Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : Bughouse Square
Bughouse Square

Bughouse Square

Bughouse Square, 1993
Bughouse Square (from “bughouse,” slang for mental health facility) is the popular name of Chicago's Washington Square Park, where orators (“soapboxers”) held forth on warm-weather evenings from the 1910s through the mid-1960s. Located across Walton Street from the Newberry Library, Bughouse Square was the most celebrated outdoor free-speech center in the nation and a popular Chicago tourist attraction.

In its heyday during the 1920s and 1930s, poets, religionists, and cranks addressed the crowds, but the mainstays were soapboxers from the revolutionary left, especially from the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Proletarian Party, Revolutionary Workers' League, and more ephemeral groups. Many speakers became legendary, including anarchist Lucy Parsons, “clap doctor” Ben Reitman, labor-wars veteran John Loughman, socialist Frank Midney, feminist-Marxist Martha Biegler, Frederick Wilkesbarr (“The Sirfessor”), Herbert Shaw (the “Cosmic Kid”), the Sheridan twins (Jack and Jimmy), and one-armed “Cholly” Wendorf.

A Bughouse Square Committee, headquartered at Newberry Library, has continued to organize free-speech gatherings there each July in conjunction with the library's annual book sale.

Beck, Frank O. Hobohemia. 1956.
Rosemont, Franklin, ed. From Bughouse Square to the Beat Generation: Selected Ravings of Slim Brundage, Founder and Janitor of the College of Complexes. 1997.