August 21, 2009
Free Speech, Free Thought: The Dill Pickle Club
The Dill Pickle may be the most famous and least remembered club in Chicago's past. According to Marc Moscato, in his essay, The Tradition of Non-Tradition: The Dill Pickle Club as Catalyst for Social Change, "the history of the Dill Pickle Club is muddled in myth, exaggeration and confusion." One thing, however, is certain - ninety-three years ago this week, the haven of free thinkers, bohemians artists and anarchists, founded by John A. "Jack" Jones (a former Wobblie) and Jim Larkin and made famous by the flamboyant "clap doctor" Ben Reitman, opened its door in a former stable on Tooker Alley:
August 18, 1916
READY FOR FROLIC
"The Dill Pickle," New Home of Bohemians, to be Christened Saturday and Some of Those Who Will Participate.
Sherwood Anderson, who often could be found at the club along with Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Ben Hecht and an assortment of hobos, prostitutes, and radicals, called The Pickle, "one of the brightest spots in the rather somber aspect of our town." The clubs motto, "Step High, Stoop Low, Leave Your Dignity Outside," was proudly displayed over the door and captured the spirit of all those who entered as did another located on the inside: "Elevate your mind to a lower level of Thinking."
The purpose of The Dill Pickle was to provide a place where "any idea or work would be given a respectful hearing and brought before the public..."
"On Sunday nights just before eight o'clock, one entered through the orange door of the Club into a large, comfortable main room with brightly painted chairs and benches, counters along the side where coffee and sandwiches were sold, a small stage - one act plays were occasionally presented - and a lectern for the night's speaker. Jones, a thin-faced, blue-eyed, smiling man habitually dressed in a lumberman's jacket, had a gift for showmanship, and with his invariable question to anyone, 'Are you a nut about anything?' always found someone to try out his or her ideas before an audience of 'Picklers' highly skilled at heckling." (Sherwood Anderson: a Writer in America, Volume 1 by Walter Bates Rideout)
Earlier this year the first exhibition on Chicago's "hobohemian" culture Brains, Brilliancy, Bohemia was presented and curated by Portland based filmmaker Marc Moscato. His film on Ben Reitman, "The More Things Stay the Same," can be seen in the right column. The 76-page exhibition catalog, available for purchase at Golden Age, features an essay, an unpublished piece by Dr. Ben Reitman, awesome reprints of Dill Pickle Club materials and a letterpress cover. If you are interested in Jazz Age Chicago, you will want to purchase this little treasure.
For more information on The Dill Pickle Club see The Rise & Fall of the Dil Pickle: Jazz-Age Chicago's Wildest & Most Outrageously Creative Hobohemian Nightspot.
Door to The Dill Pickle: The Dill Pickle Club
Poster Trio: Golden Age