Chicago has not yet a patron saint. Considering the intense feverish restlessness which characterizes the city, an unkind wag suggested that Saint Vitus, of Saint Vitus’ dance, would be the most appropriate selection. Those, however, who take a bird’s-eye view of the city, looking down on it, say, for instance, from the Auditorium tower, would have no hesitation deciding that Chicago is the living prototype of Saint Lawrence, who was stretched upon a gridiron and whose torture is one of the familiar horrors of Catholic picture galleries. This great city with a million and a half of population is stretched over a gridiron of rails which cross and recross the city and form a complex network of tracks, every mesh of which is tainted with human blood. It is not for nothing that the dismal bell of the locomotive rings incessantly as it tears its way into the heart of Chicago through the streets. In England the locomotives use the whistle, not the bell, and this solemn weird tolling of the bell is very impressing to the imagination of the visitor who hears it for the first time sounding every hour, year in, year out, summer and winter. As regularly as the sun rises these great engines slay their man in and upon the streets of Chicago. No other great city in the world has allowed its streets to be taken position of to a similar extent, and the massacre resulting therefrom is greater than that of many battles. We in England have always one or more little wars upon our hands on our frontiers where they impinge upon the lawless tribes in Africa and Asia, but I do not think that it is too much to say that in the last five years we have had fewer soldiers killed in our wars all round the world than have been slaughtered in the streets of Chicago at the grade crossing. The figures are: in 1889, 257; 1890, 294; 1891, 323; 1892, 394; 1893, 431. As might be expected, the number of these railroad murders steadily increases with the growth of the population. In the city of Chicago there are under 2,500 miles of roadway, but there are 1,375 miles of railroad track within the same area. The railroads traverse the streets at grade in 2,000 places. Under Mayor Washburne a commission was appointed to investigate the matter, and an effort was made to ascertain the obstruction to traffic caused by this system. Mr. E.S. Dreyer, speaking at the Sunset Club, were the subject was discussed on February 1, said:
Our terminal commission caused to be taken, by careful enumerators, a count at 36 of our most dangerous crossings on a certain business day, from the hour of six in the morning to seven in the evening, and their report showed that there passed during that time over the 36 crossings 68,375 vehicles, 9,145 streetcars, 221,942 streetcar passengers, and 119,181 pedestrians. The gates at these crossings were lowered 3,031 times, and the total time the gates were closed on the 36 crossings was over 12 hours, delaying 15,000 vehicles, 2,320 streetcars with 51,367 passengers, and 18,212 pedestrians.
These figures, be it noted, have only regard to 36 of the 3,000 crossings in the city. For years past the city has protested, but protested in vain. The railroads ride roughshod over the convenience, the rights, and the lives of the citizens. Sisera with his 900 chariots of iron never tyrannized more ruthlessly over the Hebrews than the railroads with their fire chariots of steel have lorded it over the city of Chicago.
Every week in Chicago you read of grade crossing accidents, and it is very seldom that you hear of anything being done to saddle anyone with the responsibility for the loss of life. The evidence before the jury is usually to the following effect; the gates were not lowered, the watchman was not in attendance, no whistle was sounded, no bell was rung. The deceased was crossing the track all unwitting of any danger, when a train dashed up with the inevitable result. In many cases the bodies are mutilated out of all human semblance. The nightmare imagination of those gruesome artists who exult in describing the torture and mutilation of helpless victims could depict nothing more terrible than the human sacrifices which are offered up daily on the altar of the Railway Moloch by the City of Chicago. Very rarely is anyone saddled with responsibility. On February 2 a jury returned a verdict against one of the division superintendents of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, but nothing seems to have come of it. The only redress is to prosecute the railroad company for damages. This often involves a lawsuit with the casualty companies with whom the railways have contracted for all liabilities for injury to life and limb. The railroads have taken the precaution of protecting themselves by law. By an infamous act, boodled through the Illinois Legislature by railroad influence, no jury is allowed to award more than $5,000 damages against the railroads for causing the death of any citizen.
