By Ray Johnson
I am quite the fan of the stranger side of Chicago history, and one of my favorite topics (there are quite a few) is the Whitechapel Club. I plan a more comprehensive article on the Whitechapel club in the future but in a nutshell it was a club formed in 1888 of mainly authors and journalists from Chicago newspapers but also included lawyers, doctors, police officers, cartoonists, a U.S. Senator and more. The purpose of the club was mainly a social outlet for journalists and the like to have a few drinks and quite a bit of fun. They were known for some of their outrageous antics and pranks and also for the way in which the club, which was originally in the back room of Koster's saloon in "Newsboy's Alley", was decorated. There were the coffin shaped tables, drinking cups made from skulls and one wall that was shingled because “nobody had shingled a wall up to this point”. The club was very well known and dignitaries visiting the Columbian Exposition of 1893 always hoped to be invited to their meetings. (Invitation only). The club disbanded in 1895.
The Hotel LaSalle honored the Whitechapel Club by naming one of its lounges "The Whitechapel Pub" and the pub was roughly on the site where the original club used to meet. In 1945, the Chicago Historical Society placed a plaque on the outside of the hotel honoring the Whitechapel Club. On June 5, 1946 a fire destroyed the hotel and 61 persons lost their lives. I had always wondered what happened to that plaque.
Just about two years ago some friends of mine invited my wife and I out to the Wolf's Head Restaurant and Bar located at 6937 Joliet Road in Indian Head Park, IL. We had lived in the area for about 15 years but had never been there so we thought we would give it a shot. As I was walking through the front doors I looked to my left and there on the wall was a bronze plaque engraved with the words; "A.D. 1888, A few score feet west of this site was founded The Whitechapel Club sanctuary of newspapermen dedicated to the spirit of congeniality authenticated by Chicago Historical Society 1945"
I couldn’t believe it. I spoke with the owner of the establishment, Steve Bartmann, and asked him what he knew about the plaque. He mentioned that the prior owners purchased many of the antique items from auctions at hotels and restaurants.
The Wolf's Head Inn was new in 1976 and was owned by Rollin Massey who lived in Western Springs and had operated a deli for a number of years in that town before opening the Wolf's Head Inn. The booths in the restaurant were obtained when the famous Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel (Now the Chicago Public Hotel) was auctioning them off during a mid 1970's renovation project. Massey couldn't afford the more famous No. 1 booth or even the No. 2 or No. 3 booth but once the auctioneer got past the celebrity booths he managed to pick up 30-40 booths for about $200.
I did also notice a wooden and metal bench with a plaque above it and it turns out it was an old bench from Navy Pier. The bench would be almost 100 years old now and is a rarity because the Navy Pier benches were transported in 1942 to the Gary Forges so that the metal could be melted down and utilized in the war effort. In 1983 a trio of divers, Bob Berkowicz, Jim Mulqueeny and Bill Bokina salvaged a few of these benches from Lake Michigan just off of Navy Pier. Apparently they had fallen off of the boat before or during transport. They donated one of those benches to the Wolf's Head Inn on January 21, 1998.
Not of significance to Chicago but there is also a pewter figurehead of Queen Victoria which, according to the plaque affixed to it, was moved to the Wolf’s Head Inn from an ancient London tavern where it hung from 1837 to 1901. According to legend if you gave the “Ole Queen” a rub she would grant you good luck.
The beautiful entrance doors were taken from a New England church built in the 1800s and the bar is from the early 1900s. According to the Wolf’s Head website the restaurant is on the property that was once part of the Blackhawk Tribe’s hunting trail and the area was known for large packs of wolves that roamed the area, hence the name “Wolf Road”.
Unfortunately, Bartmann did not have the stories behind all of the many artifacts that are displayed on the walls but if you are into solving history’s mysteries like I am, then it is a veritable treasure hunt! I have to say that the food and drink were great as well and I would definitely recommend the prime rib sandwich.
Fantl, Bob, “Brite Spots”, Suburban Life, 27 November 1976
Buursma, Bruce, “For the suburban lifestyle, it’s pin-high to perfection”, Chicago Tribune, 01, December 1990
Hevrdejs, Judy and Conkin, Mike, “Like Titanic, Diver’s Find has New Life”, Chicago Tribune, 22 February
All photos credited to author.
Ray Johnson is a former criminal investigator with the West Chicago Police Department and is a life-long fan of Chicago history, legends and folklore. He currently runs a genealogical and historic research business at http://www.historycop.com and has lectured and taught classes on conducting historical research. He is currently the Chicago Area Representative for the Association of Professional Genealogists. His passion for the legends, folklore and haunts of the Windy City prompted him to write a book on the subject which was published in July 2011 by Schiffer Publishing Limited and is entitled, “Chicago’s Haunt Detective”. He maintains a web presence for the ghostly side of Chicago history at http://www.hauntdetective.com and can also be reached on