Monday, September 1, 2008

The Black Hole

After the Great Fire (and long before the astronomical term was coined), the slum area around Washington and Halsted streets became known as the Black Hole, both for the devious activities that took place here and for the near West side's growing African-American population.

The most infamous establishment of the Black Hole was "Noah's Ark," located at this intersection, which housed a number of saloons, brothels, and cubicles which were rented for use by streetwalkers as they entertained their clients. It was a regular client of Noah's Ark who started one of Chicago's first race riots. Bill Allen, the husband of one of the brothel owners, was a thief and murderer, who shot a police officer, Clarence Wright, who had tried to arrest him. On the run, Allen himself was shot and killed by the police during hot pursuit.

Community members surrounded the police station, believing Allen still to be alive inside, and demanded his body for lynching. The crowd, which threatened to storm the police station, was only sated when the police captain laid Allen's body out on a mattress, in the window, displayed like a mannequin at Marshall Field's, so that all could see he was, in fact dead.

Several respectable establishments crowd around this quickly gentrifying area today, which is convenient to the central "loop" business district, including a local television station, a bank, and a wireless telephone store. Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios is located in the Black Hole, five blocks west of this location.

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