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[personal profile] brigid

Then stand to your glasses steady
And drink to your comrade’s eyes
Here’s a toast to the dead already
And hurrah for the next who dies.

Chicago's Whitechapel Club, founded in 1889 and named after the area Jack the Ripper did his killings, only lasted five years. But what an interesting five years those were.

The Whitechapel Club was a private organization founded primarily by young journalists who talked about social reform (even if it was tongue-in-cheek talking, it was still talking), and who couldn't afford the dues --or stomach the company-- of the more respectable (and more expensive) Press Club. They shaved their faces while the Press Club members wore whiskers. They were young while the Press Club members were old. They met in a tavern, ducking in through an alley, while the Press Club members met in cafes and hotels.

The main requirement to be inducted into the Whitechapel Club was "wit and good fellowship," and 3 other members had to testify to your having both. Many members were not journalists, but were literary writers, politicians, police officers, merchants, and others with at least a passing interest in social reform, and an iconoclastic nature. They also, of course, had to be raconteurs, performers. Members would gather, drink, wrestle, tell stories, sing songs, read bits of things they were working on, do a bit of stand up comedy, and insult each other.

They also drank out of human skulls and used human skulls with glass bead eyes for shades on the gaslights. They sat at a table made of a coffin and their walls were hung with allegedly-blood-soaked Indian blankets and ghost shirts. They had a definite taste for the macabre and unusual. And at the close of each meeting, they'd sing the club's drinking song, The Revel:

WE meet ’neath the sounding rafter,
And the walls around are bare;
As they shout back our peals of laughter
It seems that the dead are there.
Then stand to your glasses, steady!
We drink in our comrades’ eyes:
One cup to the dead already—
Hurrah for the next that dies!


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My Kind of Town

September 2013

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