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Afternoon Edition: Dec. 7, 2021

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

The burnt grass remains from a Christmas tree one day after it was burned down by an unknown person, near Garfield Blvd and South King Drive in Washington Park. 
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

This afternoon will be cloudy with a slight chance of snow and a high near 23 degrees. Similar conditions will continue into tonight, including a low around 23 and a 20% chance of precipitation. Tomorrow will be cloudy with a chance of flurries and a high near 35 degrees.

Top story

‘We are not going to be moved or shaken.’ Community plans to replace Christmas tree burned in Washington Park

For the second year in a row, someone has torched a Christmas tree set up in Washington Park but the community plans to replace it.

“We’re feeling that this is an attack against our community,” said Washington Park Chamber of Commerce CEO Donna Hampton-Smith. “And we also feel that we are not going to be moved or shaken by it.”

The Chamber of Commerce held a festive lighting ceremony for the 40-foot artificial tree at South King Drive and Garfield Boulevard last Saturday night. Around 5 a.m. Sunday, police were called after someone spotted the tree engulfed in flames.

Surveillance video from a nearby business shows someone walking by the tree and, minutes later, there is smoke and flames, Hampton-Smith said, adding that investigators found a gas canister near the scene.

The group is working on getting a replacement tree and hopes to have it up this weekend, along with extra security. The chamber is also considering moving the tree to a new location along Garfield Boulevard, but a definitive plan has not been set.

It’s the second year in a row someone has set the tree on fire. In 2019, a driver knocked the tree down and sped off. But Hampton-Smith said the incidents won’t stop the chamber from bringing holiday cheer to the community.

The tree stands for more than just Christmas, she said.

“It symbolizes bright hope and families coming together during this time to celebrate, to greet one another,” she said. “It’s about celebrating and knowing that we as a community are deserving of whatever there is being offered in the Loop, downtown, suburbs.”

Emmanuel Camarillo has more from Washington Park here.

More news you need

  1. A Cook County jury will likely begin deliberating tomorrow in Jussie Smollett’s trial on charges he lied to police about being the victim of an alleged racist and homophobic attack nearly three years ago. The defense rested its case this afternoon after the actor spent a tense two hours on the stand.
  2. In a press conference today, the Rev. Michael Pfleger called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to make several changes to combat violent crime. Namely, Pfleger demanded improved witness protections and more Chicago police detectives to help solve murders.
  3. A jury today awarded $18.15 million to the family of a teen who was left with brain damage after being struck by a semitrailer on an expressway in 2016. Gustavo Cornejo Jr., then 17, was fixing the lights on a landscaping trailer on the shoulder of Illinois Route 394 when he was struck from behind.
  4. Eleven banks responded to the city’s latest request for proposals to become municipal depositories, the first since the city required banks vying to hold city deposits to come clean about their lending practices. Smaller, local banks spurned the competition to hold $400 million in Chicago tax dollars, allowing the contest for municipal deposits to be dominated again by big banks with a history of lending inequities.
  5. Many in Chicago’s theater community are mourning the loss of William J. Norris, who died at age 75 of lingering heart trouble last week. Norris was the first actor to play Scrooge in the Goodman Theatre’s annual “Christmas Carol.”

A bright one

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ radio staging returns for 20th edition, uplifting audiences

The general conceit of American Blues Theater’s holiday perennial, “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago” asks audiences to forget their 21st-century troubles and travel back to America’s post-World War II afterglow.

For the duration of the show, the crowd becomes the studio audience for a radio-play version of the beloved Frank Capra film, which starred Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a humble pillar of the small town of Bedford Falls. In a moment of desperation, George’s guardian angel Clarence swoops in to show him just how much worse off the world would have been had George never been born.

ABT’s version is a faithful if compressed retelling of the screenplay by Capra, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, itself adapted from a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern.

Yuchi Chiu (from left), Dara Cameron, Audrey Billings, Brandon Dahlquist, Manny Buckley and Joe Dempsey play radio actors playing movie characters in “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago.”
Michael Brosilow

George (here played by Brandon Dahlquist) is a stand-up guy whose yen to explore the world outside Bedford Falls is repeatedly frustrated by circumstance and duty. Archangel Joseph (Manny Buckley) shows apprentice angel Clarence (Joe Dempsey) a highlight reel of George’s life. This includes George saving his kid brother Harry (Yuchi Chiu) from drowning in a frozen lake, George’s courtship and marriage to the practical and forthright Mary (Audrey Billings, and his defense of his family’s small building-and-loan operation from the predatory slumlord Mr. Potter (Dempsey again).

Among the enduring traditions of this production are the “commercial breaks,” when cast members read messages provided by members of that night’s audience.

Last Friday, many of these missives included plays on the phrase “wonderful life.” They also confirmed, via private sentiments publicly delivered, that this production has become as vital a part of the holidays for some families as the black-and-white classic it’s based on.

Kris Vire has more on this Chicago holiday staple here.

From the press box

Your daily question ☕

What’s a great local, non-chain store to buy presents from this holiday season?

Email us (please include your first name and where you live) and we might include your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday, we asked you: After the news that Minnie Miñoso finally made the Hall of Fame, who is another Chicago athlete you think is overdue for the same honor? Why?

Here’s what some of you said…

“Mark Aguirre. He is a Chicago high school legend. He basically put DePaul basketball on the map. Helped Bad Boys win two championships. Also, he is a better player than Tracey McGrady, who is in the Hall of Fame!!” — Kenneth Leggin

“Shawon Dunston. Because he cared enough about his batting average to even have the fans keep track of it.” — Jon Tomasic

“The Cubs’ million-dollar infield — Ernie Banks, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and Ron Santo.” — Charmaine Fouts Pinkerton

“Craig Hodges 2x champion. Hodges appeared in the first eight NBA All-Star Three-Point Contests from 1986 to 1993, and won the contest three times, in 1990, 1991, and 1992. He reached the final round on two other occasions, in 1986 when he lost to Larry Bird, and in 1989, when he lost to Dale Ellis.” — Charles Winters

“Tim Hardaway. Because of his contribution to the game of basketball. He should be there too.” — Oz Johnson

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