Saturday, September 13, 2008
Michael McDonald, who started his career as a boy con artist and professional gambler, came to Chicago in the early 1860s, and reigned as the king of gambling, and perhaps the most powerful man in the city, until the 1890s. His headquarters was known as "the Store," and located here, at the northwest corner of Clark and Monroe, at the head of Gamblers' Row.
The Store operated as a saloon on the first floor, a casino on the second floor, and a flophouse on the third and fourth floors. It was here that that famous con man's motto, "there's a sucker born every minute," was first coined by McDonald. In cahoots with the famous laissez faire mayor of Chicago, "Our" Carter Harrison, Sr., McDonald grew to become the most powerful and feared man in town, receiving kickbacks and doling out political favors to friends and business associates. Anyone running a gambling operation of any sort in Chicago during the last half of the 19th century was strongly advised to "see Mike" before opening for business. Failure to operate within, and pay tribute to, McDonald's organization, was not advisable.
After Carter Harrison's political career faltered, was revived, and then ended suddenly in assassination, McDonald's power waned. His taste for women did not, however, and in 1898, he divorced his wife, renounced Roman Catholicism, and married a 23-year old siren, intending to retire and make a home for her. May-December romances, however, have their limits, and McDonald's wife took several lovers, one of which she shot and killed after a spat in 1907. The shock of the event was too much for the old man, and he died several weeks later, having returned on his deathbed to the Church.