Thursday, March 30, 2006


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 nothing.

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 granddaughter.

Amazing how handy tapping into a new age excuse can be.


salemslot9 said...

very small world
maybe too small sometimes

mosie1944 said...

Channeling, eh?  I might be able to use that at some point after some of my sometimes too-blunt responses

swibirun said...

The sins of the grandfather visited upon the grandson, huh?

This somehow reminded me of Enron......