The Annotated “A Long Night At The Palmer House”

by John Jos. Miller

Note: the following annotations discuss various people, places, and things as they exist in the real world, not the Wild Cards universe.  At least as best as current knowledge provides.

Pg 13: Palmer House: The longest continually operated hotel in North America, the Palmer House is located in the Chicago Loop.  One of the great luxury hotels, the building occupying the location today is actually the third iteration of the hotel, built between 1923-1925.  

Pg 13: Palmer, The: The first hotel on the site later occupied by the Palmer House was built by Potter Palmer, a Chicago businessman and real estate developer, as a gift for his bride.  It opened September 26, 1871, and burned down thirteen days later in the Great Chicago Fire.

Pg 14: Donald Meek (1878-1946): Born in Glasgow, Scotland, his family emigrated first to Canada and then the United States in the 1890s.  Despite his diminutive size (5′ 4,” 81 pounds) he volunteered for the U.S. army during the Spanish American War (1898).   He was wounded in action and also suffered a severe case of Yellow Fever which made him lose most of his hair, giving him his distinctive balding look.  He first appeared on Broadway in 1903 and acted in many plays, interrupting his career in 1918 when he volunteered for WWI in a Canadian Highlander regiment, though he never saw action in that conflict.  Later he returned to the stage and eventually went to Hollywood where he appeared in over a hundred movies, often cast as the timid fuss-budget.  One of his greatest roles was in STAGECOACH (1939) as the brave and tender-hearted whiskey drummer named Peacock.  He died of leukemia in 1946.

Pg 20: Charlie Flowers: You’ll have to figure this one out on your own.

Pg 21: Tor Johnson (1902-1971): Real name Karl Erik Tore Johannson, he was a professional wrestler and movie star, of a sort.  He weighed 440 pounds at his peak and actually was not naturally bald, but shaved his head to enhance his looks.  He started appearing in movies in 1934, but didn’t hit his stride, so to speak, until teaming with Ed Wood in the 1950’s.  Probably his best role was in the classic Plan 9 From Outer Space, the Citizen Kane of bad movies.  He was very well-liked by his fellow performers, and was called “a big sugar bun” by one of the actresses he worked with.

Pg 25: Low Chicago: A variety of stud poker in which the player with the lowest spade card in the hole (with the ace considered the lowest) splits the pot with the player with the best hand.

Pg 82: Un-named Englishmen stopping at the Palmer House: Bertram “Bertie” Wooster and his valet, Reginald Jeeves, fictional creations of British comic genius, P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) who appeared in ten novels and over thirty short stories written between 1915-1974.  I just couldn’t resist.

Pg 84: Drones Club: A fictional club in London (A drone is a male bee that doesn’t work, but lives off the labors of others) created by P. G. Wodehouse and peopled with characters from two of his fictional series, the Wooster and Jeeves stories and the Blandings Castle stories.  Among the club members are Bertie Wooster, Freddie Widgeon and Bongo Little.

Pg 86: Buster Brown: Originally an impish child character in a comic strip first published in the NY Herald in 1902, he also appeared as the subject of a Broadway play, silent films, comic books, a radio series, a television show, and hawked numerous consumer items, most famously for the Brown Shoe Company.

Pg 88: Red Summer: A term referring to the late winter through early autumn of 1919 when black communities all across the United States, including Chicago, were attacked by mobs of white supremacists, causing more than a thousand deaths and considerable property damage.

Pg 88: Black Sox Scandal:  A plot to fix the 1919 World Series, with players from the Chicago White Sox taking money from Arnold Rothstein’s gambling syndicate to throw the series to the Cincinnati Reds.  Though the eight players involved were acquitted in a public trial, they were banned from baseball for life by the game’s first commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis in 1921.  Six players took pay-offs, most of them less than they expected, including Chick Gandil (who was the scheme’s mastermind), Fred McMullen, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Swede Risberg, and Oscar Felsch.  Buck Weaver, who attended meetings discussing the plot but did not participate in it, was also banned, as well as Joe Jackson who’d been mentioned as a conspirator, but did not attend the meetings that set it up and whose involvement in it is disputed.

