Vintage Chicago Tribune: Disasters!!!!! Crashes, fires, riots and more from Illinois history.

In life — just as in horror films — it’s the little decisions we make that sometimes spare us from disaster, Chicago.

For Lisa Klare, it was sitting in the first car of an Illinois Central electric train on the morning of Oct. 30, 1972, where a friend wanted to smoke and chat. This seemingly inconsequential decision is why she is able to share her experience of a horrific Chicago tragedy with Tribune reporter Madeline Buckley.

Minutes later, Klare recalls, her train missed its stop and was shifted into reverse. Just seconds after the conductor issued a warning, Klare’s train collided with another commuter train in a high-speed crash. It was 7:27 a.m. Forty five people were killed and another 332 injured.

Though their trauma stems from two separate disasters, Klare and Kim Borchers Jockl have something in common — they never want Chicago to forget these events.

Jockl’s parents, Bill and Corrinne Borchers, died aboard American Airlines Flight 191, which crashed shortly after takeoff from O’Hare International Airport on May 25, 1979. Through the decades, Kim and her siblings Melody and Jim have worked to connect friends and family members of Flight 191 victims. They just published a book about their experiences called “Safe Landing: A family’s journey following the crash of American Airlines Flight 191.”

A permanent memorial to Flight 191′s victims is in Des Plaines, spearheaded by students at Decatur Classical School where Jockl was assistant principal.

By building communities of people whose friends or family members died as the result of a catastrophe, both Klare and Jockl are channeling their grief into something enduring, ensuring the victims are remembered.

As Jockl told me earlier this year, when I asked her what advice she has for people who have lost loved ones in violent ways, “Part of our hearts will forever mourn our parents’ deaths but that hasn’t stopped us from building wonderful lives and beautiful families.”

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— Kori Rumore, visual reporter

Chicago history | More newsletters | Puzzles & Games | Today’s eNewspaper edition

Great Chicago Fire (Oct. 8-10, 1871)

The fire, ever known as the Great Chicago Fire, started on the Sunday night of Oct. 8, 1871, in the hay-filled cow barn behind the frame house that Mrs. O’Leary shared with her husband, Patrick, and their five kids on De Koven Street on the Near West Side.

The fire ran and it grew, swept by a strong wind from the southwest, eating its ravenous way north and toward downtown and beyond. People ran to the lake for shelter as the city became a vast ocean of flame. After that horrible night and the equally terrifying and destructive day and night that followed, the fire finally burned itself out. The city awoke Tuesday to find more than 18,000 buildings destroyed, much of the city leveled, 90,000 people homeless and 300-some people dead. Read more.

Iroquois Theatre Fire (Dec. 30, 1903)

The matinee performance of “Mr. Bluebeard” at Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre was packed with school children and families on Dec. 30, 1903, and the second act had just begun when an arc light over the stage ignited a curtain. As flame licked at the fabric and smoke curled toward the ceiling, the overcapacity crowd of more than 1,800 panicked, rushing for the exits at 24-28 W. Randolph St. and jamming against doors that opened inward. Some exits were locked; others were nearly impossible to open.

Firefighters put out the fire in 30 minutes, but not before it became the worst theater fire in American history with 602 dead — more than twice the toll of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Read more.

Cherry Mine Disaster (Nov. 13, 1909)

The fire in the Cherry Mine has been largely forgotten. But those with an appreciation for mining history know that 259 men and boys died there, making it the third deadliest coal mine disaster in U.S. history and the worst in Illinois.

It was the first time in this country that the concept of worker’s compensation was applied, and it led to the creation of the National Bureau of Mines. It prompted stricter child labor laws and more mine rescue stations. Read more.

Eastland Disaster (July 24, 1915)

The SS Eastland listed to its side in the Chicago River between LaSalle Drive and Clark Street. More than 840 people died, many of them trapped inside the vessel as water poured in when the ship tipped over only a few feet from the riverbank. Read more.

Race riots (Summer 1919)

On a hot July 27, 1919, a black teenager named Eugene Williams floated on a wooden tie past an invisible but mutually understood line that separated a black beach at 29th Street from a white beach at 26th Street. White youths threw rocks at him, according to later investigations, and Williams, who could not swim, was hit and drowned.

Although several people, white and black, tried to revive Williams, a police officer at the 26th Street Beach was unwilling to either arrest the rock throwers on the word of their black accusers or to help Williams. Unequal justice proved to be the rule during the ensuing violence, until the four-day chaos finally was ended by the Illinois militia and a cooling rain. Read more.

Great Tri-State Tornado (March 18, 1925)

Considered the deadliest single tornado in United States history, this estimated EF5 tornado produced winds of at least 200 mph. It touched down at 1:01 p.m. near Ellington, Mo., then remained on the ground for 219 miles through southern Illinois and southwest Indiana. “It was nearly dusk before it took its last savage blow,” the Tribune reported the next day. There were 695 deaths (at least 600 of those were in Illinois), more than 2,000 people injured and more than 15,000 homes destroyed, according to the National Weather Service. See more photos.

  • Vintage Chicago Tribune newsletter from April 2022: Tornadoes!!!

Union Stock Yards Fire (May 19, 1934)

Just as had been the case in 1871, the fire of 1934 was preceded by a dry spell, which turned the stockyards’ wooden animal pens into tinder. The fire was attributed to a motorist throwing a lit cigarette out of the window while driving on a viaduct that carried Morgan Avenue over 43rd Street. It ignited a bunch of hay in a cattle pen below at 4:14 p.m. A worker said he’d often seen drivers doing just that. Read more.

Green Hornet streetcar crash (May 25, 1950)

It started with afternoon thunderstorms, a flooded viaduct and a streetcar turnaround near 63rd and State streets. It ended with a speeding trolley car, a massive fireball and 34 deaths in what remains one of the worst traffic accidents in Chicago history. Read more.

Two Illinois Central trains collide (Oct. 30, 1972)

The trains — an older six-car train and a more modern four-car one — collided at 7:27 a.m. on Oct. 30, 1972, in a crash that killed 45 people and injured 332 others. News accounts described a scene of screaming passengers, mangled bodies and people staggering out of the wreck. Read more.

United Airlines Flight 553 crash (Dec. 8, 1972)

United Airlines Flight 553 crashed into a row of bungalows on West 70th Place, in Chicago, while approaching Midway International Airport, killing 43 of the 61 persons aboard, and two in a home. See more photos.

Rush hour ‘L’ crash (Feb. 4, 1977)

A bystander called it “a slow-motion horror.” The Tribune called it the worst CTA crash in history. Read more.

American Airlines Flight 191 crash (May 25, 1979)

On May 25, 1979 — the start of Memorial Day weekend — 271 people aboard the DC-10 aircraft bound for Los Angeles and two more on the ground died just 31 seconds after takeoff from O’Hare airport. It’s still the deadliest passenger airline accident on U.S. soil. Read more.

Heat wave (July 1995)

Chicago was gripped by one of the city’s worst natural disasters: a scorching heat wave that claimed more than 700 victims, mostly the poor, elderly and others on society’s margins.

The temperature hit 106 degrees on July 13, 1995, and would hover between the high 90s and low triple digits for the next five days. Dozens of bodies filled the Cook County medical examiner’s office. On a single day — July 15 — the number of heat-related deaths reached its highest daily tally of 215; refrigerated trucks were summoned to handle the overflow of corpses. Read more.

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