The following is a collection of Wittenberg, Dougherty & Maglione, Ltd. news articles. Please scroll down to read the most recent articles.
PUSH chief wants baby's death probed
Chicago Tribune - February 11, 1990
Operation PUSH's national executive director, Rev. Tyrone Crider, called Saturday for an investigation by the Cook County Department of Health into the death of Lenise Nelson, a 3-week-old child who died Feb. 2 after being refused admission to several hospitals while they were filled and on ambulance bypasses.
He and other PUSH officials said they hope to meet with Department of Health Commissioner Richard Kreig and some of the hospitals involved to try to make sure the situation doesn't happen again.
Nelson died at Cook County Hospital after being turned away from Wyler's Children's Memorial Hospital, Michael Reese Hospital and Christ Community Hospital, all of which had no available beds when she arrived.
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Feb 11, 1990
Hospital official hit in baby's death
Chicago Tribune - February 21, 1990, Joel Kaplan
The medical director of Wyler Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago, where treatment was refused to a three-week-old girl because no emergency pediatric beds were available,was criticized Tuesday during a City Council Health Committee hearing.
The girl, who had stopped breathing in her nearby home, died later.
Ald. Sheneather Butler (27th), who heads the committee, became so exasperated at one point that she turned to an aide and said, "get that man out of here."
Despite Butler's outburst, the target of her remark, Dr. Lawrence Gartner, continued his committee testimony for another hour, placing blame for the problems encountered by the parents of Lenise Nelson on a lack of citywide health resources.
Gartner also called for a complete re-evaluation of the "bypass" system in which hospitals with emergency care facilities being used to the limit direct new patients to other hospitals.
That, according to testimony from the girl's father, Michael, was what happened on Feb. 2, after Lenise, who had been born prematurely, stopped breathing in their home three blocks away from Wyler, which is at 58th Street and Maryland Avenue.
When paramedics arrived, Nelson said he suggested that Lenise be taken to Wyler. He testified that the paramedics told him they had already checked, and "all the beds were full."
James Joyce, deputy fire commissioner, testified that the paramedics followed proper procedures in taking Lenise to St. Bernard's Hospital at 64th Street and the Ryan Expressway after being told Wyler was on bypass and that St. Bernard's was the nearest hospital not at capacity.
Larry Mitchell, the St. Bernard's emergency room director, said doctors there were able to temporarily stabilize the baby's condition and placed her on an artificial respirator. He said that they contacted nine other area hospitals with pediatric intensive care units, which St. Bernard's lacks, but could find none with an open bed.
By the time Lenise was transferred to Cook County Hospital when a bed space did become available four hours later, she was found to be brain dead.
Gartner came under fire from Butler after saying that if the parents had carried Lenise to the hospital, she would have received treatment because the bypass system involves ambulances. He also said that no thought was given to taking the baby to other University of Chicago Hospital facilities nearby where adult patients are normally treated.
"Chicago's health care system, especially for children, is in crisis," Gartner said. "When I watched the television reports of Lenise Nelson's death, I, too, was deeply saddened by the loss of this child. We would have loved to have taken care of her if we had the resources. Unfortunately, what we and other neighboring hospitals have discovered is that there is much more demand than we can meet."
Patrick Finnegan, director of clinical, administrative, professional and emergency services for the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, told the committee that every hospital followed the appropriate procedures on Feb. 2 in handling the Nelson case and that the problem is one of resources.
"Unfortunately, this situation could present itself again," Finnegan said. "Until the issue of underfunding is addressed, and while the shortage of specialty care beds prevails, the system is not always adequately prepared to provide care at this level to all children in need."
Finnegan said he hopes that the outcome of the Health Care Summit will provide solutions to the lack of pediatric intensive care beds.
Only five of 14 aldermen on the Health Committee attended the hearing, which was continued until March 1. A separate hearing is planned by state legislators later this month.
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Feb 21, 1990
Hospital rerouting of ambulances criticized
Chicago Tribune - March 1, 1990, Michael J. Ybarra
Rep. William D. Shaw (D-Chicago) Wednesday attacked the system that allows ambulances to bypass hospitals whose emergency medical services are at capacity, saying it lacks accountability and serves as a cover for hospitals to dodge poor and uninsured patients.
It seems like a "deliberate attempt not to serve the poor," Shaw testified at a hearing of the Illinois House Appropriations Committee held at the YMCA at 6330 S. Stony Island Ave. "They don't want these people (on Medicaid or Medicare), they want those with insurance."
But several doctors and health officials testified that declaring hospitals closed to emergencies was an unavoidable response to overwhelming demand and insufficient resources. They said the question of insurance never comes up until after emergency services have been performed.
"The system has served the Chicago area very well," Deputy Fire Commissioner James Joyce said, adding that the system could be improved.
The hearing, called to gather testimony on Chicago's trauma network crisis, ended up focusing on the bypass system, which has been sharply criticized since an infant died Feb. 3 after a hospital three blocks away refused to accept her because all of its pediatric intensive care beds were full.
Hospitals can go on bypass when they deem it no longer safe to accept patients in critical condition; ambulances are then directed to the next nearest open facility.
Shaw, following criticism already leveled by members of the City Council, said that the guidelines under which emergency rooms can declare themselves at capacity are too loose and that stronger penalties, which are currently minimal, were needed to dissuade hospitals from prematurely going on bypass.
Doctors testified, however, that it is a nationwide problem, involving a nursing shortage, too few intensive care beds and inadequate state and federal funding of Medicare and Medicaid.
Several doctors and other health officials said that the question of insurance never comes up until after emergency services have been performed.
After Lenise Nelson, who had been born premature, stopped breathing at home, paramedics restored her heartbeat but could not take the 29-day-old child to nearby Wyler Children's Hospital, which had been at emergency capacity for five days, officials said.
The child was taken to St. Bernard Hospital, where she was stabilized, but she died later after being transported to Cook County Hospital.
"There are too many critical ill or injured children and too few intensive care beds (citywide)," said Dr. Lawrence Gartner, the medical director of Wyler.
Bypasses, which can last from hours to days, have become much more comon in recent months. They affect all emergency services, not just trauma centers.
The four hours of testimony failed to convince the girl's father, Michael Nelson, that the bypass system was right or necessary.
"To say we're full and we can't accept your baby is not right," he said. "It's like saying let her die."
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Mar 1, 1990
State assails hospital's refusal to treat baby
Chicago Tribune - April 6, 1990, Joel Kaplan
The University of Chicago Hospital acted improperly last February when it turned away 2-week-old Lenise Nelson, who had stopped breathing, an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health has determined.
State officials have cited Wyler Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago for refusing to treat Lenise even though there was space available to treat her in its emergency room.
According to a five-page letter sent from the state's associate director of health care regulation, the hospital failed to follow appropriate guidelines when it declared an emergency bypass situation and told the paramedics to take the child to St. Bernard Hospital, 15 blocks away. She died later that night.
"The University of Chicago was the closest hospital at which the most appropriate and needed service could have been rendered to Lenise Nelson," said Dr. John R. Lumpkin in the letter dated March 20. "The decision by the University of Chicago Resource Hospital . . . to send Lenise Nelson to St. Bernard Hospital was therefore not in compliance with the system's written patient transport protocols."
In addition, Lumpkin wrote that since St. Bernard Hospital did not have the resources to provide treatment for a pediatric intensive care patient, the child would have been better off at Wyler. He said that the Wyler Hospital should not have gone on bypass because there was space in the emergency room to treat Lenise.
Lenise, who had stopped breathing, ultimately died from cardiac arrest. Her plight prompted a community uproar and an emotional Chicago City Council hearing where a representative of Wyler Hospital claimed that the hospital followed proper procedures in turning her away and declaring an emergency bypass procedure because there were no pediatric intensive care beds available.
But the state investigation found that Wyler Hospital had failed to previously submit a written bypass policy, which is required. In addition, the investigation determined that as long as the emergency room was available, Lenise should have been treated, no matter the availability of pediatric beds.
As a result of the state's letter, the hospital has until Friday to submit written plans as to what it will do in the future should similar emergencies occur. If those plans are not forthcoming, the hospital faces suspension from the state's Emergency Medical Services system.
"We felt that the University of Chicago was capable of giving emergency care in the emergency department although the intensive care beds were full," said Lumpkin, in an interview Thursday. "I see this as an unfortunate event where the design of the system as it was intended was not carried through."
Both Dr. Lawrence Gartner, medical director of Wyler Children's Hospital who defended the hospital before the council hearing, and Jim Walters, project medical director for the University of Chicago who was sent the state's letter, were unavailable for comment Thursday.
But Susan Phillips, director of public affairs for the hospital, defended its performance and claimed the state made some mistaken accusations in its request for corrective action.
Phillips said that while the hospital will submit to the state its plan to correct deficiencies in its emergency bypass program, it still contends that the incident with Lenise did not involve any wrong conduct.
