Top 40 OMG Moments in Recent Chicago History

MOUTH WIDE OPEN: We pick the 40 moments in recent Chicago history that made you stop, blink, and say, “Oh my God!”

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OMG moments in recent Chicago history

To celebrate our magazine’s 40th anniversary this December, we name the 40 best records, restaurants, movies, and more

20. LaRouchites Win
March 18, 1986
In stunning come-out-of-nowhere fashion, two ultraconservative followers of Lyndon LaRouche won statewide Democratic nominations in Illinois— Mark Fairchild for lieutenant governor and Janice Hart for secretary of state. The upsets proved a fluke but disrupted the campaign of Adlai Stevenson III, who ran for governor as an independent rather than share a ticket with candidates he called “kooks” and “neo-Nazis.” The Republican governor, Jim Thompson, went on to a fourth term.

19. Now You See It
January 1978
For four months in 1977, the Sun-Times, with the Better Government Association, operated a bar at 731 North Wells Street called the Mirage Tavern. Two reporters posed as bartenders and waited for city and state inspectors to turn a blind eye to health and safety violations in exchange for payoffs. The 25-part story—complete with photos snapped from a secret loft—resulted in a federal probe in which one-third of the city’s electrical inspectors were indicted. Read Time magazine’s account of the sting »

18. The Misery Beat
February 1991
Derided as an exploitative ratings grab, Walter Jacobson’s “Mean Street Diary” followed the television reporter as he wandered the streets of Chicago for 48 hours disguised as a homeless man. With prosthetic undereye bags, yellowed teeth, and a fake beard, Jacobson panhandled unsuccessfully, longed for a gyro through a steamy window, survived sleep deprivation in below-zero temperatures, and ended his odyssey with the memorable line, “I’m miserable. I am really, really miserable.” Read and check out photos of Jacobson’s experience in this cached page of the CBS website »

17. Jake, Elwood, and Jane
August 3, 1979
During Chicago-Fest, Mayor Jane Byrne and her daughter, Kathy, donned black fedoras and sunglasses and hammed it up for some photos with the Blues Brothers. A particularly goofy shot, with Byrne using her fingers to simulate a gun, ended up in Us magazine; Byrne was outraged. The mayoral photographer, Martha Leonard, was demoted and eventually quit.

16. UFO at ORD
November 7, 2006
First reported on January 1, 2007, in a Chicago Tribune story by Jon Hilkevitch, as many as a dozen United Airlines employees—including pilots, mechanics, ramp workers, and managers—saw something around 4:30 p.m. under overcast skies at O’Hare’s C Concourse. Described by several witnesses as a dark gray saucerlike object, it hovered silently below the cloud cover before shooting upward—and vanishing. Watch Hilkevitch talk about the UFO sighting in the video below:


15. Man Versus Monument
May 25, 1981
Using suction cups and mountaineering gear, an American rock climber named Dan Goodwin, wearing a Spider-Man suit, battled high winds and slippery conditions to successfully scale the 110-story Sears Tower. Watch the story of Goodwin’s climb below:


14. Jordan Goes to Bat
October 6, 1993
In a 45-minute news conference, Michael Jordan shocked fans when he retired from professional basketball after leading the Bulls to three consecutive NBA championships. Four months later, Jordan took a quixotic jag, signing as a free agent with the White Sox and playing on two minor-league teams before rejoining the Bulls in March 1995 by way of a faxed note that read: “I’m back!” Watch a news report on Jordan’s first retirement below:


13. Mayor Bilandic, Martyr
February 14, 1979
Although Michael Bilandic was blamed for botching the city’s response to the historic blizzard of January 1979, the true OMG moment occurred a month later when, addressing a roomful of precinct captains, the embattled mayor compared himself to the crucified Christ, the early Christian martyrs, and the Jews who suffered through the Holocaust.

12. Geraldo Rivera’s Egg
April 21, 1986
In a way, one can hardly blame Geraldo Rivera for hoping the concrete vault in the basement of the South Side’s Lexington Hotel might yield untold riches or, even better, victims of the gangster Al Capone. An estimated 30 million viewers watched as Rivera, flanked by his jump-suited excavation crew, sheepishly admitted on live TV: “It seems, at least up to now, that we’ve struck out with the vault.” Watch footage of the opening of the vault below:


11. Off the Wall
May 11, 1988
Nine black aldermen, including Bobby Rush and Dorothy Tillman, stormed a private exhibit of student artwork at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and demanded that police remove Mirth and Girth, a painting by David K. Nelson depicting the late mayor Harold Washington in women’s lingerie.

Photo gallery



4 years ago
Posted by tribe22

Re: #30, obviously, the Sox wore those shorts more than one if they debuted against KC. The film clip show the Sox in shorts vs. the Baltimore Orioles.

4 years ago
Posted by J.T.

Thanks, Tribe22. We're tracking down the actual number of times the team wore the shorts. Stay tuned.

4 years ago
Posted by TheMikePhillips

Good article. I'd like to see proper credit given to the owner/shooter of the video from the Olympics announcement. The way the article is written, it leads the reader to assume Chicago Magazine shot this video. But looking at YouTube, it does not appear so.
At any rate, I see the media engaged in this practice way too often. I don't see it any different than ripping off a photo for the publication's own gain.
It's true, the video is technically open to the public. However, there are few options, at this point, when it comes to sharing video online. So, people are forced to use YouTube or another "sharable" service. I think video owners should expect to have their videos shared by others but, at the same time, should also expect the courtesy of being credited appropriately.

4 years ago
Posted by Joe Pepitone

Lee Elia's rant still is still 100% true only they can add another 27 years of winning nothing.

4 years ago
Posted by Nelson Fox

Looking for the White Sox winning the World Series, the first baseball championship in this city in nine decades, followed immediately by the largest public gathering in Chicago history, a LaSalle Street parade with 1.75 million people in attendance? Surely you've included it, and I just missed it. What number is it?

4 years ago
Posted by J.T.

Tribe22, according to the White Sox, the team wore the bermuda-shorts uniforms three times during the 1976 season.

4 years ago
Posted by SB Nation Chicago

There were three dates, confirmed
by newspaper accounts (the Chicago Tribune archive) and the YouTube
video you posted.

August 8, 1976 was the first date; they did it again on August 21
(mentioned in newspaper accounts as being done for NBC, which was
carrying the game as its backup Saturday Game of the Week) and the
first game of the doubleheader on August 22. The latter is the
confirmed date of the YouTube video -- it shows a beer-case stacking
contest which was held between games of that doubleheader, which was
shown in a photograph in the Tribune recap of that day's games.

Mystery solved.

4 years ago
Posted by Jules236

You may have mentioned this in the Top40 sports moments, but the Sox winning the World Series has got to be an OMG moment is there ever was one -- it was SO much more than a seminal sports feat, and took in almost all the residents of the city, even (a few) Cubs fans. Didja see how many people were downtown for the parade?

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