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The Home Front

(Above) “5,000 bucks. It’s all there, pal,” says John Belushi (left) as Joliet Jake Blues to Steven Spielberg, as a clerk in the Cook County Assessor’s office, in the 1980 film, The Blues Brothers. The money, according to Elwood Blues, portrayed by Dan Aykroyd (right), “is for the year’s assessment of St. Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage in Calumet City, Illinois.” (Click on images to view larger versions.)

The otherwise flawless 1980 film contains one inaccuracy. Property taxes are paid at the Cook County Treasurer’s office, not the Assessor’s office. Nonetheless, Fritz Kaegi, the current Assessor, has officially righted the wrong of an unfair, though fictional, assessment.

22-Aug-22The Blues Brothers probably is the most famous movie ever made on the streets of Chicago.

The 1980 car chase and crash scenes with actors John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd behind the wheel of a rusty old squad car must have wiped out 100 Chicago Police Department cruisers with the approval of Mayor Jane Byrne.

Although the movie grossed more than $115 million worldwide, and received positive reviews, the final film was one of the most expensive comedies ever produced because of all the destruction.

During the movie’s climax, hooligans Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues, pursued by state and local police as well as the Illinois National Guard, race to the Cook County Assessor’s office to pay the property tax of the St. Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage in Calumet City, Illinois.

Universal Pictures

The story is a tale of redemption for paroled convict Jake and his blood brother Elwood, who set out on “a mission from God” to prevent foreclosure of the Roman Catholic orphanage where they were raised.

Universal Pictures

To accomplish their mission, they must reunite their Rhythm & Blues band and organize a performance to earn $5,000 (the equivalent of $19,040 today) needed to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill.

Along the way, they are targeted by a homicidal “mystery woman” (Carrie Fisher), Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band – all while being relentlessly pursued by the police. The movie features R&B, soul, and blues numbers performed by five-star singers James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, and Chaka Khan.

This writer, the former real estate editor of the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Sun-Times for nearly two decades, has viewed The Blues Brothers more than 50 times. However, one inaccurate fact in the script has always bothered me. Property taxes actually are paid at the Cook County Treasurer’s office, not the Assessor’s office.

The Assessor’s Office is central to the plot of The Blues Brothers. The movie features wild chase scenes inside and outside the Cook County Building in the Loop.

“We’ve been joking about that all week,” said Scott Smith (right), Chief Communications Officer for Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi. “I’m convinced this plot gaffe is why most people in Cook County think the Assessor is solely responsible for any and all property tax increases, even though municipal tax levies play a role as well.”

Scott Smith

To finally straighten out the error in the script, Smith said Assessor Kaegi took part in a live comedy sketch with actors Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi during the actors’ August 19 musical performance as The Blues Brothers at a fan convention in Joliet, 35 miles southwest of Chicago.

The in-person event was part of Blues Brothers Con at the Old Joliet Prison at 1125 Collins Street in Joliet. The concert began at 9:30 p.m. with Aykroyd and Belushi performing with legendary rhythm and blues musicians – and Blues Brothers co-stars – Steve “The Colonel” Cropper and Tom “Bones” Malone.

During the sketch, Assessor Kaegi presented The Blues Brothers with new information about the orphanage property which had been incorrectly assessed by one of his predecessors.

Photo by Don DeBat

(Left) Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi (center) presents a plaque and “certificate of error” at a performance on August 19 in Joliet featuring Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd at left. At right with saxaphone, Joe “Lester” Sublett.

With Aykroyd looking on and nodding, Kaegi said: “St. Helen of the Blessed Shroud is an orphanage. It is a religious institution. It’s tax exempt.”

Then, Kaegi explained in assessor lingo: “We want to set this right. So, we’re going to issue the orphanage a certificate of error. No taxes are due for 1979 to 1981. And no taxes in the future.”

The plaque also retroactively grants “special assessment landmark status, as the childhood home of Jake and Elwood Blues, a.k.a The Blues Brothers, and is therefore exempt from any future assessment increases or taxes.”

When Aykroyd accepted the plaque, he addressed the crowd and said: “Well, I guess the whole movie didn’t happen.”

Cook County Assessor’s Office

The Blues Brothers celebration also featured a screening of the film in the prison yard, Saturday morning gospel services, vintage car show, food vendors, beer garden, and art demonstrations.

While Assessor Kaegi has nothing to do with collecting property taxes, he is a highly qualified expert in property assessments, holding both the Chartered Financial Analyst and Certified Illinois Assessment Officer designations. Before serving as Cook County Assessor, Kaegi had a 13-year career as a financial asset manager at Columbia Wanger Asset Management. Kaegi holds an MBA from Stanford University.

Is the Assessor a Hollywood star?

If Hollywood decides to make another Blues Brothers movie, the affable Fritz Kaegi should be given a part. At the recent 25-year memorial of columnist Mike Royko’s passing, Kaegi was a guest, along with former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Bill Sianis, son of Billy Goat Tavern owner Sam Sianis.

Kaegi, who played 16-inch slow-pitch softball in his Hyde Park neighborhood as a kid, brought a Clincher to the April 30 event and asked the 60 people in attendance at the Edgewater branch library to sign the ball.

This writer, who was there to tell stories about Royko’s amazing softball career, was proud to be the first signer. Three more of Royko’s loyal softball players – Don Garbarino, Dean Karouzos, and Paul Sortal – also signed.

Then, a smiling Kaegi presented the autographed ball to Judith Royko, Mike’s widow, and son, Sam Royko, who is running for 1st Ward Alderman. Nice pitch, Fritz!