"We continue to believe that the best medical care for Lenise Nelson was to have a pediatric intensive care bed available and we did not have one," she said.
Phillips said that the state's directions for hospitals to only consider the amount of emergency space available when determining whether or not to be on bypass "is very poor medical care."
"What we're seeing is a situation that is reminiscent of what you hear about in New York, where people have to stay in the emergency room for many, many hours," she said.
One aspect of the dispute between the state and the University of Chicago is whether there were monitored beds available for Lenise. Leslee Stein-Spencer, chief of the state division of emergency medical services, said that for a hospital to go on bypass, all the monitored beds must be filled.
"In their emergency department, they did have monitored beds that were open," she said. "We know for sure, 11 beds."
But the university's hospital responded that those beds were in the adult emergency room, not the children's emergency room. Stein-Spencer said that should make no difference.
"They are licensed as one hospital and their pediatric resuscitation is done in the adult emergency department," she said.
Daniel F. Maglione, attorney for the parents of Lenise, said the state report confirms what the family has believed all along.
"That was the closest hospital, and it was the hospital that should have treated her," he said. "Unfortunately, Lenise had to die. This report shows they didn't even follow the written rules they now have."
Maglione said the family has not yet taken any legal action against the hospital because it has been waiting for the state report.
One aspect of the state investigation that is particularly upsetting, said Maglione, is the disclosure that the Wyler emergency room received and cared for a pediatric advanced life-support patient 3 1/2 hours before the Lenise call even though the hospital had been on bypass for five days.
But Phillips said that child was supposed to be a transfer to a regular floor bed who was brought through the emergency room. She said the child came early and simply was waiting in the emergency room.
Stein-Spencer said that she believes the hospital will be able to take the necessary action to correct its problems and will not be suspended from the emergency medical services (EMS) system.
"When you suspend an EMS system, you are suspending the whole community from getting advanced life support care, which is a pretty harsh sanction," she said. "We do try to work with them to clear up the deficiencies."
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Apr 6, 1990
U. of C. hospital `could have treated' ill baby
Chicago Sun-Times - April 6, 1990, Lynn Sweet
An investigation by the state Public Health Department concluded that the University of Chicago Hospitals "could have" treated a baby who later died after being shuttled to two other hospitals in search of treatment.
The public health department's investigation did not say the baby was improperly treated at St. Bernard or Cook County hospitals, where she was subsequently taken, or that her death may have been avoided. The case, involving Lenise Nelson, a 2-week-old girl who died Feb. 3, sparked an uproar that led aldermen to hold a City Council hearing over "emergency-room bypass" policies that route patients away from overloaded emergency rooms.
"The University of Chicago was the closest hospital at which the most appropriate and needed service could have been rendered to Lenise Nelson," the department said in a March 20 letter released Thursday by Daniel F. Maglione, an attorney representing the baby's parents.
U. of C. hospitals were on pediatric bypass because there were no pediatric intensive care beds available for use after emergency room care. However, the state said other beds were available there.
The Public Health Department also criticized the Chicago South Mobile Intensive Care System for not having, at the time, a written program addressing the issue of bypass. The system coordinates emergency care.
Maglione said the department's investigation "shows they (the University of Chicago Hospitals) had the capability, everything necessary to treat Lenise in their emergency room."
Hospitals spokeswoman Susan Phillips said a new bypass policy was established after receiving the state's letter.
Phillips said the Nelson case points up how "Chicago's health care system, especially for children, is really in a crisis, and those of us that have the responsibility of providing care are limited to what we can do to solve this problem.
"We need additional beds, we need nurses, equipment, even social agency support to address this situation," she said.
Paramedics arrived at the girl's house at 730 E. 61st near 6 p.m. on Feb. 2, found her in cardiac arrest, and headed for the U. of C. hospitals, about five blocks away.
However, when paramedics radioed ahead that they were on the way, they were told that the hospitals were on "pediatric bypass." The baby was taken to St. Bernard's Hospital, at 64th and the Dan Ryan Expy., about 15 blocks away, where she was stabilized. She was transferred to Cook County Hospital, where she died.
Maglione said an official cause of death has not been determined.
Hospitals sued over baby's death
Chicago Tribune - May 25, 1990
The parents of a 3-week-old baby who died after being refused treatment by Wyler Children's Hospital because it was on emergency bypass filed a $20 million damage suit Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court.
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. May 25, 1990
Hospital sued in baby's death
Chicago Sun-Times - May 25, 1990, Tom Gibbons
The University of Chicago Hospitals were sued for $20 million Thursday in the death of a month-old girl who died in February after being denied admission to the medical facility.
The Circuit Court suit accuses the hospitals of negligently refusing to admit Lenise Nelson. The pediatric intensive care unit at Wyler Children's Hospital was full at the time, and emergency cases were being sent to other facilities. When Lenise, who lived two blocks from Wyler, stopped breathing Feb. 2, her parents, Emerald D. and Michael Nelson, called 911.
Paramedics revived the girl and were told to take her to St. Bernard Hospital, about 15 blocks away at 64th and the Dan Ryan Expy., because Wyler was on "pediatric bypass."
Lenise eventually was taken to Cook County Hospital, where she died.
U. of C. Hospitals spokesman John Easton said 13 critically ill children were in a ward staffed for 11 on the day Lenise died. He said a City Council committee ruled the hospital acted properly.
David Wittenberg, attorney for the infant's parents, said the Illinois Department of Public Health has ruled the hospital should have admitted Lenise.
Ruling set aside in suit on baby's death
Chicago Tribune - November 25, 1992
A federal appeals court has set aside a potentially precedent-setting decision in a lawsuit brought by a Chicago woman who alleged that her month-old daughter died after paramedics were routed away from the University of Chicago Hospitals.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago indicated in an unusual two-paragraph order filed late Monday that it will reconsider its earlier ruling, which had reinstated a federal lawsuit filed by Emerald D. Johnson against the hospital and its staff.
Johnson's daughter, Lenise Nelson, died in February 1990 after staff members at the University of Chicago Hospitals told Fire Department paramedics that no beds were available at its pediatric intensive care unit. The paramedics were directed to take the infant to St. Bernard Hospital.
Johnson's lawsuit was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge in 1991. But in a 2-1 decision released Oct. 7, an appeals court panel disagreed and said Johnson could pursue her lawsuit under a federal law intended to prevent hospitals from turning away, or dumping, indigent patients by sending them to other hospitals.
The decision had prompted a flurry of concern in the hospital community.
Lawyers for the hospital filed written arguments asking that the full 11-member appeals court reconsider the case. Their request was supported in friend-of-the-court briefs filed by the City of Chicago, the Illinois Department of Public Health and groups such as the Illinois Hospital Association, the American Hospital Association and the Illinois College of Emergency Room Physicians.
But the order filed Monday said the appeals court acted on its own in withdrawing the earlier opinion.
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Nov 25, 1992
CALLING THE SHOTS HOW TO BENEFIT FROM WORKERS' COMPENSATION
Chicago Tribune - December 13, 1995, Len Strazewski - Special to the Tribune
When you're injured on the job, tell your boss immediately. Don't call a lawyer--at least not right away.
You shouldn't have to fight for worker's compensation benefits. The state-regulated worker's compensation system pays more than $50 billion in medical coverage and wage-related benefits around the country. In Illinois, the system pays about $2 billion each year to injured workers.
The system, enacted in 1912, is designed to be "no fault" to employers and employees, eliminating the need for workers to sue their companies for medical treatment or lost wages resulting from on-the-job injuries or occupational disease.
Used properly, the system should get injuries and job-related diseases treated quickly while the injured worker receives non-taxable compensation of up to two-thirds of weekly salary until the employee can return to work.
That's the promise, but the reality is often quite different, notes Sally A. Jackson, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, a statewide business group that lobbies for worker's compensation reform.
"The system has been embroiled in problems resulting from delay and rising costs," she explains. "The `no-fault' concept is still a good one to satisfy the needs of injured workers and protect their employers from costly and lengthy lawsuits, but when benefits are delayed and workers are unsatisfied, that's when the system starts to fail."
And that's when injured workers start to look for lawyers--a decision that could slow the process down even further and reduce worker disability awards with contingency fees, she adds.
Worker's compensation insurers that represent employers and lawyers that represent injured workers agree that the process should start on the job where an injury occurred to give the worker's compensation system a shot at doing its job right.
"When you notify your supervisor immediately, you have the best opportunity to document the injury and get a quick decision indicating that the injury is compensable," explains C. David Sullivan, senior vice president of claims for the Kemper National Insurance Cos. in Long Grove, one of the state's largest worker's compensation insurers.
Medical treatment should begin immediately, but whether it is covered by worker's compensation or is subject to the deductibles and limitations of ordinary health insurance may hinge on whether the situation is clearly job-related. Delayed reports raise suspicions that an injury may have occurred off the job, Sullivan says.
