Sixty-three years ago this week the big issue that consumed everyone in Oak Park was not the 1939 outbreak of war in Europe but the new overnight parking ban which just went into effect. Following a unanimous vote of the village trustees, an amendment prohibiting parking between 2:30 and 6 a.m. each day was added to the Oak Park parking ordinance. All thoroughfares in the village had to be cleared during that time so that street sweeping machinery could be used.
@normal:Every one of the 18,000 autos owned by Oak Parkers was now required to be parked on private property overnight. It was estimated by the police department that nearly 4,000 cars were usually parked all night long at the curb. Many of these were owned by villagers who had garages but simply found it more convenient to leave their autos at the curb for instant use, day or night. Many individuals, especially women, said they felt safer returning home in the evening if they parked “in front” rather than in a garage off a dark alley.
So many community members were angered by the new night parking law that one village trustee remarked the change was “causing more excitement here than when an air raid siren blows in Europe.”
Numerous residents wrote critical letters in the local press, stating that they believed the village board was not serving the true needs of Oak Parkers. One man said the trustees had “acted hastily and unwisely in attempting to serve the convenience of the street cleaning department.”
One of the village officials responded: “If a man can afford an automobile, he should be able to provide a place for it off the street for a few hours at night. If he can’t afford a private parking place he should sell his auto and ride the streetcars.”
Austin (Chicago) cops immediately complained that many Oak Park residents in bordering neighborhoods were now parking their cars overnight east of Austin Boulevard.
The first night of the new night parking ban, 173 cars were issued $1 tickets. On the second offense the fine was $2.
Jacob J. Schaller, 77, who lived at 1107 Gunderson Ave., talked publicly about his experiences during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 which occurred when he was nine years old. Schaller lived on DeKoven Street, two doors down from Mrs. Kate O’Leary, and delivered her infamous cow’s milk in tin pails to 15 neighborhood families.
Schaller distinctly remembered Mrs. O’Leary telling him, her milk delivery boy, about how the fire started. He was an eyewitness to the blazing barn, knew Bossy the cow well, and heard “from Mrs. O’Leary’s lips” why she went into the cow shed that historic night. O’Leary was making some unexpected guests “Tom and Jerry” drinks but ran out of milk. She went out to Bossy to try to get one more quart, remembered Schaller, “but cows don’t like to be disturbed after they’ve been milked.” So when she had just about a pint of milk, the cow, “who was usually a gentle, kind creature, restlessly kicked over her lantern.” Before she could summon help, the entire barn was ablaze.
Schaller also remembered that Bossy died in the fire. He expressed anger that some historians were beginning to doubt there ever was an “O’Leary cow” and no lantern at all. He admitted Mrs. O’Leary changed her story and refuted her original testimony, frightened at the possible consequences and liabilities.
Oak Parker Jacob Schaller’s remembrances of the O’Leary cow and eyewitness account of the beginning of the Chicago Fire subsequently found their way into several books on the 1871 disaster.
Dr. Percy Julian of Maywood (who would move to Oak Park in 1950), director of the Glidden Paint Company’s research department, spoke at the Oak Park Optimist Club. The scientist presented “The Saga of the Soy Bean.” Julian was currently working on a variety of synthetic products and medicines derived from soybeans.

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Doug Deuchler

Doug Deuchler has been reviewing local theater and delving into our history for Wednesday Journal for decades. He is alsoa retired teacher and school librarian who is also a stand-up comic, tour guide/docent...