Tag Archives: Chicago

The Dill Pickle Club: A Bright Spot in a Somber Town

The Dill Pickle Club was the home of Dill Pickle Press, publisher of the 1927 edition of Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard. The Dill Pickle Club was also a primary pulpit of pontification by Sirfessor Malfew Seklew, author of The Gospel of Malfew Seklew. Here are selections from three books that further give the flavor of this bohemian grove.

A Century of Progress by John Drury (Chicago: Consolidated Book Publishers Inc 1933)

“TOWER TOWN,” over the river on the near north side. Chicago’s largest and most flourishing bohemian quarter, bounded roughly on the south by Grand Avenue, on the east by Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, on the north by Division Street and on the west by Clark Street. District centers about the historic old Chicago Avenue Water Tower, Chicago and Michigan Avenues. Studios, art galleries, tea rooms, bookshops, alley forums and Italian restaurants are on every hand. The famous Dill Pickle Club, conducted by Jack Jones, is “Tower Town’s” main rendezvous. On Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday evenings lectures, debates and dances are held here. The Dill Pickle occupies a chapter in Albert Parry’s “Garrets and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America.” It is located at 18 Tooker Place. Nearby is “Bughouse Square” (Washington Square, North Dearborn Street and Walton Place), haunt of soap-box orators.

Chicago’s Left Bank by Alson J. Smith (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company 1953)

In Towertown, one-eyed Jack Jones had started the Dill Pickle Club, and here, every Saturday night, a Chicago one act play, written by some unknown Chicago playwright, presented by unknown Chicago actors, took the boards. […] With the coming of Prohibition, Towertown became something of a haunt for the underworld, too. The Dill Pickle became a scarcely-disguised speakeasy, and even had itself raided a few times just for the publicity.

Hobohemia by Frank O. Beck (Rindge: Richard R. Smith Publisher Inc. 1956)

One evening in 1919 no less a luminary than Sherwood Anderson published in The Chicago Daily News the statement, “Jack Jones and the Dill Pickle Club are the bright spots in the rather somber aspects of our town.”

Jack was a man of stature and a visit to the Club was for many years a must in the itinerary of all pilgrims making a round of the night clubs of the Windy City. It was a focal point of the nightlife of Towertown, a region of the near north side where, when the shades of night arrived, foregathered the Bohemian, the artist, the near-artist and the strange conglomeration of city dwellers who follow in their train.

The Dill Pickle Club is surely an appropriate name for an eating spot. What epicure but does not relish the dill, the humble anise of the Scriptures? When the eating club was opened on Locust Street and patronized mainly by disputatious labor leaders, it had over its door the sign, “The Copper Kettle and the Dill Pickle. ” A few years later, Bohemia-in-Chicago was stirred by food poisoning caused (supposedly) by the use of the copper kettle and the Club dropped “The Copper Kettle” end of the name and the Dill Pickle went it alone. While the Irish were pleased, the Germans were not.

The same Jack Jones, who in 1917 opened the Dill Pickle Club, now incorporated the club, copyrighted the name and moved it to Tooker Alley, where he continued to serve “coffee and a few light foods that are tolerable” as John Drury writes in his Dining in Chicago. On Wednesdays, his mild-mannered sister prepared a goodly assortment of sandwiches for the literary group who took over that evening. It was on one of these special evenings that I, in search of a copywriter, bought “coffee and — ” for a young writer, Carl Sandburg. He ate it in a dimly lighted recess in the wall, as I tried to persuade him to come with me to do some special writing, as I was then making the Chicago Area Survey of the Inter-Church World Movement.

But for John Archibald (Jack) Jones, the Dill Pickle Club was to serve purposes other than gastronomy. This king of the Picklers came to Chicago about the year 1907 and, as a labor leader, he wished his Club to serve his ends, by enlisting the intelligentsia.

Where he came from and who he was was definitely secondary to the fact that he was a most intelligent and militant labor agitator, one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World. His Club was to be a public forum for the discussion of what, to Jones, was the most vital subject in our national life, the rights of manual laborers.

Of an earlier interesting place, a nursery rhyme said, “The way into my parlor is up a winding stair.” The way into the Dill Pickle Club was even more complicated. Off North State Street to the left you wedged yourself, if you were thin enough, through a hole in the wall, a narrow slit between the four-story buildings. Then, with ashcans and garbage cans making it wise to watch your step, you went over the cobblestones and bricks of Tooker Alley to No. 18, where you faced a bright green light over an orange door with three small stained glass apertures. Here you were admonished, if you aspired to enter, to “Step high, stoop low, and leave your dignity outside.” Crawling was really the best means of locomotion from there on in.