"Back injuries reported on Monday morning are always a concern because they could be related to some weekend activity, " he says.
Wage-related compensation (temporary total disability) and non-emergency medical treatment may be delayed while the employer and its insurer investigates the claim, but that shouldn't take more than two weeks and most claims are evaluated in three to seven days, according to Sullivan.
The employer may refer the injured worker to its own physician or a managed-care network of health-care providers for treatment, but under Illinois law, the employee is entitled to choose his or her own doctor. The injured worker is also entitled to a second opinion, regardless of who recommended the first physician.
During a temporary disability under worker's compensation, an employee's job is guaranteed, but instead of sending an employee home to heal for an extended period, the employer has the right to assign light duty with a doctor's approval.
If an injured worker isn't getting health care for an injury or is being asked to pay for treatments out of his or her own pocket, the worker can petition the Illinois Industrial Commission, the state body that regulates worker's compensation, for emergency relief.
And for these petitions, enabled by Sec. 19(b-1) of the worker's compensation law, you probably better call a lawyer. Worker's compensation attorneys advertise on television or in the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory. Also, the Chicago Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service (312-554-2001) maintains lists of members with experience in various specialties, including worker's compensation. By law, attorneys' fees for worker's compensation are capped at 20 percent of settlement.
"Some injuries, such as back injuries and repetitive motion problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, are particularly controversial," notes L. Steven Platt, a worker's compensation attorney and a partner with Arnold & Kadjan in Chicago. "Employers may not believe that the injury was job-related or that there is any injury at all."
"If it doesn't show up in an X-ray, you can expect to have a problem," adds Marybeth Dougherty, an attorney and partner with Wittenberg & Dougherty in Chicago. Dougherty is also chair of the Chicago Bar Association's Industrial Commission Committee, which studies worker's compensation legal issues.
Emergency petitions must include a doctor's report and other claim information and be filed directly with the Industrial Commission. The commission must rule within 180 days to deny the claim or order the employer to pay for treatment and temporary total disability, including back-dated benefits. The emergency petitions can be filed without an attorney, but gathering the right documentation and preparing the petition can be difficult without assistance, say Platt and Dougherty.
Permanent total and partial disability payments are also approved by and appealed to the Industrial Commission, but these cases can drag on for a year or more, the lawyers say.
"It's not all the fault of the bureaucracy," Dougherty says. "The Illinois Industrial Commission is one of the worst-funded worker's compensation regulatory agencies in the country and has one of the lowest cost-per-case ratios of state agencies."
The Chamber's Jackson agrees. "The Industrial Commission is overworked and underfunded, with an outdated computer system that was never designed to handle the volume of cases that the commission now receives. Commission funding is one of the key issues we address in our work for worker's compensation reform."
If the commission denies an emergency petition or a permanent settlement, a worker can take the case to court. At that stage, the claim takes on most aspects of a lawsuit and you probably need a lawyer, the experts agree.
PHOTO; Caption: PHOTO (color): Photo illustration by Russel McGonagle.
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Dec 13, 1995
Mother of victim sues Milwaukee
Chicago Tribune - August 6, 1991
A woman whose son was slain after police questioned but did not arrest Jeffrey Dahmer sued the city for $3 million Monday, alleging the officers were discriminatory and failed to stop a killing spree.
Three officers were suspended July 26 for failing to intervene when a 14-year-old naked and bleeding Laotian boy was found stumbling outside Dahmer's apartment on May 27.
Black neighbors pleaded that the boy, Konerak Sinthasomphone, needed help but police concluded he was Dahmer's homosexual lover and an adult, and they returned him to Dahmer's apartment.
The boy's remains were among 11 dismembered bodies discovered July 22 in the apartment. Dahmer has confessed to killing 17 people since 1978, including the boy and at least four other people after him, authorities said.
Catherine Lacy filed a federal lawsuit alleging that her 23-year-old son, Oliver, was killed by Dahmer on or about July 14 and that police could have prevented the slaying.
A criminal complaint against Dahmer alleges he lured Lacy to his apartment, strangled him, had sex with him after death, dismembered his body and cut out his heart "to eat later."
The lawsuit alleges that officers didn't thoroughly investigate the incident in May because the victim was Laotian and the complainants were black. Two officers entered Dahmer's apartment but noticed nothing unusual.
"There was racial animus," said attorney David Wittenberg, who is representing Catherine Lacy.
"If this boy had been white there is a high probability there would have been a more thorough investigation and Mr. Dahmer would have been taken off the streets, not left out there to sacrifice people."
The lawsuit names as defendants the city of Milwaukee and the three officers, whose names have not been released.
City Atty. Grant Langley said he had not seen the lawsuit and couldn't immediately comment.
Police Chief Philip Arreola was attending a City Council meeting Monday during which he said, "Our officers didn't murder anybody."
"The police department is not responsible for Jeffrey Dahmer," Arreola said. He wasn't addressing the lawsuit but making a request for more officers in his department.
Police recordings released last week showed the officers dismissed statements from neighbors that the boy was bleeding, had been molested and was endangered.
In Washington, meanwhile, Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh issued a statement saying that while "these brutal crimes are a shock to all of us . . . there appears to be no federal criminal jurisdiction."
The attorney general noted that the Justice Department's community relations service had sent a representative to Milwaukee to help defuse racial tension that has heightened since the killings were disclosed.
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Aug 6, 1991
Dahmer victim's mother sues 3 Milwaukee cops for laxity
Chicago Tribune November 26, 1991
The mother of a man who Jeffrey Dahmer admits killing has filed suit against three police officers who failed to arrest the confessed serial killer two months before her son's death. In her suit filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Catherine Lacy alleges that racism contributed to the officers' decision not to arrest Dahmer on May 27. Lacy's suit seeks unspecified damages. Dahmer, who admits killing 17 males since 1978, has confessed to killing Oliver Lacy, 23, in July after luring him to his Milwaukee apartment. The lawsuit names police officers Joseph T. Gabrish, John A. Balcerzak and Richard Porubcan. Police Chief Philip Arreola fired Gabrish and Balcerzak on Sept. 6 for returning a drugged 14-year-old Laotian boy to Dahmer's apartment in May after rejecting complaints by neighbors that the naked boy was in danger. Porubcan was suspended but later placed on probation. The lawsuit alleges the white officers discounted black witnesses and should be held responsible for failing to arrest Dahmer and, ultimately, her son's murder.
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Nov 26, 1991
Publication date: 05/05/2001
Mother, daughters die in fire | Joliet Township: Husband, two other children survive blaze at home near Illinois 53
JOLIET TOWNSHIP -- A mother and two children died early Friday morning and other family members were hurt in a fire at their newly rented duplex. Dionne Berry, 31, and two daughters were found dead in the upstairs bedrooms of their duplex, 1902 Moore Ave. They were found by firefighters from the East Joliet Fire Protection District.
One of the daughters was Chassidy Brobanex, 12. An 18-month-old daughter's name was being withheld Friday night pending further notification of next of kin.Berry's husband, Elliott Pinnick, 37, jumped from a second-floor window and survived, said fire Capt. Tina Pirc. He also saved two other children by dropping them out of a window.
The two surviving children are a boy and a girl, but their names and ages have not been released.
Pinnick was taken to Silver Cross Hospital.
He had burns on his back, shoulders and chest, said his sister, Ella Williams.
He then was transferred to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood and was in fair condition Friday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said.
One of the surviving children was taken to Silver Cross.
The other was taken to Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center.
Both were in fair condition Friday afternoon, said spokeswomen from the hospitals.
Ella Williams visited her brother Friday morning at Silver Cross Hospital.
"All he said was he couldn't get downstairs."
Moore Avenue is a little hard to find.
One block long, it's behind the Pheasant Run Apartments on Illinois 53. Its buildings are all two-story duplexes.
Late Friday morning, Ella Williams and her husband, Leon, were standing outside the duplex, watching firefighters pick through the ashes.
At one point, a firefighter asked them to point out where the sofa and other pieces of furniture were inside the house.
Pinnick and Berry's side of the duplex was painted blue on the outside, but the other side was painted yellow.
On its east side, there were two huge holes where the front and rear doors had been.
When firefighters arrived at the scene about 4:30 a.m., flames were coming out of all the windows and the front and rear of the building, Pirc said.
By Friday afternoon, fire officials still did not know the cause of the fire, though the state fire marshal had arrived to investigate, she said.
The family hadn't resided in the building for long.
They had moved there Sunday from a Joliet housing project, Leon Williams said.
To him, the duplex looked like it needed a lot of work.
"It needed floor tile.
The cabinets weren't all that great, and there was paint all over everything," Leon Williams said, adding that the landlord had spray-painted the interior.
There was no stove or refrigerator, and the rear sliding glass door wouldn't open, Ella Williams said.
"(Pinnick) said, `I wonder if I made the right decision (about renting the duplex),'" Leon Williams said.
Although the duplex on Moore Avenue had its faults, it was better than the projects, Ella Williams said.