The usurpation of the streets of the city is nonetheless usurpation because it was achieved by gold and not by steel. In many cases railroads have laid their tracks through the streets without even going through the formality of asking for a franchise. They have treated Chicago as a conquered territory. The strolling Tartar, who in the Middle Ages, wandered absolute lord over Russia, was the prototype of the railroad corporations in the capital of the West. For the use of the streets the railroads have not paid a cent into the City Treasury. Whatever payment they made was made corruptly and went into the pockets of Aldermen, and sometimes of the Mayor. If they paid $100 a mile for way-leave that would bring in the city a revenue of nearly $200,000. So far form doing any such thing, the railroads have imposed upon the city an expenditure which is estimated at $30,000 in the salaries of 25 policemen and other employees, paid by the city for the purpose of raising and lowering the gates and of warning citizens to escape slaughter. Further, they have put the city to the expense of millions in the building of viaducts over their tracks where the expenditure of life became too great even for Chicago to tolerate. In 1892 the cost of maintaining these viaducts was no less than $146,000. For the privilege therefore of keeping the annual total of human sacrifices down to a victim a day the city pays blood money amounting to $176,000 a year.
But, it may be urged, the city has in its own hand the power of taxation and it can recoup itself from the enormously valuable property within its limits. Here again we are confronted with another specimen of the way in which the citizen goes to the wall. Mr. Washburne, when Mayor of Chicago, stated publicly that the value of railway property in the city was not less than $350,000,000. It is today assessed at less than $19,000,000.
The steam railroads are the worst oppressors from the point of view of human life, but from the point of view of plunder and of injury to health and happiness from the street railways leave them far behind. In a city like Chicago, where the distances are so great as constantly to occasion the regret that the building of the city had not been postponed until the race had developed wings, street railways are as indispensable as the streets, and they should no more be handed over to speculative corporations than the highroads. From the practical point of view it is pretty much the same thing, for the owner of the street railway has not only the railway but has also the street. He breaks up the driveway and treats the road as though it belonged to him. The arguments against municipal ownership of street railways would have more force if the speculative corporations who are in possession of the monopoly of streets could be kept up to mark by competition. In the necessity of things this cannot be. The street railway is a monopoly, and a monopoly of service for the whole people should be in the hands of the representatives of the whole people. The usual result has followed in Chicago. There is nothing about which there is more clamor than about the infamies of street railways.
The overcrowding of the cars is little less than a public scandal. The city railway companies have plenty of cars, plenty of power, for the cables run just the same whether there are few cars on the line or many, but in order to save conductors’ salaries they cynically compel one-half of the traveling public of Chicago to travel without seats. A Chicago car at the rush time, in the middle of the day or early in the morning or late at night, is a sight which once seen is not easily forgotten. Every seat if filled and all the space between the seats is choked with a crowded mass of humanity. The unlucky individuals are holding on by a strop from the roof. At the platform at each end of the car a crowd is hanging on by its eyelids as thick as bees when they are swarming. The first time I saw it, it reminded me of one of Dore’s pictures of a scene in Dante’s hell. When appealed to give better accommodation those companies which are paying from 9 to 24 percent reply that their dividends come from the people who hang on by the straps, and that things are to remain as they are. The cable service, especially on the North Side, is perpetually breaking down, the horse cars are miserably slow, badly horsed, and most inadequate. It was quite recently that the tyrants of the car scouted the idea of heating them in wintertime and compelled their luckless travelers to shiver for an hour at a time in unwarmed vehicles. The rails are laid in such a fashion that they provoke the incredulous comments of a stranger, and some of the busiest roadways of the town are crossed and recrossed by a corduroy of steel inconceivable to anyone who has ever lived in a civilized country. When the snow comes the companies simply sweep it to either side of the track; and notwithstanding the city ordinances compelling them to remove the snow, they leave it lying on the streets with the result that this winter the indignant citizens retaliated by piling the snow over the tracks and stopping traffic. Scrimmages ensued which threatened on more than one occasion to end in serious riots. Even if they could not run more cars, the South Side cable could follow the universal custom of the Old World and carry passengers on the roof, where in five days out of six it is much pleasanter than the inside. Mr. Pullman has devised an admirable double-deck car, but as its adoption would require the changing of the rolling stock that is not to be thought of; for nothing is bad enough for those who use the streetcars in Chicago so long as it does not fall to pieces on the line of track. And this right to compel the citizens to endure all these costs and exactions was obtained by bribery of the most barefaced kind.
