeval bog on the banks of the vast lake the natives called “The Great Water.” The area’s most numerous inhabitants were the Potawatomi Indians, but it was a common trading site and travel stop for Indians from the HoChunk, Kickapoo and Winnebago tribes as well. Legends claim there was something special about the area. Archeologists have borne this out by finding an extraordinary number of strange symmetrical earthworks and ritual mounds in the area, the significance of which remain unknown and has probably been lost. The word “Chicago” means either “striped skunk” or “pungent leek” in the language of the Miami and Illinois Indians. The name was apparently applied to the marshy mouth of the Chicago River because of the heavy presence of leeks there. For hundreds of years, the area remained quiet and largely uninhabited. Then the white men came, and the blood began to flow and it’s been flowing ever since.
Fort Dearborn: First Blood
In 1803, the same year the United States acquired the Louisiana Purchase, an army captain named John Whistler came to the area the Indians called Chicago and built Fort Dearborn, named after Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of war. South of the palisaded fort were merchants and weaponsmiths attached to the fort to keep the soldiers supplied with guns, ammunition and other necessities. To the north were a few scraggly trappers and traders with assorted ties to the Indians, the British and the French.
Fort Dearborn was a risk, a military operation in hostile territory, and it wasn’t going to be long before hostilities reached a violent climax and seeming conclusion. After an extended period of escalating aggression, the hostile Indians attacked the fort in August of 1812, slaughtered the residents and burned the fort to the ground. The thick, rich blood of innocents splashed across stones and dirt and seeped into the ground, and the flames and billowing smoke rose greasily to the heavens to announce the annihilation of the white settlers. According to the tales of the Indians, something in the area changed on the day of the Fort Dearborn Massacre.Something that had been quiescent in its bindings stirred in its sleep. Already things were going wrong. The site was abandoned by the United States for four years, and largely returned to its natural state. The area was too strategically important to the settlers, however, and another wave arrived in 1816 and built a second Fort Dearborn. Larger and more secure than the first fort, this one became the core of a burgeoning city that took its name from the river it sat next to: Chicago.
The Beast Awakens
Driven by the steady westward flow of settlers and the city’s opportune placement on a major waterway, Chicago grew quickly. It got its first bridge and drugstore in 1832, and incorporated as an official town a year later.
￼Trees were falling, and wooden buildings were going up at an astonishing pace.
The Union Stock Yards opened in 1865, and Chicago’s slaughterhouses grew at a phenomenal rate, starting a trickle of blood from the city that would swell to a torrent in later years. One poet called Chicago the “butcher to the world.” As the decades passed, the intimate connection between spilling blood and making money would only grow stron- ger, and that legacy would long outlast the city’s stockyards.
Chicago was a workingman’s town that still had a feel of the frontier to it. When the town’s citizens weren’t working, they liked to drink, gamble, visit whores and, of course, go to church on Sundays. Even in the early years, Chicago was known for its crime and rampant vice, and had a reputation throughout the United States and Europe as a wicked city. Newspapers would daily announce the latest sensational crimes, and they were le- gion. Compared to other cities of the day, Chicago’s many dens of vice of all sorts were blatant and unapologetic. Many of these establishments, called “the Patches,” were located along the banks of the Chicago River, and the Chicago Tribune described them as “places of the most beastly sensuality and darkest crimes.”
This reputation only fueled the city’s decadence. Crimi- nals, charlatans, prostitutes, pushers and predators of all de- scription, lured by the city’s lawless image, came from across the United States to take part in the city’s booming economy in whatever way suited them best. These news stories had an impact on the type of people who sought out Chicago, and ultimately shaped the city by luring a certain lawless element. That would explain a lot about Chicago in the years to come. And hot on their heels followed an army of moralists, preachers and two-bit prophets ready to save the sinners’ souls before the city fell like a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
On the night of October 8, 1871, there was a strong northerly wind blowing across Chicago. While hardly note- worthy in Chicago, in this case the wind proved to be disas- trous. A barn in the southern portion of the city caught fire around 8:30 in the evening. With the wind fanning the flames, fire lunged through the city’s tightly pressed wooden buildings at an astonishing rate. For 36 hours, the flames raged through Chicago, destroying more than 18,000 buildings over nearly four square miles in the heart of the city. It was as if the fire were hungry and wanted to glut itself.
The common lore surrounding the fire is that it was caused when a cow kicked over an oil lantern, but that tale has been frequently challenged and the truth of the situa- tion remains unclear. Whatever the case, Chicago was not the only place to experience fires that night. All across Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, blazes seemed to erupt spontaneously at approximately the same time.
In recent years, scientists have suggested that these fires were caused by a swarm of incoming meteorites, but, in the 19th century, the more commonly held belief was that the Great Fire was the old-fashioned wrath of God brought down on a city that wore its wickedness on its sleeve.
The chaos and horror of the fires were greater than anything the United States had seen. Even years later, sur- vivors of the fire would talk in hushed tones of the absolute and terrifying loss of reason that afflicted so many of Chicago’s citizens that night. Thieves trying to loot evacu- ated homes were shot and tossed into the flames to be counted as fire casualties later. Likewise, any number of long-time grudges, lovers’ quarrels and vicious business ri- valries were settled the same way. Blood spilled. Bodies burned. The chaos, and death toll would have been much worse but for the presence of General Phillip Sheridan, the Civil War hero and ranking military com- mander in the area, who instituted martial law and returned a modicum of civilization to what had rapidly degenerated into a frenzy of madness and mayhem.