Nevertheless, she had called county officials Monday to complain about the state of her brother's new home.
Photo caption: Leon Williams, a relative of the victims of Friday's fatal duplex fire in Joliet Township, turns away from the scene in disgust. Williams' wife, Ella, is the sister of a survivor of the blaze. Earlier this week, she had complained to county officials about conditions in her brother's newly rented duplex.
Publication date: 05/08/2001
Search for cause of blaze | Possibly electrical: Mother and two children died in fire
JOLIET -- An electrical problem may have sparked a blaze that claimed the lives of a mother and two of her daughters Friday in Joliet Township, officials said Monday. Dionne Berry, 31, Chassidy Brodanex, 12, and an 18-month-old girl whose name still was not being released Monday, all died of smoke inhalation, according to preliminary autopsy results, Will County Coroner Patrick O'Neil said.
Funeral arrangements are pending at W.W. Hold Funeral Home in Harvey.Berry's husband and two of her children survived the fire at 1902 Moore Ave. Elliott Pinnick, 37, was released Sunday from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.
Camile Brodanex, 11, was upgraded from fair to good condition at Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center.
LaMondre Mosely, 8, was released Saturday from Silver Cross Hospital.
East Joliet Fire Chief Bob Scholtes said the fire did not appear to be caused by arson.
County police Chief Deputy John Moss said arson will not be ruled out completely until lab results are back, which would show whether an accelerant such as gasoline was found at the scene.
"We feel at this time it was possibly electrical," he said.
"I do not believe it was an arson, but we're going to continue to investigate as if it was until we rule out all possibilities."
Moss said the fire started in the northeast corner of the duplex's lower level.
O'Neil said he had been told the fire started in the residence's kitchen.
The blaze is being investigated by county police and the state fire marshal's office.
Also probing the fire is the company that insured the building, Scholtes said.
Fire officials located the building's landlord Monday.
Scholtes would not reveal the out-of-town owner's name.
The duplexes that sit behind the Pheasant Run apartments on Illinois 53 have several different owners, Scholtes said.
An adjacent duplex at Moore and Bradford streets was damaged in a fire in the fall of 2000, but no one was injured, Scholtes added.
That building is still boarded up.
One adult and two children living in the other half of the duplex damaged in Friday's fire were being helped by the American Red Cross.
Berry and her two daughters were found in the upstairs bedrooms of the duplex.
Pinnick jumped from a second-floor window and survived.
He saved the two surviving children by dropping them out a window, fire Capt. Tina Pirc said.
Publication date: 05/08/2001
Nurse stung by death of one she helped bring into world
When Carol Mathis got home from work Saturday, her husband was waiting with The Herald News in his hands. And a part of her hurt as she read the front page story.
The 49-year-old obstetrics nurse at the Will County Community Health Center knew the victims in that story. A news story about three who had died in a fire on Moore Avenue.
The victims were Dionne Berry, 31, and her daughters, Chassidy, 12, and an 18-month-old.
Mathis had been Berry's nurse throughout her nine months of pregnancy with the 18-month-old. Something special had clicked between the expecting mother and the nurse.
They established a relationship and developed a friendship.
"Dionne was so willing to work with us," Mathis said.
"She was determined to provide a good life for her children.
Her willingness to do whatever was necessary reinforced that special something between us."
The expecting mother asked the nurse to be her coach during the birth.
Mathis often establishes a close rapport with her patients.
She believes in making prenatal care as special as possible.
On Sept. 16, 1999, Mathis was called from her health department nursing job to Silver Cross Hospital when Berry went into labor.
After arriving, it appeared then the labor was going to last for some time.
Berry told the nurse to go on home for a while.
Mathis went home and started to prepare her husband's birthday meal.
Less than a half hour later, the nurse received a call that the birth was going to be by Cesarean section.
She rushed back to the hospital to stay with Berry through the procedure.
When the 6-pound, 9-ounce baby girl arrived, the nurse went with the infant into the nursery.
She was the first one to hold the baby before returning to Berry.
"I described how beautiful she was to Dionne," Mathis said.
"She was just gorgeous."
Since the baby was born on the birthday of Mathis' husband, Bill, she took him to the hospital for a visit the very next day.
Bill held the baby in his arms and joked with the new mother that she should name the baby after him.
Berry's older daughter, Chassidy, was there at the same time, too.
They all held the little baby in their arms.
Mathis, who has been an obstetrics nurse for 26 years -- 21 of those years at Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center -- has helped with the births of hundreds of babies.
She even delivered a few when a doctor happened to be a little late.
Each baby is a miracle, she said.
"They're all a part of me forever," she said.
"God watches over babies during the delivery.
This miracle is so special that I have a feeling of awe each and every time one is born."
But there was something more than just special between the nurse and this mother.
Mathis said that Berry was such a loving mother.
She beamed when she talked about her kids.
"She wanted the best for her children," Mathis said, adding they had talked about how badly Berry wanted to get her kids out of their Housing Authority apartment complex.
"She was afraid for her kids there and was working hard to get out of the projects," Mathis said.
"This woman was determined to make a life for her children and keep them safe.
That was a priority with her."
Less than a week before the fire in which they died, Berry's family had moved into the two-story duplex on Moore Avenue.
Her husband and two other children managed to get out of the fire by jumping from a second-floor window.
The last time the nurse saw Berry, the mother was at the health center with one of her other children.
But she made sure she stopped to see Mathis while she was there.
They chatted for a few minutes and said goodbye.
Mathis and her husband both said it hurt to read Saturday's front-page story about the fire.
They both remembered holding that tiny baby in their arms.
Their memory includes a smiling mother who loved her children.
"We didn't know that she had managed to move," Bill Mathis said.
"But we certainly remember her determination to get out of the projects."
Although they don't know the rest of Berry's family, the Mathis couple plans to attend the funeral services.
The East Joliet Fire Department is still investigating the cause of the fatal fire.
Publication date: 05/16/2001
By: Nick Reiher /HERALD NEWS STAFF
Fatal fire prompts new policy | Joliet area tragedy: Land use chief also wants to add inspector
JOLIET -- Will County Land Use Director Ron Grotovsky said he would ask for another inspector and make several other internal changes in the wake of a May 4 fire that killed a mother and two children, and severely injured a 37-year-old man. On Tuesday, Grotovsky said the county has four inspectors: one for the Joliet-Lockport township area, and one each for Lincoln-Way, northern and eastern parts of the county.
"The inspector in the Joliet/Lockport township area probably needs some help," said Grotovsky, former Mokena mayor who was tapped for the post after Joe Mikan's election as Will County chief executive officer in November."The other areas are well covered. (The inspectors) are very thorough."
Jacque Krzyzanowski is the Will County zoning inspector covering the Joliet/Lockport township area, Grotovsky said.
He noted that she is a good worker and was instrumental in investigating the Reno Apartments, at 1721 E. Cass St. in Joliet Township, after a resident there called in a complaint about conditions.
"We've been getting a lot of calls after Reno," Grotovsky said.
"People know that we do this (inspections), and now they want it done, too."
Preston Heights fire
Ella Williams said she called the Will County Land Use Department on April 30 to complain about the condition of the apartment her brother, Elliott Pinnick, 37, rented at 1902 Moore Ave., in the Preston Heights neighborhood.
Pinnick moved in on April 28, Williams said, happy to be out of the Fairmont Avenue housing projects.
But she and her husband, Leon, were less than impressed when they saw the condition of the apartment.
"It was a matchbox," she said.
"The rear patio doors wouldn't open.
The windows were in such bad shape, you could see through the sills.
And the landlord spray-painted the rooms.
There was spray paint everywhere."
Williams also said there were no smoke detectors.
But her brother bought some.
Before he could put them up, a fire that Friday killed Pinnick's wife, Dionne Berry, 31, and two daughters, one age 12 and the other 18 months.
Pinnick jumped from a second-floor window and survived.
He also saved two other children, a boy and a girl, by dropping them out of a window.
He was taken to Silver Cross Hospital with burns on his back, shoulders and chest, and was transferred to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.
Pinnick is now living with Williams and her husband.
Williams now is wondering why no one from the county ever came out to inspect her brother's apartment.
She has contacted the Rev. Isaac Singleton, founder and past president of the Joliet Affiliate Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, about possibly getting the Rev. Jesse Jackson involved in the situation.
New message policy
Williams said she left a message for Krzyzanowski when she called on April 30, four days before the fatal fire.
She also called the Will County Health Department, but she said she was referred back to the Land Use Department.
Initially, Grotovsky also said there was no name or address on the message.
But on Tuesday, he found the message and saw that it was Ella Williams who had called at 4:05 p.m. April 30. He said the message did not have an address of the apartment in question, but did have a phone number for Williams.
Grotovsky said Krzyzanowski was in court a lot that week and did not find the message until after the fire.
"Even if she got the message, I don't think we would have been able to get them out of the apartment by that Friday," Grotovsky said.
