Classic Chicago

Bughouse Square Debates & the Newberry Book Fair

Relive the Infamous Bughouse Square Debates This July in Washington Square Park


In the 1920s and ’30s, Washington Square Park across from the Newberry Library in what is now the heart of the Gold Coast, was a hotbed for even hotter debates. The park, dubbed Bughouse Square, was home to orators — poets, religious preachers, revolutionaries — who would stand atop soapboxes to let the world hear their opinions on many topics.

These days, the Newberry hosts an annual revival, the Bughouse Square Debates, to re-enact the nearly century-old sessions that saw people freely speak their minds. The 2015 session will coincide with the four-day 31st annual Newberry Book Fair, where more than 120,000 books, movies, music and more will be for sale, oftentimes for $2 a book. It’s a great time to find some culture and relive a time that spanned decades (even into the 1960s). Come out to hear speakers and even heckle if you don’t agree with the topics, which can range from gun control to immigration reform and everything in between.

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