As I walked down the beach, I spotted some plastic cotton wool from a shotgun cartridge and realized that I hadn’t seen any for a long time.
Some of you will remember the days when most of Chicago’s beaches were littered with shotgun stuffing, their distinctive flared shape resembling a toy squid burrowing in the sand wherever you went.
Then again, some of you have probably never seen one. Which made me realize that there must be a whole generation of Chicagoans at this point who don’t know anything about Lincoln Park Gun Club.
Letâs fix that.
From 1912 until its demise 30 years ago this month, the shooting club – formerly known as Lincoln Park Traps – occupied prime lakeside land just north of the mouth of Diversey Harbor.
The club’s name comes from the trap shooting and skeet that took place there. The members had their own clubhouse, and each day the pop-pop sounded in Lincoln Park as shooting enthusiasts fired at clay targets thrown over Lake Michigan.
In the early years after the club was formed by such luminaries as Oscar Mayer and PK Wrigley, they shot real live pigeons before it went out of fashion.
The debris landed in the water, where most of it remains today, except for plastic wadding which is said to wash up on the beaches.
And here’s the thing to understand: It was just an accepted part of life in the big city, loved by some, despised by others, ignored or tolerated by most.
By today’s standards, the whole notion seems bizarre and anachronistic. If a lakeside shooting club were offered today, it wouldn’t even be seriously considered.
But back then, which in my opinion is not that long ago, starting the club was a very controversial affair that took years to accomplish. And a lot of people were bitter about the shutdown even years later.
Ultimately, it was shut down by the Chicago Park District based on environmental concerns about lead shot, plastic waste, and pollutants from clay targets – specifically, the potential legal liability they posed, a said Nancy Kaszak, who at the time was the park district attorney general and later was elected to the Illinois legislature.
Some club supporters have always maintained that the dispute is really about guns and people who don’t like guns.
Looking back, it was probably a lot of stuff.
“It wasn’t what the majority of Chicagoans wanted with their lakefront,” said Cam Davis, a Chicago Metropolitan District Water Harvester who, as a young environmentalist, objected. at the shooting club.
Erma Tranter, former president of Friends of the Parks, who led the fight to shut down the club, said “it’s so obvious now” that the shooting club was an inappropriate use of the lakeside park.
âIt was just wrong for a Chicago public park,â Tranter said, citing the pollution, the private use of the park and the âcacophonyâ of the gunfire.
Christopher Cohen, a former alderman for the 46th Ward who was the club’s lawyer when it started its fight against the Park District in 1988, concedes the club couldn’t be in the same place today.
âLifestyles have certainly changed and the public perspective has changed,â he said.
Cohen said he was combating the perception that the gun club was exclusive by designating its diverse group of users, including its African-American president, and having a woman on its board.
The aggressive pullback, which included a Chicago City Council resolution unanimously supporting the club, succeeded in delaying the shutdown for a few more years.
But, in 1991, then Illinois attorney general Roland Burris sued the club for polluting the lake, prompting the park district to shut down operations for good.
Burris, who was to be appointed to the United States Senate by the government of the day. Rod Blagojevich said it was a tough decision.
âThe club had a lot of weight,â Burris said. âThey had a lot of followers. It was not an easy situation to deal with. “
The club house was demolished in 1997.
It is true that lifestyles are changing. And the public perspective changes. Often, as in this case, this changes for the better.