"You have to go to court and all that.
But maybe we could have. ... I don't know."
Grotovsky said his inspectors work hard, and he won't make any excuses.
But he will make changes.
There will be a new way of taking messages, which will include information about the caller and the living unit to be inspected, he said.
To make sure someone gets on the situation in a timely fashion, Grotovsky said he is requiring secretaries to give urgent messages to him, newly hired Chief Building Official Steve Wydeveld, or Zoning Administrator Jim Hefron.
One of them will make sure the proper inspector gets the message, Grotovsky said.
And if that inspector is busy, they will find someone who can take the call.
He may even tap one of the county's nine building inspectors or two plumbing inspectors to help if necessary.
Grotovsky said he wouldn't ask for a fifth zoning inspector until after a May 22 meeting he has called with representatives of area fire departments.
He wants to find out if the fire officials have any ideas how to improve inspections.
But fire officials' hands are tied by a state law that says they can't inspect buildings with fewer than three units.
Still, Lockport Township Fire Chief George "Buzz" Beverly, president of the Des Plaines Valley Fire Chiefs Association, said it's good any time there is public discussion of a problem.
"We learned by what happened out there," Grotovsky said.
"If we don't, we're not doing our job.
I'm not going to tolerate it.
It's nobody's fault.
But that's why Mr. Mikan asked me to take this job."
Publication date: 05/23/2001
County, local officials work to prevent fires | Working together: Meeting stems from Joliet blaze May 4
JOLIET -- To promote safety and prevent dangerous house fires, Will County officials and local firefighters met Tuesday to discuss how they can work together better. The meeting was prompted by a May 4 fire at a shabby rented townhouse, 1902 Moore Ave. The short street is behind the Pheasant Run Apartments, Illinois 53 north of Laraway Road. Six people -- a married couple and four children -- lived there.
The early morning blaze killed Dionne Berry, 31, and two of her young daughters. Berry's fiance, Elliott Pinnick, 37, and two other children were hurt in the fire but escaped by jumping from a second-story window.
The family had lived in the townhouse less than a week, said Ella Williams, one of Pinnick's relatives.
Because the building looked dilapidated and seemed unsafe, Williams had called Will County officials to complain.
But no one responded.
During the Tuesday meeting, representatives from the Will County Land Use Department, the Will County Health Department and several area fire protection districts agreed to meet quarterly to discuss common problems relating to fire safety in unincorporated areas.
The meeting was closed to the press and public, and Ron Grotovsky, director of the land use department, could not be reached later for comment.
According to a press release issued by Laurie Smith of Will County Executive Joe Mikan's office, the group discussed:
* Fire officials' request for land use department representatives to accompany them on some inspections.
In turn, the fire officials offered to tell the county about potential safety hazards.
* The need for fire-safety education.
"The public must know how to (promote) safer buildings for where they live and work," the memo said.
* The possibility of a countywide program promoting the use of residential smoke detectors.
* Ways for the fire districts, land use department and health department to improve communication among themselves.
* How the court system, the county executive's office and the state's attorney's office could urge landlords to better maintain their buildings.
Publication date: 06/09/2001
By: Charles Pelkie / HERALD NEWS STAFF
3 fire deaths an `accident' | Coroner's jury ruling: Family says duplex had no smoke detectors
JOLIET -- Family members complained that there were no smoke detectors in a Preston Heights duplex that caught fire, killing a woman and her two daughters last month. A Will County coroner's jury on Friday ruled that the deaths of Dionne Berry, 31, and daughters Chassidy Brodanex, 12, and Kia Mason, 19 months, were accidental.
But Berry's family members insisted that the duplex unit at 1902 Moore Ave. was dangerous because it had no smoke detectors and a patio door that would not open. They said they have hired an attorney, who will determine whether to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Berry and her daughters died in the early-morning hours of May 4 in a second-floor bedroom.
They were three of six people who were in the duplex when the fire started.
Her fiance, Elliot Pinnick, 37, and two other children, Camile Brodanex, 10, and Lamondra Mosely, 8, jumped from a window and survived.
An autopsy revealed that Berry and her daughters died from smoke inhalation.
Their bodies were burned beyond recognition and had to be identified through fingerprints and dental records, according to authorities.
Sheriff's Det. Edward Hayes said investigators believe the fire started in the kitchen area.
The cause is believed to be electrical.
Detecting no accelerants at the scene, investigators have ruled out arson as a cause.
Pinnick and Berry had moved into the duplex the week before the fire.
Pinnick, who suffered burns to his back and chest, told investigators that the unit had no smoke detectors.
Berry's brother, James Dean, helped his sister move into the building.
He said Friday that he told her there were no smoke detectors.
But Berry felt moving to the duplex, which is behind the Pheasant Run Apartments on Illinois 53, was a step up from the projects on Fairmont Avenue where she had been living, Dean said.
Will County code requires smoke detectors in multifamily units.
They must be placed in the immediate vicinity of bedrooms, in all bedrooms, and on each story within a dwelling unit, including basements.
Pinnick's sister called the county's land use department on April 30 to complain about the condition of the unit, including the patio door, rotting floors and spray-painted walls.
County officials, however, had yet to follow up on the complaint by the time the fire occurred.
Investigators could not determine whether there were smoke detectors inside the duplex.
But the building's owner, Keaton Smiley, told detectives that there was one smoke detector in the upstairs hallway and another downstairs, according to police reports.
He told detectives that he tested the smoke detectors before Pinnick and Berry moved in their belongings, reports state.
He told police that the patio door opened, but it was on a slow track, reports state.
Smiley could not be reached for comment Friday.
But he told detectives he had lived in the unit and moved out a year before the fire.
He evicted the woman who lived in the duplex before Pinnick and Berry decided to rent it, reports state.
The fire prompted county land use officials to begin seeking additional information from people who call to complain about housing.
In addition, area fire department officials met last month with county representatives to discuss ways of improving inspections.
Publication date: 10/31/2001
By: Charles B. Pelkie
Lawsuit filed against landlord | Wrongful-death suit: Woman, two kids died in fire at duplex
JOLIET -- Family members of a woman and two children who died in a Preston Heights duplex fire earlier this year have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the building's landlord. The eight-count lawsuit alleges that Keaton Smiley, who owns the building at 1902 Moore Ave., failed to install and inspect smoke detectors in the apartment complex.
The multimillion dollar complaint accuses Smiley of negligence and of violating the state's Smoke Detector Act.Dionne Berry, 31, and her daughters, Chassidy Brodanex, 12, and Khiaya Mason, 19 months, died in the early morning hours of May 4 in a second-floor bedroom of their duplex after it caught fire.
Berry's fiance, Elliot Pinnick, 37, and two other children, Camille Brodanex, 10, and Lamondre Mosley, 8, also were in the duplex during the fire but jumped to safety from a window.
The two surviving children also are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Pinnick, who could not be reached for comment, is not a plaintiff but reportedly has retained an attorney.
An autopsy revealed that the victims died from smoke inhalation.
Their bodies were burned beyond recognition and had to be identified through dental records and fingerprints.
Berry and Pinnick had moved to the duplex the week before the fire.
Pinnick, who suffered burns to his back and chest, told firefighters that the unit had no smoke detectors.
Indeed, his sister called the county's Land Use Department the week before the fire to complain about the condition of the unit.
Inspectors had yet to follow up on the call when the fire occurred.
Will County officials have since revamped the way they obtain information from people who call to complain about the condition of apartment units.
County code requires smoke detectors in multi-family dwellings.
The county currently is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Attorney Daniel F. Maglione said his office continues to investigate the fire.
It is possible that other defendants could be named, he said.
Joliet attorney Jim Grumley represents Smiley.
He said his office will file a response that will deny all allegations of negligence contained in the lawsuit.
Smiley reportedly told investigators after the fire that the unit had smoke detectors and that he tested them before Berry and Pinnick moved in their belongings.
Maglione said the case is both sad and ironic.
He noted that Berry and Pinnick viewed the move into the Preston Heights complex as a step up from the projects where they had been living.
The complaint filed with the county compounds the tragedy, he said.
"How much more can you do?" Maglione asked.
"They wanted to get out of a situation that wasn't good for them.
They wanted to get into something nicer."
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin October 05, 2005 Volume: 151 Issue: 195
Teacher entitled to disability after arrest caused breakdown By BILL MYERS Law Bulletin staff writer
A grade-school teacher who suffered a nervous breakdown after he was arrested at school is entitled to disability payments, the Illinois Appellate Court's Workers' Compensation Commission Division ruled on Wednesday.
With one dissent, the appellate division held that a decision to deny Irwin Rotberg's claims went against the manifest weight of evidence.
Rotberg intervened in a fight between two of his students at Gillespie Elementary School in May 1999, Justice Thomas E. Hoffman wrote for the majority.
Rotberg, 63, of Skokie, grabbed ''the aggressor'' of the fight and led the boy away, Hoffman wrote.
