A century ago the excuse was lawyers, not terrorists, but the mode of action was the same.

In the 1890s the newly formed Sanitary District of Chicago spent seven years digging the massive Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which was to reverse the flow of the Chicago River and send the city’s sewage downstate instead of into Lake Michigan. Late in 1899 the district’s trustees learned that their project was about to be tied up in court: the state of Missouri was going to ask a judge to bar the opening of the canal, alleging that Chicago’s raw sewage was going to flow down the Illinois River into the Mississippi and pollute Saint Louis’s drinking water.

Showing the same concern for due process Mayor Daley did in closing Meigs Field, the trustees “acted quickly and quietly, not even informing the governor of what they proposed to do,” writes Donald Miller in City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America. “At the break of dawn on January 2, 1900, they went with two reporters to the South Chicago site where a small wooden dam prevented the Chicago River from spilling into the newly completed canal. They tried to shatter the dam with dynamite. When that failed, they set it on fire and gathered near the blaze for a group picture. Then they called in a dredge, which completed the work by noon.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Mike Werner.