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Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna (20 August 1858 – 9 October 1946) was Alderman, and then Committeeman, of Chicago’s First Ward from 1897 to 1946. The diminutive Kenna began his career as a newsboy in 1868, and eventually purchased a loop newsstand that became exceedingly successful.
In the late 1800s, Hinky Dink purchased a tavern on Clark Street called The Workingman’s Exchange, where he traded food and alcohol for votes. Kenna was elected Alderman in 1897, when he teamed with fellow First Ward Alderman (each ward had two Aldermen until 1923) “Bathhouse” John Coughlin (August 15, 1860 – November 11, 1938) to create a powerful political machine in what was then called The Levee District, the area just north of 22nd Street along the east bank of the Chicago River.
Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John meted out favors and indulgences in return for power, without any regard for morality or propriety and were called “The Lords of the Levee.” The two also led the Gray Wolves of Chicago.
By the early years of the 20th Century, the Levee had become a haven for brothels and taverns, and the First Ward’s amoral fiefdom had crossed the line into a veritable pageant of political corruption. Each year, the pair would hold a lavish ball for the prostitutes, gamblers, bribing businessmen, and shady characters of their district, raising as much as $50,000 in tribute to their protection.
The first First Ward Ball, held at the 7th Regiment Armory on South Wentworth Avenue in 1896, had attracted a wild mix of society thrill seekers, police captains, politicians, prostitutes and gamblers. To say the first 1st Ward Ball, was a success would be an understatement. As soon as invitations were issued, brewers, wine merchants and distillers offered supplies of liquor at discount prices. Waiters, anticipating huge tips, eagerly paid $5 each for the right to serve at the event. Policemen and politicians came and mingled with pickpockets and common criminals. Prostitutes, in scanty but expensive costume gowns, arrived with police escorts. At the stroke of midnight the corpulent Coughlin–attired in a green dress suit, mauve vest, pale pink gloves, yellow pumps and silken top hat and flanked by Minna and Ada Everleigh, the brothel queens–led the ball`s grand march. All the business houses are here, all the big people.
The first ball`s take, mostly from the sale of drinks: some $25,000.
The Ball was referred to as an “annual underworld orgy”. It was required that every prostitute, pimp, pickpocket and thief had to buy at least one ticket, while the owners of brothels and saloons had to purchase large blocks of them. The madams usually had their own boxes, where they could rub shoulders with city officials and politicians.
After the end of the charity gatherings, Coughlin and Kenna took responsibility for throwing the annual affair. It grew larger every year until the two aldermen were making as much as $50,000 from the party. They held the ball at the Chicago Coliseum and after one spectacle; the Tribune wrote that “if a great disaster had befallen the Coliseum last night, there would not have been a second story worker, a dip or pug ugly, porch climber, dope fiend or scarlet woman remaining in Chicago.”
In later years the ball proved so popular it had to be held in the larger confines of the Coliseum on South Wabash Avenue, where thousands danced and drank into the night. Fifteen thousand attended the 1903 Ball at the Coliseum.
The 1907 First Ward Ball was perhaps the most widely reported and for this reason, seemed to raise the most ire among the various reform movements in the city. By the time, the ball opened that year, there were 20,000 people jammed into the Coliseum. One reporter counted two bands, 200 waiters and 100 policemen at the ball and estimated that 20,000 guests drank 10,000 quarts of champagne and 35,000 quarts of beer.