The boy's mother filed battery charges against Rotberg, accusing him of beating her son, Hoffman wrote.
Rotberg was handcuffed and taken into custody. He claimed he was subjected to a strip search, denied water and access to a bathroom, Hoffman wrote.
Although the charges were later dismissed, Rotberg's lawyer, David M. Wittenberg of Wittenberg, Dougherty & Maglione Ltd., said the arrest exacerbated Rotberg's ''long-standing anxiety disorders.''
''He had a complete meltdown,'' Wittenberg said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Rotberg filed for a disability pension, Hoffman wrote.
An arbitrator ruled against Rotberg, finding that the arrest ''was so remote from the work activity'' it did ''not arise out [Rotberg's] employment'' as a teacher.
The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission adopted the arbitrator's decision; and Cook County Circuit Judge Alexander P. White confirmed the commission's decision, Hoffman wrote.
On appeal, Rotberg argued that the commission's decision to deny his claim went against the manifest weight of evidence.
He argued that the arrest arose out of his duties as a teacher, and that his arrest aggravated his psychological problems.
In Wednesday's 22-page opinion, the majority reversed White and remanded the case to the commission, instructing it to find that Rotberg suffered injury due to his arrest and the arrest ''arose out of and in the course of his employment'' with the Chicago Public Schools.
''Absent any facts supporting the proposition that the claimant stepped outside the scope of his employment as a teacher when he broke up the fight … the facts in this case lead to a single conclusion; namely, that the risk of the claimant being arrested and charged with a battery upon [the student] was incidental to his action as a teacher in breaking up a fight between two students,'' Hoffman wrote.
Furthermore, the work-related arrest either created or exacerbated Rotberg's psychological problems, Hoffman wrote.
Citing Riteway Plumbing v. Industrial Commission, 67 Ill.2d 404, 367 N.E.2d 1294 (1977), Hoffman wrote: ''The law is clear that aggravation or acceleration of a preexisting condition is a compensable injury if caused by some accident arising out of and in the course of the claimant's employment.''
Although ''reluctant'' to rule that a commission decision went against the manifest weight of evidence, ''we must do so in this case,'' Hoffman wrote.
Justice John T. McCullough dissented from Wednesday's opinion, writing: ''A review of the record supports the commission's decision.''
Justices Thomas E. Callum, William E. Holdridge and Richard P. Goldenhersh joined Hoffman in the opinion.
Michael J. Cohen, senior assistant general counsel of the Chicago Board of Education, refused to comment.
Wittenberg said he was ''shocked'' that the decision was issued so quickly after arguments, which were held last month. Proving that a decision went against the manifest weight of evidence ''is a very high wall to climb,'' he said.
Rotberg is still traumatized by the arrest, Wittenberg added.
''It really screwed up his life. He's still looking for work. He's a round peg trying to get in a square hole,'' Wittenberg said.
Irwin Rotberg v. the Industrial Commission, et al., No. 1-04-3013WC.
©2005 by Law Bulletin Publishing Company
Note: Please click this link to read the full Appellate Court Opinion: http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/WorkersComp/2005/October/Html/1043013.htm
HANGING IN THERE Poster art is growing in appreciation and value
Chicago Tribune - April 15, 1990 - Elaine Markoutsas
Elaine Markoutsas is a Chicago-based writer who specializes in design.
Long before the Breck girl or the Smith Brothers provided instant recognition for certain products; before radio jingles or TV spots sprinkled memorable slogans like "Where's the beef?" into daily speech, even that of presidents; long before such games as Advertsing celebrated these slogans, there was the poster.
An arresting graphic image, punctuated by bare-bones information-date, event, place-was the medium that conveyed the message, first on European streets and boulevards, then in American cities and towns where the excitement of circuses or the theater were conveyed with colorful billboards. From the mid-19th Century, posters advertised dance and musical events, exhibitions and travel as well as bicycles, perfumes, lamp oil, foods and beverages.
But it's unlikely that turn-of-the-century poster creators, whose works were slapped on building walls, envisioned them framed in people's houses a century later or anticipated the current wave of enthusiasm.
"As prints have been to painting and sculpture, posters have been a stepchild in the art world," says Kate Hendrickson, a private Chicago poster and print dealer.
In fact, because artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was so prolific, he had been stigmatized as a mere poster artist until the 1950s. But gradually his paintings began to be regarded as highly as those of his contemporary Impressionists, as collectors and critics began to more fully appreciate the brilliance of his colors, the use of contrasts, his fine sense of composition and a compelling rendering of his subjects, often theater people. In a November 1988 auction at Sotheby's, Toulouse-Lautrec's 20 3/4-by-16-inch original lithograph of Clownesse Assise sold for $300,000, although it had been expected to bring about half that. (The same image in an authorized lithograph reproduction may have sold for about $50.)
Today, gallery shoppers want to know why a Toulouse-Lautrec might carry such a premium. They're intrigued that something that may not be one of a kind can have such value.
But Toulouse-Lautrec was just one of the fine artists who were making posters a century ago, artists known for their innovative use of color, imaginative typography and harmonious layout. Artists such as Alphonse Mucha and Jules Cheret.
A critic once called Mucha "the apostle of the beautiful." His delicate coloring and classic refinements, impeccable draftsmanship and sumptuous detail were lauded, and he rendered his women and flowers with an exoticism embellished with gold and silver.
Cheret earned the label of "the father of the posters" as he perfected the color-lithography process in 1860. He was an admirer of the prominent French painters Antoine Watteau and Jean Honore Fragonard, his clients were primarily entrepreneurs of Parisian theater. One critic rhapsodized about Cheret's colors as "a hooray of reds, a hallelujah of primal yellows and a primal scream of blues." In his day he was hailed by Manet as "the Watteau of the Streets."
But Cheret did not launch the poster as a communications tool; cave paintings are perhaps the poster's most distant roots.
Poster style was largely influenced by the art of the day-Art Nouveau, heavily apparent in the work of Mucha, Arts and Crafts and the Japanese prints called Ukiyo-e (literally "pictures of the floating world"), which inspired artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard and Jean Edouard Vuillard with their vivid flat color, strong outlines and bold compositions.
By the end of the 19th Century, large bold posters were commonplace in every major European city. Magazine publishers such as Simplicissimus in Germany began to invite artists to illustrate covers and create posters. Harper's magazine, which started publication in 1893, introduced a poster every month, and its consigned artist, Edward Penfield, emerged as one of America's big design names, as did Will Bradley, who also illustrated for The Saturday Evening Post. Each country had at least one star: Fernand Toussaint in Belgium and Aubrey Beardsley in England, for example.
And, of course, the American circus provided plenty of color for the poster medium. The Circus Museum that is part of the John Ringling estate in Sarasota, Fla., houses a choice collection of 19th and 20th Century circus posters.
"The circus poster is kind of quirky advertising," says David Gartler, who in 1969 opened one of the first all-poster shops in Chicago. "But it is interesting historically."
Circus posters were almost never signed and compared to other posters are relatively inexpensive today. Pre-1920 material might range between $500 and $800. "Buffalo Bill posters command among the highest prices-up to a couple thousand dollars," Gartler.
In the United States, poster-collecting was considered an esoteric pastime until the late '60s when rock posters, blanketing college-dorm rooms, hanging au naturel with masking tape beneath or at the corners, ushered in a new style of decorating. Rock and psychedelic images gave way to pop, and posters made their way into offices and homes in frames as simple as the dime-store variety.
"People began to want something in a poster that was visually more sophisticated yet in tune with what was happening in contemporary art," Gartler says. The market then was geared largely toward teenagers and young adults, but Gartler chose to focus on the kinds of art posters he had been smitten with in Europe as well as the artist-commissioned posters that began to publicize museum events here.
Pop artists-Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenberg and Frank Stella, et al.-sparked the poster movement. Galleries sold poster versions of their colorful art at a fraction of the cost of the original paintings. What the Campbell Soup company gave to the masses, Andy Warhol elevated to art. And to a generation growing up on peace posters, Peter Max straddled the line between the youth-culture image and art.
Today, museum and gallery posters, a genre born after World War II to publicize exhibits, are ubiquitous, and so are commercial posters, which might depict anything from community art fairs to Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and cost less than $10. The latter usually are produced by some type of photomechanical process.
On the other hand, a Milton Glaser poster of a Bob Dylan album cover produced in 1966, expected to fetch $200 to $300 at auction in 1980, may be worth 10 times that today. Not surprisingly, vintage posters have become hot collectibles, some with price tags in the thousands.
Posters of the La Belle Epoque period are perhaps the most sought after. Sizes generally range from 2 by 3 to 4 by 5 feet, but when multiple sheets of paper were used (the only way to expand sizes), the posters can exceed 8 feet in height. Most often created in France, La Belle Epoque posters span the years from about 1890 to the end of World War I.