Blazed across the vestibule was the enigmatical line “This club is established to elevate the minds of people to a lower level.” There were several ways in which the Club made no more sense than that.

However, the founder, Jack Jones, an American pioneer in the field of labor education, was a powerful magnet and drew unusual personalities within his orbit. It was probably in the cards from the beginning that Jack, years later, should die alone in a third-class men’s lodging house, and his wasted and besotted body, not yet sixty-four years old, be buried in a casket, the gift of a thousand derelict men on the stem on West Madison Street.

What mattered was what Jack Jones, a flaming missionary of industrial justice, did with his opportunity in the Dill Pickle Club. At once it became the rendezvous of leading labor organizers and leaders, of radical artists too often coarse and ribald, of modern poets often equally unrefined and gross, of rising literary personages and revolutionists. It became more than a serious labor forum, it became an institution for all the arts. It opened its doors wide to everybody who had a message, a grievance, a hope, or a criticism, constructive or destructive; who wished to raise his voice against oppression, prejudice and injustice in all their multiforms. To every guest, at some time during his sojourn at the Club, Jack Jones, the ingenious, put the question, “Are you a nut about anything?”

One night in an unrestrained moment the group of the evening accepted the following credo: “We of the Dill Pickle believe in everything. We are radicals, pickpockets, second-story men and thinkers. Some of us practice free love, and some, medicine. Most of us have gone through religion and have tired of it. Some of us have tired of our wives.” This was the Dill Pickle Club in its most indulgent and unrestrained mood.

This creed did not express the main objectives of the Club. It was definitely not a place where men grow broad bellied and narrow minded, despite the fact that there were hedonists there and those allergic to purity. Through the years they did much creative work. Here experts taught dancing and other arts. Poets read their own verses. Artists, wood carvers, ornamental iron designers, sculptors and painters created and displayed their handicraft, always to an interested public. From the haymow on the second floor — the city used transportation that fed on hay — came the mingled odors of charcoal, turpentine, fixatives. Often a party of visitors stood by, waiting to be shocked at the nude subject.

In the birth and early development of the little theatre the Club must be given prominent mention. This, one of the earliest of the little theatres, presented some of the finest amateur talent. Jack, a man of varied talent, built with his own hands a splendid stage, invented and installed an unusual lighting system, wrote, directed and acted in the plays.

The open forum of the Club was stimulated by the idea that truth wholly controlled may become dangerous. Yet no matter how important the question brought before the Dill forum or how illustrious the speaker, he was thrown to the lions, as he expected to be. His message — important, crack-brained, serious or humorous — the omnipresent heckler treated the same as the last and the next. And what consummate hecklers were there! There was big John Laughman, whose biting Irish witticism, often almost sadistical, literally cowed the speaker and thrilled the audience; little Birdie Weber, hook-nosed and bespectacled, vulgar always and thunderous in his approach, confused and trapped the orator. The heckling was usually brilliant and constituted not an inconsiderable part of the entertainment.

The Dill Pickle Club drew to its platform a surprising “Who’s Who” of speakers. In my diary are listed speakers heard there, and many of them were monthly guests. There was Maxwell Bodenheim, author of Ninth Avenue; Carl Sandburg, the poet; Ben Reitman, King of the Hoboes; Ben Hecht, author of 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, editor of the Chicago Literary Times and a promising poet; Countess Luddie, who wore sandals and bobbed her hair; Paddy Carrol from Hell’s Half Acre; Aimee Semple McPherson, and a Spanish spiritualist who shaved her head and dyed it green; Morris Levine, blind, gray-haired orator; Van Cima, Dutch artist and piccolo player; Emma Goldman, the Anarchist, and Rube Menken, Russian art critic; Eugene Debs and William D. Haywood, tycoons of the labor movement; Sherwood Anderson, the playwright, and Jim Larkin, the famous Irish rebel; Harry Batters, selling socialism to the Democrats and democracy to the Socialists; Yellow Kid Weil, of high-finance fame; Clarence Darrow and scores of the more brilliant members of the faculties of Northwestern and Chicago universities. Sooner or later everybody had a chance to ex- press himself and the Club’s Sunday night doings often made Monday morning news.