One newspaper reported that there were so many drunks inside that when one would pass out, they could not even fall to the floor. In addition, women who fainted were passed over the heads of the crowd to the exits. As the event opened, a procession of Levee prostitutes marched into the building, led by Bathhouse John, with a lavender cravat and a red sash across his chest. Authors Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan described the parade: “On they came, madams, strumpets, airily clad jockeys, harlequins, Diana’s, page boys, female impersonators, tramps, pan handlers, card sharps, mountebanks, pimps, owners of dives and resorts, young bloods and ‘older men careless of their reputations’…”
This grand march was essentially a conga-line, twenty persons wide and including thousands of followers snaking their way back and forth around the dance floor, while thousands more sat in boxes above the floor, cheering and shouting. Like a Brazilian carnival, the marchers included a wild representation of the excesses of the underworld; women dressed scandalously in bathing suits, bloomers, and slit-cut dresses, men dressed as women, and everyone wore an elaborate and sometimes vile mask. All were on their way – if not already there – to a state of inebriation. Coughlin himself was always attired in one of his world-famous over-the-top suits; for the 1900 ball, he wore a green swallowtail coat and lavender trousers, a white silk waistcoat, brocaded with heliotrope rosebuds and saffron carnations, accompanied by pink gloves and a silk hat. As one Protestant minister and Ball critic later put it, Coughlin appeared “like Satan at the head of the hosts of the damned, leading the grand march of vice and degeneracy.”
At this point, the party really got started as women draped themselves over railings and ordered men to pour champagne down their throats. “The girls in peekaboo waists, slit skirts, bathing suits and jockey costumes relaxed and tripped to the floor where they danced wildly and drunkenly … drunken men sought to undress young women and met with few objections …” This seems to also be the first mention of Chicago’s “drag queens” of the era too and reformers later described the antics of these men in women’s costumes as “unbelievably appalling and nauseating.”
Even though there had been 100 policemen detailed to the party, there were only eight arrests and one conviction — that of Bernard Dooley, who was fined for entering the party without paying! Hinky Dink Kenna later called the party a “lallapalooza” and added that “Chicago ain’t no sissy town!”
The 1908 ball made that affair look tame. During the course of the evening, revelers slopped up 10,000 quarts of champagne and 30,000 quarts of beer. Riotous drunks stripped off the costumes of unattended young women. A madam named French Annie stabbed her boyfriend with a hat pin.
By 1908, the First Ward Ball had become so brazen and notorious that newspapers from around the country reported on the open display of debauchery in America’s fastest-growing city. And reformers, concerned about Chicago’s reputation, began to pressure political leaders to put an end to the annual celebration of Chicago’s political corruption.
On December 13, 1908, a bomb detonated at the Chicago Coliseum, where the First Ward Ball was to be held less than two weeks later. Hundreds of windows in the area were broken, and two workers preparing for the event were feared buried in rubble. But the event went on as planned. Sustained public pressure prompted Chicago Mayor Fred Busse to put an end to the soiree the following year.
Finally, on December 10, 1909, the city revoked the liquor license for the 1909 event, causing Ald. Coughlin to write the shortest of all his poems:
- No Ball;
On the date of the 1909 Ball, Coughlin and Kenna instead held a sober concert at the Coliseum, in which a classical orchestra plodded through the William Tell overture, then selections from popular musical comedies. Only 2,500 attended, and most of these only for a short while, until they could be sure they had been seen by one of the Aldermen. Instead of an enormous dance hall and a grand march, the Coliseum was filled with thousands of wooden chairs, nailed to the floor. The 1909 “Ball” ended at 11:00 p.m.
Chicago Tribune December 10, 1907
All previous “orgies” were eclipsed by the annual First ward democratic ball last night, the one that provides John Coughlin the money to pay his campaign expenses next spring.
If everybody had taken a long breath along about midnight the walls of-the Coliseum must have collapsed, for there easily were 20,000 people in the building then and the west side elite were just beginning to arrive. There may have been more yet in the drinking parlors in the basement or tucked away under the eaves of the building, but it was impossible for any statistician to make his way through the crowd.
Just before It became necessary to send a hurry up call for champagne, Ald. John expressed himself as pleased with the success of the great social function that doesn’t need any press agent. He said as he came up to the box where they were handing out badges:
- This Is the greatest ever. I am delighted with the social success achieved by the Flist Ward Democratic club this evening. The hall seats 14,000, and you can see they are standing up In rows back of the seats in the gallery.
Aldermen and Congressmen There.
Every alderman is here except those who are sick abed and we’ve got two congressmen on the floor now. Mayor H. L. Davis of Kewanee, who is one of the distinguished guests, has just sent in a request for two more floor badges. Let him have them.