"It was the period in history that is referred to as "l'affiche manie" or "poster craziness," says Albert Sanford, director of posters at the Merrill Chase Galleries, which until April 20 is hosting an exhibition entitled "Cafe Concert" at all three of its locations. The exhibit, which took 2 1/2 years to assemble, features about 100 examples.
"The title `Cafe Concert' refers to the Moulin Rouge, the can-can, the dance halls, the cabarets, Jane Avril and Ariste Brouant (two famous Toulouse-Lautrec subjects). These all were real people who were part of the bohemian cafe society. It was a decadent group, in a way. The fact is, they didn't have `Roseanne' or `L.A. Law.' People didn't play Nintendo. They had hippodromes, ice-skating rinks, music halls. There was more human interaction."
The poster celebrated that life. "It was a time of tremendous social, political and artistic change," Sanford says. "The posters reflected that change."
"Modern color printing, established in the form of advertising, set the stage for 20th Century visual communication. Most importantly, the authors of the posters were fine artists who were painters, printmakers and sculptors in their own right. The reason there is value is because this was original artwork. It's unlike going to a museum gift shop and finding a reproduction of a Degas painting (in poster form)," Sanford says.
Museum poster shows themselves have actually fueled the current surge of interest. The Museum of Modern Art mounted a major exhibition in the summer of 1988, recognizing a growing public fascination. Auctions have positioned posters in the art market, and museum catalogs and auction books have created an artist and date reference as well as a price guide. The Phillips Gallery in New York (there's also a British branch) has documented a century of poster art and is a leading authority.
What determines a poster's value is based partly on subjectivity, partly by what the market will bear. "Posters have increased in value three to four times in recent years," says David Wittenberg, who with his wife, Marilyn, is a private dealer with an inventory of about 250 posters from the 1890s to the 1940s, from France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and England. "Since (the stock market's) Black Monday, everything in art has resurfaced," Wittenberg says. "People feel more comfortable putting art in their homes and enjoying their investment."
"In the last 10 years, there has been an explosion in all sorts of collectibles, not just posters," says Gartler, who today stocks more than 2,000 vintage pieces with a particular focus on American turn-of-the-century items at his Poster Plus Gallery on South Michigan Avenue. "Besides, as art objects, they turn out to be a good bargain, as they are visually significant and scarce. The gap between people's visual interest and their pocketbook is being satisfied by the vintage poster."
Says Sanford, "It's mostly the 28- to 42-year-olds who have rediscovered the poster."
Supply and demand have largely established the market, kicking some pricing to astronomical heights.
A good example might be the current glasnost-inspired wave of enthusiasm for all things Russian, that has manifested itself in a sudden demand for antiques, art and furniture. When Russian Constructivist posters from the 1920s and '30s were shown at the Museum Of Modern Art exhibit, they caught many a fancy. Unfortunately, they are rare in the marketplace and thus very expensive.
"Most Russian Constructivist posters are in the hands of private collectors and museums," says New York poster dealer Annie Rousseau. Constructivism is a style of art created in the Soviet Union based on geometry and constructions related to Cubism and de Stijl, the Dutch industrial design style. It was used to advertise literary films, exhibitions or for political propaganda.
Determining the price of a poster is tricky. These are the criteria the dealers use:
- The artist. How important is he or she in the history of art or design? "Toulouse-Lautrec is obviously extremely important," Sanford says. "Cheret is very important. Mucha is the father of Art Nouveau, so he is important." Evaluating lesser-known names, however, is no easy task, so art-museum and auction catalogs may be helpful.
- The age and purpose of the poster. Was it for an exhibition or a theatrical event?
- The aesthetic quality. Some images are so appealing it doesn't matter if they are very common. Yet an unattractive image, such as a gallows scene, still will sell if by a major artist.
- The complexity of color. Is the color vibrant, uniform?
- The rarity of the image. Not how many were made but how many survived.
- Condition. The most pristine posters are usually the most valuable-but not always. Most posters need some restoration. Creases will not devalue them, nor will a tiny tear in the margin. (Because of the inexpensive, fragile paper on which posters were printed, they need to be linen-backed before they can be hung.) Naturally, if there's a signature or identification, it should not be framed over or have been altered to fit a frame.
"Every one of the factors can offset the other," Sanford says. Certain subjects are more coveted. Certain periods slip in and out of fashion.
Dealer Hendrickson recommends following your gut feeling rather than a trend. "A lot of people are collecting because they think it's an investment. But if you buy something for $5,000 and the bottom (of the market) falls out tomorrow, perhaps you may not be able to sell the piece for $100."
"You can get a real good (Belle Epoque) poster in nice condition for between $1,500 and $3,000," Sanford says. Again, age isn't necessarily a price determinant. A 1920 Martini & Rossi poster by Marcello Dudovich might cost $3,500; another 1920s liqueur poster by an unknown Parisian might be available for $400.
Although posters are much in demand now because of their limited availability, finding good material in excellent condition is increasingly challenging. Sources are beginning to dry up, but most experts believe the outlook for collecting is strong.
"This is beyond a trend," Sanford says. "It's not just a flash in the pan. What really turns people on is to see the Toulouse-Lautrec images that have been reproduced on tea towels, tote bags, coffee cups, matchbook covers, coasters-in the flesh. It's a magnificent experience, to realize the posters were printed 100 years ago. That they've survived really gets people."
PHOTOS 16 Caption: An Italian travel poster by Vittorio Grassi, circa 1925. publicized a 1929 exhibition. PHOTO (color): A Swiss advertisement for an aperitif, 1955. poster from the 1950s. advertising." This one is from 1907. PHOTO (color): An 1893 rendering of Jane Avril by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Hanoi in the 1930s during the French occupation. Gibbons in a suburban Prairie-style home. "the father" of the form. advertises a liqueur. example. PHOTO (color): On the cover "Le Grotte del Piccione," a rare Italian poster by Onorato, circa 1922. 4.)
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Apr 15, 1990
A passion for posters Vintage French advertising banners can be rare works of art
Chicago Tribune - March 21, 1993, Julie Morse
Winnetka residents David and Marilyn Wittenberg fell in love with Paris and its posters-in that order.
Their love affair with Paris began when they honeymooned there in 1969. They took a few vacations there over the next few years, but the trips always left them wanting more.
Then, in 1975, a Parisian cousin who had an art gallery introduced the Wittenbergs to vintage French advertising posters, which were just starting to be collected in Europe and the United States. The big, colorful works were the main form of advertising for plays, products, places and politics in Europe from the late 1800s to the 1930s.
David, a tax lawyer, had an inspiration.
"It hit me that we could afford to go to Paris a lot more if we became poster dealers, and could write the trips off as business. So we really got attracted to posters because of a tax write-off."
Good business sense quickly gave way to a genuine poster passion. The couple became collectors, as well as dealers. They studied poster history, researched artists and attended as many auctions as they could to learn and, whenever possible, buy. They traveled all over France and other countries in Europe, looking for long-lost posters in out-of-the way shops and flea markets.
"They don't make posters like these anymore, and those that still exist are limited in number. So the more they've been collected, the rarer they've become, and some have appreciated dramatically over the years," David explained.
(Martin Gordon, publisher of Gordon's Print Price Annual, told Investment Vision Magazine: "Right through the 1970s, one dealer had 100 copies of Toulouse-Lautrec's Divan Japonais, which he sold for $800 each. These posters now sell for $20,000 to $25,000 and more.")
Posted on walls along European streets, on railroad cars and other public places, the posters were designed to grab the attention of passersby with fabulous art and innovative design. Some were done by well-known artists, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pablo Picasso. People who couldn't afford "real art" often saved discarded posters for their novelty and decorating value. Many printers kept extras on their back shelves or gave them to friends.
In 1982, when poster collecting was "hot," the Wittenbergs moved to France for a year to scour the countryside for rare posters.
"We didn't find a lot," David said. "It was kind of naive of us. By that time, most people realized that the old posters that had been gathering dust in their attics were really worth something, and most had been sold to local dealers. But we did make some good finds."
Once they responded to a newspaper ad indicating that a private party in Brussels had a lot of old posters for sale. They traveled there and found the apartment in a seedy neighborhood.
"There were three young people there, obviously stoned out of their minds," David recalled. "They made us have a picnic with them on the floor before they finally brought out all these rolled up posters. Most were ghastly, but there were a few by an artist named Henri Cassiers that we knew we wanted right away.
"Those posters are exceedingly hard to find now, and they've quadrupled in value since we bought them."
Every wall of the couple's old and stately Winnetka home greets visitors with the bold colors and designs of fine turn-of-the-century posters predominantly from France and Switzerland.
Among the highlights are two lithographs by Lautrec from the 1890s, one a very large one of a French courtesan, promoting a magazine. The other is much smaller, done for a salon show, in which Lautrec memorialized a woman he loved from afar.