It is not only the surfaces of the streets which were handed over to the street railway companies by boodling Aldermen. They are in possession at the present moment of two tunnels under the river, both of which have been handed over tot hem without any adequate return. The Washington tunnel, which it would have cost the companies thousands to build, was given them on condition that they moved the Madison Street bridge to Washington. This cost them a bagatelle. A similar preposterous agreement handed over the La Salle tunnel to Mr. Yerkes’s company on the North Side. Two bridges were put up, at Clark Street and Wells Street, which cost the company about one-tenth to one-fifth of what the tunnel cost the city, and much less than what it could have cost the company to construct the tunnel at the time they took it over. The city was plundered in the matter of the tunnels to the extent of at least one million collars and it would have cost the railway corporations twice as much again to have built the tunnels themselves.
North Chicago $8,000,000 11-1/2
West Chicago 10,000,000 9
City of Chicago . . . 24
Net earnings after paying interest on bonds 1894 Paid to the City
North Chicago $1,600,000 22,687
West Chicago 2,340,000 20,874
City of Chicago 8,500,000 11,811
Five or six years ago the street railway companies secured by their usual means an extension of their franchises for another 15 years; the net result of which is that they will continue to enjoy the undisputed monopoly which brings them in these enormous dividends until 1904. If the franchises, instead of being renewed six years ago, had been allowed to lapse, as they would have done about the present time, it would have been possible for the city to have possessed itself of the car lines upon terms which would have been equitable to the company and would have yielded the city a net annual income of at least four million dollars. That is to say that the city has been robbed by its corrupt Aldermen of nearly twice as much as the total sum raised every year by the pew rents, collections, and by all the machinery of church finance. Or to put it another way, the tax upon real or personal property in the city of Chicago does not amount to more than $4,800,000 a year. Almost the whole of this sum might have been raised by the city railway corporations in the hands of an honest City Council.
On this point I may quote the published statement of Mr. W. J. Onahan, who for two years was Comptroller of the City Treasury. Mr. Onahan says:
If the city, since it became a city, had received proper annual compensation for all the franchises that have been ignorantly and corruptly disposed of for nothing, Chicago would today have income enough to run its affairs without levying a dollar taxation on real estate or personal property. I can provide it if called upon. Consider the privileges that have been given the steam railways from the Illinois Central to the last to come in. In connection with these steam railways look at the countless private switches and tracks—all given away. Then the street railways, the gas companies, the electric lighting companies, the telephone companies, the water privileges, dock privileges, an I don’t know what all. Why, every one of these favored interests, which secured their privileges by bribing aldermen and corrupting officials, ought to be millions in annual tribute to the city. I repeat that if our rights in this regard had been looked after in the beginning and been carefully guarded ever since, there would be no need now to talk about taxes or their injustices and inequalities.
Instead of this sum the city railway companies pay over to the city a license tax amounting last year to $50,000. Even here there is a swindle to which mayor Hopkins is making diligent inquiries. The companies pay a tax of $50 a year upon the cars in service. But no car is held to be in service by the companies unless it makes 13 round trips every day. As half the cars do not make 13 round trips a day, they do not pay the license, and the city loses $50,000 a year in consequence.
The total capital of the street railway companies, as shown by latest published account, is only $26,000,000. If all the work expenses were unchanged and the company received 5 percent upon its stock, this would still leave a balance available to the city of $4,000,000, the sum which the Assyrians levy upon the citizens of Chicago.
The fact is that in a city like Chicago a street railway franchise is worth more than most gold mines, and if a good bargain is made the cars will not only carry the citizens, they could also carry the cost of governing the city. Take for instance the case of Philadelphia. Ten streetcar companies in ten years, ending 1891, n a pad up capital of $5,840,000, drew out in dividends $15,00,000, an overage of 26 percent. The market rice of their stock in February, 1893, was $38,500,000. Of the city of Philadelphia had invested the original capital on behalf of the citizens, had applied 5 percent interest, and had applied the balance to the city treasury, it would have made an annual profit of $1,200,000 plus an actual investment in the value of the property amounting to $3,250,000 a year. Philadelphia therefore lost nearly $4,500,000 a year because the city did not run the streetcars.
(To be continued.)