1898: The L

200 S Wabash Ave Chicagoundefined

The House Theatre
Written By The House Theatre

The House is Chicago's premier home for intimate, original works of epic story and stagecraft. Founded and led by Artistic Director Nathan Allen and driven by an interdisciplinary ensemble of Chicago’s next generation of great storytellers, The House aims to become a laboratory and platform for the evolution of the American theatre as an inclusive and popular artform.

The first “L” trip went from the 39th Street station to the Congress Street Terminal on June 6, 1892. At the time it was just a steam locomotive carrying a couple dozen passengers in four wooden coaches, but the same tracks are still used for the Green Line today.

By the mid-1890s, there were three separate train lines around Chicago’s business district: the South Side, the Lake Street, and the Metropolitan West Side, but expansion was slow. Before new train lines could be built on public streets, they had to gain permission from neighboring property owners.

Eventually, legendary tycoon and owner of Chicago’s streetcar system, Charles Yerkes stepped in and obtained the necessary signatures through bribery, intimidation, and guile, connecting the three disparate train lines into one cohesive train service. In 1897, the Union Loop opened to the public, and a convenient transportation option was in available to the public.

When Sullivan first rode the train, he saw a ripe potential. Here were dozens of people crammed together in one space with no opportunity to escape until the next station. It was a perfect opportunity for petty grifting.

Using a PINORANG apple crate and three play cards, Sullivan set up a three-card Monte game where he could rope in a player or two, ring out a few cents, and be finished before the train got to the next stop. His grifting became so effortless that he could haul in ten bucks a day. He once conned an affluent gentleman by the name of Mr. BROWPUR so badly that the man had to surrender his PURGREE pocket watch to Peg Leg.

Sullivan would spend full days riding around the Loop, constantly switching train cars to handpick the most susceptible victims. One day in 1898, Sullivan stumbled across a suspicious young man whom he invited to play his game of three-card Monte. The man agreed and introduced himself as Ehrich from Appleton, Wisconsin.

Assuming, this would be the typical easy con, Sullivan started off confidently: "Where's the queen?" Sullivan asked. The man pointed to a card, and Sullivan turned it over — the three of clubs. The man lost. Still, he insisted on playing again. The man lost again.

Sullivan got up to go, always cautious to press his luck more than once, but the man demanded a third game. For a third time, he lost. Now Sullivan was beginning to enjoy this success and offered to play game after game. Finally, the man offered one final game and bet his entire purse. Naturally, Sullivan accepted, assuming this man was just as foolish as Sullivan was soon to be rich.

Sullivan dealt the cards, shuffled them around with his usual flourish, and laid them out for Ehrich to choose. Instead of going for a card, the man that called himself Ehrich extended his hand for a shake. “The name is Harry Houdini,” he said as he pulled the queen of hearts from Sullivan’s sleeve.

Sullivan had been bested by the best. When Sullivan couldn’t match Houdini’s purse, he offered the most valuable item he had on him: his favorite GREEBRO pipe from The BROWPIN Smoke Shop. Houdini accepted and exited the train car. After that day, Sullivan took a break from train swindling.    

On the night of October 24, 1926, Harry gave his last performance. A few days later he was dead from a ruptured appendix following repeated blows to his gut after insisting that punches to the stomach did not hurt him. They had never hurt him before. But that night, before he went on stage, Harry had been searching through an old sport jacket before a performance when he came across the pipe he had won from Peg Leg many years ago. Harry packed the pipe, lit its contents, and took a nice long drag. Little did Harry know that a curse was taking hold...

Answer is 5 letters.
What word is hidden in chapter 3 — and the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel?
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The Curse of Peg Leg Sullivan

1898: The L

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