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.

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