There are more than 1,690 streets in the city of Chicago, a surprising number of which are named after Dead White Guys. Many of the men whose names grace our street signs lived incredible lives, did wonderful things, and made their mark on the world. Others . . . not so much. Here are the statesmen, warriors, and pioneers who deserved to be forever immortalized-and those who were best left on history’s cutting room floor.
Those Who Earned It
George Rogers Clark (1752-1818) was a Revolutionary War hero who captured Fort Sackville at Vincennes (now in Indiana) in dramatic fashion.
Extra mileage: Clark had his leg amputated without anesthetic, requesting only that two fifers and two drummers play outside during the two-hour operation.
Captain William Wells (1770-1812) was a soldier who attempted to evacuate 148 people from Fort Dearborn during the War of 1812. A tribe of Potawatomi ambushed the group two miles south of the fort, and Wells was stabbed by a Potawatomi chief.
Extra mileage: His head was cut off and his heart distributed to Potawatomi warriors as a token of their bravery.
Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), a surgeon in the Revolutionary War, signed the Declaration of Independence and is considered the father of American psychiatry. His students established Chicago’s Rush Medical College after his death.
Extra mileage: Spoke out against the habitual use of tobacco. (Then again, he also performed bloodlettings.)
Illustrations: Danny Hellman
Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard (1802-86), an early Chicago settler, rode, walked, and swam from Chicago to Danville (roughly 170 miles) in 20 hours to bring back a militia to help fight off an Indian raid in 1827.
Extra mileage: The 1871 fire nearly bankrupted Hubbard, an insurance underwriter, but he paid all the claims his company was liable for.
Thomas Addison (1793-1860) was a shy, brilliant British physician whose devotion to studying the adrenal glands was rewarded when his name was attached to a hormonal deficiency, Addison’s disease. His connection to Chicago is unclear.
Extra mileage: Reportedly committed suicide by jumping off a nine-foot parapet in Brighton, England.
Those Who Didn’t
John Wentworth (1815-88), a gluttonous, six-foot-six Chicago mayor who hired spies and instituted chain gangs, once got so tired of bumping his head on low-hanging signs, he hired policemen to take down every one.
Extra mileage: Reportedly drank a pint of whiskey every day. (Other sources dispute that, claiming it was brandy.)
Daniel Elston (1790-1855) was an obscure alderman best known for manufacturing soap and candles.
Extra mileage: Was relieved of his aldermanic duties in 1844 when the city limits were moved, excluding his ward.
Italo Balbo (1896-1940), an Italian aviator, fled to Rome in 1923 after being accused of murdering a priest. In 1933, he led a squadron of 24 “flying boats” on a flight from Rome to Chicago, where he landed on Lake Michigan near the world’s fair.
Extra mileage: Was an avowed fascist. (On the other hand, he spoke out against Benito Mussolini, and during a flight in Libya, was “accidentally” shot down and killed by an Italian cruiser.)
One Who Deserved Better
Antislavery advocate Elijah Parish Lovejoy (1802-37)-who brings us Lovejoy Avenue, a confusing three-block diagonal on the Northwest Side-believed so strongly in freedom of speech that he continued to publish the Alton Observer after three of his printing presses had been thrown into the Mississippi River. In defending the fourth press, he received a fatal blast from a double-barreled shotgun. The press was destroyed anyway.