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Hinky Dink and Bathouse John
Chicago's infamous Aldermen
Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna and John "Bathouse" Coughlin
Michael Kenna's nickname came from his diminutive size. He was spotted once at a beach as a youngster and called Hinky Dink by other kids.
John Coughlin got his nickname from working at bathouses giving the patrons rubdowns.
My special thanks to Levee historian and friend Bryan Lloyd for the Bio on Kenna and Coughlin.
Bryan is an ex-Chicagoan who now resides in Ontario, Canada.
" Hinky Dink " Mike Kenna was born in a frame shack at Polk and Sholto Sts. at the western edge of " Mother Conleys Patch " in 1858. " Bath House John " Coughlin came from the same Irish Slum District . He was born in 1860. They went to the first Jones School at Harrison and Plymouth Court. This went up in flames in the 1871 Great Fire. To get to school they would have passed the Custom House Place Levee in the " Cheyenne " District every day; perhaps the wickedest place in America. South Clark St. or " The Chute " was comprised of Concert Saloons, Panel Houses, Gambling Joints and Dives. Most were the scenes of shootings and murders. This area-The First Ward-later to become " The Loop " and Near South Side was the wealthiest Ward in the U.S.
" Bath House John " quit school at 15. He became a rubber at the Palmer House Baths on State St in 1878. It was here he made some of the connections that would later propel him upward in First Ward Politics. Prior to this he had served an apprenticeship in a lower class bath house on South Clark.
Bath Houses were where all the Horse Racing Crowd, Jockeys,Touts, Gamblers, Fighters, and Politicians would hang out and relax. His mentors were " Chesterfield Joe " Mackin, " Prince Hal " Varnell, and later even Sol Van Praag, Billy " The Clock " Skakel, and " King Mike " McDonald came over to his side as he was so likeable, easy going, and somewhat " naive ", a real character.
Detailed Map of the Levee circa 1870-1905. This meticulous and outstanding work was done by Levee historian Mr. Bryan Lloyd.
Second and newly revised detailed map of Levee circa 1895-1923
( Bryan Lloyd Copyright 2011)
Little Mike Kenna was a successful saloonkeeper by 1882. He was elected to City Council in 1907 and teamed up with " Bath House " John running the First Ward. Prior to them " Big Sandy " Walters ( 275 Lbs. and Tough )
and Sol Van Praag were the King Pins there. As one old-timer who knew them all said: " The " Bath " was the front, but few took Coughlin seriously. He was a big, healthy Irishman who gloried in any kind of publicity,would do anything to stay in the limelight, and was " duck soup for Newman, a LaSalle St. tailor who specialized in creations for vaudeville actors . A Tribune newsman slipped " The Bath " poetry and plays such as " Dear Midnight Of Love" which made it onstage to the Chicago Opera House. " Hinky Dink " was the smart stategist of that team.
He was a quiet man who took life and his job very seriously. He spoke sparingly. He was a deep thinker and could say a lot in a few words. He was " The Brain ". He was smooth as an eel, sharp as a tack, and he alwaysknew what he was talking about. There was no bunk about " Hinky Dink ". If he gave you his word, you could bet on it ". (As late as 1941 he helped Chicago's famed madame Vic Shaw get an early release from prison).
" Hinky Dink " had two saloons and the Alaska Hotel on South Clark St. One was the " Workingmans Exchange ",but there were no workingmen here-only loafers and criminals. During election time they would be full of hobos and other roughnecks who would vote and vote often...." Bath House John " had his own Bath House on West Madison and later opened the " Silver Dollar Saloon " also on West Madison in 1895. It was patronized by gamblers,thieves, prostitutes, racing men,and thugs also. Later it became the site of the La Salle hotel.
Check made out to John Coughlin from his buddy and fellow alderman Michael Kenna. Note Kenna's signature at bottom right.
(Mario Gomes collection)
They both were in on " the take " from Custom House Place, Whiskey Row, and later the 22nd Street Levee Red Light Districts and the " Rake-off " on its Gambling and Handbooks. This graft was passed on to them and to
the police by Bill Gafney, Ike Bloom and later Jake Guzik. It was said that the pair never frequented any of their friends brothels. They hosted the First Ward Ball ( later held at the Coliseum ) each year-a total " Ballum Rancum " or ball where all the guests are Thieves and Prostitutes ( and Cops ).
Prohibition and the " War On The White Slave Trade " both pushed Hinky Dink and Bath House John out of the limelight in the First Ward These factors and the rise of a newcomer called Al Capone ( who both knew and worked with )this and old age caught up with them. The Workingmans Exchange closed in 1919.
Hinky Dink opened up a Cigar Store on South Clark in the 1920s. Al Capone visited him almost every day.
Michael Kenna cigar shop st 311 S. Clark.
(Mario Gomes collection)
He died October 9, 1946 at the Blackstone Hotel. Although his wealth was estimated in the hundreds of thousands, his heirs were only willing to pay $85.00 for a simpleheadstone. He had stipulated that hade wanted a mausoleum built ,but the courts decided against.
He outlived " Bath House John " by 8 years. He had died November 8, 1938 in the Lexington Hotel ( some claimed in the same room where Al Capone once held fort). He was $56,000 in debt. His sole assets were
his insurance business and a string of broken-down race horses. So ended a Legend.
Backside of check endorsed by John "Bathouse" Coughlin
(Mario Gomes collection)
John "Bathouse" Coughlin's mausoleum in Calvary cemetary.
(Photo Joe Walters)
Chicago History is much more than Capone and it's gangsters.To read about other interesting characters and events that shaped Chicago please visit Sharon Williams' excellent Chicago history site by clicking photo below
First Posted June 2008