Pg 89: Bronzeville: A neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago of about 1.67 square miles, with a population of 50,285 in 1930 (less than half that in 2015).  Also known as the Black Metropolis. 47th Street is the hub of this hood.

Page 91: Smokey Joe Williams (1886-1951):  Of African-American and Comanche descent, Williams was elected to the American Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.  He played twenty-seven years in the Negro Leagues, Mexico, and various Caribbean countries (1905-1932) and posted a record of 20-7 in games against barnstorming major leaguers.  He was ranked by historian Bill James as the 52nd greatest player in baseball history.  

Page 91: Lefty Williams: Claude “Lefty” Williams (1893-1959) received $5,000 for his complicity in throwing the 1919 World Series (nearly double his 1919 salary of $2600).  He was 0-3 with a 6.63 ERA in series games.  Ultimately, he was banned from baseball for life. 

Pg 92: The Civil War:  For the historically-impaired, 1861-1865.

Pg 92: Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919): Served as president of the United States from 1901-09, and is generally ranked by historians as among the five best.  Our concern here is mainly with an earlier stage of his rather extraordinary career, leader of the “Rough Riders” (officially the 1st U.S. Volunteer Calvary Regiment) and the part they played in the most famous and bloodiest battle in the brief Spanish-American War (1898), the Battle of Kettle Hill.  The hill was actually taken by elements of the 10th Colored Calvary (who were Buffalo Soldiers from the American west), but guess who got the lion’s share of the popular credit?

Pg 92: Negro National League: The first Negro National League began play in 1920 and ultimately folded due to the economic pressure of the Depression in 1931.  The second Negro National League took the field in 1933 and folded in 1948 after losing a number of its prominent players to the major leagues.  It consisted mainly of teams in the eastern United States.

Pg 94: Oscar Charleston (1896-1954) : “The Hoosier Thunderbolt” played in the Negro Leagues from 1915-1941, as well as nine seasons in Cuba, and then managed until his death in 1954 from a stroke/heart attack.  By 1920 he was considered the greatest center-fielder in black baseball as well as one of the finest hitters, with awesome power and speed.  Baseball historian Bill James named him the fourth best player of all time, behind only Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Willie Mays.

Pg 94: Spottswood Poles (1887-1962): One of the fastest runners of his time period, Poles played professionally in the Negro Leagues from 1909-1923, recording batting averages of .440, .398, .414, and .487 from 1911-1914 for the N. Y. Lincoln Giants.  He missed the 1918 season, having enlisted in the 369th Infantry Regiment (the Harlem Hellfighters).  A sergeant, he won five Battle Stars and a Purple Heart for action seen in WWI.

Pg 94: Walter Johnson (1887-1946): “The Big Train” had a twenty-one year career in the major leagues (1907-1927), all spent with the Washington Senators, who were often a second division team.  Nevertheless, he won 417 games, still the second highest figure of all time, and held major league strike out records, career and seasonal, until the 1990s.  He has one of the five members of the American Baseball Hall of Fame inaugural class of 1936.  Almost universally regarded as the hardest throwing pitcher of his time.

Pg 94: Shoeless Joe Jackson (1887-1951): One of the greatest hitters of his time, Jackson was banned for life in 1921 for participating in the scheme to throw the 1919 World Series, despite getting twelve hits in the Series (then a record) and committing no errors.  Popular culture to the contrary, he never admitted throwing the series and if I had to guess at this late date I’d say the preponderance of the evidence does not suggest that he was a party to the scheme.  The famed “say it ain’t so” incident with the young boy never happened.  A 1999 Sporting News list of the hundred greatest baseball players of all time ranks him thirty-fifth. 

Pg 95: John Henry Lloyd (1884-1964): Often named the greatest Negro League shortstop, he was called the “black Wagner,” (of which Honus said: “It is an honor to be compared to him.”).  He began playing pro ball in 1905, joining the Chicago Leland Giants in 1910 and taking over as player-manager in 1912.  In 1913 he led the Leland Giants to victory in a play-off series with the Chicago American Giants to become the acknowledged champions of black baseball. “El Cuchara” (“The Shovel”) played in the Negro Leagues from 1906-1932 where he had a lifetime batting average of .343, and also 12 seasons in the Cuban League (1908/9 -1930).  He was elected to the American Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.

