NEWS COLUMNS

THURSDAY, JULY 24, 2014

DICK TRACY AND EVENTS OF 1931

By James Johnson

originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
June 14, 2006

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the introduction of Chester Gould’s “Dick Tracy.” Both the character and comic strip have made a lasting impact on American society, with Tracy as a strong character standing up for law and order. As Chester Gould stated, “If the police couldn’t catch the gangsters, I’d create a fellow who could.” Dick Tracy has fulfilled that role for 75 years and counting.

Dick Tracy’s debut shared October, 1931 with many other notable events. It was early in the depression era. Although Al Capone had managed to evade the law for many years, that October brought his downfall. He was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in the penitentiary. Capone rode high in Chicago crime beginning with his 1919 employment by Johnny Torrio and became the mob’s undisputed leader in the 1920′s. The 1929 St. Valentines Day massacre was a step too far, and Federal authorities gradually closed in. Dick Tracy’s comparable opponent in organized crime was a mob boss named “Big Boy,” who was jailed by Tracy in 1932.

In 1931 it had only been 12 years since the White Sox had won a World Series. The Cubs? A bit longer. The 1931 Series matched Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards, led by Frankie Frisch, prevailed. Lefty Grove, the A’s 31-game winner, couldn’t carry his team to a Series win.

Although Lindbergh’s flight was “old news” in 1931, the nation was thrilled by the first trans-Pacific flight. An experienced barnstormer, Clyde Pangborn, bankrolled by Hugh Herndon Jr., the son of a Standard Oil heiress, flew a Bellanca aircraft from Japan to a belly landing in Wenatchee, Washington. The aircraft had no radio and minimal equipment. It was designed to jettison its landing gear once airborne so that it could carry the heavy fuel load required for the 4,500 mile trip. The team won a $50,000 prize from the Asahi-Shimbun newspaper.

So much has changed since 1931. Dick Tracy provides an interesting bridge to that era, as he continues his adventures under cartoonist Dick Locher. Perhaps the White Sox and Cubs and baseball itself retain some similarities with the past, but flying the Pacific is a ho-hum experience.

Jean O’Connell’s HATS OFF! open house exhibit is Friday, June 23 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. in the Old Court House Arts Center. Woodstock Independent readers are invited to stop in for refreshments and to see some spectacular designs. The program is sponsored in part by an ARTSBOOST Grant from the Barrington Area Arts Council, in partnership with the Illinois Arts Council Community Access Grant.

Tickets at $50 per person are still available for the Dick Tracy Mystery Dinner Playhouse to be held Thursday, June 22 at Pirro’s Restaurante. The private room opens at 6:30 p.m. with dinner at 7:30 p.m. and the mystery solved at 9:30 p.m. Please contact the museum or the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce office for tickets to see Gary Devar’s comedy/drama.

Follow-up note: Jean’s HATS OFF! Exhibits were immensely popular while the museum was open. Hundreds of whimsical entries were received, some of which are shown on the website. There were two mystery dinners held, both successful fundraisers. The Cubs continue their quest for a World Series appearance; the White Sox seem more likely to repeat this goal.

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“Life is a beautiful word except when it's used as a sentence.”
- Chester Gould
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