Aid. Kenna, when seen in another part of the floor where the crowd was thickest, said:
- It is far ahead of anything I saw in Paris during my recent European tour. There Is nothing like it in the world. Could any other social function in Chicagq attract a crowd like this? Not on your life. What are you having?
Five Bars Are Kept Busy.
There were two bands, 200 waiters, 100 “coppers,” 3S,000 quarts of beer, 10,000 quarts of champagne before they sent for reinforcements, and a wagon load of cigars done up in manila envelopes, so the waiters wouldn’t soil them. There were the three separate bars in the annex where they had seventy large kegs of beer, another bar In the basement, and one in the northeast part of the building. It was great. No one would have thought there was any financial stringency.
In the boxes champagne was the favorite trouble chaser. In some filled with women wearing fine clothes and diamonds the trick seemed to be to get as many empty champagne bottles on the table in the quickest possible time. Quite lively contests ensued before the edges of the tables were reached.
The promenade resembled a football scrimmage and the pressure was enough to flatten out your cigaret case. Nobody could get near enough to the dancing floor to see more than the upper part of the dancers, which caused severe criticism of the management and the ill breeding of the shovers. In the gallery It was not so to secure an unobstructed view, but here, too, there was criticism because thc floor was so far away and the lights did not seem strong.
Long Gowns Not in Good Form.
The costumes worn by the dancers were of varying degrees of richness, but all cut on the same general plan. For instance, not more than one or two of the 3,000 or 4,000 feminine dancers were hampered by long skirts, it being considered bad form to wear anything that would collect the germs from the floor. Owing to the immense crowd It was exceedingly warm in the Coliseum, but none of the dancers was heard to complain of the heat, though a few said they were thirsty.
Congressman “Tim” Sullivan of New York, who was inveigled into attending, said there was nothing in his town that would compare with the ball and he was of the impression that there never would be, now the people were getting so strict as to shut down on Sunday theaters.
It is figured the receipts of the ball will be not far from $30,000, not counting what the waiters grabbed off In tips.
Chicago Examiner, December 15, 1908
By the Rev.R. Keene Ryan
From the standpoint of those two “Lords of the Underworld,” Kenna and Coughlin. the notorious First Ward ball was a success. The crowd that packed the Coliseum far beyond its normal capacity was a record breaking one, even for this annual orgy, and the promoters were content.
It was the occasion of the eleventh annual insult, to the people of Chicago that is, to those who remained away.
Rather than proving a deterrent to the people to attend, the recent agitation against the ball seemed to have made them all the more eager to gain admission, for there were fully five thousand trying to gain admission at midnight.
On the interior scenes took place that beggar description.
Young Girls and Old Men
The balconies were packed with an eager throng that seemed fascinated by the scenes that were transpiring on the floor beneath. Out on the ballroom young girls in thin and scantly attire, masked and disguised in every conceivable manner, were dancing with half drunken men, whose actions were highly questionable, to put it mild.
Many of these women that I noticed closely seemed hardly out of their girlhood days, while many of the men appearedold enough to have been their grandfathers.
In other instances boys, beardless and unquestionably not yet attained their majority, were the companions of old and cunning women.
All Rush to Barrooms
At the close of every dance a rush was made to the barrooms beneath, where scenes of the vilest vulgarity took place.
Here I saw men and women throw aside all semblance of modesty and self-respect, and give themselves over to the wild, unruly spirit of the time and place.
It was, down in these basement saloons, underneath the ballroom floor, that I witnessed scenes too frightful for publication—scenes free for all to witness who cared to do so.
The promoters of this saturnalia of vice had solemnly promised the city authorities that if permitted to give their annual orgy they would not permit boys or girls under ago to enter the Coliseum, but I am prepared to make oath that I saw buys and girls in these basement saloons underneath the Coliseum who ought to have been at home in bed, for they certainly were not of lawful age.