One night one of the university speakers remarked seriously, “More famous people have passed through this Club than through any fifty universities in the world.” The statement was, to say the least, extravagant. It was statements like this that convinced me that I was using rather well the time I gave to them. Early in the Club’s history, Jack Jones invited me to join his staff and called me “Chaplain.” I have met few groups with such enormous responsiveness and so much in need of education of the spirit. I tried to understand when they needed praise and when they needed prayer. They always needed a friend. Jack Jones climaxed his study of labor’s problems by writing a treatise, “The Tech-Up,” a pronouncement on technocracy.

Harper Leech, co-originator of the War Insurance plan, wrote of Jack’s “The Tech-Up”: “A masterpiece of explanation of the industrial form of unionism.” It brought Jack a trip to Washington, D. C., during World War I at Uncle Sam’s expense, for conference with the Department of Labor. Labor sympathizers of the Dill Pickle type later followed the worker’s movement through syndicalism and the Worker’s Party into the Communist Party.

When the crest of bootlegging came, the Club’s cultural flame flickered low. The lawless horned in on the management of the Club and chiseling gangsters followed. Man shall not live by free love, companionate marriage, unrestrained Bohemianism, rackets, “red” Russia, alone — vital subjects though they were to the adherents of the Club. However, sincere voices raised against suppression, prejudice and injustice bring their own reward. Dill Pickle’s popular forum, little theatre, art school, social center, all often on the five-yard line in their way and day, served the cause of adult education and democracy.

And possibly society has a greater ability to reform itself than many of us thought that day.

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Filed under 1845-1945, Book, Malfew Seklew, Ragnar Redbeard, Trevor Blake

Unhatched Egos Bathe Their Souls in Super Sunlight

An astounding article on Sirfessor Malfew Seklew from the Chicago Daily Tribune of February 28 1916.

The man identified here as Doc Rawleigh of the Toltec tribe may be Redwood Bailey, Cherokee. Bailey wrote about the Sirfessor in The Day Book for February 5 1916, and the Sirfessor replied in the same periodical five days later. W. Kibbler comments on the both two days after that, and all of these letters are collected in The Gospel of Malfew Seklew.

Franklin Rosemont lists Bertram Lester Weber as an active and early member of the Dil Pickle Club in The Rise & Fall of the Dil Pickle Club. The Pickle was the publisher of the Sirfessor’s work as well as the 1927 edition of Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard. Weber wrote plays performed at the Pickle, plays lost to time. “No speaker could withstand […] the biting wit of Bertie Weber” said Ben Reitman. Edna Dexter described Weber as “clever and humorous. He would go about Bughouse Park and the Pickle and peddle [his poems] for ten cents a piece.” Rosemont’s recommended book reprints a two-page poem by Weber. The Big Red Songbook by Utah Phillips writes Weber was born in Chicago in 1885 and died in Wisconsin in June 1962. – Trevor Blake

Unhatched Egos Bathe Their Souls in Super Sunlight

Mildewed Minded Mortals List to Sirfessor Superman Rage


Whatever gentle, lamb-like traits a Superman may display when among his fellows, he certainly gets real rough when talking to mere mortals who, unlike him, have failed to ascend to the Summit of Ego.

At least that was the conclusion to be drawn from attendance at a meeting held in a hall at 20 West Randolph street last night where “Sirfessor” F. M. Wilkesbarre, who modestly admits he is the only Superman running at large in the United States at the present time, engaged in a debate on “Is Exploitation the First Law of Nature?” with Lester Weber, who describes himself as “a rationalist lecturer.”

Call ‘Em Supernames.
In taking the affirmative side and trying to convince his audience of 300 persons that his Superintelligence was the greatest thing ever brought to Chicago, the “sirfessor” – a term to be carefully set apart from that of common, ordinary “professor” – shook his Superlocks as he Superraged majestically about the platform and called his hearers the following Supernames:

Spineless grovelers.
Sniveling humbugs.
Pestiferous pifflers.
Mildew-minded mortals.
Unhatched egos.
Beatific believers.
Benighted and bedamned bipeds.
Beatitude mongers.
Sentimental sobbists.
Humid humilitarians.
Creeping cemeteries.

Gets Away with It.
And not only that, but the “sirfessor” got away with it without having a single chair bounced off his Supercranium. As for “Rationalist” Weber, he didn’t stand a chance and was glad to quit the argument in half the time allotted to him.

With his tawny bangs drooping artistically over one eye so that he could look at the audience only with the other optic, Weber opened the debate.

“You have gathered here tonight to witness a battle royal between two of the greatest intellects the world ever saw,” he began in the voice of a well drilled chorus man. “You may bathe your souls in the sunlight of our brilliant personalities.”

