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Local author wrote about Chicago financier

March 11, 2011|By Katherine Yamada
  • Theodore Dreiser twice lived and wrote in Glendale. During his second stay here, he wrote on the life of financier C.T. Yerkes. Photo circa 1933.(Courtesy Carl Van Vechten photograph collection, Library of Congress)
Theodore Dreiser twice lived and wrote in Glendale. During…

Writer Theodore Dreiser lived in Glendale twice. During his first sojourn here, around 1920, he started on a book but became frustrated and departed for New York to do more research. The result, “An American Tragedy” was published to great acclaim.

After a stint in politics, Dreiser returned to Glendale with his wife, Helen. They lived in a small courtyard apartment at 253 W. Lorraine Ave.

During that time, in the early 1940s, Dreiser was working on “The Stoic,” the third book in his trilogy based on Chicago financier Charles Tyson Yerkes. The first two volumes were published much earlier: “The Financier” in 1912 and “The Titan” in 1914. Little did Dreiser know that a few years after he finished “The Stoic,” a distant relative of C.T. Yerkes also would reside in Glendale.

Dreiser, of a poor family, moved to Chicago, where he worked as a collections agent until he got a job as a reporter in 1892. Championing the cause of the poor and the helpless, he had a particular bias against the hard-driving businessman Yerkes.

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Yerkes had begun his career as a clerk at a Philadelphia commission house and later bought a banking house specializing in first-class bonds. When the city of Philadelphia found itself in financial distress, Yerkes became involved, but he went bankrupt during the 1871 financial crisis and was charged with misappropriating funds. Sent to prison, he was pardoned after serving seven months of a 33-month sentence, according to an article published in the University of Chicago Alumni Magazine in February 1997.

Later, Yerkes moved to Chicago and began putting together a group that in 1886 bought a controlling interest in a streetcar company and built a mass-transit business that included the famed Loop. Later, a massive streetcar strike set off unrest in the city, triggering unrelenting newspaper scrutiny of Yerkes.

Dreiser witnessed the strike against Yerkes’ streetcar line and the resulting violence in the city triggered his hatred of the tycoon, according to an article, “The Financier Himself: Dreiser and C.T. Yerkes,” written by Philip L. Gerber.

“C.T. Yerkes was a tough businessman in a tough time,” said Marilyn Harder Yerkes, a distant relative by marriage of the financier. She grew up in Glendale and recently moved to Grass Valley.

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