Friday, February 27, 2009

Crane's Alley

If the Haymarket defendants were guilty of plotting the most famous bombing in Chicago history that evening of May 4, 1886, this is where they planned it. Two witnesses took the stand at the Haymarket trial and declared they say August Spies and either Michael Schwab or Adolph Fischer huddled together in this alley discussing the bombing, then passing a lit stick of dynamite to Rudolph Schnaubelt, who threw it into the crowd, starting the chaos.

The first witness, Malvern M. Thompson, was an employee of the Marshall Fields dry goods store. Under questioning by State's Attorney Grinnell on July 27, 1886, Thompson said:
A. Then Spies got up on the wagon and asked for Parsons. Parsons didn't respond. He then got down and the two men walked in the alley; that is, Schwab and Spies.
Q. Walked in what alley?
A. In the alley that I was standing near the corner of at the back of Crane Bros.
Q. Near which the wagon was situated?
A. Yes sir, the wagon was back a little further. And the first word that I heard between them was, "Pistols".
Q. Between who?
A. Between Schwab and Spies. And the next word was, "police". I think I heard, "police" twice, or "pistols" twice; one or the other, I then walked just a little nearer the edge of the alley; and just then Spies said: "Do you think one is enough, or hadn't we better go and get more?" There was no answer to that that I could hear....And then they came on down and Spies -- just before they got up near the wagon they met a third party; and they bunched right together there, south of the alley, and appeared to get right in a huddle; and there was something passed between them; what it was I couldn't say.
Q. Between whom?
A. Between Spies and the third man.
Q. Look at that picture (handing the witness a cabinet picture of Schnaubelt) and see if that resembles the man that you say made the third?
A. (After examining the picture) Yes sir, I think that is the man.
However, testimony from many other witnesses established that Schwab was only at the Haymarket meeting for a few minutes, and during that time, was never anywhere near Spies or Crane's Alley. Moreover, Spies and Schwab, both being recent German immigrants, typically spoke in German with each other, and Thompson did not speak or understand German (he claimed their conversation had been in English). Finally, under cross-examination by the defense, Thompson admitted he had seen the photo of Schnaubelt before the trial.

The second witness to the meeting in Crane's Alley was even more definite. On the following day, July 28, Harry L. Gilmer, a professional painter, testified under questioning by State's Attorney Grinnell:
A I...was looking for a party I expected to find there, and stepped back in the alley.
Q Which alley?
A The alley between Crane Bros building, and the building immediately south of it.
Q What did you see when you stepped in there?
A I stepped in there and was standing, looking around for a few minutes, noticed parties in conversation there.
Q What were those people doing?
A They were standing holding a conversation there. Somebody in front of me out on the edge of the sidewalk there said, "Here comes the police." There was a sort of natural rush looking to see the police come up. There was a man came from the wagon down to the parties that were standing on the south side of the alley. He lit a match and he touched it off, something or another it was not quite as big as that, I think, (indicating). The fuse commenced to fizzle, and he gave it a couple of steps forward and tossed it over into the street.
Q Do you know the man?
A I have seen him. I knew him by sight. I have seen him several times at meetings at one place and another in the city.
Q You don't know his name?
A I do not.
Q Do you know the man-- you say that somebody came from the wagon towards the group?
A Yes, sir.
Q Describe that man-- is it any of the defendants?
A That is the man right there (pointing to Spies).
Q Spies?
A Yes, sir.
Q Did you see any of the other defendants in the alley at that time?
A That man that sits over there was one of the parties (pointing at defendant Fischer).
Q Fischer?
A Fischer.
Under cross-examination, the defense showed that these statements contradicted substantially statements Gilmer had made earlier to the police. Moreover, several character witnesses testified that Gilmer was an inveterate liar, and Gilmer himself admitted that he had received payment by Detective Bonfield, the leader of the police expedition into the Haymarket meeting, which inspired the bomber.

Probably both men were lying about the defendants. Eyewitness testimony put Fischer at Zepf's Hall at the time he was supposedly plotting with Spies, and Spies never left the speakers' wagon before the explosion.

On the other hand, Rudolph Schnaubelt, the supposed bombthrower identified by Thompson in the photo, may very well have been the culprit. After the riot, he immediately left the country. Unlike Spies and Schwab, who were editors and writers by trade (they jointly operated the anarchist daily Arbeiter-Zeitung), and Fischer, who was a printer, Schnaubelt was a machinist who had come to the United States only two years before the bombing, and was already an anarchist when he arrived. His entire family was active in the anarchist and socialist movements, and he had a reputation for wild and militant talk about revolution.

In later years, those close to the center of the anarchist movement claimed to know who the real bombthrower was, and that it was not Schnaubelt, who lived the rest of his life in Argentina. But Schnaubelt is, nevertheless, one of a few likely suspects.

Despite no real evidence that any of the Haymarket defendants, including those who supposedly huddled together in Crane's Alley, had thrown the bomb, or specifically plotted it, they were all convicted and sentenced to death. Carl Sandburg, the famous poet of Chicago, who gave the city its famous sobriquet, the "city of big shoulders," wrote about his experience during the trial, when he was eight years old:
Then came the murder trial of the eight men and we saw in the Chicago paper black-and-white drawings of their faces and they looked exactly like what we expected, hard, mean, slimy faces. We saw pictures of the twelve men on the jury and they looked like what we expected, nice, honest, decent faces. We learned the word for the men on trial, anarchists, and they hated the rich and called policemen "bloodhounds." They were not regular people and they didn't belong to the human race, for they seemed more like slimy animals who prowl, sneak, and kill in the dark. This I believed along with millions of other people reading and talking about the trial. I didn't meet or hear of anyone in our town who didn't so believe then, at that time.
So violent was the rhetoric of the anarchists, and so virulent were the anti-foreign sympathies of most Chicagoans, that a fair trial was an impossibility.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Alderman John Coughlin's Basement Bathhouse

John J. Coughlin was the proprietor of a bathhouse in the basement of the Brevoort Hotel at this location, 143 W. Madison (now 118 W. Madison), in the 1880s. Just a few years later in 1892, with powerful backing from Chicago gambling king Mike McDonald, "Bathhouse" John became Alderman for the richest single district in the world, Chicago's First Ward, a position he held for 46 years until his death in 1938. During that time, he was not only the city's most famous politician, but presided over -- and profited from -- the greatest red light district in American history, the Chicago Levee.

