The Last Speakeasy

On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of participating in the Dil Pickle club recreation at the Chicago HIstory Museum’s the Last Speakeasy. The event was wonderful; patrons dressed as flappers, gangsters and society men. There was a live band with dancing, gambling tables, and an open bar, of course. They even staged a little raid. I’m really glad I got to check it out; it was really lovely event.

My friends and I participated in a historical reenactment of the Dil Picke Club, a Pocket Guide to Hell Production. Dil Pickle club was kinda of a salon where people came, spoke and debated anything. It started in 1914 and lasted until the mid-30s. The police closed it because its founder, John Archibald “Jack” Jones, refused to pay the mob protection money. Poets, like Carl Sandburg, would read poetry, hucksters would speak about schemes, Lucy Page Gaston would speak about the evils of cigarette smoking. College professors mingled with hoboes and socialists. The Haymarket widows regularly came and promoted the workingmen’s causes.

I played Nina Van Zandt Spies, a Vasser educated Haymarket widow. The story goes that she fell in love with August Spies, one of the Haymarket heroes, while he was in jail. They met regularly and after the jail tried to institute a rule that only relatives could visit, they decided to marry. The jail wouldn’t let them; August Spies’ attorneys said it would not help his case and Nina Spies’ aunt told her that she’d be disowned. But they went ahead with it ….through a marriage by proxy which was legal at the time. His brother was a stand in at the wedding, and they were wed. They only got to be together without bars between them for about half an hour the day before he was excueted. After his death, she went on with his cause for the workers. Quite the interesting lady.

For the Dil Pickle Club, I spoke about my husband and his cause…until George Weiss, the Yellow Kid, conned me out of money by selling me Captain Streeter’s plots of lands. Good times had by all. Mae West came and reenacted part of her play “Sex” while poets read. it was a wonderful event.

I love these reenactments for several reasons. First, I get to perform which is simply fun. Second, I get to learn about marvelous people like Nina Spies or Big Red Martha (of Bughouse Square fame). Sadly, I never really got a good education about Chicago history so I learn a lot from each of these events. Pocket Guide to Hell pointed out that Chicago has a incredible amount of history for its short time as a city. Yes, absolutely. Finally, we get to bring history alive. I’m a historian by nature and it is really a tremendous thrill to recreate incredible scenes.

Thanks to Pocket Guide to Hell and the Chicago History Museum for giving me this opportunity. You all rock.

Anyway, until the next historical reenactment….AAUW’s Jane Addams Day on December 14th at 2:00pm at Hull House. Be there and celebrate Jane!


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