Young Girl Becomes Helpless,
One Instance will convey to the people of Chicago some pleas of the character of young boys and girls permitted in the Coliseum and allowed to go upon the ballroom floor and to drink at the basement bars.
Under the stairway nn the east side of the building at one of the little round tables placed there for the use of the dancers, I spotted a youug girl of apparent respectability. She was with an older woman and they were accompanied by two men. mere boys. They all began drinking and while I was standing there, unable in move on account of the dense crowd, this young girl became so drunk that she rolled under the table and had to be taken out of the hall by a side door.
While in this condition she was the object of the laughs and jeers of the crowd that was sweeping by.
Others Made Hysterical.
In another instance two young girls were caught in the dense crowds that were circling around the hall and were made hysterical by the crush that they were subjected to.
The brutality and indecency of the men toward the women who were caught in the crush was alone argument enough why such au institution as the First Wall ball should not be permitted by the people of this city.
Last night’s exhibition, with its attendant evil influences, should be suppressed. Never again should the people of this city permit such an orgy to disgrace and befoul its name, carrying as it does sorrow to count-less numbers of innocent and unsuspecting girls and boys who, through idle curiosity, are attracted there and forever dishonored by associations made.
Collier’s Magazine, February 6, 1909
“BATHHOUSE JOHN” stood on the center floor of the great Coliseum, swept his eye over the outpouring of the moral sewers of Chicago, and waved his hand to the two bands, one in either gallery, as a signal that the Grand March of the First Ward Ball was to begin. Bathhouse John is a large, bull-necked Irishman of the John L. Sullivan type, the kind of Celt whose spirit responds, as a flower in rain, to polite public ceremonial. Over the white shirt front, which clothed his well-provisioned torso, he wore a red sash, with the inscription: “Grand Marshal.” Eight and forty floor-managers, selected either from the powers which rule in Chicago or the powers which rob Chicago—one does not know in which division to place many of them scattered through the great dancing floor, arranging the couples into line. The bandmasters flourished their staves, and brass and wind struck into the key tune of the evening:
- Hail, hail. the gang’s all right—
What the hell do we care; what the hell do we care—
A movement surged through the tawdry maskers on the floor—they were singing. From end to end of the great hall ran the refrain—women of the half-world and of no world, all in the cheapest, dirtiest, and most abbreviated costumes, hired, for two dollars and deposit, from
professional costumers; scrubby little boys of the slums, patching out their Sunday clothes with five-cent masks that they might obey the rules of the floor; pickpockets, refraining, by the truce of the Devil which reigned that night, from plying their trade; scarlet women and the yellow men who live from and by them; bartenders; professional repeaters; small politicians; prosperous beggars; saloon bouncers; prize-fight promoters; liquor salesmen; police captains; runners for gambling houses—all united in this hymn to the Power that is in the First Ward of Chicago:
- Hail, hail. the gang’s all right—
What the hell do we care now?
It was just striking midnight when Bathhouse John strode out before the assembled couples to lead the grand march. For two hours the sweepings and scourings had crowded into the Coliseum, the largest assembly hall in the United States. At that very moment the police were raiding the crowd without and closing the doors, for the hall was packed to the danger point. That overflow crowd, shoving and rioting to express their disappointment, filled the streets for a block either way. Within, floor, gallery, passageways, and boxes were choked. Those boxes ran all the way about the dancing floor and only a step above it, like the boxes at the horse show. They were reserved, mainly, either for rich slummers or for the aristocracy of the ministers of dissipation. The galleries held those who came not to revel but to look on. Along the passageway behind the boxes moved a crowd which jammed into knots at intervals, and untied itself with much mauling of women and many lights. A policeman skated across the floor just as Bathhouse John set off the grand march. He was shoving before him a young man who lagged back and who threw out his knees very far in front as he walked. The first serious light of the evening was being bounced. As Bathhouse John pranced down the floor at the head of the march, beating time to the music with his outstretched hands, the tables in the boxes began to blossom with the white and bronze seals of the brands of champagne whose agents were the most liberal buyers that night. One, it appeared, had anticipated the blossoming of the tables. From an end box resounded a feminine shriek which rose above the bands, the singing, and the shuffling feet. The woman who shrieked had risen and was pouring Tenderloin billingsgate at some enemy on the floor. Her man hauled her back and carried her away. The first drunk of the evening had passed out.