Coughlin was born in 1860 in Connelly's Patch, an Irish neighborhood on the west side of downtown, between Madison and Adams Streets. With only a few mediocre years of schooling, he began working at age 11 as a rubber in a Turkish bathhouse, learning the trade and saving fastidiously. By 1887, he had earned enough to buy the bathhouse in the basement of the recently-refurbished Brevoort House hotel on Madison Street. The Brevoort, one of Chicago's oldest inns and always one of the best-furnished (it was the first in Chicago to offer an elevator), was rebuilt after the Great Fire as an eight-story high premier European-style hotel, and offered its visitors what was at the time considered a true luxury -- the opportunity to take a bath. The Tribune reported:
The bath rooms occupy all of the basement of the hotel, and is divided into fifty rooms, well ventilated and provided with folding couches. It is under the proprietorship of John J. Coughlin, formerly at No. 169 Wabash avenue. He has secured artesian well water at considerable expense, and will give all of the popular baths, including the swimming baths, for which a large basin has been constructed in the centre of the apartments. This will prove a popular place for the general public as well as hotel guests, because of its central location and conveniences.
And who would want to take an unpopular bath? With his earnings from the Brevoort bathhouse, Coughlin purchased several other city bathhouses, opened the Silver Dollar saloon two doors down on Madison, and also developed business interests in insurance. His social star rising, but with a dirt-poor Irish background, he made an ideal political candidate for the McDonald syndicate, and in 1892, he became First Ward Alderman.

Though he never lost an election, Bathhouse John was not exactly the model of efficient politics, but he was a flamboyant character who knew how to get his name in the newspapers and endear himself to voters. There seems to have been no end to his eccentricities. Reading through newspaper reports, one learns of Coughlin at one time or another: running a baseball team, opening his own zoo and amusement park in Colorado, challenging his neighbors to a footrace, acting as his own attorney in defense of a charge of assault on a newspaper reporter, offering a $50 reward to the first Chicagoan to see a spring robin (with "incontestable proof"), learning to play the guitar, calling on the police to regulate the length of women's skirts, releasing a list of the city's top ten most handsome men (!), and running a stable of race horses in suburban St. Charles.

The photo below shows "The Bath" atop an elephant at his zoo in Colorado, alongside his wife.

Alderman Coughlin's most famous excesses, however, were probably his attire and his poetic license. Sartorially, the Bath was internationally famous for his colorful suits, which included at any one time, some combination of silk hat, pink gloves, yellow shoes, green coat, lavender pants, cream-colored vest, diamond studs, and floral embroidery. It was in such clothes that Coughlin led the grand parade of the annual First Ward Ball, an all-night saturnalian orgy attended chiefly by prostitutes and saloon denizens, which eventually brought about such rage from high-minded urban reformers that the mayor was forced to end the tradition.

The Alderman's literary sense was just about as finely tuned as his attire. As the author of a wide range of masterfully constructed verses, including "Ode to a Bathtub", "I Wish I was a Bird", "Ode to a Bowl of Soup", and the ever-popular "Why Did they Build Lake Michigan So Wide?", Bathhouse John was constantly the target of scorn from newspaper editors, who painted him as a buffoon. Coughlin made use of the criticism masterfully, however, cultivating an image as a man of the people, not the press.

In 1909, Coughlin threatened to publish a book of his poems, and he told reporters he would be dedicating it to his long-time colleague on the city council, and fellow Lord of the Levee, Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna. The Tribune reported:
Ald. John J. Coughlin is going to publish a book of his poems. The title may be 'Ballads of the Bathhouse'....The book will be dedicated to his colleague, Ald. Michael Kenna. Kenna declared last night that if Coughlin dared to do any dedicating to him he would sue him for slander and libel...."If that book of poems was dedicated to me I'd never be able to live down the disgrace."
On another occasion, Ald. Coughlin waited patiently outside the Mayor's office for over an hour to pester him about adjourning a city council meeting early so that all the council members could see the premier of his newest poetic work, "Dear Midnight of Love," which was to be performed at the Chicago Operahouse that afternoon. "I've tried hard to get John to cut this out, but he won't and I can't hold him down," the Mayor told reporters.

Together with Ald. Kenna, he ruled the First Ward, selling protection to the brothels, gambling houses, drug dens, white slave operations, and saloons of the Levee for over forty years. He was part owner in Frieberg's Dance Hall, and employed his business partner, Ike Bloom, as the official collector of tribute. Later, Bloom's position was taken by "Big Jim" Colosimo, the founder of the Chicago Outfit, which Al Capone would later run. Nearly every famous Chicago criminal of the early 20th century got their start working under Coughlin and Kenna, including Capone, Johnny Torrio, Andy Craig, Jake and Harry Guzik, Mushmouth Johnson, and the Everleigh Sisters.

In his later years, while he continued to sit on the city council, Coughlin largely became a doddering figurehead for the Torrio-Capone syndicate, a kindly old gentleman who enjoying telling self-aggrandizing stories about days gone past. Bathhouse John passed in November, 1938. Having lost tens of thousands of dollars on his racehorse hobby during the last decades of his life, his will left only a meager $25,000 to his family.

The Brevoort House, where Coughlin first became a Chicago powerbroker, in later years became best known for its exceptionally smoky chimney, which caused endless complaints from nearby residents. Ironically, the hotel burned down in 1905. Today, the location where the Brevoort once stood is occupied by St. Peter's Church in the Loop, an imposing Franciscan Roman Catholic edifice built in 1953.

Despite his reputation as a blowhard, in 1898 John Coughlin spoke some of the truest words ever uttered by a politician regarding politics:
...he told the children of St. John's Roman Catholic parish that politics is a mockery and a sham, a beautiful fruit that turns to gall and ashes on being tasted. So sad did the lord of the First become in painting the woes and hardships attendant on being a politician that some of his loyal henchmen among the audience missed the rest of the speech in an eager discussion of the possible heir to the throne....No one doubted that he knew what he was talking about, though some wondered in a sort of hopeless way whether there was any chance of the preacher taking a small dose, just for one term say, of his own advice.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mushmouth Johnson's Emporium Saloon

John V. "Mushmouth" Johnson was one of Chicago's greatest gambling tycoons during the 1890s and 1900s. The newspapers (using the racially-insensitive vernacular of the day) called him variously "King of the Levee", "The Richest Negro in Chicago", and "King Coon of State Street". Regardless of what you called him, for a span of twenty years, if you gambled in Chicago, you likely paid Mushmouth, at least indirectly.

