Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : Era of "Hinky Dink" and "Bathhouse John"
Era of "Hinky Dink" and "Bathhouse John"

Era of "Hinky Dink" and "Bathhouse John"

First Ward Ball, 1908
“Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse John” Coughlin created in the 1890s a First Ward political machine based on graft and protection money from the saloons, brothels, and gambling halls of the Levee district, just south of the Loop.

Coughlin began his working life as a scrubber in Loop bath houses and opened the first bathhouse of his own in 1882. He prospered through connections with politicians, gamblers, and horse-racing enthusiasts, who stimulated in him a lifelong habit of sartorial flamboyance.

Kenna, a small, quiet, discreet man, ran a saloon called the Workingman's Exchange, where he served generous quantities of beer along with free lunches. Unlike Coughlin he was personally frugal, and became quite wealthy through the business of politics.

For over a decade Kenna and Coughlin together organized an annual First Ward Ball notorious for outrageous costumes and uproarious behavior. The ball, which among other entertainments featured songs whose doggerel lyrics were attributed to Bathhouse John himself, attracted thousands of people and raised large sums of money for the ward organization until pressure from reformers ended the event after 1908.

Before redistricting in 1923, each Chicago ward was represented by two aldermen. Coughlin was first elected to the city council in 1892, and Kenna joined him in 1897. Coughlin served as the sole First Ward alderman from 1923 until his death in 1938, with Kenna succeeding him until his own death in 1946.