This Bob August illustration dominated the cover of the Reader's Fifth Anniversary Guide to Chicago, October 1. On December 20, Mayor Richard J. Daley dropped dead. Credit: Bob August

Part of a 40-week series in which we take a look at a specific year in Chicago history via the pages of the Reader.

December 24, 1976

The Boss Bows Out

He was dead now. In the morning he had been a physical marvel, shooting baskets like a young colt and giggling like a politician who owned the world. But now, early afternoon, his body lay on a stretcher in a fire department ambulance headed south on Michigan Avenue. They had cut open his chest in a desperate effort to save him and now the open wound was covered by a blanket. There would be plenty of time to close him up at the funeral home.

Richard J. Daley had been mayor of Chicago for so long that he finally grew to believe he owned it. Why else do you think he was able to laugh and cackle so openly as the city came ever closer to disaster? You see, the joke was always on us. Dick Daley did own Chicago. And it didn’t matter how the city crept closer and closer to social and financial disaster.

Dick Daley never had to worry about that. He was 74. How long would he have to stick around? The man who would become the next mayor of Chicago would be the one to face that music. Dick Daley had it made . . .

I remember a day at the Conspiracy Seven trial when Daley came to be a witness. They brought him up a back elevator and through the rear entrance of the courtroom, and so he was sitting there in the witness chair when they let the defendants and the spectators in after the luncheon break.

Abbie Hoffman was the first defendant to come through the doors. He spotted Daley immediately. God, Daley really did look like a Buddha sitting there that day in his blue double-breasted suit. Daley’s face turned scarlet as he saw Abbie with his frizzy fright wig of a head of hair and when Abbie smiled, Daley looked uneasy.

Abbie made like a western gunfighter ready for the final shootout.

“Hey, Daley,” he said, “why don’t you and I just settle this thing here and now between us?”

Daley’s face broke into a grin. The spectators, who had been frightened by Abbie’s mad challenge, finally realized it was all right to laugh, too. Of course the spectators for that day were planted. The hippies didn’t get into the courtroom that day . . .