In October of 1899 John G. Shedd (of Shedd Aquarium fame) hosted a dinner at the new Midlothian Country Club for its President, G. R. Thorne, and the club's board of directors. The Chicago Tribune called it, "one of the most pretentious events in the history of the finely appointed club..." Interesting choice of words - pretentious.
John Shedd (1850-1926)arrived in Chicago the year of the Great Fire, 1871, and landed a job as a stock clerk at Marshall Field's. He steadily worked his way up the store's ranks. When Marshall Field died in 1906, Shedd became president of Marshall Field & Company. He made millions.
And, in a variety of businesses, so had the 100 dressed-to-the-nines guests who were assembled for the lavish country club banquet. One of the guests was Walter C. Hately, founder of Hately Bros., grain exporters, a major player at the Chicago Board of Trade.
The soup course was served on gold-rimmed plates. It was listed on the menu card as "Potage Ecossaise," or Scotch Broth. As the other guests began to enjoy their soup, Mr. Hately swallowed a spoonful and immediately proclaimed in a loud voice, "This soup is pretty bad."
The other gentlemen were silent, but a few women gave shocked little screams at this blatant breach of etiquette.
"This is the worst soup I ever ate," Hately said a little louder. Everyone stopped eating. Shedd didn't know what to say. But, J. R. Morron found his voice.
"This is hardly the proper place to talk like that, Mr. Hately," said Mr. Morron, with apparent great effort at self-control.
"It's good place to declare myself on this alleged stuff here, which is supposed to be soup," replied Mr. Hately. "I've had enough of it."
"Sit down, Hately," yelled Robert Mather, another diner, but Mr. Hately was on his feet pointing with fine disdain at the [soup]..."
The situation was getting out of control. The ladies began to leave the table in astonishment. "The finely carved and delicately chiseled traditions of the exclusive club," stated the Chicago Tribune," were being jolted in such a manner that a panic would have caused no surprise just then."
Paul Morton, the railroad manager, tried to calm the disgruntled diner. "Won't you sit down, Mr. Hately." Hately would have none of it. "What! Sit down to soup such as that? Say, I'd like to know what they make soup out of here, anyway."
"This is no time to make such an extraordinary demand," stated Mr. Morton. "Don't you see the women are shocked and are leaving?"
"Well, I want to know what kind of stuff this is," persisted Hately.
There was a scurrying of silk gowns toward the doors and the men left their chairs and gathered in groups. The dinner was forgotten. After a caucus, Mr. Morton, Mr. Morron, and Mr. Shedd left the dining room hastily in the direction of the kitchen and returned a minute later with the great soup tureen in their arms.
"Here is the soup, Mr. Hately," said Mr. Morton. "Examine it if you think it is not all right."
"I won't touch it," cried Mr. Hately, and there was more terror among the women guests.
"Then I will," said Mr. Morton, taking the great silver ladle and raking it up from the bottom of the tureen.
As he lifted the ladle above the surface of the soup Morton brought to light an unexpected ingredient - a rubber boot. It was marked with the name "Hately."
The men gathered to see the boot; the ladies returned to see what was going on. It was all a prearranged joke on the diners to give what might have been a stuffy evening a little "spice."
Now, I ask you - What's funnier than a bunch of turn-of-the century Chicago millionaires cutting up? Ok, a lot of things, but for the sake of argument, and to humor me, let's say it is really funny.
Recommended Reading:Conduct Books and Advice Manuals in America (19th century)
Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home by Emily Post (1922)
The Gentleman's Page: A Practical Guide for the 19th Century American Man
Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America by John F. Kasson
The Book of Chicagoans (1911)
Photo Credit: John G. Shedd, Wikipedia
Source: October 7, 1899 Chicago Tribune