Traeger (1858-1946) was a
public office career began in 1897 when he was
elected collector for Town of Lake (Lake Township,
Cook County, Illinois).
In 1903 he
was elected as Chicago’s coroner during the
mayor Carter Harrison Jr, also a Democrat. As coroner, it
was Traeger's job to conduct the inquest for Iroquois Theater
deaths. The function of
an inquest is fact finding, to determine the
cause of death. In the case of the Iroquois
coroner's jury, circuit court judge Richard Stanley
Tuthill ruled on January 27, 1904 that charges
brought against mayor Harrison were not lawful,
invalidating his arrest, and issued a writ of habeas
corpus releasing him.
Traeger and his jurors performed their task
expeditiously and thoroughly but overstepped
their authority. Nonetheless, if not for their
efforts, and the corresponding media coverage, we
would know much less today about the Iroquois
To fully record the inquest,
Traeger requested and was
granted additional stenographers and clerical help,
paid for from the city's emergency fund.
Unfortunately, in the century after the fire,
transcripts of the inquest disappeared.
Since the grand jury trial was not
public, newspaper reports of the coroner's inquest,
flawed though they may be, are all we have in the
way of a record.
Traeger the Un-Democrat
As can be expected,
arresting mayor Harrison, won approval from
republicans but was not appreciated by the
democratic party who viewed Traeger's behavior as a
betrayal of his party and benefactor. Mayor
Harrison's endorsement had played a crucial role in
Traeger's first term election. One source
asserted that he was even unpopular in his own ward,
the 13th. Reading between the lines, it
appears that Traeger had bipartisan support and
bipartisan opposition. People either loved or hated him, not much middle ground.
His detractors were pleased
when Traeger lost his bid in 1904 for a second term
as coroner by a wide margin (to republican Peter M.
Mayor Carter Harrison's
successor, Edward F. Dunne (1853-1937), appointed Traeger
Collector in the spring of 1906 and in 1907 Traeger won the
office of City Treasurer (salary $12,000).
When Carter Harrison began a
second stint as mayor in 1911, to the puzzlement and
annoyance of some in the party, he appointed Traeger
When Traeger was rumored to
be interested in running against Harrison for the
mayoral nomination, some of his critics went nuts.
A mark of how conflicted attitudes were about
Traeger was the November 22, 1913 issue of a
Democrat weekly newspaper, the Chicago
Eagle (1889-1912), that devoted its entire front
page to a diatribe against "Appetite John Traeger."
That rant was penned by a republican,
Charles H. Wacker. (Wacker, for which Wacker
Drive and Wacker School were named, was chairman of
the Chicago Plan Commission aka Burnham plan.)
Wacker accused Traeger of
being a political opportunist who repeatedly
betrayed friendships for the sake of his political
ambition, and of failing in his job as controller by
selling too few of the city's bonds. Wacker
also implied, without offering supporting details,
that Traeger spent too much of his time on his other
job as vice president of the Stockman's Trust &
Savings bank on Halstead near the stockyards.
Despite the bad press,
Traeger remained in politics for thirty-five more
years, serving twice as sheriff,
collector, city comptroller and as jury commissioner,
as well as on boards for
various hospitals and
Eighty-eight years old at
his death, Traeger was the oldest
county official, having held public office for forty-nine years. He left behind an estate of over
The son of John and Mary
Traeger, John and his wife, Emma, had
three children, including John
E. Traeger Jr. who served as a county commissioner
(dying four years after his father).