Pg 95: Christobal Torriente (1893-1938): Elected to the Cuba Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939 and the American Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, he is widely acknowledged to be one of the three greatest Cuban born baseball players of all time.  He played for various Cuban teams from 1913-1927, where he had lifetime batting average of .352.  His career Negro League batting average was .331.

Pg 142: “Story about the butterfly effect” Both Nighthawk and Croyd were wrong on the author of this, as we all know.

Pg 149: Gold Coast: Part of the Near North Side of Chicago, bounded by North Avenue, Lake Shore Drive, and Oak and Clark Streets.  It became an up-scale neighborhood after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 when Potter Palmer developed the area and built a mansion there, starting a land boom.

Page 149: The Magnificent Mile: The section of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, from the Chicago River to Oak Street, was given this name in the 1940s. The main route between Chicago’s Loop business District and the Gold Coast, it is a mixture of up-scale department stores and restaurants, luxurious retail stores, and hotels that cater to the wealthy.

Pg 152: Lenny Bruce (1925-1966) : A free-wheeling stand-up comedian tried and found guilty of obscenity in 1964 (he had previously been arrested several times because of his act, once for using the word “schmuck”) that was later overturned.  He paved the way for future out-spoken comics and free-speech advocates.  In 2017 he was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as the third best stand-up comic of all time, behind Richard Pryor and George Carlin.

Pg 152: Hedda Hopper (1885- 1966): Movie actress and later gossip columnist who was a strong supporter of HUAC and proponent of blacklisting communists, those thought to be communist, or those who could be implausibly accused of being communist.  Also homosexuals.  She was also known for wearing extravagant hats.

Pg 155: Everleigh Club: According to the Chicago Vice Commission “probably the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country.”  Run by the Everleigh sisters, Ada and Minna, from 1900-1911.  The building that housed it was razed in 1933.

Pg 156: LBJ (1908-1973) Lyndon Baines Johnson, John F. Kennedy’s vice-president, he took over the presidency after JFK’s assassination. 

Pg 156: Hubert (1911-1978): That would be Hubert Humphry, for the historically disinclined.  Vice-president of the U. S. From 1965-1969, he lost to Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential election.

Pg 193: Enrico Fermi (1901-1955): An Italian-American physicist and creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1 (1942).  He won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1938, the year he emigrated to America to escape Italy’s newly passed racial laws that effected his wife.  He was part of the Los Alamos project that developed the first atomic bomb and was present at the Trinity test in 1945.  He died of stomach cancer at the age of 53.  Make of that what you will.

Pg 252: Prince (Albert William) Henry of Prussia (1862-1929): The younger brother of German Emperor William II and grandson of Queen Victoria (his mother, Victoria, was her oldest daughter), Henry was a career naval officer in the Imperial German Navy, eventually rising to the rank of Grand Admiral.  In March of 1902 he visited Chicago to arrange delivery of a warship built for the German Navy.   Many activities had been scheduled for him, but the one he was most eager to experience was a visit to the Everleigh Club, the notorious brothel run by the Everleigh sisters.  What followed is pretty much accurately depicted.  What, you think I could make that crazy stuff up?

Pg 254: Kaiser Wilhelm (or William) II (1859-1941): Last German Emperor and King of Prussia, reigned from 1888 until his abdication in 1918 shortly before Germany lost WW I.  Eldest grandchildren of Queen Victoria of England, he was known for making tactless and alarming public statements without consulting with his ministers (Sound familiar?).  He fled to exile in the Netherlands and died there.  Historian Thomas Nippendley says of him, “Unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off…” (Ibid.)

Pg 261: Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) British born film star who first appeared in the silents in 1914.   He produced, wrote, directed, edited, scored, and starred in most of his films, and, strangely, hung onto the concept of silent film much later than anyone else.  His film MODERN TIMES (1936) utilized sound effects, but no dialog.  In the 1940’s Chaplin was forced to leave the United States after the F. B. I. opened an investigation into this political beliefs and personal life.  He didn’t return to the U. S. until getting an honorary Academy Award in 1972.  Although this doesn’t have much to do with anything, in a bizarre twist several months after he’d passed away his body was kidnaped and held for ransom, a bizarre extortion scheme which ultimately failed.

