The Our Lady of the Angels school fire of 1958, the reversal of the Chicago River, the labor movement sparked by the Pullman porters – these are just a few of the stories that will launch a new season of WTTW’s documentary series CHICAGO STORIES. On Fridays at 8:00 pm beginning September 22, WTTW will premiere a new season of eight new 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.
“WTTW’s 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. “In the new fall season, we’ll go back to dramatic moments in Chicago’s history to provide historical context and understanding of the issues we face today.”
Watch Chicago Stories on WTTW (ch. 11.1) on Fridays at 8:00 pm and streaming on the PBS app and at wttw.com/chicagostories.
Friday, September 22, 8:00 pm
Angels Too Soon: The School Fire of ’58
On December 1, 1958, a devastating fire swept through Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, killing 92 children and three nuns. Survivors, their families, and community members share their harrowing memories of that day and the heartbreaking aftermath. The film also explores the conditions that led to the fire and how it led to major improvements in school safety standards.
Friday, September 29, 8:00 pm
The Race to Reverse the River
From the city’s earliest days, Chicago residents and businesses alike dumped their waste directly into the Chicago River, which flowed into Lake Michigan, contaminating the city’s drinking water and causing widespread disease and death. This film explores the various attempts to combat the problem and save the city, and one engineer’s bold solution: reversing the flow of the river away from the lake. This astonishing feat of engineering may have solved that problem but caused others, including a long and bitter dispute with cities downstream to which the flow was diverted, and troubling changes to the river’s ecosystem still felt today.
Friday, October 6, 8:00 pm
Pullman and the Railroad Rebellion
In 1864, the powerful industrialist and engineer George Pullman brought luxury to overnight train travel with his revolutionary sleeping cars, where passengers were served by an army of former slaves who became known as Pullman Porters and Maids. Pullman soon established a company town for employees on Chicago’s South Side that gave him complete authority over every aspect of their lives. This film recounts the bloody rebellion that followed as all of Pullman’s workers fought for their independence.
Friday, October 13, 8:00 pm
The Boss and the Bulldozer
Longtime Chicago mayor Richard J. “Boss” Daley had a lofty vision for Chicago’s downtown, and didn’t let anything or anyone stand in his way. Over the course of his 21 years in office, Daley’s ambitious urban renewal initiatives were the foundation of the city’s infrastructure and at the same time displaced the poor and people of color while perpetuating racial segregation. This film chronicles Daley’s rise to power, his achievements, and his stubbornness in the face of cultural change.
Friday, October 20, 8:00 pm
Jane Addams: Together We Rise
Jane Addams, born into wealth and privilege, had been intrigued by social reform since a visit to a settlement house in London’s impoverished East End. An inheritance made it possible for her to bring that concept to Chicago with the creation of Hull House. Chicago Stories profiles this Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist and the cadre of indefatigable women who joined her to enrich the lives of thousands of immigrant families, inspiring others around the world to follow their lead.
Friday, October 27, 8:00 pm
Brach. Mars. Wrigley. These are just a few of the candy companies that have called Chicago home. At the time of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, more than 100 candy companies were in operation in the area, producing such familiar confections as Baby Ruth, Tootsie Roll, Lemonheads, and Juicy Fruit gum. This film explores how Chicago became known as “the candy capital of the world,” and tells the stories of some of the intrepid immigrant confectioners behind the brands we still love today.
Friday, November 3, 8:00 pm
The Outrage of Danny Sotomayor
Danny Sotomayor was a man on a mission. The fiery openly gay AIDS activist, political cartoonist, and organizer took to the streets, using civil disobedience to wage war on city officials who marginalized the LGBTQ community and turned a blind eye to the AIDS crisis – all while fighting a losing battle with the disease himself. Chicago Stories profiles a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer – who channeled his rage and pain into a movement to effect positive change.
Friday, November 10, 8:00 pm
The Rise and Fall of the Mail Order Giants
In an age before online commerce and Amazon, the catalog was king – and two Chicago mail order giants were responsible for making goods and services accessible to the masses. Chicago Stories traces the histories of Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward and the fierce rivalry between the two bold innovators who founded them and forever changed the way we shop.
The companion website (wttw.com/chicagostories) will feature further exploration of these eight new stories, with a photo essay that explores the complex legacy of urban renewal in Chicago; a story about wildlife on the Chicago River; biographies of Jane Addams and the women of Hull House; a timeline of the rise and fall of the city’s mail order companies; a web extra video on the history of the Belmont Rocks and AIDS Garden Chicago; an extended interview with Our Lady of the Angels fire survivor and Journey band member Jonathan Cain; a catalog of sweet treats that debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair; and more.
WTTW and Chicago Stories are proud to partner with the Chicago History Museum. Visit wttw.com/events for upcoming community engagement opportunities as we enrich lives, engage communities, and inspire exploration.
Executive Producer: Anna Chadwick Gardner. VP, TV Original Content: Shelley Spencer. Produced and Written by: Eddie Griffin, Rachel Pikelny, Daniel Andries, Rachel Ruiz, Peter Marks, Stacy Robinson, Risé Sanders-Weir, Alex Dawson, and Robert Loerzel. Directors of Photography: Felix A. Méndez, Oral Berat User, Shuling Yong, Sam Rong, Brian Wingert, and Brendan Walsh. Editors: Katerina Simic, Paul Thornton, Brian Clark, Patty Kaniff, Sharon Zurek, and Melissa Sterne. Narrator: Anthony Fleming III. Original score: Paul Brill. Website Content Producer/Editor: Meredith Francis. Website Video Editor: Wayne Kumingo. Digital Design/Development: Justin Henderson. SVP Marketing & Digital: Anne Gleason.
Leadership support for CHICAGO STORIES is provided by The Negaunee Foundation. Major support for CHICAGO STORIES is provided by the Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, TAWANI Foundation on behalf of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, and the Donna Van Eekeren Foundation. (As of 8/21/23)
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, Black Voices, Latino Voices, Chicago Stories, Firsthand, The Most Beautiful Places in Chicago, and Chicago By ‘L’ – 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.