Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Here come the Hawks

It is with considerable civic pride that I can say that the Chicago Blackhawks are the 2013 National Hockey League champions. But there is also a Jazz Age connection.

The history of the Blackhawks began in 1926, when Frederic McLaughlin was granted an NHL franchise. 

An heir to a coffee fortune, McLaughlin was a Chicago native who served in the U.S. Army during World War I. His ascension to the rank of Major ensured that he would be referred to henceforth as Major McLaughlin.

Before he became an NHL owner, McLaughlin married a major celebrity of the Jazz Age and one of the agents responsible for ushering it in, Irene Castle, the widow of Vernon Castle and one half of the dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle that would create an international sensation.

Castle would star on screen as well. Here is a clip from "Patria," starring Vernon and Irene Castle.

While married to McLaughlin, Castle had some unfinished business related to a previous marriage, as reported on Sept. 20, 1924.

There was, however, much happier news on Jan. 5, 1925, when a blessed event was reported.

During the Blackhawks' debut season, the major's wife was in the news.

There was this item from Oct. 21, 1926.

The major had a major task in building his franchise in the 1920s. 

On May 17, 1926, in the Ottawa Citizen, the Chicago franchise was announced. Particularly interesting, especially to fans of Chicago jazz, is the involvement of Paddy Harmon, owner of Harmon's Dreamland, near the future home of the Chicago Stadium..

Also interesting is the apparent opposition to the entry of a Chicago franchise.

Notice no mention here of Major McLaughlin. The league had not yet made a decision about awarding the franchise. There were three applications for the Chicago slot, as noted on April 19, 1926.

Tex Rickard was a legendary fight promoter. But it appears he is also one of the unsung heroes of Chicago sports for making it possible for the Blackhawks to land in the Windy City.

According to "Chicago Stadium," by Paul Michael Petersen, McLaughlin purchased the Portland Rosebuds from the folding Western Hockey League.

The price tag to bring Chicago to the NHL was $200,000, according to Tom King in his book, "The Legendary Game - Ultimate Hockey Trivia." He also writes that the team drew its name from McLaughlin's World War I regiment, the Black Hawk Regiment.

But this article from Dec. 24, 1944 in the Spokane Spokesman-Review tells the fuller story, saying that McLaughlin was an instrument of the Rickard group.

Petersen wrote that the Blackhawks took ice for the first time at the venerable Chicago Coliseum, with a 4-1 win over the Toronto St. Patricks on Nov. 17.

The first captain was Dick Irvin.

By Nov. 23, 1926, hockey was beginning to take hold in Chicago, as this article shows..

On Dec. 13, 1926, the following article in the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator notes Chicagoans' unfamiliarity with the rules. As we all know, that would change over the years.

Judging from the press clippings, the fans were treated to some exciting hockey.

The article also shows the Hawks occupying the middle of the pack in the standings.

Thus did the Hawks embark upon the beginning of a roller coaster existence under the first of several colorful owners, culminating in perhaps the greatest of them all, Rocky Wirtz, under whose stewardship the Hawks have won two Stanley Cups.