Johnson was born in St. Louis to a woman who had been a nurse for Mary Todd Lincoln, but came to Chicago in the 1870s, while in his 30s, and found work as a waiter in the restaurant inside the Palmer House hotel. In 1882, he got his first taste of vice as a employee in one of Andy Scott's gambling houses on Gamblers' Row. Mushmouth displayed a hard-headed willingness to enforce the rules physically when gamblers who lost money demanded it back or tried to take it back by force (Johnson himself never gambled). He could also cuss a blue streak, which earned him his nickname.

Scott saw a business partner and a means to reach the city's large African-American population, so he made Johnson a business partner in his three-story saloon and gambling den in Whisky Row at 464 S. State (according to Chicago's 19th century street numbering system), pictured above, in 1890. Previously known as the Bon Ton, they rechristened it the Emporium Saloon.

Johnson's intransigence, while valuable as a business skill, also got him into trouble on several occasions. In 1896, he was shot and very nearly killed, by a young Havana-born gambler at the Emporium, Charles Hinds. The gunman described what happened later:
I admit I shot Johnson. I should not have been in the saloon at the time, for on a previous visit there he had knocked out one of my teeth. But I wanted money with which to go back to Cuba. I had $450 and wanted to increase it to $700 before I started. So I went there to win at cards. I went to the crap table at Johnson's invitation, and the bets increased from a bottle of wine to $25. When I had lost everything I had except 10 cents I detected the gamekeeper changing the dice, and I saw I had been robbed. I started to leave and asked Johnson to give me my pistol, which I had deposited with him when I went in. As he gave it back to me I told him I meant to recover my money by law. At that, he uttered an oath, said he would kill me, and reached for his hip pocket. I knew I would be killed the next moment, so I fired first....
The Emporium grew to be one of Chicago's premier spots, open to all races, and offering craps, poker, billiards, and "policy" -- a numbers game akin to a lottery. The gamblers made bets with each other, not the house, but the house took a fraction of all bets. A roper on the street called out, "Come on gents, any game you like upstairs" until the early hours of the morning.

As Mushmouth grew rich in gaming, he also grew politically powerful. The Tribune habitually referred to him as the "head henchman" or "lieutenant" of first ward alderman, Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna. Johnson could consistently garner the vote of the ward's black population for Kenna, and in return, the corrupt alderman put Mushmouth in charge of collecting protection money from the gambling dens in the city's growing Chinatown district on Clark Street (this was before the opening of the current Chinatown on Archer). Moreover, Johnson was always tipped off ahead of time before one of his own houses was to be raided by the police, a very common occurrence.

1903, however, turned out to be a difficult year for Mushmouth Johnson. The city had declared an all-out war on the old Custom House Place vice district, and all of the major brothels and gambling houses were shut down. Johnson, with his substantial political influence, was one of the last to go. It didn't help that in that year, Ernest Naoroji, a Ceylonese bank teller, embezzled $3,000 from his employer and gambled it all away at the Emporium before committing suicide. Publicity got even worse when Johnson was sued by the mother of a boy who had reportedly gambled away $60 of the family's subsistence, and when an angry gambler, who had physically attacked Johnson in front of the Emporium, turned up dead a few days later, shot by the bartender at the club.

A citizens' graft investigation indicated Mushmouth in late 1903 on gambling charges, and the following year, he was sued by another gambler for $15,000 supposedly lost on rigged games. Finally, in 1906, tired of the continuing assaults from the press, police and unhappy gamblers, Johnson followed other Custom House Place characters down to the new Levee centered around 22nd and Dearborn, where he opened the Frontenac Club on 22nd.

The stress may have been too much for old Mushmouth, and he died in September, 1907. Like Bob Motts, his main political and business rival, he was something of a philanthropist, supporting religious and cultural activities in black neighborhoods with the money he took in gambling. Before his death, however, he told a friend that his personal fortune had dwindled to only about $15,000, having paid exorbitant fees in fines to the city and protection. "I have had to pay out four dollars for every one I took in at the game," he said -- probably an exaggeration, but nevertheless indicative of the high costs of operating a business in the shadow of the law.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

South Loop Tour Next Weekend

Readers who are interested in visiting famous crime scenes in the South Loop will want to mark their calendars for this FREE event. I'm planning to go; so should you!

Saturday, February 28, 2009, 1:00 P.M.
Reggie's Music Joint, 2105 S. State Street

Take the Reggie's Rock Bus for a tour around the South Loop and see the stomping grounds of Al Capone, the Levee District and the Everleigh Club. See where the Chicago Blackhawks once called home ice, where Jimi Hendrix and the Doors played shows, the Bucket of Blood, Satan's Mile, the site of the Fort Dearborn Massacre, where Geraldo Rivera thought the Al Capone treasure was hidden, and much, much more.

The tour is FREE and everyone is welcome to come back to Reggie's Rock Club afterward to enjoy great food and drink specials.

Bring your heavy rockin' attitude and open mind for this tour!

For more information, call (312) 243-2684.

Hat tip to James Skakolski.

Gipsy Smith Rallies Against the Levee

"Gipsy" Smith was one of the world's great evangelists, the Billy Graham of his day. Born in Britain, he came to Chicago in October of 1909 for a month of revivals at the Seventh Regiment Armory, on Wentworth Ave., between 33rd and 35th, pictured above.

At the time, the Armory was the largest convention space in the city, with capacity above 15,000. Built in 1907 for $500,000 to house the heavily-Irish seventh regiment, it had hosted the 1908 Republican National Convention, where William Taft was nominated. His Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan, and the Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs, also spoke to large crowds at the Armory that year. The building sported a dome-shaped roof with no major supports or columns in the middle to interrupt the wide floor space. The Armory also had a sophisticated heating system that kept the cavernous space comfortable through Chicago winters.

