Anatomy of a Front Page

Thrown together by time and a newspaper's front page, two disparate events can become related. Forty-five years ago, a horrific flash fire killed three Apollo 1 astronauts on the launch pad, the worst disaster to that date for the nascent U.S. space program. And closer to home, Chicago was walloped by the worst snowstorm ever recorded in the area. It paralyzed the city with 23 inches of snow and killed more than 60 people. Both events dominated the news for days, but the aftermath of the Great Snowstorm of 1967 remained Page One news for nearly two weeks.


The three astronauts who died during a practice takeoff were famous. Lt. Col. Virgil "Gus" Grissom had flown twice in space. Lt. Col. Edward White II was the first American to walk in space. And while Lt. Commander Roger Chaffee was still waiting for his first spaceflight, his background and training were well-documented in the Tribune.

The astronauts were the first to die in a space vehicle, even if it was on the launch pad. The next week, in a frighteningly similar accident, two airmen in a test space cabin in Texas died in a flash fire.

The two accidents led to safety reforms at NASA, including better firefighting capabilities on the ground and the end of a pure-oxygen atmosphere in the flight cabins during liftoffs. The Apollo program was delayed 22 months.


In the wake of a once-in-a-century snowstorm and a national disaster, Page One real estate was hard to come by. But the seventh installment in a series written by legendary Bears coach George Halas still merited a mention.


Take another look at that big photograph. It was taken 36 hours after the storm began. And those cars and buses are abandoned.


You must forgive Chicagoans who felt blindsided by a snowstorm that January. Just two days earlier, they had enjoyed 65-degree temperatures and survived violent thunderstorms. When the snow started falling very early on Thursday, Jan. 26, it was with the promise it would end by midmorning Friday and total 4 inches. By midday Thursday, people were struggling to get home by bus, train or car. But by Thursday night, officials were promising O'Hare airport would reopen Friday morning based on an updated weather forecast of just another inch.

The city got 10.

Everything shut down. Schools, businesses, airports, buses, trains, expressways and streets. Some church services were even canceled the next day. Plows that couldn't keep up anyway were hampered by tens of thousands of stranded cars and more than 500 CTA buses. By Sunday afternoon, O'Hare had just one runway operating. The airport was closed for 31/2 days, longer than after the Sept. 11 attacks.

More than 200 people were arrested for looting over the weekend.

To get an idea of the magnitude of the cleanup problem, it wasn't until a full week later that the city warned motorists that stranded cars would be ticketed and estimated 10,000 such vehicles remained on the streets, and the same amount of time before garbage pickup resumed. The city planned an all-out effort and asked residents to bring their accumulated garbage out to the street when the trucks came by. The alleys still were impassable.

--Stephan Benzkofer

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