They are not here strictly for the joy of it, these greasy revelers; let me make that plain before I go further. Strictly, “Bathhouse John” Coughlin and “Hinky-Dink” Kenna, Aldermen of the First Ward, need money to pay repeaters, colonizers, district leaders, and heelers—money for all the expenses of keeping in line this, the richest graft district in the United States. The annual ball is their way of collecting that money.
A month before, certain collectors, known foi’ their works in the Ten- derloin, have visited every saloon, every brothel, every opium joint, every dance-hall, and certain favored business houses. They carry sheaves of tickets—and lists. “A hundred and fifty tickets for yours this year,” says the collector to the saloon-keeper. “What are youse giving us?” says the saloon-keeper. “It was only a hundred last year.” “Yes, but look at all the business you done last year—things is coming the way of this corner.” And a hundred and fifty it is — unless the saloon-keeper wishes to add a fourth fifty as a token of his esteem. “Mercy, a hundred tickets!” says the fat, marcelled woman in the mirrored room. “Why, it was only seventy-five last year—and my girls don’t go any more, it is getting that common!” “You’ve got two more girls here than you had last winter, ain’t yon? Well, then.” And a hundred it is. “Seventy-five tickets?” says the man at the roll-top desk. “Your ball is getting pretty tough, and the newspapers—” “You got a permit for a sign last year, didn’t you? Huh?” And seventy-five it is. Lower and higher elements than these pay their tribute of fifty, a hundred, two hundred tickets!—the dens from which foot-pads issue for their periodical raids on Chicago, the legitimate business houses which furnish supplies or service to the dark end of the First Ward. This bit of busine.ss conversation floated into my box from the floor: “Say, the Carriage Company only took thirty tickets. Think of all the business they get haul- ing souses out of Twenty-second Street!” “Oh, well, they’re a new concern—and the Bathhouse knows his business.” Still other ways there are of making the First Ward Ball profitable.
Hinky Dink with the Grief Forehead.
Let us push the hands of the clock ahead for an hour, during which time the piles of empty champagne bottles in the boxes have grown and grown, during which the great Annex, where the common herd is served, has become a dump of empty beer bottles. In a box over by the northeast corner sits a little man, swaying gently under his load of champagne. Everything about him is slight—his legs, his shoulders, the lines of his drawn face. His skin is as white as his hair, and that is the color of fresh paper. He appears like a man who is struggling with a great hidden grief. You look a second time before you perceive that the mere mechanics of his face pro- duce this effect. For his eyebrows are set slantwise, so that they rise at the inner corner above the nose, giving what actors call the “grief forehead.” His large, violet eyes are never still, even when the cham- pagne has clouded them a little. One bejeweled hand rests on the edge of the box. Slender as it is, the soft, white flesh conceals every knuckle”—it is a hand that has never been clenched.
The maskers on the floor, promenading between the crowded dances, nudge each other as they pass, and lialt to stare. The ribboned committeemen, as police captains, police-court lawyers, popular saloon-keepers, and ward heelers, all stop to exchange the time of night. He answers them in a flat voice devoid of inflection, and in flat words devoid of individual turns of expression: “Sure. More here than there ever was before. Those damn reformers tried to blow the place up, and look what they got for it. Every big business house is represented here; all my friends are out.” Where he sits is the royal box, for this is Hinky-Dink Kenna; and its his his ball. He will run for reelection next spring; so that these profits run from $60,000 up—all go to his campaign fund. Next year Bathhouse John, on the eve of his own reelection, will get the profits.
