On a Chicago Tragedy
By Megan McKinney
TIME magazine was less than five years old when the perfect lives of John J. and Louise Mitchell came to a sudden end on October 29, 1927. Because the subject matter is pure TIME classic vintage, we are stepping aside and allowing the great 1920’s Luce and Hadden publication tell the Mitchell story exactly as it did following the accident that took both their lives .
Near Chicago last week death came to banker John J. Mitchell, and to Mrs. Mitchell. They were driving in an open motor car from their country home at Lake Geneva, Ill., to Chicago for the funeral of their elder daughter’s father-in-law, when their machine met a roadside brawl. Two motor cars, going in opposite directions had tried to pass a hay wagon at the same time. Both cars went into a ditch; the drivers jumped clear and fell to words and fisticuffs. The haywagon stopped as did several machines. Their drivers wanted to see the “fun” and crowded onto the roadway already narrowed by the haywagon.
The thoughtless mob appeared suddenly to the Mitchells as the car passed the crest of a hill.
There was not enough headway for their chauffeur to stop. So to avoid killing busybodies and brawlers he tried to drive along the shoulder of the road. The rear wheels skidded. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell were jolted half out of the open tonneau into the ditch. The car rolled on top of them.
The accident took the chairman from the Illinois Merchants Trust Company, the bank that Mr. Mitchell had made, with assets of $580,000,000, the second largest in Illinois,* practically his own creation.
In 1880, when Mr. Mitchell was 27 years old, financial troubles all but wrecked the Illinois Trust & Savings Bank of Chicago. He had been its messenger boy and had earned higher jobs and the confidence of the directors. They made him president when the bank was troubled.
The strictest of his reform rules was that the bank might loan no money unless fully covered by good collateral. The late Philip Danforth Armour† once sent word from the Chicago Stock Exchange that he wanted $100,000 at once. The young president returned word that he wanted collateral. Mr. Armour furnished it and valued President Mitchell for his stubborn consistency. Marshall Field also liked him and made him bank trustee of the Marshall Field estate.
By 1919 the resources of the Illinois Trust & Savings Bank were $69,000,000. The president retired when he was 66 years old. But four years later the bank merged with the Corn Exchange National Bank and the Illinois Merchants Trust Co. of Chicago. As the Illinois Merchants Trust Co., it needed its old president and he returned from what he wanted— a peaceful retirement with his wife and five children.
This photo of the Mitchell automobile following the fatal accident was not part of the TIME magazine article.
Author Photo: Robert F. Carl