NEWS COLUMNS

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2014

88KEYES AT THE C&NW TERMINAL

By James Johnson

Originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
February 25, 2004

The Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum has two resident experts, Vic Wichert and Ed Beling, who help in researching Dick Tracy’s adventures. One railroad-themed story is believed to have featured the Chicago and North Western Railway’s elegant old terminal at 500 W. Madison in Chicago. It was torn down in the 1970′s to build the Atrium Center. Today the complex is known as the Citicorp Center and the Richard B. Ogilvie Transportation Center. Some of the older Metra trainmen still refer to it as the “CPT,” which means Chicago Passenger terminal.

The original terminal was built in the traditional way with a huge main waiting room, similar to Union Station which still stands. Around the perimeter of the main waiting room, there were third and fourth floor offices. The division superintendent had an especially elegant office with wood-paneled walls and antique furniture. There was a fascinating basement with railroad offices and a sub-basement with carpenter shop, equipment rooms and storage.

The North Western previously leased about 75,000 square feet of office space in the old Daily News building at 400 W. Madison and saved a few dollars in rent by consolidating into the terminal building in the early 1970′s. The basement had some elaborately tiled walls and ceilings which were covered during buildout of the railroad office space but may still exist under the new high rise.

In 1943, Chester Gould featured a villain named “88Keyes,” a talented but crooked musician. He staged an accident by parking an automobile on railroad tracks somewhere west of “the city.” After a “streamliner” had demolished the automobile (along with his victim left inside), 88Keyes climbed aboard the temporarily stopped train with stolen cash and headed back to town. He rode in “the smoker,” another anachronism.
The local police determined that the accident was deliberate. Through evidence found in the car, they quickly notified Dick Tracy that the suspect was inbound on the train. Dick Tracy and his men staked out the train shed (the platform area where the trains are boarded) of the terminal as the train pulled in. 88 was concerned that the police might be waiting and managed to climb onto the roof of a passenger car and then swing up to the roof of the train shed. The structure today has opaque roof panels (with the asbestos having been abated in the 1980′s), but in the 1943 comic strip it had glass panels. The police spotted the suspect through the glass and a shoot-out followed.

Dick Tracy climbed up onto the structure and would have captured the felon but accidentally fell and almost went through the glass. This gave 88 his chance, and he escaped across rooftops to a nearby building. This building just happened to have an employment office hiring men for immediate departure to area farm work. 88 escaped from the city on a work-group bus as the police searched the vicinity. Chester Gould wasn’t done with 88, of course. A few months later Dick Tracy confronted him again and 88′s luck ran out.

Follow-up note: One of C&NW’s division superintendents, Bob Drengler, had a favorite funny story. There is a tendency for inbound commuters to crowd the front cars, so when the train stops in the terminal, they don’t have to walk far when exiting the building. One day a businessman commuter came to see Bob in his office. In all seriousness, he complained about the crowds at the front, and asked Bob if he could put an extra car at the front of each train.

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“The crime game boasts of two sure winners, the undertaker and the warden.”
- Chester Gould
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