Drinking is in full swing now; the effects of it show not in any special joyousness, but in a sodden and dirty aspect of the whole boxes, and annex, and especially that cellar cafe, where one drunk has already tried to undress a woman in a scarlet coattime, and succeeded to the point of attracting police attention. No Latin verve and gaiety about it; not Mardi Gras. but Gin Lane. In passing, these public debaucheries with the Jewish-speaking peoples seem always to accompany a mild conscience. A woman, wise in her generation, visited once a cafe where the peacock women of the half-world, the aristocracy of their craft, go to drink with their men. She looked over the Paris costumes, the complexions a little helped by art, the unsmiling eyes above the smiling faces. “If John the Baptist were to enter now,” she said, “he would have these people groveling on the floor in three minutes.” “Better than that,” said the city politician who accompanied he also was wise in his generation “a good old Methodist exhorter would have them groveling in two minutes.” Ten thousand “revelers” in floor and boxes and cafes getting joylessly drunk on champagne; five thousand spectators, come to see how the other half thinks that it lives looking joyously on!
Where the Wine Agents “Open.”
The corner diagonally across from Hinky Dink’s is reserved, by some species of consent, for the select of the lialfworld. Here sit the wine agents. It is commonly believed that each agent must spend .$1,500 for champagne of his own brand at the First Ward Ball. It is supposed, also, that a great deal of his own brand, which he buys in for cash, is “donated” a delicate way of helping the cause without giving offense. In the struggle between white foil and bronze foil, one side is winning heavily. The agent of that brand sits in his box surrounded by pudgy blond women in diamonds and flowing feathers. As regularly as a minute gun. he “opens.” Only then is there any expression on his face. With a little lightening of his eyes, he watches the cork fly to its zenith and fall: then his lids lower, and lie goes on pouring for all visitors. A rival, less visited, is beginning to give it away to the poi)ulace. He and his assistant stand with their tall hats on the back of their heads, and pour and pour, and pass it out to the crowd, which grabs and jostles. This puts the appetite for free champagne into the small sewer rats, the saloon hangers-on who have been handed one of the graft tickets, all the little people of the floor. Whenever one uncorks a fresh bottle of wine in his box. a dozen fingers touch his elbow “Hey, mister, give me a drink”—he is a pickpocket from the look of him. “Come over with one, boss”—the loud waistcoat, the cheap patent-leather shoes, the ferret eyes in the young face too early tinting and falling into mas.ses, mark him as one of those who live on cheap women of the underworld. “Give us a drink, pet”—she is a little woman in a man’s suit, her eyes dull under her mask. She has found a glass somewhere, and she passes it over the edge of the box as she speaks. Though a page’s costume is the favorite dress among the women costume greasy with the wearing of many previous maskers, and grimy with lying long on the shelves—hundreds of women have chosen to come in the borrowed clothes of men. Of those who do wear skirts, many walk with a free stride which betrays their sex. As for actual Black Crook tights “we bars them,” says Bathhouse .lohn “they’re too indecent.”
The rule “only maskers allowed on the door” has become a dead letter. The units in that crowd which surged behind the boxes in the beginning are continually striving to get to the floor: once there, no one will throw them out. So the boxes whidi contain no women become points of attack for concerted rushes. Sometimes a floor-manager, seeing the box-holders in trouble, comes through with a chair, and beats his constituents into order. More often the raiders, turning over table, champagne, and all in their rush, break through and whirl to the floor. These arc mere spectators, who come to stare at the gaudy women and the sodden men in the boxes. Gradually, they delimit the dancing space and gradually the dancers, getting more and more unsteady on their legs, turn their sole attention to getting drunk. A tall woman, dressed as a five-year-old boy, and carrying a tin pail and a sand shovel, going from box to box wheedling the occupants into pouring champagne into her pail. When it is filled, she threads through the crowd, giving drinks to all comers. The very floor of the Annex is swimming in beer, The cellar café has become so unspeakably disorderly that a squad of policemen vanish into its depths; in five minutes they return, each policeman shoving before his his fighting drunk.
