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SL man reports building 'missing' to police

Kevin Collier • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:36 PM

While most missing items result from misplacement, some are so remarkable they become a mystery.          

What if you knew exactly where something was located and, when you went there, discovered it had vanished? What if the item was fixed and really large, like a building?          

Such was the predicament Spring Lake resident Joseph Joham found himself in when he called police on the evening of May 16, 1918, to report a building he owned was missing.          

Reports published the following day in Chicago newpapers stated police were “mystified when they received a request to search for a “lost three-story brick building.”          

Joham had purchased the building, which was located near Maxwell Street in Chicago, a year earlier. Chicago police launched an investigation into the whereabouts of the building that Joham said had “mysteriously vanished.”          

Joham, born in Austria on July 25, 1862, immigrated to America in 1887 and became a well-known businessman in Chicago. He married German-born Ida Dargel in Grand Rapids on May 29, 1907. A few years later, in semi-retirement, they settled on a small farm at Smith's Bayou on Spring Lake, where Joseph operated a boat livery.          

On Feb. 15, 1917, Joseph Joham purchased the three-story brick building from his widowed mother-in-law, Johannah Dargel, who lived in Chicago. He was familiar with the building, which was unoccupied at the time.          

Along with her mother, Ida Joham's sisters lived in Chicago, as well as former business associates and old friends of Joseph. So the couple routinely visited the area.           

Soon after the purchase of the building, however, Joham suffered a broken leg and was unable to travel to Chicago to inspect the structure. His recovery was prolonged with additional health issues and nearly a year passed.         

Thus when he arrived at the location on May 16, 1918, and discovered the building was missing, at best he imagined it had “vanished” sometime during the past year.          

“Tell the man who lost the bass drum to go on home and never mind: Joseph Joham has lost a three story brick building valued at $9,000,” the Chicago Tribune reported.          

Chicago policeman Dan O'Leary informed the press an investigation was taking place. It was unlikely someone just loaded a three-story building onto the back of a truck and drove off, so examiners rifled through property records at city hall.          

There it was discovered Joham failed to have the transfer of sale between his mother-in-law and himself recorded, thus the building appeared to be “abandoned.”          

Unable to find a record of who owned the building, the city had the building condemned.          

The City of Chicago had been buying up property and clearing away structures “under a blanket of condemnation.” The city had demolished and removed the building to make way for a new Union Station.          

The mystery was solved.          

Joham never did find his building — not even a brick of it — but now he knew what had happened to it. He returned to Spring Lake, where the tale remained relatively secret.         

Since the story of Joham's missing building originated in Chicago newspapers, it appears he was spared local embarrassment of the item making the hometown newspapers.          

And even though Joham's building had been torn down and cleared away for a new Union railway station — scheduled to open in December 1919 — that didn't happen. Not right away, anyway.          

World War I and several workman strikes delayed construction.         

A slice of the property Joham once owned became a part of Chicago history when the new Union Station was completed and opened in May 1925, seven years after his three-story building went missing.          

The new, state-of-the-art station served the railway lines Pennsylvania, Burlington, the Alton/Chicago and the Milwaukee/St. Paul. The estimated cost was about $50 million, although later estimates placed it near $75 million.

It is likely the City of Chicago offered the Joham some amount as compensation for his loss. Not for the building — which was in disrepair and condemned — but for the land.

The Chicago Tribune called the new Union Station an “architectural wonder.”

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