The Press: Land of the Living Dead

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Along West Madison Street, within sight of the handsome Daily News skyscraper, sprawls the noisome slum of saloons, hash-joints, missions and flophouses that Chicago calls Skid Row. One morning last June, as he picked his way to work through Skid Row's reeking garbage and broken bottles, and stepped past the bodies of sleeping derelicts on the sidewalks, Daily News Managing Editor Everett C. Norlander felt his stomach turn over. His next reaction was that he was walking through a good story. When he got to his office, he called in two young rewrite men and asked: "How would you like to be bums for a while?" What Norlander wanted was an inside story of Skid Row to shock Chicago's complacent citizens into cleaning up the shame of their city.

For the assignment he had picked graduates of tough schools. Husky Bill Mooney, 30, an ex-tail gunner who was shot down over Germany, had been trained on the police beat of Chicago's rough & ready City News Bureau (TIME, June 6). So had Fred Bird, 28, a Pacific combat pilot. They left the city room and were swallowed up by Skid Row.

Days On. Last week, the Daily News jolted Chicagoans with a spread of Hogarth-like pictures and the Mooney-Bird story of their 14 days in the land of "the living dead." In the twelve-part series, Reporters Mooney and Bird described the worst of 82 squalid saloons in three-quarters of a Madison Street mile (most of them selling the "morning special," a double shot of whisky for 18¢), listed the names & addresses of saloonkeepers who were breaking the state liquor and health laws, and put the finger on couldn't-care-less cops.

The reporters took their readers on a guided tour of 46 flophouses, where 12,413 bums slept in lousy cubicles for 50¢ or 60¢ a night. They watched hard-faced jackrollers stripping the pockets and stealing the shoes from sodden bums, saw prostitutes plying their trade amid the lumber piles and back alleys, found that "a surprisingly large number [of derelicts] at one time were trusted employees, executives or professional men."

Nights Off. Tough as they were, Mooney and Bird soon found that Skid Row was tougher. One time Mooney got violently ill having a sociable drink of beer and wine, and had to quit for the day. After one night in a bug-infested hotel, the two reporters gave up, slipped home of nights to their own beds.

Nobody on the Daily News except Norlander and City Editor Clem Lane knew what had happened to the two rewrite men. One sharp-eyed staffer, who asked Lane about Bird, was told that he was working on a special story. Said the staffer: "The hell he is. I just saw him sitting on a curb on Skid Row. Boy, what a bender he must be on!"

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