Archive for the ‘The Chicago Whitechapel Club’ Category

25 Years Later

Posted: December 16, 2009 in The Chicago Whitechapel Club
Whitechapel Club Honors Morris Collins.
Commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the cremation of the body of Morris Allen Collins, seven members of the old Whitechapel Club dined at the Press Club last night. Old stories were retold and comments on the club’s actions were read. Collins’ favorite poem, "The Cowboy’s Prayer," was recited, and the old club toast drunk to "the dead already, and hurrah for the next who dies." Those present were Dr. Frank G. Lydston, Michael Strauss, Major H.J. Jaxon, Tomo Thompson, Senator E.F. Noonan, Arthur North and Wallace Rice.
Source: Chicago Examiner, Vol. 15, No. 177, Monday July 16, 1917, Page 6
Whitechapel Club Reenacts Rites at Funeral Pyre.
Members and Friends Commemorate Cremation 25 Years Ago of Morris Collins.
Time: Last midnight on the beach in the dune country.
Place: The site where the body of Morris Allen Collins, cowboy and radical, who took his own life to prove he had no fear of death, was burned on a pyre at Collins’ request by members of the Whitechapel Club twenty-five years ago this month. One of the aims of the club was to dissipate the fear of death. "Its members were writers and other professional men of 1887-1894."
Dramatis personae: Honore Joseph Jaxon, Collins’ intimate friend and chief orator at the rites a quarter of a century ago and a number of Whitechapel Club members who were present then.
Major Jaxon has been in and among the dunes for several days making preparations for this commemoration of the life and death of his friend. Last night he built the driftwood he had been gathering into a pile on the exact spot of the original funeral pyre, where the year after the incineration a similar pile had been erected.
On this was placed a cruse of oil, a flagon of wine, a jar of honey, funeral baked meats, barley bread and other symbols of sacrifice.
Exactly at midnight the pile was lighted and certain commemorative rites, including brief speeches and reminiscences of Collins, were begun. They came to a successful conclusion just before daybreak.
Source: Chicago Examiner, Vol. 15, No. 183, Monday July 23, 1917, Page 6
Whitechapel Club Observes Anniversary of Collins Cremation.
Chicago, July 23. – Surviving members of the Whitechapel club assembled at midnight on the shore of Lake Michigan, near Miller’s, Ind. and remained until dawn today for the purpose of commemorating the death twenty-five years ago of Morris Allen Collins, poet and cowboy member of the club, who killed himself that the social ideas he favored might be remembered. The Whitechapel Club, which was made up of journalists and artists and whose motto was "Laugh in the face of death," gave up its formal organization in 1894, but the members still keep a more or less close association. The ceremony this morning was held about the base of a great funeral pyre, the mortuary ceremonies being of the nature of the ancient Greeks and the American Indians.
Collins, who committed suicide in 1892, came to Chicago from the west in the late ’80’s. Championing the cause of the poor and oppressed, he waged a campaign against possessors of great wealth. His cause met with little encouragement and it was to bring it before the public that Collins killed himself, first requesting that his fellow members cremate his body that his sacrifice might be more effective. Today’s ceremony was similar to that held twenty-five years ago.
Source: The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Monday Evening, July 23, 1917
The Police of Different Cities Combining in Supplying Mural Decorations of a Queer Sort – a President Who Is Much Respected but Always Absent – Some of the Treasures.
THE Whitechapel Club, of Chicago, was organized by certain young newspaper men whose sense of humor, sense of the horrible, of goodfellowship, of the grotesque and the arabesque, and of a variety of other things chanced to be well developed, and who had a great deal of enterprise. They rented the rooms, held a meeting, and organized a club. In honor of the individual who has made Whitechapel famous, Jack the Ripper was elected
President of the organization, but, as he has been, so far, absent from all meetings and the club has not his definite address, the Vice-President performs the active functions of management. Under the constitution two members of any profession may belong to the club – two bank presidents, two burglars, two preachers, two actors, etc. And the ranks have been much increased by additions to membership under this rule.
It is in interior decoration, as already said, that the club comes out strong, and by this allusion is not made to
convivial habits exclusively. There are several well-known artists among the members, and they have contributed sketches which are, to use the vernacular, simply paralyzers. There are one or two portraits, drawn carefully from imagination, of the absent but honored President, and there are other sketches as striking. The police force of this and other cities have been called upon and have contributed to the mural adornments. Even the fire department has become interested, and as for the members themselves they have become collectors with a mission.
The banquet room of the club is L-shaped and the long table round
which the members sit in lively session corresponds in shape. Above the table dangling from a pulley is a trombone which is performed upon when a pampered menial is required to bring in some more of something. Skeletons, mostly of women, dangle here and there, and there are skulls each with its ghastly history, among them that of the the only colored man who ever committed suicide in Chicago. Nailed on the wall half full of clotted blood is a slipper of the Chinese merchant lately
killed by highbinders in San Francisco, a donation from the San Francisco police force, and there are the shackles worn by Martin Burke from Winnipeg and a lot of anarchist relics from the police force of Chicago. There are knives and pistols with which crimes were committed. There are hideous Chinese masks and sling shots, and sand-bags, and any amount of such paraphernalia of red murder. The
visitor is told the story of each, and the very marrow in his bones changes its composition.
There is some debate among outsiders as to what the ceremony of initiation into the Whitechapel Club consists of. The obligation is said to be something extremely sulphurous, yet the actual exercises are said to be anything but tedious or complicated. One of the initiated was discovered later to have the imprint of a bloody hand upon his shirt front, but there is current a theory that the ritual is flexible, and that in many cases all ceremonies, save those of a purely convivial nature, are dispensed with. Saturday night receptions of the club have become social events of note, and in no instance, it is asserted, has anyone present at these reunions failed to return eventually to family and friends. The record of the club in this respect is as pure as filtered water. No bones are bleaching in the alley.
The Whitechapel Club, it need hardly to be explained, is not an organization for gain, though formally incorporated under the State law. It has a seal and its blood-red letterheads are curiosities. It is a great institution.
– Chicago Times
Source: Bill Barlow’s Budget, Douglas, Wyoming, May 5, 1890, page 3