Broncho Billy (Anderson) [real name: Maxwell Henry Aronsen] (1880 – 1971): The first star of the Western film genre, Anderson co-founded Essanay Studio in Chicago and ultimately made over 300 short films, 148 of them westerns, before retiring as an actor in 1916.

(Roscoe) Fatty Arbuckle (1887-1933): One of the most popular film stars of the 1910s, he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood in 1920.  He was the defendant in three notorious trials in 1921-2 for the alleged rape and man-slaughter of aspiring actress Virginia Rappe.  The first two ended in hung juries.  In the third the the jury took just six minutes to find him innocent.  His films were then banned by Will Hays, the censor for the motion picture industry.  Although he made attempts at come-backs, he achieved only sporadic success and ultimately died in his sleep in 1933 at the age of 46.  The case was certainly complicated and tragic, but it seems unlikely that he had anything to do with Rappe’s death.  The factoid widespread in the popular culture that he raped her with a bottle (first said to be a Coca-Cola bottle, then a champagne bottle) was entirely concocted, possibly by the Hearst newspapers, who covered the story in a sensationally bombastic manner.

Pg 263: Ben Turpin (1889-1940): Believed to be the first filmed victim of the old pie in the face gag, the cross-eyed comedian first appeared in films for the Essanay Studio of Chicago in 1907, moving to the Mack Sennett studio in 1917.  He basically retired when the talkie era began.

Pg 263: Honus Wagner T card: That would be specifically a T-206 card, or American Tobacco Company card issued between 1909-1911.  An estimated 50-200 of these cards were distributed, before being stopped when Wagner, for unclear reasons, refused to authorize it.  The last known sale of a Wagner T-206 card (2019), which was graded PSA-2 (on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest) was $1.2 million.

Pg 322: President Agnew: Spiro Agnew (1918-1996): Fortunately never really the president of the U. S., he was Richard Nixon’s vice president from 1969 to 1973.  He was forced to resign in disgrace due to the disclosure of kickbacks he’d received from an engineering firm in his home state of Maryland starting in the mid-1960s and lasting through the years of his vice presidency.  Though he vigorously denied any culpability, he pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to one felony tax evasion charge.  He was later disbarred from being an attorney, the Maryland Court of Appeals calling him “morally obtuse.”

Pg 372: Columbian Exposition: AKA, The World’s Fair, consisted of 200 buildings (the vast majority designed to be temporary) set on 630 acres, and was visited by twenty six million people.  Forty-six nations participated.

Pg 415: Great Chicago Fire (October 8-10, 1871): Although the fire began in a shed on Mrs. O’Leary’s property, it wasn’t the fault of her cow, who got the blame in the public imagination, fueled by fabricated newspaper accounts that were later recanted.  Approximately three hundred people were killed, 3.3 sq miles of central and the near north side of Chicago were burned, and nearly a hundred thousand people left homeless.  Two hundred and twenty-two million dollars in estimated property damage occurred, which was about a third of the city’s estimated value.

Pg 420: Adrian “Cap” Anson (1852-1922) One of the first baseball superstars, Anson played twenty-two years in the National League with Chicago and led them to eight National League pennants.  He was the first pro baseball player to accumulate three thousand hits.  Unfortunately, he was also an unrepentant racist and refused to take the field if an opposing team fielded a black player.  The general respect he had in pro ball did much to reinforce the notion of the color line.  He was elected to the American Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

Pg 421: The Black Hand: A criminal activity centered around extorting money from wealthy victims via the sending of anonymous threatening letters.  It was prevalent in many American cities, including Chicago, from about 1900-1920, but was stamped out by a more highly organized form of gangsterism, specifically, the Mafia.

Pg 429: Bradbury: That’s Ray Bradbury, for the non-science fictionally inclined, and the story is “A Sound of Thunder.”