Gipsy Smith's most famous sermon took place on the evening of October 18, 1909. On that night, after the sermon, the Methodist preacher led a force of over 2,000 Christians into the Levee, Chicago's segregated vice district, where they marched, prayed, and sang hymns to the interest and amusement of more than 30,000 onlookers.

Chicago police, politicians, and even other men of the cloth had warned Smith against the march, arguing that it would only raise interest in the red light district, and introduce its charms to those who otherwise would have no interest in visiting. Yet Gipsy persisted. In his sermon that night, he recalled the Savior's fearlessness in handling sin, his willingness to go to the sick at the pool of Bethesda, to touch the leper, and to speak with the Magdalene. He concluded with a pointed attack on his critics as modern-day Pharisees.

Then, his listeners poured out onto 34th Street, walked the mile and a half up State Street to 22nd, then turned up Dearborn. The march started poorly when Gipsy Smith realized he had left his Bible back at the Armory. The crowd slowed while a runner retrieved the book. When they arrived in the Levee, the crowd stopped at the Everleigh house and sang hymns, accompanied by the Salvation Army band. They recited the Lord's Prayer and the 91st Psalm in front of saloons, brothels, and gambling houses, all of which had dimmed their lights and shut their doors fast at the urging of the police.

The Tribune described the scene:
No stranger crowd ever assembled in Chicago than that which packed the South side levee last night....Quietly, orderly, singing plaintively, with and without the music of the Salvation Army bands, two or three thousand people in deadly earnest walked through the streets of shame lined by the darkened windows and closed doors of the brothels and the mansions of prostitution....Men and women were on top of buildings, in wagons and automobiles, leaning from windows, and occupying every possible position of vantage. But all were silent -- respectfully, or sardonically so.
Many slumming parties took the opportunity to visit the Levee for the first time.
In Dearborn street a group of four unescorted women, two of them carrying babies in their arms, walked slowly along and inspected the individual resorts with curious eyes. One of the babies fretted because it could not have the "pitty glass" in a doorway that glittered in the electric light. Automobiles filled with respectable appearing men and women chugged slowly through Dearborn street and Armour avenue by the dozen for hours before the parade.
Gipsy Smith (pictured below) ended his tour at the Alhambra theater on State at Archer, where a burlesque show had ended not an hour earlier. His crowd of Christian "missionaries" held a midnight revival there before dispersing.

As soon as the parade ended, the red light district opened up, and the thousands of onlookers indulged. It was the biggest night in the history of the Levee. The Tribune reported,
After the parade was over the district awakened to find the biggest business of its recent history waiting at the doors clamoring for admission. Even before the last of Gipsy Smith's followers had marched sturdily out of Armour Avenue the doors of the resorts were flung open and the crowds began to pour in where the lights were bright and where music -- not sacred -- was abundant.

The resort keepers themselves were astonished at the rush of business that almost swept them from their feet. They had prepared for some additional trade. They had stocked up their ice boxes with more beer and had put in an extra piano player or two. But all of these preparations were inadequate. The crowd simply swamped the resorts, and for a time the scene resembled a country fair in full blast.
Despite the apparent short-term failure of the march, it was the first strike against segregated vice in Chicago, and it raised awareness of the ongoings on the South side. Chicago churches kept up the political pressure on the Mayor to shut down the Levee even after Smith left in November, 1909. By 1911, the Everleigh Club was closed by the city, and within a few years, open vice was at an end in Chicago.

The Armory continued to host major sporting events, auto shows, and conventions. It was the base for thousands of Illinois guardsmen during the 1919 race riots. Today, the site where Gipsy Smith began the public crusade against the Levee is the north parking lot for U.S. Cellular Field (also known as New Comiskey), home of the American League's Chicago White Sox.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Harry Guzik's Brothel

Harry Guzik was a top lieutenant in the Capone organization, and he was chiefly in charge of prostitution operations. His was one of Chicago's great crime families: his brother Jake ("Greasy Thumb") was also a Capone man, and his father, Max, was a Levee saloon-owner and political affiliate of Alderman Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna.

One of Guzik's major brothels was the disorderly hotel here at 516 S. Wabash. According to a report in the Chicago Daily News, aggressive "ropers" on the street in front of the hotel would ballyhoo customers inside, promoting its offerings "like barkers at a street carnival."

Besides the female employees, the hotel also was home to a few small-time crooks and street enforcers for the Capone syndicate. David Bullock, a 19 year old thief, was a resident at the time of his arrest, when he confessed to robbing five Englewood candy stores (who knew there were five candy stores in Englewood?).

Interestingly, this wasn't the first brothel at this address. In 1908 and 1910, a brothel run by Grace Graves was raided by the police here. The lot was subdivided in 1890 from that just north of it, where the Congress Bank building sits, both of which were originally owned by the McCormick family. The hotel was built in the mid-1890s, and substantially renovated in 1918, before it was purchased by Capone in the early 1920s.

The hotel has since been demolished and all that remains is a parking lot.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mickey Finn Coins a Phrase

After Al Capone, Mickey Finn is probably the most famous criminal name in Chicago history. Between 1896 and 1903, he ran a saloon here at 527 S. State St. (with the 1911 renumbering, this is now 1101 S. State).

Finn was a diminutive Irishman who first came to Chicago to work graft during the influx of visitors drawn to the World's Fair in 1893. An expert pickpocket and a fence for stolen goods, he plied his trade on travelers arriving at Dearborn Station and throughout the Custom House Place levee district. Soon, he found work tending bar at a tough saloon in Little Cheyenne, where he began training others in his techniques, particularly the streetwalkers who frequented the bar and helped gentlemen select drinks.

But Mickey Finn is best known for his own bar, the Lone Star Saloon and Palm Garden, which he opened in 1896. For seven years, it held the reputation as the toughest joint in the city -- and it certainly served the strongest drinks. The Lone Star was populated by resident "house girls," who made it their job to encourage visitors to drink as much as possible, and to offer any other services that might be requested of them for a price.

In 1898, Mickey Finn met a mysterious voodoo priest named Dr. Hall, who made his living selling love potions and trinkets to the superstitious and uneducated folk of the red light district, and also supplying them with heroin and cocaine. From Dr. Hall, Finn purchased brown bottles filled with liquid and a white, powdery chemical detritus, which no one ever precisely identified, but which made Mickey Finn famous.

