Politics in my Chicago days was wonderful rampant skullduggery. You could see every crooked bone of it, every rotten piece of its inner working was visible.
I remember the citizens of Chicago surrounding city hall, three thousands of them, with ropes in their hands threatening to lynch the aldermen who had been bribed.
I remember when Mr. William Hale Thompson was running for mayor. His idea of getting votes was not to make speeches or annoy people with ideologies. He used to put on shows all over town and the shows consisted of one naked lady being chased by an imbecile who had been borrowed from the local loony bin. The audience would sit there, applaud and yell and Thompson always got elected.
The two politicians I most remember out of my youth were a couple of aldermen who ran the first ward in Chicago. This was the ward where all the brothels, all the gangsters, all the dives, all the bums were. The aldermen were called Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John. And Hinky Dink was a little, wiry, nervous man and the Bathhouse was a portly fellow given to writing poetry.
They held their grip on the First Ward in a very practical way. About a week before the election, they would import from two to five thousand bums. They would put them up in rooms, twenty to a room. They would feed them a free lunch at the Workingman’s Exchange which was a saloon they ran. And when election time came these two to four thousand bums would go to the polls and vote. Not once.
Each bum was supposed to vote five to ten times. Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink always came in by a great majority.
There was one election however where something odd happened and the forces of law and order struck. The two aldermen took the count for a while. About two days before the election, the Workingman’s Exchange opened. No sooner had it opened than somebody noticed there was a head sitting on the bar. It was the head of a decapitated bum. Quite a story ensued. The papers all began to talk about who cut this bum’s head off.
Around three o’clock in the afternoon, the door opened, a car passed and another bum’s head was thrown into the bar. This caused a panic among the bums who started evacuated their crowded rooms and fleeing Chicago like it was a plague spot. As a result of the disappearing, the forces of law and order won. Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink were not aldermen for the next two years.
However, when the next election came around, they prepared for law and order. They engaged the entire police department of the city of Chicago to protect their bums. Outside of every flop house stood five cops watching to see that no heads were cut off.
The Ben Hecht Show, Jan 29, 1959
William Hale Thompson was mayor of Chicago from 1915 to 1931. He was mayor during the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 and was said to have control of the 75,000 African-American voters in his day.
Always a flamboyant campaigner, Thompson held a debate between himself and two live rats which he used to portray his opponents. According to Thompson, at this time the biggest enemy the United States had was King George V of the United Kingdom. Thompson promised his supporters that if they ever met, Thompson would punch the king in the nose.
The First Ward was run by Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and John J. “Bathhouse” Coughlin, who became rich collecting protection from the brothels and gambling dens in their district.
How little things have changed.