Robert M. "Moose" Hill, charter member of the
It is again time to turn our attention to that magic mile of Long John Wentworth,
of Lyons and Stickney Townships, of airports, schools, farms, railroad tracks and a
little golf course.
It is 1941. A
special Belt train is plying the old road bed which divides the nation's busiest airport from its unused half.
Watching its progress are officals from the city and Belt R.R. Mayor Kelly and Judge Boyle are there; so are
John Casey and Mike Berry. Camera men from well known and soon to be forgotten newspapers scurry to get a good
photo of the last train to transverse the airport mile.
The Belt's old western lead from its yards to its main line was here
first and most likely represented a perpetual right of way, but the Roosevelt Administration was now painfully
aware of what the average citizen was only beginning to guess. War was imminent. The two halves of the airport had
to be joined. By the same token, these vital tracks from the world's largest freight yards had to remain
unobstructed, for they were just as important to the national defense. The solution was simple. They were moved to
their present location north of 55th Street to parallel the Indiana Harbor Belt's main
Some Chicagoans took the occasion to view the nationally known
airport, the long lines of freight cars that would never jam Chicago, thanks to the world's busiest little railroad, and the
powerful, yet diversified, industrial district south of 65th Street. It was said that some of the sightseers were surprised to
find a quiet little residential section in the middle of all this activity. Its school was on the airport mile and
it was inhabited by friendly folks who called themselves Clearingites. Will wonders never
With the final obstacle to its full utilization out of the way,
the Chicago Municipal Airport reached out for her full destiny.
59th Street runway was laid over the old road bed which still remains
beneath it today. It ran the length of the field to give the facility two east-west runways (59th and 61st
Streets). It also linked the two halves of the Laramie and Lavergne runways. All four of them were nearly a mile
long. The new cement strip also linked the four diagonal runways, each of which were well over a mile
A 1942 source stated "the whole field is in the process of
development." Also the premature statement that "a new terminal is in project." Indeed, it had to be, for the old
single main runway (4,742 feet long) was now joined by the seven new ones just described, the longest of which was
6,519 feet. Municipal could now handle a volume of flights undreamed of by the old facility. Even the largest land
based planes of the day, such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress could be handled safely and
B-17s were not
common to Municipal, so every time one was parked by the U.S. Army Transient Aircraft Hangar
(60th Place and Central) we kids from Hale School would claw away at the diamond link chain fence on the
north side of our crushed stone playground to get a better look at America's biggest and best bomber. A story recently told me by
one of my friends who served on these bombers, first in the U.S. and then in England, brought back memories. It also added something that few
at the time knew about.
He related that before going to England he was assigned to that same craft which we used to marvel at.
Some of its missions were to pick up civilian personal at military bases and fly them to that army hangar. Many of
these special passengers were chained to their small suitcases and given an escort of armed military police on
motorcycles to the campus of the University of Chicago.
Compton, Enrico Fermi and others waited with bated breath as the last control rod was withdrawn from what they
termed an "atomic pile" beneath the west stands of Stagg Field. For the first time since the beginning of time,
man had created a self sustaining nuclear fire. The critical experiment in which the nation had staked an
initial $2,000,000,000 was a success.
Dawn of the
atomic age. An age of bombs and missiles, of space travel and medicine, of power plants and unlimited energy for
the future; from a lonely B-17 and rides down Central Avenue. Another little known story from the magic
During the new
construction, both aircraft and passengers continued to land in an unbroken string. In the first full year that
the expanded facility was in full operation it welcomed an additional 30,128 aircraft operations to swell the
total to 118,477 for 1943. All through the war years, Municipal would continue to launch more aircraft and
passengers into the skies of mid America to topple its own world records.
wartime technology had advanced aviation to the point of competing with conventional forms of transporation. If
there was any doubt about the efficiency of aircraft to deliver cargo it was expelled by the "Berlin Blockade",
where American and British aircraft routinely delivered 2,343,315 tons of food and coal to West Berlin over an 18 month period of diverse weather and political
Many folks were
first forced to fly during the fast moving conflict, but after the war were convinced that flying was the only
way to go. Why take days to travel overland to visit a relative in Los Angeles when you could reach them in a few hours by air? For
businessmen, journeying from one distant city to another, time was money. The crack streamliner passenger trains
as well as the ocean luxury liners were rapidly becoming things of a slow moving leisurely past, when a guy who
saved up a few bucks could be treated like a king. He could enjoy the trip every bit as much as arriving at his
destination. Now everyone wanted to get there fast and return fast. The air age had
The focus of
the new air age was the United
States of America. Her hub of commercial
aviation was Chicago Municipal. Municipal was ready, willing and able to handle it. In the first full year after
the war (1946) aircraft operations increased by 37,331 for yet a new yearly record of 190,338 flights, while
passengers increased by 1,101,784 to push the yearly total to 2,598,418. Needless to say, the old terminal
Street started to
take on the appearance of a crowded chicken coop with fox from the railroad yards 'nature preserves' pawing at
The new north
terminal was started in earnest in 1947 and opened to the public on Jan. 9, 1948. It was a far cry from the old 1931 facility and took the
form of a long narrow building which stretched from 56th Street to 58th Place. Its extremities were angled toward Cicero Avenue to enclose the half block deep parking area between it
and that street. Inside, its western half was lined with the ticket and baggage counters of eleven major
scheduled air lines, while the rest of it served as a waiting room for the new horde of passengers that year
Did our old
terminal pass into history? Heck no! It now became the International terminal, to serve flights originating or
terminating in foreign countries. Many languages were now spoken atop the soil of Charles Buckmeier’s old
was almost stagnant from the late 1930's until around 1947 when both the time and money for them were available.
The slack was taken up when the new teminal was started, as 55th Street received its first hangar while others would slowly spread
around the airport fences.
dwarfed the previous one in activity. Let the figures tell the story. Flights, 1939 — 79,350,1949 —223,493.
Passengers, 1939 — 501,164,1949 —3,246,693. Of great significance was the fact that although flights were
increased by 281%, passengers increased by 648%. Since not all flights carried passengers, the figures clearly
show the impact the large commercial airliner was beginning to have.
The last change
to take place during this period involves the tucking away of another name in our history, that of "The Chicago
Municipal Airport". In 1949, veterans groups asked the city to rename the facility in honor of what has been
termed "one of the most decisive battles in Naval history", the Battle of Midway. After all, the name
"Municipal" was common to many airports and a little dull, while that of Midway was lively and
The new name
of Midway Airport was an instant success with the public, while that of
Municipal gracefully bowed out as it had come in 21 years ago, with the title of the world's busiest
One new name
sometimes leads to others and so it was with "Midway". The news media proceeded to create a handy new name for
the lands surrounding the airport. Clearing, Chicago Lawn, Stickney, Forest View, Bedford Park and other were combined to be called the "Midway Area". Yet,
if one listens to the news closely enough (and long enough) they might still hear the names that were familiar
to everyone in the 1940's.
Municipal had been the birthplace of many new airlines, systems and methods that would spread
throughout the world. It was also the birthplace of a distinguished group of young men who were destined to
write a history of their own. They can best be described as Clearing's Warriors.
Excerpted from Robert M. Hill's 1983 book, A Little Known Story of the Land
Called Clearing, a history of Clearing dating back to the 1700s, and the first definitive account of
Chicago Midway Airport.
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