The River of Blood: 1900-1920
Chicago did come up with a better way. In 1900, after many years of discussion, an unheard-of expenditure of money and a great deal of work, the city of Chicago suc- ceeded in subjugating nature to the city’s will and reversed the flow of the river the city was named for. It was a moment of nigh-unbelievable hubris, but hubris was hardly a stretch for Chicago.
With the Chicago River no longer emptying into the lake where the city’s drinking water originated, the river could be used to dispose of all manner of waste, including all of the increasing output of blood from the stockyards. Hundreds of animals were killed and butchered in Chicago’s slaughterhouses every day, and truly staggering quantities of blood and offal were dumped into the river.
As the river went, so went the city of Chicago. The river was flowing backward, choked with blood and animal remains. The city itself became a bloody place, out of touch with the natural flow of the world. The years following the subjugation of the river would not be as kind to the city as the years preceding it.
A handful of self-defined spiritualists, sensitives, seers and others tried to draw attention to what they called “the spiritual consequences” of the river’s reversal, the mass slaughter of animals and the unprecedented pollution prob- lem, but they were written off as attention-starved, mentally unbalanced and, worst of all, enemies of Progress. Jehovah might have had his token defenders, but Money and Progress were the only two gods really worshipped in Chicago on any large scale, and those gods were not kind to the heretics of the faith. The meatpacking industry was among the wealthiest and most powerful in the city at the time, and the meatpacking companies would not brook slan- der, even by the lunatic fringe. The companies’ agents saw to it that these spiritual deviants were bribed or threatened until they shut up or left the city. The remaining dissidents found the retribution of the meatpackers to be swift and brutal. It would not be the last time that industry squelched activism in the city of Chicago.
Big city-shaping projects were very much the order of the day in the first years of the 20th century. These years also saw Chicago dig an freight railway system beneath the Loop to allow deliveries underground through the sub-basements of key buildings. The tunnels served a number of purposes, including mail delivery and garbage removal. While the underground freight system was a work of genius for a few, brief years, the prohibitive cost of operating the trains in the tunnels combined with a rash of disappearances ultimately led to the entire system being closed and sealed off from the surface world in the late ’50s. In the ’60s, the electrical cabling, tracks, locomotives and train cars that had remained in the freight tunnel system were sold for scrap. Not much remains today but fragments of derelict steel and fiber-optic telecom cables, yet many build- ings in the Loop are still connected by an underground network that few even remember exists.
All in all, the years between the Great Fire and the beginning of Prohibition were good ones that would later be seen as Chicago’s Golden Age. It would all be downhill from there.
The Devouring of the North Side
The ’40s through the ’70s saw the city grow larger and more segregated. While affluent, white baby boomers were growing up in the few good neighborhoods of the North Side, the South Side was falling to the dark forces of despair and horror.
By the ’70s, the tides of entropy had slowed their constant lapping at the neighborhoods of the North Side most of them, anyway. The same was not true of the South Side. Many American cities reached their nadir points during this decade, and Chicago was no exception. Most of the urban renewal tactics undertaken by the city in the ’50s and ’60s, particularly on the South Side, had failed, and blight covered most of the South Side like a cancer on the city’s geography.
A handful of small ethnic enclaves survived these decades untouched by the South Side’s corruption by adopting a vigilant, almost xenophobic approach toward outsiders. These enclaves’ siege mentality resulted in a few horrific in- cidents of vigilante justice, but also preserved their communities, keeping them all but untouched by the passage of time.
The vast majority of the South Side, however, became a no-man’s land avoided even by the police. Consequently, the worst in human nature (and inhuman nature, in some cases) reigned ascendant over any of the South Side’s residents who were too poor to escape. Only reports of the most extreme atrocities — mass murders, large-scale white slavery operations or, on one occasion, a studio set up to produce snuff films were enough to get the police to intervene, and then only if they weren’t paid to mind their own business. By the ’80s, it would have been difficult for things to get any worse on the South Side, and then the times changed.
The ’90s were kind to Chicago. The robust national economy buoyed the city enough that even some South Side neighborhoods started to enjoy the benefits of gentrification. Buildings that had been run down tenements for decades were bought, gutted and rehabilitated into hous- ing for Chicago’s growing affluent class. The Loop once more became a residential neighborhood, instead of the sterile toiling place it had been for decades.
The city still has its poor, but the soaring property values are slowly conspiring to force the poor from the city so wealthy, college-educated workers can take their place. Chicago has begun a financial recovery from its long ailment, but the city has not shaken the corruption that many now feel has eaten its way to Chicago’s core. Money still speaks louder to the city’s judges, politicians and police than the quieter voice of ethics, and that allows things to happen in Chicago that should be unthinkable in the core of the “wholesome Midwest.” The residents of Chicago, however, have grown blind to the corruption around them, and dark deals that would raise red flags in any other city now go unopposed, allowing any number of underground elements to operate within the city with little or no opposition.
And yet the city grinds on.