They also have art nouveau posters by other coveted artists of the period, including Alphonse Mucha and Jules Cheret. And there are works from the art deco period of the 1920s and '30s, including ones by Picasso and A.M. Cassandre, who is regarded by many collectors as the best poster designer of all time. A favorite is the Cassandre in David's home office, "Etoile du Noir," a famous and hard-to-find train poster that depicts train tracks reaching toward the North Star.
The couple also have about 200 turn-of-the century European posters for sale on all subjects and in all styles. They will be exhibiting many of these at the International Vintage Poster Fair in Chicago next weekend.
Most of the Wittenbergs' posters are stone lithographs, the most coveted of vintage posters. Stone lithography was used in printing most posters through the 1930s. The artist oiled a large table-size stone, then drew the design onto it with a grease pencil. Paper was then pressed down on the stone to create the image, and colors were often done in separate stages.
Offset printing replaced stone lithography in the 1930s, allowing for greater speed-and making later posters less valuable to collectors.
"The stone lithographs offer people a way to acquire an original work of art by a well-known artist for a lot less than a painting by that artist. For example, a Picasso lithograph might sell for $20,000, while an original painting would sell for 10 times that," David said.
He added, however, that most lithographs available by lesser-known artists range in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on subject matter, condition and rarity.
"The hardest thing designwise is that a lot of people want horizontal pieces for over a couch or pastel colors," Marilyn said. "You can find them, but it's hard because most posters were made to hang vertically, and most were done in bright colors to attract attention."
"In our home, we never worry too much about the colors. We just buy posters we love and it all seems to flow together."
Many people also buy and collect posters on subjects related to hobbiies or special interests, from golf to medicine, or circuses to wars.
"Posters run the gamut from A to Z in terms of subject matter, colors and style," David said. "Some of it's pretty, some of it's not-but a lot is very good art."
PHOTO: David and Marilyn Wittenberg and some of their posters: "They don't make posters like these anymore, and those that still exist are limited in number," David says. Tribune photos by Charles Osgood.
PHOTO: Posters were the main form of advertising for plays, products, places and politics in Europe.
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Mar 21, 1993
On the road to greener, cleaner living
Chicago Tribune - July 26, 1992, Julie Morse
A recent Gallup Poll found that 66 percent of Americans say they "worry a great deal" about environmental concerns that affect them directly, such as the contamination of soil from toxic wastes. And 72 percent don't think we are doing enough to solve the problem on an individual basis.
Clearly, most people agree that taking a "greener," more environmentally sensitive approach to life is a healthy idea. But many are just too confused and overwhelmed by the prospect to do much about it.
Maybe they recycle a few cans and newspapers, or even make a stab at a compost pile. But overall they find themselves foundering in a rapidly rising sea of green concern, not quite sure what to do next.
Several Chicago-area families who have "gone green" say living an environmentally sensitive life doesn't have to be a hardship or a saintly pursuit. Instead, they say it's relatively simple and not overly time-consuming, a process made even easier if you have the right information and resources available at the outset. The trick, it seems, is getting started.
Mary Ellen Waghorn of Chicago found "the hardest part is making the commitment to change. After that, if you're armed with a little knowledge, going green is easy. Most of it is common sense."
Waghorn became interested in the subject about five years ago, but was confused by the mass of reports on environmental issues and products.
"I wasn't doing anything but a little recycling. There seemed to be so much conflicting information that I figured, why make changes if I wasn't sure they really mattered?"
She started researching environmental issues and products at the library, and found the answers she needed. As a result, she began making significant changes in her life, beginning with taking her all her recyclables to the North Park Village Recycling Center on Chicago's North Side. One of the largest of such centers in the Chicago area, it takes cardboard, mixed papers, magazines and plastics in addition to more common recyclables such as cans, bottles and newspapers.
"Now I just try to combine a trip to the recycling center with other errands in that area. If you find ways to incorporate it into your life, it doesn't seem like an inconvenience."
Waghorn uses cleansers made from baking soda, Borax and vinegar because they clean just as well as chemical cleansers and aren't harmful to the environment, she said. She has a compost pile and uses the fertilizer it produces for her lawn and gardens. She also "precycles" when she shops, choosing unpackaged products or those with minimal or biodegradable packaging.
Her home is lit with energy-saving recyclable light bulbs that last two to three times longer than regular bulbs. Low-flow shower heads, faucet aerators and toilet dams help save water and money.
"Water-saving products pay for themselves in 60 to 90 days," she said. "For example, my low-flow shower head uses 70 percent less water (than her regular shower head), but the water pressure feels the same."
Marybeth Dougherty long has been concerned about the environment, but she didn't start recycling seriously until she moved to Hinsdale from Chicago a few years ago.
"The convenience of having the recycling center nearby was a key factor in my getting started," she said. "That, and it takes just about everything."
Her family of three now produces only one kitchen-size trash bag of garbage a week and recycles or composts everything else. Twice a month they take about a dozen bags of recyclables to the center. They use the compost for their garden and lawn.
And if you think busy people don't have time to recycle, think again. Dougherty and her husband Rick Johnson both work full-time as lawyers, and he travels frequently on business. Their 7-year-old son, Ryan, also keeps them busy with his school and sports activities.
"Recycling really doesn't take a lot of time," Dougherty said. "We have different bags for glass, cans, newspaper, chipboard and plastics, and after a while you just get in the rhythm of throwing things into them instead of the garbage can.
"The only real problem is space. It's unattractive having all the bags around, but it's still a better option than filling up the landfills. And when guests come over, I just hide everything in a closet."
Inspired by their success in recycling, the family has gone green in other ways. They ride bikes or walk the mile to town for most shopping trips, avoid chemical lawn care and buy environmentally safe products whenever possible. They've also recently installed low-flush toilets to save water-and Ryan has offered (in vain) to take fewer baths.
As his mother said, "What's great is that Ryan is really very involved in all this in a very positive, natural way. It's second nature to him."
Penny Block of Evanston recalls "being green" before the term existed.
"I remember carrying my oldest daughter, who's now 22, in a backpack to an ecology meeting. I started recycling then and made other positive lifestyle choices, too, like eating only healthy, natural foods."
Block, a nutrition-education specialist, and her husband, Dr. Keith Block, an Evanston internist, work together in a practice focused on nutrition and immunology. They counsel patients to eat natural foods and minimize the use of medicines and chemicals whenever possible. She says they practice what they preach at home.
Block said: "It's always made sense to us that what's good for the Earth is also good for our bodies. We try to eat organic foods and buy environmentally safe products and shop in bulk or for items with minimal, recyclable packaging. And we reuse and recycle whatever we can."
Those interviewed agreed that sometimes the hardest step in "going green" is making the commitment.
"I won't deceive anyone," Penny Block said. "It's not as easy as using all convenience foods and products. You need to make a conscious and deliberate effort to change your lifestyle, but it's definitely worth the effort. And you do get accustomed to it."
Waghorn said that the changes people make don't have to be huge at first. She said that no one should feel like they must "try to change everything right away," lest they become overwhelmed.
"I first started recyling more, and then started learning more about home cleansers and what I could do shopping-wise," she said. "It was a learning process . . . and I found I really felt good about what I was doing."
Waghorn eventually turned her personal interest in environmental concerns into a related business, called Greenhome. She and her representatives teach consumers how to reduce, reuse and recycle through in-home lectures and product presentations. Clients can order dozens of Earth-friendly products from the Greenhome catalog (which can be obtained by calling Waghorn at 312-267-1480), ranging from a home cleaner recipe kit to low-flow shower heads to recycled paper goods.
"I find most people are really interested in making changes once they understand how simple it can be. And they also find they can save money by making their own cleansers, cutting down on water consumption and the like. It's a myth that a green lifestyle is costly and inconvenient."
Educating consumers is also the mission of Annie Berthold-Bond, a writer who specializes in environmental issues and the publisher of a new bimonthly national consumer magazine, Greenkeeping. (For subscription information, call 916-246-6948, or write Box 28, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. 12504). Berthold-Bond is also the author of "Clean and Green: The Complete Guide to Non-toxic and Environmentally Safe Housekeeping" (Ceres Press, $8.95).
"The biggest problem right now is information," she said. "People are well-intentioned, but they don't know what to do, where to begin," Berthold-Bond said. "That's why we started the magazine-to give them practical ideas, shopping information and intelligent articles on environmental issues, written by experts in the field."
"It's all a learning process," she said. "The first step is to make the decision to change, and then find the resources to help you make the change. From then on, it's as easy as cleaning windows with vinegar instead of (chemical-based) Windex."
PHOTO: Mary Ellen Waghorn uses household cleansers made from baking soda, Borax and vinegar. Tribune photo by Tony Berardi.
PHOTO: Twice a month, Rick Johnson and Marybeth Dougherty take about a dozen bags of stuff to the recycling center. Tribune photo by John Dziekan.
PHOTO (color): You're never too young to go green: Ryan Johnson, age 7, pitches in with the family's commitment to recycling.
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Jul 26, 1992