So it goes on, more and more noisy, more and more unsteady, more and more noisome, until half-past two. The early comers liave left, but there is no diminution of the crowd. The people whose business keeps them until midnight in the Tenderloin have finished their work. They are sweeping in to take the vacant places, and to increase the sales of the white foil and the bronze. This year the reformers have threatened to make arrests if the sale of drinks does not stop promptly at three o’clock, according to law and license. The waiters pass from box to box with the admonition: “Order all the wine you want now; bar closes at three!” Later, they come back with sheaves of bottles for the grand, final, alcoholic burst of the evening. By halfpast three, even the provident are drinking their last glasses; and Bathhouse John, waving to the musicians in the gallery, shouts: “Give ’em ‘Home, Sweet Home.'” There is a flurry about the royal box. Hinky Dink is going away. He steadies himself as he rises by the little hand without knuckles which moves all these dirty puppets of First Ward politics.
Five thousand drunken people at this hour of half-past three doing everything that a drunk does! In the box next to that of the most popular wine agent a woman has gone clean mad with liquor, as women do. She wears an extreme Directoire costume, with a large hat. The hat has fallen back on her shoulders, and her hair has tumbled down over it. As she stands on the table with outstretched arms, shouting loud obscenities to the crowd which collects to watch her, she bears a fearful resemblance to one of those furies of the French Revolution. Before her box lies a little flashily dressed man, dead drunk groveling in the lees of the floor. No one pays more than passing attention to him. A telegraph messenger boy sways in the corner, very sick from free champagne. A woman in a bedraggled white evening dress hangs draped head down over the edge of her box, like clothes on a line. The two men and the other woman in her box are drinking a standing toast, oblivious of her. A woman in a page’s costume passes another similarly dressed. She hurls a vivid insult as she passes; the other turns, spitting like a cat, and lays hold on her hair. The drunkards in the vicinity gather about them and cheer until the police break through and “bounce” them to the ladies’ dressing-room. An old-time wrestler, now a saloon bouncer, lolls over the edge of a box talking with a woman who sprawls across the table, regarding him with fishy eyes. A little scrubby boy, a pickpocket from the look of him, comes along in the blazing, nervous stage of drunkenness. He lurches against the rail and begins to address the woman. The bouncer wheels and hits him just once in the middle of the body. The scrubby boy shoots back like a cannon-ball and brings up sprawling on the floor, where he lies kicking. The bouncer, taking no further look at him. goes on with the conversation. Four fat women sit in a corner box, drinking stupidly. Dressed gaudily in evening clothes, their laces, their white gloves, even their powdered complexions, are becoming grimy with the soot of drunkenness which falls over the great hall. Between them, on the table, stand seven empty champagne bottles and a monumental bouquet of wilting pink roses. They have been taking their pleasures very, very sadly. One nods drowsily: the others watch with eyes as hard and dead as pebbles the crowd which pays tribute to notoriety by stopping to stare. The pickpocket has recovered now: he picks himself up, reviles the bouncer at a safe distance, and staggers over to this box. Worming his way through the crow(l, he halts at the rail and lays hold on the lace sleeve of the nearest woman. Expertly, she gets the lace out of his clutch: calmly, she puts her white-gloved hand in his face, sends him spinning back by a motion like the straight-arm in football, and goes on talking with her neighbor. An old man. blind drunk, comes down the hall brandishing a champagne bottle. A woman gets in his way: he hurls the bottle and strikes her on the shoulder. One spectator, more sober than the rest, complains to a policeman who stands grinning at the spectacle. “Oh, that’s all right,” says the policeman. “Can’t you see he’s drunk?”
At four o’clock, some merry drunkard, on his way out, smashes the box at the door and rings in a fire-alarm. The engines and the hook-and-ladder, plowing through the cabs and automobiles parked on the street, finish off the First Ward Ball for the year 1908.
I who had watched this for five hours, jostled to the door over drunken men, past drunken women, got clear of the crowd which still swayed and fought outside, clear of the parasites upon parasites who waited beyond, clear of the shouting nighthawk cabmen. The first breath of clean air struck me; I raised my face to it.
And suddenly I realized that there were stars.