A Typical Club Meeting Is Described

Posted: June 5, 2009 in The Chicago Whitechapel Club

Punches Drunk From Murderers’ Skulls in a Room Full of Ghastly Emblems.

Chicago Tribune.

Within the last few days the Whitechapel club of Chicago has drawn on itself the eye of the nation. Chauncey M. Depew and Roswell P. Flower have wired it congratulations over the location of the World’s Fair. And this is the Whitechapel club!
Out of Clark Street, into a misty, muddy alley; then comes La Salle street; over the car tracks and once more in the dark and dingy alley. A few steps, this is Calhoun Place. On one side is the basement den where the messengers do congregrate; on the other shine the lights that "burn o’ nights" over the Whitechapel club.
The room is triangular. Long narrow tables run through the center spaces. Skulls of murderers lie on the table, and out of them "Whitechapelians" drink buoyant punches, as Byron did of old. It is the walls that give the "Whitechapel club" a distinctive character. There one finds the rope that hanged the three Italians who did that ghastly murder on the west side, and handcuffs that safeguarded Burke on his unpleasant journey from Winnipeg jangle against the chandelier. The walls are dark with pictured crimes – Japanese and others – and the ceiling flares down with synchromatic wickedness.
The fireplace glows with a whimsically drunken light: there is an inspiring facetiousness in the gurgle of the emptying bottles.
For it must be admitted that the Whitechapel man drinks now and again. The punch is brewed in a Japanese bowl, that dancies forth the old Goddess of Death. And then it is turned out – the punch, of course – into skulls, fashioned as cups. The king’s cup of them all is made from the cranium of "Bad Charlie." A few years ago he was lynched in Wyoming. He had murdered a woman and three babies, and a few men who thought they recognized a breach of etiquette in the affair shot him down on the windy, gray-grass plains.
The Whitechapel club meets at 12 o’clock sharp at night. Lights which have been shimmering through the eyes and nose of skulls are turned out. The roll is called.
Sudden noises startle the guests. They are the responses of the members to their names as called by the Secretary. Each member has a number and he answers when it is called by exploding a torpedo.
The President stands in a corner. He is a life-size effigy of Jack the Ripper, after the scene of whose murders the club is named. The Vice-President presides, sitting at the corner of the triangular table which fills the center of the room. The Secretary, Charles Perkins, clerk of Judge Collins’s court, sits on his right.
"The King’s taster will now enter," says the President.
Henry Koster, the club’s purveyor, enters, He dips out a brimming glass of the punch, which fills the large, snake-wreathed punch bowl, the largest ever cast in America. He puts it to his lips and drains it.
"If the King’s taster lives two minutes," says the President, "the club will proceed to business."
The King’s taster lives and the club proceeds to business.
The window-curtain shade is drawn down by a string. It contains in plain printed letters the programme is exposed to reveal what is to occur next.
"We drink!" the members and guests read in glowing letters. And they drink.
Down comes the curtain another notch. "We drink again!" it reads. And the members and guests drink again.
The curtain falls another half inch.
A comic poem is to be recited by some theatrical celebrity who is present. He recites it, and the club rooms echo with cheers for three minutes after he sits down.
The curtain falls another half inch.
"To our patron saint and President," says the Chairman, raising his glass of punch.
Then the health of Jack the Ripper is drank. It is drank with eclat. It is drank until the framed panel containing the club’s charter from the State of Illinois – the object: "social reform" – shakes with the acclaim.
Dr. G. Frank Lydston or some other medical celebrity, who happens to be a member, reads a paper on "knives." The knives he tells about are the sort with which Jack the Ripper carves up his victims. Cheers follow.
Billy Mason, the Congressman, an "inert" member – because he cannot be an "active" member, owing to his residence in Washington during the winter – tells a story. He is in the city of his constituents over Sunday, and he improves his fame this Saturday night. He tells a good story, and applause for four minutes succeeds.
The lights that shine with ghastly glare through the skulls’ eyes are turned down to stare. A member has been struck by the punch – the Whitechapel punch. His head bangs over his breast. The Whitechapel death chant is sung:
Flee as a bird to the mountains,
Ye who are weary of sin.
Prof. Steinbach plays "Peace and War" on his zither. The club goes wild over it.
Then songs, stories, repartee, jokes follow until 5 o’clock comes, and it is announced by the purveyor that it is time to turn into the nearest Turkish bath.
The meetings occur only once a month.

Source: Ogden Standard Examiner 1890-03-25 Chicago’s Whitechapel Club


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