Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Holy Smoke

Holy Name Cathedral - the seat of Chicago's Catholic Church - has had an unholy time of it. The Great Fire torched it in 1871. Parishioners rebuilt it a few years later.

In the gangster age, a flower shop used to stand by the church. One day in 1924, the nice man who managed it was gunned down while trimming chrysanthemums for funeral wreaths. Turns out he was Dion O’Banion, a bootlegger who crossed Al Capone. Hymie Weiss took over the biz, but his flower arrangements fared no better. Capone's gang killed him two years later.

Powerful archbishops preached from the pulpit in the decades that followed. When they died, the church hung their red hats from the ceiling forevermore - except when the ceiling let loose a 10-pound piece of decorative wood that smashed 70 feet to the floor in 2008. This prompted a costly structural rehab. A few months after the church completed the job, Holy Name caught fire again. The blazed happened today, Feb. 4.

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