“Haw!” Laughs Doc Rawleigh.
“Haw!” laughed a long-haired individual who claims to be “Dr. Raleigh, medicine man of the Toltec tribe.”

For a time it looked like a riot, but Weber managed to hold the platform for a few moments, asserting that exploitation couldn’t be the first law of nature because nature didn’t have any first law, and that the “sirfessor” was real mean in making him debate on such a subject when what he really wanted to argue about was, “Resolved, That the Self-COnscious Ego is a Cheap Organism.”

Then Arose the “Sirfessor”
Then he sat down and the “sirfessor” arose.

“You angry and antagonistic atoms!” he thundered at his hearers. “You cheap organisms and banal babblers – all that you know is how to get and beget. Poor, miserable devils of workers, you have no conception of the Supreme Ego. I stand before you, superior to any human being I’ve ever met, ready to push Infinity in the face and tell it to get out of my way, while you – you miserable misfits – sit there ready to kiss the hand that crushes you and kick the hand that benefits you… ”

You Gotta Hand It to Him.
Even the long haired medicine man was willing to admit that the “sirfessor” took the cake after the debate was closed.

The “sirfessor,” who is president of “the Society of Superites of England,” is in America to organize “the Society of Social Aristocrats,” to be composed of supermen and superladies. He says he can turn any “mental aristocrat” into a superbeing in four lessons.

When not engaged in this he sells super cigarette holders and superite netcktie grippers.

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Filed under 1845-1945, Bibliographic, Events, Historical Work, Malfew Seklew, Ragnar Redbeard, Trevor Blake


This article about Malfew Sklew and pals appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune  on March 9th, 1918.

Over at 213 West Oak street last night gathered a clan under a new banner. It was the housewarming of “The Superite Coffee Tavern,” where, according to its founder, Sirfessor F.M. Wilkesbarre, the nimble witted can walk the intellectual slack wire, indulge in tea and talk, cake and conversation, and other forms of mental acrobatics.
” It is my hope that this place may become the hub of intellectual hubbub.” the Sirfessor announced. “It is to be a thought foundry when we can good naturedly destroy each other’s illusions and learn to speak a new language. Some day you who laugh at me will laugh with me, when you learn what its all about. I personally have added forty words to the English language and can use 2,000 others that are not comprehensible to the average intellect. I think a lot of myself. I am the most interesting man I ever met.”
Dr. Ben Reitman contributed an encomium in behalf of the members of the Dill Pickle club. There was a sprinkling of Socialists. anarchists, and nihilists. All, including a grandmother who smokes cigarets, admitted they are super men and women.



Filed under 1845-1945, Malfew Seklew

The Sirfessor in the Saturday Review


From “The Phoenix Nest,” a column by William Rose Benet appearing in the April 26 1947 edition of The Saturday Review (page 36)…

Mark Twain relates in one of his stories, the furore up in Heaven when an obscure tailor, Billings by name, from somewhere in Tennessee, arrives in the Celestial realm. Shakespeare is proud to sit at his feet while at the banquet in his honor; it is Homer who stands behind his chair and waits upon him. Yet this was an unknown poet although recognized by his peers as the greatest of them all. No mortal had ever read his verses. They had never even been published. In fact, during his lifetime he had been merely the butt of his contemporaries.

There were many such back in the twenties. For every Eugene O’Neil, Floyd Dell, Ben Hecht, or Maxwell Bodenheim, there were a dozen other real personalities in Greenwich Village and Union Square whose names have rarely reached the public except in column-long eulogies at their passing.

Looking back at those days a score or more years ago, one is struck by the renaissance of thinking which followed the First World War. There was a complete examination and overhauling of ideas which is sadly lacking today. It was a time of great optimism, for everyone felt that if the problems of the world had not as yet all been solved, at least their solution was attainable if not already in sight.

Thoughts were precious then and intellectual integrity the highest goal. There was no compromise with the popular taste in these philosophers, writers, and artists whose books were never printed and pictures never bought. Yet they were men and women of character. In an earlier age they might have been looked on as saints. They were in this world but not of this world. Their wants were few, a cold water flat on the East Side, where they could paint or write or dream, a meagre meal every once in a while was all they required. Yet this was often beyond their reach.