Back at his bar, Finn mixed Dr. Hall's concoction with snuff-tinged water and liquor to make "Mickey Finn Specials" -- which the house girls promoted unceasingly. Pity the poor fellow who was cajoled into proving his manhood by ordering this stiff drink though. Isabel Fyffe and "Gold Tooth" Mary, two of the Lone Star's house girls, later testified before an aldermanic committee about the effects of the drink:

When the victims drink this dopey stuff, they get talkative, walk around in a restless manner, and then fall into a deep sleep, and you can't arouse them until the effect of the drug wears off.

After falling prey to the knockout drink, the house girls and the bartender would drag the victim into one of the Lone Star's back rooms, which Mickey Finn referred to as the "operating room." There, he was stripped naked, and anything of any value was removed from his person, including his clothes if they were of sufficient quality. Later, his body would be dumped into the alleyway behind the saloon. When he awoke the next day, the victim usually had little memory of what had happened and how he ended up in a dirty levee alley.

Not all of Finn's victims suffered only robbery. Gold Tooth Mary testified:

I saw Finn take a gold watch and thirty-five dollars from Billy Miller, a trainman. Finn gave him dope and he lay in a stupor in the saloon for twelve hours. When he recovered he demanded his money, but Finn had gone...Miller was afterward found along the railroad tracks with his head cut off.

Like all saloon-keepers in the First Ward, Mickey Finn paid his protection money to the Aldermen/Vice lords Michael Kenna and John Coughlin, and he was convinced he would never be caught. But in 1903, the jig was up. Persistent reports of dopings at the Lone Star led the police to investigate the saloon more closely, and Gold Tooth Mary and some of the other house girls began to fear that one day, Finn would take their hard-earned savings. She told the city graft committee,
I was afraid I would be murdered for the two hundred dollars I had saved up, and I did not want to be a witness to any more of the horrible things I saw done there. I was afraid I would be arrested some time when some victims who had been fed on knockout drops would die. When I saw his wife put the drugged liquor to the lips of men I could not stand it, as bad as I am. Oh, it was just awful to see the way men were drugged and stripped of their clothing by Finn or his wife. Finn had an idea that most men wore belts about their waists to hide their money. He had robbed a man once who hid his money that way, and he never deglected searching the 'dead ones' to the skin.
Finn claimed that Mary was framing him, saying "I'd lose money in feeding 'dope' along with the big 'tubs' and the clams I dish out to the 'guys' that blow in here. I wouldn't get enough money out of their clothes in a year to pay for the 'dope'."

But on December 16, 1903, Mayor Carter Harrison ordered the closure of the Lone Star Saloon, and Mickey Finn wisely left town shortly thereafter. But not before he sold the formula for his famous drink to a number of other Southside saloons, who marketed it as a "Mickey Finn," or even just a "Mickey". The name eventually came into use as a generic term for any knockout drink, and to "slip a mickey" into someone's drink now means to secretly drug an unsuspecting victim.

Mickey Finn's saloon is long gone, replaced by a modern condominium building and a pet store fills the space where the Lone Star once beckoned to unsuspecting victims.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Marie Kerrigan Sues Colosimo

Marie Kerrigan was a cigarette girl at Colosimo's Cafe in 1919 when she was assaulted by a waiter and manager at that establishment. She subsequently sued Colosimo, making the tough characters who populated his restaurant a news item, and leading the city's biggest gangster to retreat from his life of crime. Kerrigan lived here, at 627 W. 46th St. Her home is gone, but has been replaced by another on the same lot. In her lawsuit, she claimed to live with her sister, and to be the only breadwinner for the family, which included her lame father and mother.

Kerrigan was working after midnight on May 19, 1919 when she saw a drunken woman stumble into the employee dressing room. As she went to assist and redirect, Marie Kerrigan was grabbed and manhandled by one of the cafe's waiters and one of Colosimo's business partners, Mike "The Greek" Potson. The two thugs dragged the hapless girl through the restaurant and threw her out into the alley.

Kerrigan sued the Cafe's owner, "Big Jim" Colosimo and Potson for $5,000, and her story made the papers. At this time, the Prohibition movement was sweeping the country, and soon to become federal law. At the same time, Colosimo's activities in Cook County, especially his suburban brothels in Burnham, were attracting the attention of law enforcement. This was not the kind of publicity "Big Jim" needed.

In fact, Kerrigan was not quite the angel she appeared to be, as one might expect given her employ at Colosimo's. Despite her sad story and her $5,000 demand, she settled for only $125. She signed the settlement papers at her other place of work, an exotic night club called the Midnight Frolic.

Nevertheless, Kerrigan's story made for good press, and brought public attention to Colosimo's vice empire and the continuing red light district in the old Levee. Reporters, investigators, and law enforcement agents increased their surveillance of Colosimo's businesses, eventually leading the gangster to try renouncing crime to live a life of virtue with his honest and pure new bride, Dale Winter.

Once in the underworld however, it is nearly impossible to leave, and Colosimo was assassinated in May, 1920.

Those not familiar with Chicago in the winter may wonder about the furniture strewn around the front yard in the photo above. This is a unique form of extra-legal property rights, in which Chicago residents lay claim to parking spots they have dug out after a big snow storm by placing old pieces of furniture in the spot during the day. City government perpetually threatens to shut down this informal system, but without it, there would be little incentive to dig out spaces on the street in high-traffic areas.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mossy Enright

Maurice "Mossy" Enright was one of Chicago's foremost hitmen, and led a gang of enforcers for the plumbers' union. When he pulled up in his trademark fog-colored "gray ghost" sedan, trouble was soon to follow. By late 1919, he was leaving behind his life of petty plunder for a career as a labor leader, and purchased this beautiful home at 1110 W. Garfield Blvd. He didn't enjoy it long, as just two months later, he was assassinated at the wheel of his automobile in Chicago's first recorded drive-by shooting.

Mossy Enright was born in Ireland in 1886, but came to Chicago as a toddler. He attended school intermittently for a few years, then became a plumber's apprentice, eventually joining the local 520 of the United Association of Steamfitters. He was popular and successful -- and was willing to crack skulls when necessary -- characteristics which led to his election as union secretary, an honorary position, but one that carried political influence. He also became known as an enforcer, and man who could "do a job" when needed.

