12 Months, 12 Pictures, 12 Stories: January

The very end of January brought an epic snowstorm, two of the year’s best photographs, and memories of the blizzard that ended Michael Bilandic’s hold on the mayor’s office.

January

OK, two pictures, both by E. Jason Wambsgans. The first, of Lake Shore Drive, would be my guess for most-viewed Tribune picture of the year.

Chicago blizzard

But I really like this eerie, surreal shot of the same scene:

Chicago blizzard

I came in the day after the epic Chicago blizzard—which began on January 31—even though the office was closed, since it was my first week on the job, and wrote a long post about my favorite Chicago political myth and weather myth, which by my calculations makes it the ultimate Chicago story): how the blizzard of 1979 killed Mayor Bilandic’s political career. The most interesting (to me at least) thing I found was how an engineering flaw in the CTA cars in use at the time crippled the rolling stock, leading to spotty service, leading to charges that the CTA’s contingency plan was racially biased.

Not that all the CTA problems were Bilandic’s fault per se. In a long and fascinating analysis of the CTA’s problems published on February 4th, David Young discovered that many of the service’s problems were years in the making. As the agency added ground-level routes (like the expressway lines) to its elevated lines, snow, ice, and salt became a greater problem—in part because of mere passage but also because it exposed the engines to to the wintry mix through vents designed to cool the engines. And this design flaw led, in part, to the fateful El closures.

A lot of things led to Bilandic’s downfall, not least his fumbling public performance. But the vents on CTA engines helped bring down a mayor.

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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