Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Bloody Maxwell Street Police Station

About a 5 minute walk from my current address on Maxwell Street on the UIC campus there is the UIC police station located adjacent to the school's soccer and baseball fields. Looking at it from the outside you would think it was just like any other normal building in Chicago. Judging from the architecture, it is easy to tell the building is fairly old but the university has clearly spent some money on keeping the building maintained. The building, with its red painted bricks, was actually one of the most feared police stations during the late 1800's and early 1900's for the immigrants living in the area. The red bricks of today are more of a remembrance of its former self, then known as "Bloody Maxwell".
After the Haymarket Bombing, Chicago upped its police force and established two new stations, one of which was on Maxwell Street. The Maxwell force was primarily to counter unrest of workers in the area and to keep the ever-growing immigrant population under control. Once the Black Hand became a dominant force within the city, murder rates escalated dramatically and immigrants in the area feared both threats of being killed or being throw in the "dungeon" of the local police station. By this time, it had become well known that the new station's basement cells were rat-infested and submerged in inch-deep troughs that was the prisoner urinal. Prisoners who were brought to the jail often lacked the money to buy their way out and, instead, were beaten nearly to death. Their blood flowed along with the urine that covered the floor. In 1921, the city Health Commissioner Herman Bundesen even declared the conditions of the jail the worst in the entire city
The police district was also one of the most corrupt in the city as Taylor Street became the heart of the bootlegging industry. On-duty officers were bribed on a frequent basis to turn a blind-eye on the events taking place. Once Captain William Russell was assigned to the district, bribery scandals began to be broken and over 200 officers were transferred to different districts.


Back in the day...

Finally in 1997, the police station, now the oldest in the city at 110-years old, closed down until UIC reopened its doors as the university's new police headquarters. Many people would know it from its signature image in the show Hill Street Blues. It was also named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 so its presence will last for many years to come.

To think that only 60-70 years ago, or even more recently, this area was the immigrant center of the city seems almost an impossible thing to imagine. The very street I live on was once home to the famous Maxwell Street Market but all that remains today is the brick street (made to replicate the older street) and a few statues meant to depict scenes of that time now forgotten. From my window I can see the "Bloody" Maxwell Station and I wonder what horrors that basement now holds, if any. I may have to venture over there some time soon and see if they'll let me explore the basement. Perhaps I'll even run into an angry ghost or two.


our UIC police station today....

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