Economic theory teaches that labor unions operate essentially like OPEC, DeBeers, or any other cartel, cutting the supply of their product -- labor -- in order to raise prices (wages). A crucial element in the success of a labor union, then, is limiting the number of workers available to employers by keeping nonunion labor off the job. Thus the need for "sluggers" or enforcers, who intimidate and incapacitate nonunion workmen. The Tribune described the Enright gang's modus operandi:
Their duties would be to pick out one or two of these nonunionists working on a job, waylay them on their way home, and beat them to such an extent that they would not be able to return to work the next day. Their fate would act to scare the rest of the nonunion workers.
In 1911, Enright's steamfitters' union was involved in a major dispute with another plumbers' union over the rights to work in a number of new buildings under construction in the Loop. Each union sent their enforcers to intimidate the other side into submission. Thus did Mossy Enright kill Vincent Altman, a slugger working for the rival labor group. Fleeing the scene of the crime, an onlooker grabbed Enright, who shed his overcoat in the man's hands and escaped.

The overcoat, which had identification in the pockets, led to Enright's arrest and indictment for the crime. Released on $7,500 bail (paid for by the steamfitters), he worked assiduously to pay off jurors and to kill and intimidate witnesses. After the prosecution's chief witness disappeared mysteriously, it appeared "The Moss" might walk out of court a free man, but in a dramatic turn, the witness reappeared the day before jury deliberations began, having recovered of a pistol wound to the shoulder. The jury returned a verdict of 11-1 in favor of the death penalty, the one holdout saving Enright's life. In late 1911, Mossy began serving a life sentence at Joliet for the Altman murder.

At roughly the same time, six members of the Enright enforcer squad were tried, convicted, and sentenced to serve between five and eleven years in the penitentiary for the death of a nonunion worker they had killed.

But the story of Mossy Enright does not end in 1911, for in 1913, Governor Edward Dunne released him on a pardon. One of the state's main witnesses admitted perjuring himself that year as he lie on his deathbed, and 40,000 union members signed a petition to Dunne to secure his release.

After walking out of Joliet in 1913, Mossy Enright moved into higher levels of union intrigue, attempting to consolidate power over several Chicago unions. He achieved some success in this business, becoming wealthy enough to purchase the large Garfield Blvd. home pictured here. But he also attracted powerful enemies, including rival gangster and union man, "Big Jim" Colosimo.

One of the unions under Enright's control was the First Ward Streetsweepers' union, known as the "white wings" for their uniforms. This was the union where Colosimo had gotten his start in politics, and the Levee vice lord maintained a close affiliation throughout his life. In 1919, Colosimo managed to make his personal bodyguard, Michael "Dago Mike" Carrozzo, president of the union, displacing the Enright-supported man who had held the position previously.

In early 1920, Enright and two henchmen proved they would not accept this action lying down, and attacked Carrozzo and members of his faction at the Vestibule Cafe in the Levee district. Their bullets missed, and Enright was a marked man.

At a secret meeting at Colosimo's Cafe, Carrozzo and two allied union heavies, Frank Chiaravaloti and "Big Tim" Murphy, plotted Enright's murder. They hired "Sunny" Jim Cosmano, a colorful figure who, in 1912, had taken a bullet from Johnny Torrio while trying to extort Colosimo through "Black Hand" letters, to be the assassin. Since they didn't fully trust Cosmano, they also hired an expert hitman from Buffalo, New York, known only as "Tommy the Wop". This group followed Enright for a week to learn his habits and to wait for the right moment.

That moment came on the afternoon of February 4, 1920. Mossy Enright left his office in the Loop at 5:30 and drove the gray ghost down to his favorite saloon at 54th and Halsted, where he lingered, chatting with friends over beers. When the bar telephone rang, it was Enright's devoted wife, Etta, telling him dinner was on the table.

Enright got into his car and drove home, tailed by a rare Chalmers sedan carrying his assassins. As he parked in front of his home, the sedan pulled up next to his car. Cosmano fired twice from a sawed-off shotgun and Mossy slumped over the steering wheel.

His wife, Etta, heard the shots and ran out to the street, only to find her husband dying in the car. "Moss, in the name of God, speak to me!" she cried.

"Oh, Et--." Enright couldn't finish the thought and expired.

After the shooting, the police found the Chalmers sedan, and rounded up Cosmano, Carrozzo, Murphy, and the car's driver, James Vinci. Vinci confessed, and was put on trial first. Though he later renounced his confession, claiming that the state's attorney drugged him, he was convicted. In the mean time, the other three managed to make two key witnesses disappear, and the state's case against them fell apart entirely. They were never tried, and on the day of their release from jail, a celebration was held at Colosimo's. Vinci managed to appeal his conviction, and without the convictions of his partners in the crime, he too was exonerated on appeal.

This was the last known criminal act in which Big Jim Colosimo was involved, as he was assassinated just a few months after Enright, in May, 1920. Vinci and Murphy got theirs in the end, too, dying in beer wars gang shootouts in 1925 and 1926, respectively.

Several of Enright's followers went on to great success in crime. Tommy Maloy, Enright's chauffeur, became head of the fledgling movie projectionists' union , and was the first to realize the profit to be had in extorting theater managers to avoid strikes. He was the inspiration for the famous Bioff-Browne Hollywood extortion case in the 1940s. Walter Stevens, one of Enright's top hitmen, who killed 12 in his employ, went on to an even higher body count as a hitman for the Torrio-Capone syndicate during the 1920s.

Mossy's son, Tommy, who was 12 when his father was shot, also became a union leader, and ran (unsuccessfully) for Cook County Superior Court clerk in 1940.

The home on Garfield Blvd. remained in the Enright family until the 1950s. It is still a private home today.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ragen's Colts

Frank M. Ragen, neighborhood leader and future City Commissioner, founded the Morgan Athletic Club in the Stockyards neighborhood in 1900. By 1912, the group had taken on the honorary name "Ragen's Colts," and numbered in membership nearly 3,000. The Colts were partly a baseball team and partly a violent gang during their existence, and their original headquarters were here, at 5528 S. Halsted (later they moved to a new clubhouse at 52nd and Halsted). Both locations are now empty lots.

