#8—OLYMPICS BID FAIL: The T-shirts were made. Millions were spent. POTUS and FLOTUS flew to Copenhagen. Thousands gathered at Daley Plaza for a rally. Then, with brutal swiftness, Chicago was the first city knocked out of the running to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. For more photos of OMG moments, check out the gallery »
What, exactly, is an OMG moment? At its most basic, it is an occurrence that makes those words come out: “Oh my God!” The next step usually involves retelling the news to the nearest available co-worker or to friends via Facebook. The OMG can be an expression of bemusement, irritation, or disgust. In picking the top 40 such moments in Chicago history, we set a start date of 1970 and avoided moments that seemed too serious—airplane crashes, tragic deaths, and violent crimes among them. Then the challenge was how to rank the moments. Was Rod Blagojevich’s arrest more or less astonishing than the Great Chicago Flood of 1992? Rail against our number one pick—or tell us what we missed—in the comments section below.
40. Lightning Strikes Twice
June 23, 2010
Shooting on assignment from the John Hancock Center, the Chicago Tribune photographer Chris Sweda captured lightning bolts hitting the Willis Tower and the Trump Tower at precisely the same moment. PLUS: Chicagoan Craig Shimala captured the video below, which shows lightning striking the city’s three tallest buildings at once.
39. Oprah’s Keynote
September 13, 2004
Oprah Winfrey opened her 19th season by giving a fully loaded Pontiac sedan worth $28,400 to each member of the studio audience—all 276 of them. “Everybody gets a car! Everybody gets a car!” the talk show host shouted as she jumped up and down. For a hilarious musical replay of the car giveaway, watch the video below:
38. Table Tempest
In a bizarre move to protect public safety, the city’s health department zeroed in on so-called chef’s tables located in the kitchens of high-end restaurants, saying sick diners could infect food preparation areas. Charlie Trotter, whose restaurant was at the height of its popularity, got so mad he threatened to leave Chicago. The flap made national news, the city backpedaled, and Trotter moved his table two inches.
37. When Fans Attack
September 28, 1995
With the Cubs and Astros tied 7–7 in the eighth inning, Cubs reliever Randy Myers served up a homer, prompting a 27-year-old bond trader named John P. Murray to hop the first-base wall and charge the pitcher, yelling, “What the hell was that?” Myers decked him with his forearm.
36. They Had Us Rocking
September 18, 1997
The Rolling Stones, days before appearing at Soldier Field on their Bridges to Babylon tour, performed a surprise warm-up concert at the Double Door in Wicker Park. The event was a fan’s dream: Mick and Keith up close, 90 minutes, $7. Watch the Stones perform "The Last Time" at the Double Door in the video below:
35. Fog Bowl
December 31, 1988
In the second quarter of a playoff game between the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles, a thick fog rolled in from Lake Michigan and engulfed Soldier Field in a cloud that reduced visibility to 20 yards. The running game dominated the rest of the contest, a CBS helicopter was grounded, the Eagles could not score a touchdown, and the Bears won 20–12. Watch footage of the game below:
34. Mancow Tests the Waters
May 22, 2009
Intending to prove that waterboarding is not torture, the Chicago shock jock Erich “Mancow” Muller subjected himself to the controversial interrogation method—on air. Strapped to a seven-foot-long table with his legs elevated, Mancow lasted six seconds. His verdict: “It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that’s no joke.” Watch video of Mancow getting waterboarded below:
33. Coyote at Quiznos
April 3, 2007
A 30-pound male coyote strolled through the propped-open door of a Quiznos in the Loop at 37 East Adams Street and rested for 45 minutes in the beverage cooler. Watch the video below:
April 14, 1977
Still adjusting to the Picasso, the city howled over the latest work of public sculpture by a famous artist—this time, Claes Oldenburg’s $100,000 commission, Batcolumn, a towering steel replica of a baseball bat.
