Oak Woods Cemetery: Mayor William Hale Thompson
William Hale Thompson
33rd MAYOR of Chicago

William Hale Thompson

"Be a Chicago booster! Throw away your hammer. Get a horn and blow loud for Chicago!" --Thompson

"Who ever head of him doing anything? ... I find he is the man who plays with sailboats." -- Democratic opponent Robert Sweitzer

"The worst you can say of him is that he's stupid. --anon

William Hale Thompson, also known as "Big Bill" Thompson, was one of Chicago's most interesting and eccentric mayors. Thompson was born in Boston on May 14, 1867, son of Colonel William Hale Thompson. His family came to Chicago soon afterwards.

"Big Bill" was a powerful, athletic man, captain of the Chicago Athletic Club's water polo team and the Chciago Athletic Association football team. He first entered politics in 1900, becoming the 2nd Ward alderman as a Republican. He was elected mayor of Chicago in 1915.

"You ladies! You know what goes on. You've been proving that and doing a fine job of it! I tell you I am going to clean up Chicago and I mean it! If I am elected mayor, I will protect the fair womanhood of Chicago!" --Thompson
Oak Woods Cemetery: Mayor William Hale Thompson

Chicago in the twenties was ruled by gangsters - first Johnny Torrio, and then his successor Al Capone. Mayor Thompson was suspected of being on Torrio and Capone's payroll. During Big Bill's reign as mayor, the police were ineffective in combatting organized crime. Bribery and corruption were rampant.

At the onset of World War I, Thompson was staunchly pro-German and anti-British. For this he was labeled "Kaiser Bill" and worse. He held public book-burnings to destroy pro-British books taken from the public schools. In spite of this, he was reelected for a second term in 1919.

Things began to sour for Big Bill in 1923. Judges he backed were not elected, his "five cent fare" bill was voted down, he lost a libel suit against the Tribune, and he was investigated for fraud by the State's Attorney. Upon learning of this investigation, Thompson withdrew from the mayoral race. Reform Democrat William Dever was elected mayor.

The former mayor announced that he was leading an expedition to the South Seas to find tree-climbing fish. "I have strong reason to believe that there are fish that come out of the water, can live on land, will jump three feet to catch a grasshopper, and will actually climb trees." The yacht Big Bill got as far south as New Orleans, but Thompson had already jumped ship.

Thompson ran for mayor again in 1927. Dever was firmly on the side of law and order, and was fanatical in his enforcement of Prohibition. Big Bill promised to re-open taverns that Dever had shut down, and the thirsty town elected him to a third term as mayor.

As he had before, Thompson allowed the gangsters free rein over the city. He ignored crime, concentrating instead on his own issues - including more anti-British saber-rattling, and threats to "punch King George in the snoot."

In 1931, to enhance his "cowboy" image, Big Bill brought horses into the City Council chambers. This failed to win him re-election. Thompson lost to Anton Cermak.

Thompson lost the race for governor in 1936 and a fifth campaign for mayor in 1939. On March 19, 1944, he died at the Blackstone Hotel at age 76. At the time of his death, he was worth $2.1 million. His obelisk is the tallest monument at Oak Woods.

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