Classic Chicago

First Ward Balls

Think that blowout bash you went to last week at that converted loft space was a rager? You don't know a rager like the ragers they used to have to raise money for Chicago's old First Ward...


That area encompassed much of the Loop area and the Near South Side — most notoriously, The Levee District, Chicago’s world-renowned red light district. The First Ward Balls, which ran from 1896 to 1908 before Mayor Fred Busse shut it down in 1909, were organized by the ward’s two aldermen, “Bathhouse” John Coughlin and Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna, and would draw 10,000 to 15,000 revelers made up of businessmen, politicians, prostitutes, gangsters, gamblers, cops and everyday people who could afford to pony up the money for the ticket. The annual soirees, which eventually were held in the Chicago Coliseum, raked in upwards of $50,000 while people consumed copious amount of Champagne (reportedly 10,000 quarts!), beer (allegedly 30,000 quarts – what?!) and other booze. To call these events raucous is putting it mildly – ah, those were the days!

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