Chicago's First Ward -- Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John

Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna in 1923. Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna in 1923. (click for source)

The ward alderman is rightly a mythical figure of Chicago's political history. Hustler, go-getter, greaser, dealer, operator, lawmaker, and lawbreaker. Second to none in the hierarchy of the city on the make.

The most sordid of Chicago's wards at the turn of the 20th century was the First Ward on the near South Side -- vice district and corridor of merriment and crime. At the head of this infamy rested two men known as Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John. Hinky Dink, as Michael Kenna was known, was the alderman of the ward from 1897 to 1923. His time was spent engendering much needed cooperation amongst the city's politicians, bordellos, police, and gaming houses. One man's payoff was a another man's livelihood in this world.

Often the disparate roles of city life would combine into the same person. Cops would manage bordellos. Politicians would manage the payoffs to the satisfaction of all. Some of the most famous establishments in the country would thrive in this environment. The Everleigh Club was one that was particularly renowned. Other joints attracted a lower caliber of clientele.

The annual First Ward Ball was a spectacle without equal. Up to 15,000 people, ranging from hookers and hoodlums to the members of city council, would cram themselves into a single room to pay their respects to Hinky Dink and his right-hand man, Bathhouse John. At these occasions, Bathhouse John, as John Coughlin was called, would spare no opportunity to recite his verses to the enthralled crowd. Verses so magical that Hinky Dink could tolerate them under only the highest levels of intoxication.

A frugal, practical man, Hinky Dink would die a millionaire, unmolested by the arms of the law. Up through the 1940s he was a fixture at city council meetings and other functions, though his political heyday had been decades previous. Bathhouse John, on the other hand, died broke. His was of a more profligate nature. Learn more from Annals of Crime.


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