The Colts were one of a number of Southside athletic clubs, with membership drawn primarily from the Irish Catholic families who once populated the Bridgeport and Stockyards neighborhoods along Halsted St. Members played in recreational amateur leagues against other, similar, baseball teams across the city. Football was also popular, and a group of Ragen's Colts formed the original nucleus of the professional Chicago Cardinals, who later became the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals, and even later, the Arizona Cardinals.

The Colts' parties were legendary for their lasciviousness. At the 1918 New Years' bash, the Juvenile Protective Association attended, and was astonished at what they saw. The Tribune reported:
"The vilest dance ever attended by our officers," is one expression in the report, with the information that "startling indecencies, gross misconduct, wholesale intoxication, and general violation of city ordinances were found on a greatly enlarged scale." "About 2 o'clock a young girl of 19, helplessly drunk, was carried by her intoxicated companions to the center of the hall, where the burden became too great, and she was unceremoniously dumped on the floor, in view of the crowd. When men and women from the Juvenile Protective association carried her to a corner and placed her on chairs where she would be comfortable and inconspicuous, they were brutally assaulted by two plain clothes men.
Similarly, of a 1915 dance party, the Association declared:
"No Roman saturnalia could have been wilder than that dance," said one of the club women. "We thought we had improved conditions a little, but a glimpse at the revel of the 'Ragen Colts' showed how mistaken we were."
Ragen's Colts were also self-styled vigilante protectors of their neighborhood. Their slogan, "Hit me, and you hit 3,000," encapsulated their purpose. As an example, in 1922, an outsider was spotted ogling a 16 year-old girl in the neighborhood. When her mother left the house to run an errand, she came across two Colts and told them about the creep. They promptly found him and killed him on the street.

This kind of justice also extended to their Irish heritage. When Eli Erickson, an anti-Papist activist, came to Rogers' Park to give a speech denouncing the Knights of Columbus, a group of Colts made the trek across town to attend and disrupt his speech by throwing chairs at Erickson as soon as he took the stage. In another instance, an effigy of a Klu Klux Klansman was publicly burned at Colts' headquarters, again because of the Klan's anti-Catholic stance.

Despite their opposition to the Klan, Ragen's Colts were also central to the worst race riots Chicago has ever seen. Before 1910, most African-Americans in Chicago lived in the "Black Belt," a de facto segregated strip of blocks on either side of State St., beginning south of 22nd. The "Great Migration" of southern blacks fleeing Jim Crow (and the boll weevil) into the industrial cities of the north, including Chicago, began in the years following 1910, and created pressure to extend the Black Belt west toward the Stockyards -- Colts' territory. The Colts, along with other Irish gangs, engaged in years of petty terrorism against blacks intended to maintain the racial integrity of their neighborhood.

The worst conflagration occurred during the Summer of 1919. The trouble started on the afternoon of July 27, 1919, when a 17 year-old African-American boy playing on a raft in Lake Michigan near 26th St. accidentally floated into a white-only beach area. Toughs on the beach began throwing rocks at the boy, who consequently drowned. Onlookers ran to find police, but Officer Daniel Callahan refused to take action against the killers, a fact that enraged the black community, who massed for a protest at 29th and Cottage Grove Ave.

The incident was just what the Colts and other white gangs had been waiting for: an opportunity to start an all-out race riot. At the Stockyards, the Colts waited for black workers to leave their jobs in the slaughterhouses, then beat them with wooden clubs, iron pipes, and hammers, killing several. Other group of rioters stormed streetcars carrying blacks through white neighborhoods, dragging riders off and pummeling them to death on the street. In retaliation, a black mob at 36th and State stoned a white peddler, pulling him off his cart and stabbing him in full view of hundreds of onlookers. Black gangs began attacking any whites they came across throughout the city.

For the next several days, teams of marauding white teenagers drove through the Black Belt, firing weapons at anyone they saw on the street, and attempting to avoid return sniper fire. In another incident, a group of Chicago police, attacked by a black man armed with a brick, fired into a crowd of nearly 1,500 blacks gathered at 35th and Wabash, killing several.

The violence began to creep northward, nearly to the Loop, and the threat of citywide destruction was very real. Racially motivated murders on the North and West sides of the city took place on the 29th. Finally, on July 30, Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson requested the Illinois state militia step in, and simultaneously ordered the (temporary) closure of the Colts' headquarters. 6,200 guardsmen entered the Black Belt and finally restored order. By this time, 23 blacks and 15 whites were dead, with hundreds more injured. None of the Colts (or any other white gang members) were arrested for their role in the riot.

The Colts continued terrorizing Chicago's African-American population on a smaller scale for another eight years. In 1926, a group of Colts lured a black man behind their headquarters with an offer of free drinks, then stabbed and shot him dead. The following day's Tribune headline is surely a classic: "Four Morons Kill Negro at Ragen Colts' Hangout"

Ragen's Colts were disbanded in 1927. By that time, the "athletic" aspect of the club had shriveled, and the criminal element dominated. A number of members were heavily involved in the underground liquor trade, and had associated themselves with the Torrio/Capone syndicate. They served primarily as street-level enforcers for beer-running operations, a position that lead to frequent conflicts with competing liquor operations. In 1925, two Colts and gangsters, Edward Harmening and "Dynamite Joe" Brooks, were killed by the rival McErlane-Saltis gang, shot dead in their car at 71st and Marquette.

The area where the Colts' headquarters once stood is now a predominantly African-American neighborhood.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Zepf's Hall

Zepf's Hall, at 122 W. Lake Street (since the renumbering in 1911, 630 W. Lake), was an anarchist hangout during the last 20 years of the 19th century, and played an important role in the Haymarket Affair of 1886.

German immigration to the United States reached its height in the mid- and late-1800s. Many of these immigrants ended up Chicago, where work in factories was easy to find and the youth of the city made it relatively easy to fit in as a newcomer. Most of these settled on the North and Northwest sides -- at that time, the poorer and more remote parts of town. There was always tension between the new immigrants and their longer-tenured neighbors, as demonstrated by the Lager Beer Riots of the 1850s, for instance.

These immigrants brought with them their own culture and heritage, which added to the cultural variety of the city. Some of them also brought the ideals and notions of Socialism, which swept through Europe beginning in the 1860s, but which were relatively unknown in the United States. Only a few of the most radical socialists entertained anarchist notions, but all European immigrants during this period, especially Teutonics, were subject to intense suspicion in America.