31. Our Lady of the Traffic Jam
Obdulia Delgado was driving toward a ramp to the Kennedy Expressway when she saw what appeared to be an image of the Virgin Mary in a yellow-and-white water stain on the concrete wall of an underpass. The site, at the Fullerton Avenue entrance, became a minor shrine and snarled traffic for days. Watch video of crowds gathering at the site below:
30. Sox Come Up Short
August 8, 1976
Bill Veeck introduced shorts into the uniform lineup, which the team wore once—during the first game of a double-header against the Kansas City Royals at Comiskey Park. The players were ridiculed. “You guys are the sweetest team we’ve seen yet,” quipped Kansas City first baseman John Mayberry. For footage of the Sox frolicking in shorts at Comiskey against fabulous ’80s background music, watch the video below:
29. Royko Crosses the Street
January 11, 1984
Tears fell and jaws dropped when Marshall Field V announced to the newsroom that the Chicago Sun-Times had been sold to the Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, ending four decades of ownership by the Field family. A month later, Mike Royko took a leave of absence; a month after that, he published his first column for the rival daily, the Tribune.
28. Out, Damned Sculpture!
May 1, 1981
Ten days after Miró’s Chicago was unveiled, a 24-year-old part-time art student named Crister Nyholm threw a jar of red paint on the piece—a 40-foot woman with a fork coming out of her head by the Spanish surrealist Joan Miró. “I just don’t like the statue,” Nyholm told police. The city fined him $17,037.21, the cost to clean the damage.
April 23, 1989
The Tribune announced that Vito Marzullo, the city’s 91-year-old political patriarch, had died. One problem: Vito was still alive and read his own obit over Sunday breakfast. In a story the next day, the paper’s media writer explained that there had been a death at the four-flat where Marzullo lived—but it was his brother-in-law, Louis Coia. (Marzullo died the next year.)
26. Shattered Reputation
June 3, 2003
When Sammy Sosa’s bat cracked apart in the first inning of a Chicago–Tampa Bay game and umpires found cork inside (a banned form of tampering), was it the beginning of the end for the Dominican slugger? Or did Sosa’s lame excuse that he accidentally picked a practice bat do him in? Either way, after a seven-game suspension, Sosa continued his season slump; his image never recovered. Read our September 2010 story on the ex-slugger: Sammy Sosa: Cubs ‘Threw Me into the Fire’ »
25. Do as They Say
September 16, 1998
Chicago politicians have a knack for hypocrisy. Our favorite: Representative Henry Hyde, of Bensenville, then the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, was leading the charge to impeach President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky episode when it came out that Hyde had conducted a five-year affair in his mid-40s. He dismissed his actions as “youthful indiscretions.”
24. Oops! Was That a Historic Landmark?
August 25, 1980
A year after it was designated a Chicago landmark, the city’s second-oldest residence—the 129-year-old Henry W. Rincker House at 6366 North Milwaukee Avenue—was “accidentally” demolished by the Cirro Wrecking Company.
23. Food Fight
March 29, 2005
In a Tribune story about proposals in other states to ban the sale of foie gras (fatty duck liver), two of Chicago’s starred chefs took potshots at each other. Charlie Trotter said he didn’t serve the product because he considered its production inhumane. Rick Tramonto called the stance hypocritical since Trotter’s restaurant served meat: “Either you eat animals or you don’t eat animals.” Trotter’s retort: “Maybe we ought to have Rick’s liver for a little treat. It’s certainly fat enough.”
22. Kindergarten Cop
January 24, 2009
Clad in a real police uniform, a 14-year-old boy walked into a South Side station and posed as a traffic officer for five hours—reportedly riding with a partner, issuing tickets, and even driving the squad car—before someone noticed that he wasn’t wearing a regulation star. Watch the WMAQ-TV report of the story »
21. Love Bug
A month after Ruth Love became Chicago’s school superintendent, a top aide, Charles Mitchell Jr., reported that electronic eavesdropping devices had been found in her car, office, and conference room (the infamous “Love bug”). Five days later, Mitchell revealed that the story was a hoax he’d concocted “to discourage the possibility of future wiretaps” and threats to Love’s safety. He resigned immediately.
