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Shnay: Blackhawks’ rally recalls greater celebration

Updated: August 15, 2013 6:11AM



It was Aug. 14, 1945.

My mother and I had to get off the Wabash Avenue streetcar when it couldn’t turn onto Van Buren Street in Chicago. The conductor in back told everyone to exit the car.

There were too many people blocking the path of the trolley, he said. Can’t move, can’t turn around.

I remember looking across the street. A man on the corner had an open whiskey bottle in one hand and a small shot glass in the other.

He would pour some of the booze into the glass, hand it to a passer-by, who soon returned the empty glass to the generous gentleman. Most of those partaking were soldiers or sailors.

Holding my mother’s hand tightly, we exited the streetcar and mingled with the crowd, most of whom were walking toward State Street.

There was no traffic on the street, just people — a sea of people, all taller than this curious 10-year-old boy who was clinging to his mother, who warned him not to let go.

It was slow going, and when we finally got to State Street, we encountered a mass of humanity filling the street and both of its sides.

We began our trek toward Lake Street, at the other end of the Loop, at the old seven-story Goldblatt’s Department Store building and slowly maneuvered our way northward.

Knots of people gathered at intersections. Red and green traffic signals blinked, but people just stood in the middle of the street, yelling, shaking hands, dancing and I suppose kissing each other. At the age of 10, one does not notice things that he will pay much more attention to in later years.

We slowly managed to get past the throngs at State and Madison streets. It was called the world’s busiest intersection with good reason.

But by the time we came to Randolph Street, we were forced to turn back. There was simply no room to move. It seemed as if the entire block was awash with humanity — end to end, top to bottom. There were newsreel cameras atop both the State-Lake and Chicago movie theaters, with perhaps thousands waving and cheering for the cameramen.Despite the huge crowds, there were no fights, no broken store windows and no torched cars (well, with gas rationing there weren’t many cars on the streets anyway). There was much yelling, cheering, singing, scraps of paper floating down from open widows and ticker tape.

Someone must have been throwing loose change around. I looked down and saw a nickel lying among the confetti littering the street. Why is it we remember big events by the smallest details? Finding that coin in the midst of the glorious madness has remained with me to this day.

The next day, we read in the newspaper that the crowd on State Street was estimated at a half million. I was proud because Mom and I had helped achieve the 500,000 mark. It was Aug. 14, 1945. The day the Japanese surrendered. V-J Day. The end of World War II.

What brought that exciting, massive celebration to mind? I recalled it as I watched on television the parade and rally to celebrate the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championship.

All such occasions are memorable and different. A TV announcer, caught up in the frenzy of the moment, said there were an estimated 2 million people along the parade route and in Grant Park.

The event, he said, was the greatest celebration in the history of Chicago. I thought not.

The Stanley Cup title is a great sports victory and had more people congregated in one place. Go Blackhawks!

But V-J Day was an important milestone in American history and meant peace had finally arrived, ending the most horrendous war in world history. That is the difference.



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