Last night as I was driving home from a class I'm taking, there was a discussion on the radio about Chicago tycoon, Samuel Insull, and his relationship, or lack thereof, with Charles Yerkes, another Chicago tycoon.
Samuel Insull was
either one of Chicago's great civic heroes or one of its most notorious
robber barons. It depends on which side of his tracks you were on.
My grandfather was a vice president
of one of Insull's many holding companies, which were basically part of
a utilities holding company pyramid scheme to create the appearance of
financial stability in his power company empire.
Grandpa was making ten thousand dollars a year in the '20's, according to my aunt.
Depending on who you consult, in today's money that could be anywhere
from $200,000 to $500,000 a year.
Which was all well and good for my
dad's family, until 1929, when everything collapsed. And my
grandfather was out of a job at thirty-nine. My aunt said they could
have papered the bathroom with all the useless stock they held.
Fast forward to the end of the
twentieth century when I find myself working at a large multinational
advertising agency. And one of the top executives in my office is
someone who went to the same high school I did.
My daughter and his daughter meet in nursery school and become good friends.
And then one day, out of the blue,
there is a discussion about how deep our roots are in Chicago. And it
turns out that the guy whose daughter is a friend of my daughter's is a
grandson of Samuel Insull, the man whose financial schemes left my
grandfather virtually penniless until he died very young, at fifty, not
too long after the original Insull himself.
So the man that left my father
without any money for college so he had to work his way through one
course at a time. . . The man who probably shortened my grandfather's
life, along with the cigars he used to smoke. . .The man who left
such an indelible impression on my father's psyche that he never
invested a dime in the stock market his whole life, which has had its
effect on me. . .
That man's great granddaughter was now playing Barbies with my daughter. I had to admit there was a certain symmetry.
I couldn't leave well enough alone, however. Nope. No stone cold opportunity to say something outrageous could be left unturned.
I looked at him and blurted, "Ah.
Your grandfather is the man who destroyed my grandfather." He
just looked at me the way people do when they wish you hadn't just said
whatever it was you just said. But he took the high road and said
He did the right thing, of course.
Unlike me. But it wouldn't have been me now, would it? Then
again. my sudden outburst may have just been my grandfather getting in
his two cents worth while channeling through his smartass
Amazing how handy tapping into a new age excuse can be.