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
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
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.
October 14, 2003
Eighth inning. Game 6. National League Championship Series. When a fan named Steve Bartman got between Moises Alou and a foul pop to left field, somehow we knew: The glitch unleashed a surreal chain of events that ended in an 8–3 Cubs loss to the Florida Marlins. The next night at Wrigley, fans watched in utter disbelief as the World Series berth went poof. Read more about this OMG moment on our list of top 40 moments in Chicago sports »
9. Dick Mell, Standup Guy
December 2, 1987
In the upheaval following Mayor Harold Washington’s sudden death, the city council convened to elect a successor. During the all-night debate, the war between factions edged toward chaos, captured in a moment when Richard Mell, of the 33rd Ward, stood on his desk, waving his arms and shouting to be recognized by the chair.
8. Olympics 2016! Fail.
October 2, 2009
The T-shirts were made. Millions were spent. POTUS and FLOTUS flew to Copenhagen. Then, with brutal swiftness, Chicago was the first city knocked out of the running to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Oh, well. Check out our coverage of the rally and watch the announcement of the elimination and the crowd’s reaction below:
7. Poop Deck
August 8, 2004
On a Sunday afternoon, one of the buses used by the Dave Matthews Band crossed the river at Kinzie Street and let loose 800 pounds of raw human sewage, which poured through the bridge’s metal grates directly onto a sightseeing tour boat carrying more than 100 passengers. The bus’s driver eventually pleaded guilty; the band was fined $200,000.
6. Wake-up Call
December 9, 2008
At 6:15 a.m. on the day before his 52nd birthday, federal agents arrested Governor Rod Blagojevich at his home in Ravenswood Manor. Accused of pay-to-play politics and trying to make a deal for Barack Obama’s Senate seat, Blagojevich wore a tracksuit to his arraignment. Check out our collection feature stories about Illinois’s former governor and some prominent Chicago figures linked to his case »
In the period between his arrest and trial, the common-sense-defying antics of Rod Blagojevich (and his wife, Patti) never failed to amaze. The highlights: Blago performed as Elvis at a street festival; Patti ate tarantulas on a television reality show; Blago bombed on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice; and, posttrial, he made a peripatetic appearance at a comic-book convention in Chicago and charged $80 for photographs. Check out Blago in our Comic-Con gallery »
4. Disco Madness
July 12, 1979
When Steve Dahl and Garry Meier summoned the masses to destroy their disco records at Comiskey Park, neither DJ foresaw the pandemonium that would follow. An estimated 90,000 people showed up, fans climbed fences and walls to get into the stadium, and when the pile of records was finally blown up, a throng rushed the field. The melee that ensued had to be dispersed by Chicago police.
3. X Marks Meigs
March 31, 2003
In a move that let Chicago see the autocrat behind the bureaucrat, Mayor Richard Daley settled a long-brewing feud over the fate of Meigs Field by shutting it down with flair: Under the cloak of night, he sent in trucks hauling construction equipment to carve six Xs into the tarmac.
2. There Will Be Flood
April 13, 1992
A ruptured tunnel beneath the Chicago River at Kinzie Street crippled the Loop for days as millions of gallons of water flooded subterranean passageways and building basements, including city hall’s. The total cost to repair? More than $30 million.
1. Losing It
April 29, 1983
The epic Lee Elia rant to an audience of four reporters after a Cubs loss to the Dodgers contained 48 f-bombs. An excerpt: “What the — am I supposed to do, go out there and let my —ing players get destroyed every day and be quiet about it? For the —ing nickel-dime people that show up? The mother—ers don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the —ing game. They oughta go out and get a —ing job and find out what it’s like to go out and earn a —ing living. Eighty-five percent of the —ing world is working. The other fifteen come out here.” Elia was fired that August. Listen to the rant below: