June 7, 2013

Riots in Uptown, 1921

From the archive...

Riot Follows Race Repartee at Clarendon
Source: Chicago Daily Tribune, 22 June 1921, pg. 1.

A simple little remark yesterday precipitated a riot on the sands of Clarendon Beach. Five hundred men and women in bathing suits fought. An eye was gouged out, a nose broken, pop bottles were broken on human countenances. And two men and two women were arrested.

The remark is alleged to have been made by Mrs. Rebecca Stein, 731 Irving Park boulevard. She and Mrs. Mary Murner, 1147 South St. Louis avenue, were in the company of Harry Brown, 933 Sunnyside avenue and Alex Retner, 1111 South Richmond street.

The women said later that two life guards, P. S. McHale and R. L. Bessmer, standing near by, had said something about Jews, which Mrs. Stein resented.

Repartee Starts Riot.

"I hear a life guard once married a white girl," she is said to have declared. There was an attempt at repartee. And then, the police say, blows were struck, men and women came running up, and the rioting spread quickly and so furiously that the policeman at the beach was powerless to stop it. He sent in a riot call.

The life guards were reinforced by their captain, F. S. Goetz, Ted Rittner, and Alfred Webber. They fought with oar handles and a hammer, witnesses declared.

Brown was struck by a hammer and lost his left eye. Witnesses declare that the life guards kicked and beat him as he lay unconscious. The life guards denied this.

Retner was hit with an oar handle and his nose broken.

Both the women in the case were struck with fists, they say, and their hair was pulled.

Bessmer was cut above the right eye by a broken bottle. The bottles did great damage after the bottoms had been broken off. McHale was also cut by one of the broken bottles. He was hit in the mouth and his lips were badly lacerated.

Several Battles at Once.

The police arrived in numbers and they had difficulty in separating the combatants. The general melee by this time had split up into a number of battling groups, some of the members of which not knowing what the fight was all about.

Retner and Brown was rushed to the Alexian Brothers hospital and later booked, with Mrs. Stein and Mrs. Murner, on charges of disorderly conduct. The life guards were left to patrol the beach and keep order.

The life guards denied they had said anything at all about Jews, and declared the remark about a lifeguard marrying a white girl was intended as an insult to Bessmer.

Bessmer believed he had been called a Negro and he resented it. He is not a Negro, but his skin has been tanned such a dark color that he has become sensitive about his complexion.

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