It was late in the summer of 1893 when McGregor came to Chicago, an ill time
for boy or man in that city. The big exposition of the year before had brought
multiplied thousands of restless labourers into the city and its leading citizens,
who had clamoured for the exposition and had loudly talked of the great growth
that was to come, did not know what to do with the growth now that it had come.
The depression that followed on the heels of the great show and the financial
panic that ran over the country in that year had set thousands of hungry men to
wait dumbly on park benches poring over want advertisements in the daily
papers and looking vacantly at the lake or had driven them to tramp aimlessly
through the streets, filled with forebodings.
In time of plenty a great American city like Chicago goes on showing a more or
less cheerful face to the world while in nooks and crannies down side-streets and
alleys poverty and misery sit hunched up in little ill-smelling rooms breeding vice.
In times of depression these creatures crawl forth and joined by thousands of the
unemployed tramp the streets through the long nights or sleep upon benches in
the parks. In the alleyways off Madison Street on the West Side and off State
Street, on the South Side, eager women driven by want sold their bodies to
passersby for twenty-five cents. An advertisement in the newspapers of one
unfilled job brought a thousand men to block the streets at daylight before a
factory door. In the crowds men swore and knocked each other about. Working-
men driven to desperation went forth into quiet streets and knocking over citizens
took their money and watches and ran trembling into the darkness. A girl of
Twenty-fourth Street was kicked and knocked into the gutter because when
attacked by thieves she had but thirty-five cents in her purse. A professor of the
University of Chicago addressing his class said that, having looked into the
hungry distorted faces of five hundred men clamouring for a position as
dishwasher in a cheap restaurant, he was ready to pronounce all claims to social
advancement in America a figment in the brains of optimistic fools. A tall
awkward man walking up State Street threw a stone through the window of a
store. A policeman hustled him through the crowd. "You'll get a workhouse
sentence for this," he said.
"You fool that's what I want. I want to make property that won't employ me feed
me," said the tall gaunt man who, trained in the cleaner and more wholesome
poverty of the frontier, might have been a Lincoln suffering for mankind.
Into this maelstrom of misery and grim desperate want walked Beaut McGregor
of Coal Creek--huge, graceless of body, indolent of mind, untrained, uneducated,
hating the world. Within two days he had snatched before the very eyes of that
hungry marching army three prizes, three places where a man might by working
all day get clothes to wear upon his back and food to put into his stomach.