The Pillsbury Dough Boy. The Iroquois Theatre. Mayor Jane Byrne. The Father of Gospel. These iconic people, places, and things each have fascinating stories behind them. On Friday, April 1 at 8:00 pm on all platforms, WTTW will premiere a new season of CHICAGO STORIES, the only weekly documentary program dedicated to uncovering the sweeping history, rich diversity, and breadth of human experience that shaped this great American city.
Each of the six new stories profiles a person or event that shaped Chicago, including the city’s first female mayor, Jane Byrne, who left an indelible mark on the city; the dramatic stories of two “downtown disasters” – a devastating theater fire and a mysterious underground flood; the creative genius of some of the city’s advertising legends; Chicago’s Union Stockyards, which revolutionized meatpacking in America; a Mexican-American parish that suffered great losses during the Vietnam War and the disillusionment that followed; and Chicago’s role as the birthplace of gospel music, through the story of its creator.
“The CHICAGO STORIES series is a cornerstone of our mission to produce and present trusted, best-in-class content fueled by a distinctly Chicago sensibility,” said WTTW President & CEO Sandra Cordova Micek. “These iconic stories take us back to key moments in Chicago’s history, and provide historical context and understanding of the parallels to the critical issues in our community today.”
The companion website (wttw.com/chicagostories) will feature the six new stories with original content including a feature on Jane Byrne’s rise to power, an animated video explainer of Chicago’s tunnel system that caused the 1992 Loop flood, exclusive video of three gospel performances by Trinity UCC Choir, and much more.
Chicago Stories will also be streaming on wttw.com beginning April 1.
April 1, 8:00 pm
As a woman once again occupies the fifth floor of City Hall, Chicago Stories remembers the city’s first female mayor. After pulling off one of Chicago’s greatest political upsets, Jane Byrne found herself caught between the political machine that shaped her and the reformers who elected her. Driven by her vision of “One Chicago,” Jane Byrne focused on bringing unity and pride to an increasingly divided city. While her time in office was marked by crises and controversies, the Byrne administration ushered in a new era of Chicago politics.
April 8, 8:00 pm
Chicago Stories recalls two very different disasters that occurred in the heart of Chicago’s Loop 90 years apart: First, the deadliest building fire in U.S. history: the 1903 Iroquois Theatre Fire. Caused by hasty construction, missing and faulty safety features, and a botched evacuation, the tragedy shocked the nation and gave rise to many safeguards still in place today. Then, 30 years ago this month, the Great Loop Flood of 1992: a $2 billion disaster with zero casualties. As downtown buildings mysteriously flooded with water from the Chicago River, the city searched for answers in a long-forgotten tunnel system.
April 15, 8:00 pm
The Real Mad Men of Chicago
You may not have heard of Albert Lasker, Eugene Kolkey, or Tom Burrell, but you most certainly know their creations. They’re Chicago’s Mad Men - the local executives who created iconic figures like the Marlboro Man, Charlie the Tuna, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy. This episode of Chicago Stories explores how the real Mad Men of Chicago became the leaders of the advertising world.
April 22, 8:00 pm
The Union Stockyards
At the end of the 19th century, Chicago completely transformed the way Americans eat, and the Union Stockyards on the South Side were the center of that revolution. Experience the sights, sounds, and awful smells of the Union Stockyards and the complex of meat factories next to it, known as Packingtown. As they modernized the process for getting affordable meat to the masses, the Stockyards also became the stage for ugly battles over the well-being of workers, and the safety of the nation’s food supply.
April 29, 8:00 pm
Our Soldiers, Our Lady of Guadalupe
This is the story of pride and heartbreak in a close-knit South Side community. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Chicago’s first and oldest Mexican-American parish, lost 12 young men in the Vietnam War during a brutal five-year period. Most of these young men came from military families, and some felt they owed a debt of gratitude to America. But, as the war dragged on and antiwar protests escalated, some in this patriotic community began to question why Mexican-Americans bore a disproportionate brunt of an unpopular war.
May 6, 8:00 pm
The Birth of Gospel
This episode of Chicago Stories traces the birth and growth of gospel music in Chicago in the 1930s. The story follows “The Father of Gospel”, Thomas A. Dorsey, who wrote one of gospel’s early hits while coping with his grief over the death of his wife and child. It explores the roots of gospel from southern spirituals during slavery, through gospel’s early years, using rare historic recordings and contemporary performances from the choirs of Trinity United Church of Christ and Greater Harvest Baptist Church.
“These stories are quintessential Chicago,” said Executive Producer Dan Protess. “From Jane Byrne’s epic battle to unseat the political machine, to Black migrants from the South creating a new kind of music, to a heroic Mexican-American parish standing up for what it believes in, these six episodes are deep dives into gripping, true stories you will only find in this city.”
Executive Producer: Dan Protess. Produced and Written by: Rachel Pikelny, Rachel Ruiz, Peter Marks, Daniel Andries, Edgar Vargas, Stacy Robinson, Ray Santisteban, and Robert Loerzel. Associate Producers: Mizani Ball, Ian Bertorelli, and Kira Fahmy. Directors of Photography: Tim Boyd, Samuel Rong, Brian Wingert, and Aaron Britton. Editors: Katerina Simic, Brian Clark, Patty Kaniff, and Michael Buhrow. Narrator: Anthony Fleming III. Original score: Allie n Steve Mullen, Chris Paultre, Andrew M. Edwards, Son Monarcas, and Nicholas Tremulis. Digital Content Producer: Meredith Francis. Digital Video Editor: Wayne Kumingo. Digital Design/Development: Justin Henderson. SVP Marketing and Digital: Anne Gleason.
Leadership support for CHICAGO STORIES is provided by The Negaunee Foundation and the Jim and Kay Mabie Family. Major support for CHICAGO STORIES is provided by TAWANI Property Management, an anonymous donor, the Walter E. Heller Foundation, and Northern Trust, along with other generous sponsors. (As of 3/7/22)
WTTW is the PBS member station in Chicago, committed to creating and presenting unique media content across distinct television and digital channels – WTTW, WTTW Prime, WTTW Create/WTTW World, WTTW PBS Kids 24/7, wttw.com and the PBS/WTTW video app. Recognized for award-winning journalism and local productions – such as Chicago Tonight; Chicago by ‘L’; Chicago Stories; digital-first series FIRSTHAND, Urban Nature and Foodphiles; and national productions Prehistoric Road Trip and Nature Cat – WTTW presents the very best in public affairs, arts and culture, nature and science, history and documentary, and children’s public media content. Connect with WTTW on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.