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"Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink Kenna's First Ward Ball"
Events piece for Gapers Block, a Chicago-based arts publication


Want to avoid all things shamrock green this weekend and go for something a bit more high-minded? You are not alone. This Sunday, Pocket Guide to Hell is throwing a jubilant reenactment of the First Ward Ball at 8pm at the Hideout, located at 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. The ball unites aldermen, priests, madams, highfalutin' politician poets, and ladies of the night -- all long dead, of course.

Pocket Guide to Hell Tours maestro Paul Durica brings together steampunk and hobo-inspired musical acts (Spears and Gears, Meredith Axelrod, Jamie Alberts), Vaudeville comedy, burlesque (Lady Ginger), the scantily clad literati (Chicago Poetry Bordello), and history academics (Bill Savage), for his take on Chicago's most infamous turn-of-the-century celebration.

The First Ward Ball brought the Chicago underworld and political powerhouses together for a resplendent period from 1896 to 1909. Under the auspices of fundraising, the ball was a haven for characters like alderman "Bathhouse" John Coughlin and the Everly Sisters, Chicago's own impresario madams. Costumed partygoers took debauchery to new and epic levels, and converted the Chicago Coliseum into a palace of vice for one evening.

Durica, who has tackled other large-scale history-meets-performance events, including a reenactment of the Haymarket riots two years ago, is drawn to the ball's inherent contradictions.

"The ball was an event where high society rubbed elbows with the underworld," he said. "That social mixing is less common. [...] The same level of local corruption exists today but the characters aren't as colorful."

Several actors including Scott Priz, Elisa and Schoenberger will join Durica in bringing these figures back from the dead for schmoozing. To curb the cast of Victorian miscreants, Jerry Boyle will be playing a priest who busts the tawdry action.

Doors open at 7pm. The show commences at 8pm. Suggested donation of $10 to benefit Pocket Guide to Hell.

Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink Kenna's First Ward Ball