The Calumet Region is full of invisible "towns" of historic significance
that are unknown - but shouldn't be - to people who live here. Do you, for
example, know the location of the following?
Liverpool, former seat of Lake County; Ivanhoe, site of the great circus
train crash of June 22, 1918; Roby, center of a notorious horse-racing and
gambling industry, 1892-1905; Saxony, hub of a great potato-producing
territory; Sheffield, home of the world's longest roller coaster; Gibson, the
once-western point of the Michigan Central, from which Chicago-bound passengers
transferred to a stage coach.
Too tough? OK, here's a softball lobbed right over the plate: Hegewisch.
Right. It's a town in Illinois on Hammond's northwest shoulder that was
absorbed into Chicago in 1889. Now, try a dozen Hegewisch curiosities:
Q: Of the several railroads that ran through Hegewisch, which was the most
A: The Chicago and Calumet River Railroad System, headquartered in
Hegewisch. Only about one-mile long, it was the shortest railway in the U.S.,
if not the world.
Q: What was the most unusual building in Hegewisch?
A: A lighthouse right in the heart of downtown Hegewisch, which became the
town's logo. Started in 1931 to broadcast radio programs and to win nationwide
architectural contest, it was never completed and sat empty for many years. The
owner, a Burnham automobile dealer named John Serafin, lost enthusiasm for the
project while painting it - and falling from the top of the lighthouse.
Q: What building has the life expectancy of a cat?
A: In the 1930s, Oriental Hall was a ballroom. In the early 1940s, it became
a roller rink. By the 1950s, Sam Panayovich, turned it into a bowling alley.
At last sighting, it was a video store at 133rd and Brandon.
Q: What Hegewisch gladiators feasted on goose eggs?
A: In 1938, the football team of the Uptown Athletic Club, headed by Carl
Lenart as president, was never scored on, while winning the South Central
Q: What niche does Hegewisch occupy in the history of Chicago's
distinguished fire department?
A: Hegewisch had the last horse-drawn fire engine and ladder wagons. The
passing of the use of horses occurred in 1921.
Q: What's another of Hegewisch's lasts?
A: Chicago's last timber sawmill.
Q: What Hegewischian grew a fortune out of a single dollar?
A: Oscar Matthew Battling Nelson won the world's lightweight boxing
championship, became the world's richest pugilist, and invested most of his
money in Hegewisch real estate. Born in Denmark, Bat won his first fight in
Hammond at Wallace's circus. His purse was $1.
Q: What famous Hegewischian died because of thirst?
A: On Jan. 27, 1922, Father Florian M. Chodniewicz, who had served the
community since 1900, was murdered. The killer started off with understandable
motives. He broke into the rectory to steal sacramental wine. Of course, that
was during Prohibition when many intentions went awry in The Region.
Q: At what federal facility could a citizen be treated to a literal song
A: Above the post office at 13305 Erie (Baltimore) resided the widely known
Hegewisch Opera House, which opened in 1902.
Q: What U.S. president and his family frequented the sportsman's paradise
that was the western shores of Wolf Lake in Hegewisch?
A: Abraham Lincoln. Eight decades later, the area became the Wolf Lake
Conservation Park. On Oct. 13, 1946, Illinois Gov. Dwight H. Green personally
appeared on the island at the mouth of Indian Creek to accept the park
officially by the state.
Q: Which is the biggest game ever taken in Hegewisch?
A: In 1927, at 124th and Avenue O, Joseph Neubeiser shot a 500-pound bear,
saving the lives of two small boys. The bear had either escaped from a circus
or was a loser at a Burnham stock exchange.
Q: With what artifact did Hegewisch honor Barnham's dictum: "There's a
sucker born every minute?"
A: After the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, Elias Bennett moved "The
Delaware House" to Wolf Lake at 130th Street, where it became an inn. Among
many historical points of interest in the house was a replica of the copper
kettle that Swedes traded to the Indians in 1700 for the entire state of
n Archibald McKinlay is an expert on local history. His
column appears every Sunday in The Times.