As chairman of the old Dill Pickle Club on 14th Street where they were wont to congregate, the writer knew them well and mourns their passing. There are but few of them left. Ike Shepps still holds forth at Columbus Circle with his satirical tirades against the futile money-grubbing pursuits of humanity. Jo Silverman, who studied medicine in England and then never practised [sic] it because he felt that too little was known about the art, today in his eighty-third year still pursues his studies of Spinoza and the humanities in his hovel on East 3rd Street. Dan O’Brien, King of the Hoboes, no longer delights his listeners with his wit and rich Irish brogue. He merely awaits his end in one of the city’s charitable institutes. Joe Gould still works on his “History” of our times. But where are the Wilkesbarrs, Pollocks, Marchands, Jack Joneses, and Lizzy Davises all gone like the snows of yesteryear?

The “Sirfessor,” as Wilkesbarr was called, rated a column-and-a-half obituary in The New York Times. Is there today in existence a single copy of his “Gospel According to Malfew Seklew,” to which he devoted his entire life? His was the doctrine of enlightened selfishness. He sought the rise of a race of “Supcrcrats,” an aristocracy of brains and skill that would rescue the world from its rising slough of mediocrity. His was a voice “crying in the wilderness.” A Cockney by birth, he had sung with the D’Oyly Carte Company. He had known Shaw and Wells and the Webbs intimately, yet never was his work known by more than a few dozens of his friends.

Abe Pollock was a collar salesman until in middle life, like Gauguin, he began to paint. His work was praised by some critics, scoffed at by others but it never sold. Perhaps Michelangelo passes him the finger bowls in Heaven.

Dr. Marchand had been a professor at Columbia University. During the anti-German outbreak of World War I, he was fired from his job. He never recovered from the blow. He spent his life on the personal project of coordinating all human knowledge. His manuscripts? Who knows where they are today!

There was Helen Langdon, who knew more about Oriental art than some curators of museums. She died in a garret (it was whispered of starvation), yet she could never bring herself to part with her precious Cinnabar vases and Japanese sword-guards.

Those were the days when ideas were all important, when Pollock and Vincent Beltrone holding opposite views on the subject of art — almost but not quite coming to blows about their theories — could argue far into the night before a group of enthralled listeners.

When Leon Samson first read his manuscript on the “New Humanism,” the entire intellectual body of the town was split into “pro” and “anti” factions.

Yes, ideas were important then and poetry was important. John Cabbage with his “Sea Chanteys,” Jack Sellers, Anton Romatka, Lew Ney each had his defenders and detractors, but they were sincere and judged them by their poetry and not as today by their political orientation.

It is amusing to note how many of the former dwellers within their “ivory towers” today have hung “to let” signs upon them and have rushed into the arms of the “proletariat.” For them perhaps, thinking is no longer necessary. Still the prospect of a world without the Sirfessor and his kind is anything but pleasant.

Where are the youngsters who are to take their places? Who will dare to question the dogmatism of the right or the left? Who will examine every self-ordained savior and demagogue and puncture stuffed shirts with an ever-ready arsenal of barbed wit?

Will they perhaps be found among the student bodies of our universities or will their war training and their exposure to college curricula squeeze out the last drops of individualism that they may have retained? What can we expect of a generation reared on comic strips and movies? Perhaps a revulsion, perhaps a re-awakening of a burning love for Democracy which is the only cradle for Nature’s masterpiece — the individual Ego.

The Union of Egoists is in hot pursuit of details regarding Sirfessor Wilkebarre’s time in the D’oyly theater company. Working for D’oyly would explain why the one and only Malfew Seklew repeatedly cites Gilbert and Sullivan in Gospel According to Malfew Seklew.

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Filed under 1845-1945, Historical Work, Malfew Seklew, Trevor Blake



Some words are used in speech before they get written down, and early on in being written down they are spelled in many ways before they settle on a single spellings. The music we call jazz was also spelled jaz, jas, and jass early on.

DuDilDuckThe Dil Pickle Club of Chicago (where Sirfessor Malfew Seklew often lectured), home of Dil Pickle Press (publisher of the 1927 edition of Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard), advertised their lectures and publications with posters printed by linocut blocks. They also printed linocut blocks with more cryptic messages on them, such as “GLANDS – ‘NUFF SAID!” and “DU-DIL-DUK BRINGS GOOD LUCK.” Seen above are block prints by Trevor Blake reproducing an original Dil Pickle Club design.  Jack Jones, owner of the Dil Pickle Club / Press, manufactured wooden toy Du-Dil-Duks.

The word for idle sketching, the word for drawing without much thought, that word appears in printed English in the 1930s,  just as the avant culture of the Dil Pickle Club was at its height.  Before the 1930s the word was probably in use but not written down yet.

du-dil-duk… doodle duck

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Filed under 1845-1945, Historical Work, Malfew Seklew, Ragnar Redbeard, Trevor Blake