This situation was not helped by the radical rhetoric espoused by the largely German editors and writers of the chief workingmen's newspapers in the city, the Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm, who consistently advocated (or at least expressed sympathy for) terrorism.

On May 4, this tension came to fruition in the Haymarket Affair, in which at least ten died. The incident occurred a half-block south of Zepf's on Desplaines St., where a socialist/anarchist rally took place between 8:30 and 10 p.m. The weather was poor, so the event, which had been scheduled to take place in Haymarket Square, was moved up along Desplaines. A variety of activists gave rousing lectures to the group in German and in English. Finally, when the wind picked up and the weather threatened to become even worse, one of the leaders of the rally (and editor of The Alarm), Albert Parsons (who was American-born) came to the stage to announce that, at the end of the next speech, those who were interested could meet at Zepf's for a drink.

The last speaker, Samuel Fielden, spoke powerfully:
A million men hold all the property in this country. The law has no use for the other fifty-four millions. You have nothing more to do with the law except to lay hands on it and throttle it until it makes its last kick...Keep your eye upon it, throttle it, kill it, stab it, do everything to can to wound it -- to impede its progress.
While this kind of rhetoric was common for anarchist rallies, and is strikingly circumspect in comparison with some of the truly violent rallying cries found in anarchist literature, the police saw this discourse against "the law" as an opportunity to break up the meeting. From the Desplaines station just south of Haymarket, an imposing squadron on horseback interrupted the meeting and demanded they disband.

At this point, Parsons, his wife and two children, plus Adolph Fischer, a fellow organizer of the rally, had already left for Zepf's, and were enjoying a beer while waiting for the rally to end.

When the police arrived, Fielden decided not to resist, especially since he was practically finished anyway, and began to climb down from the wagon where he had been speaking. It was at this point that an unknown assailant in the crowd threw a dynamite bomb across Desplaines St., an explosion which shocked the police and led them to begin firing indiscriminately into the crowd and at each other in confusion.

August Spies, a third major organizer of the rally and the editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, was sitting on the wagon listening to Fielden when the explosion took place. He immediately began running to Zepf's, where he met up with Parsons and Fisher, and told them what had happened.

In the wake of the Haymarket Affair, Parsons, Fischer, and Spies all were convicted of murder in a show trial and hanged, though certainly none of them threw the bomb, and Parsons and Fischer were at Zepf's at the time of the explosion. The public's disgust with the anarchists' incendiary language, as well as anti-German and anti-immigrant sentiment, sealed their fates.

Zepf's Hall continued to be a meeting place for union members, socialists, and anarchists for the next fifteen years. It closed just after 1900, and the building was repurposed as a shoe factory and later, an engineering and steel manufacturing company. In 1905, Lucy Parsons (Albert's wife), who remained an outspoken advocate of radical socialism throughout her life, returned to the former Zepf's hall for the first time since Haymarket, to speak publicly in support of benefits for the workers employed there.

The Grand Stage Lighting Company has owned the building since the 1970s.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Maj. Funkhouser and Inspector Dannenberg Put the Lid on the Levee

The Victorian concept of vice accepted that men were imperfect creatures and that gambling, prostitution, and liquor could never fully be eliminated from society. Therefore, it was best that these "social evils" be segregated into a restricted area of the city, where they could operate outside and apart from decent society.

This doctrine was implemented in Chicago throughout the 19th and early 20th century. Although prostitution and gambling were de jure illegal under city and Cook county ordinances, their practice in segregated vice districts was de facto tolerated. Major attacks on vice districts only occurred when city boundaries or neighborhoods changed, as was the case with the Custom House Place vice district when streetcars began bringing residents into downtown along Clark Street in 1903.

The Third Great Awakening upended the Victorian view of vice, and ended forever Chicago's toleration of its open practice. This upswing in religious fervor started after the Civil War, and included a strong paternalistic impulse, in which the poor and downtrodden were thought to be uplifted by driving saloons and pimps out of their neighborhoods by force of law.

By 1910, social and religious pressure had mounted to a degree that even Chicago's relatively lax politicians felt impelled to eliminate the open vice districts. Attention naturally focused on the 22nd street Levee, the wildest and most open segregated vice district the world had ever seen. The federal Mann Act was passed in 1910, based on a purported case of white slavery in the Levee. Even the Levee's lords and protectors, the first ward aldermen, Michael Kenna and John Coughlin, played along, feigning outrage at police indifference to unlawful saloons and brothels, and promising to act. At the same time, they convinced former Mayor and "wet", Carter Harrison Jr., to return from California to again seek the city's mayorship, which he did.

But even Mayor Harrison was eventually forced to accept the will of the city's moral majority. He forced the closure of the Everleigh Club in 1911, and in 1913, formed the city's first specialty police vice squad, led by Major Metellium Funkhouser and Inspector William Dannenberg.

These two incorruptible crusaders for the public weal aggressively pursued vice in the Levee throughout 1913 and 1914, forcing the final end of open vice districts in Chicago. First, old-time saloon keeper Andy Craig and his gang of pickpockets were rounded up. Then, in January, 1914, raids on a wide variety of Levee bars and hotels began, including one on Jan. 8 at the Rhinegold Saloon and Cafe, a bar and house of ill repute at 1939 S. Dearborn (pictured above) owned by vice king "Big Jim" Colosimo, was raided by Funkhouser and Dannenberg's morals unit. Twelve women were arrested for vagrancy, plus the saloon's keeper, Johnny "the Fox" Torrio (or "John Turio", as the newspapers called him) -- who was later to take over the gang from Colosimo and lead it into the bootlegging era of Prohibition.

Colosimo and other vice entrepreneurs attempted to bribe Funkhouser and Dannenberg, they tried to obstruct their work, they even brought a lawsuit against them -- all to no avail. By the end of 1914, all major vice operations either moved into the suburbs or underground, where they remain to this day. The closure of the Levee eliminated advertisement of liquor, drugs and prostitution, but of course, did not eliminate these evils. Outside the realm of the courts, vice entrepreneurs turned to violence to settle disputes and enforce contracts -- thus, the murderous 1920s under the leadership of Torrio and Al Capone.

Most of the Levee is gone today, with even the streets vacated. The South Loop School's Early Childhood Center, a Chicago Public School, sits on the spot where the Rhinegold once stood.