Its Members Remove to New Quarters and Sing a New Song.

The Whitechapel club is a Chicago institution whose grewsome name is but a faint indication of the grewsome adornments of its rooms. Skulls and murderous

 weapons, skeletons and ghastly reminders of terrible tragedies adorn the walls, yet among these surroundings some of the jolliest men in Chicago take their social ease, and there many eminent statesmen and jurists have been entertained. The club recently marched in procession soon after midnight to its new rooms at 172 Calhoun Place. Before starting the members sang a farewell to the old hall, and in memory of the stories told there the refrain ran thus:

In the days of old Rameses,
Are you on?
They told the same thing.
They told the same thing.
In the days of old Rameses,
These stories had paresis,
Are you on? Are you on? Are you on?

In the new quarters the main room has a black wainscoting, red walls and a red ceiling along which black ropes are stretched, to which are attached many ghastly relics. There is a border of skulls around the walls, and the cranium of a murderer hangs from the chandelier and seems to be grinning horribly at the jokes. At one table sits a company of skeletons, each with a pipe in his mouth and a mug in his bony fingers. A collection of anarchist relics forms a sort of panel, and among the adornments are the towel which wrapped the corpse of Dr. Cronin and a bloody shirt taken from the body of an Indian killed at Wounded Knee.
One room is shingled inside in the style of an old colonial building, and the whole place is finished in a barbarous combination of feudal and prisonlike decorations. The walls are papered with the papier mache sheets from the stereotyping departments of American newspapers, many of them handsomely gilded, and when the place is lighted up at night the effect is – well, very startling. But there is lots of fun there, and the invited guest is considered lucky.

Source: The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, Wednesday March 16, 1892, page 7


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

In a certain sense the Whitechapel club is also a creation of the newspaper element. The grewsome character of its fittings – skulls, skeletons, hangmen’s ropes, murderous weapons and so on – is known of all men, yet noted people from various parts of the Union have been its guests, and have made merry to the rattling of bones and while seated around a coffin shaped table.
No less an authority than Colonel Elliott F. Shepard, of the New York Mail

 and Express, has partaken of Whitechapel hospitality and thereafter editorially declared that the club is "all right." So the politicians and journalists bidden to its midnight feasts may venture down the dismal alleyway called Calhoun place to the door of 173, knock and enter without fear.

                                                                                          CEPHAS DE WERDE

Source: Utica NY Sunday Tribune 1890-1892



CHICAGO, July 17. – A strange scene was enacted last night on the south shore of Lake Michigan. At the base of a great ridge of glistening white sand near the water’s edge there was lighted a funeral pyre and all that was mortal of Morris Allen Collins, President of the Dallas (Texas) Suicide Club, was by his own written request reduced to ashes. The Whitechapel Club of this city had charge of the strange ceremony. The torch was applied to the pile of pitch-soaked wood at 10:50 o’clock, and during the five hours that the body burned, impressive ceremonies were performed, consisting of music, recitations, and addresses.
Collins committed suicide July 8 by shooting himself through the head in his room on West Madison Street. He was forty years old, the son of the Rev. Samuel Collins, a Methodist minister, who settled in Texas early in the forties. Left an orphan early in life, Collins seems to have had a constant struggle with poverty. He came to Chicago practically penniless in 1886, and afterward became a writer for the Labor Enquirer, owned by Joseph R. Buchanan. On the register of the Whitechapel Club his signature appears: "M.A. Collins, President Suicide Club, Dallas, Texas."
Collins was seriously injured in October, 1890, by being knocked down by an engine on the Northwestern Road, and the injury probably affected his mind. It was followed by a mild epileptic attack, which afterward recurred with increasing intensity and frequency, until he became despondent and finally ended his life. It is said that he made two unsuccessful attempts to accomplish his purpose with morphine before he at last succeeded with a pistol. He left a letter to his closest friend, Honore Joseph Jaxon, directing that his body be turned over to the Whitechapel Club for incineration.
The scene of the cremation was by far the most desolate spot that could be found in the vicinity of Chicago. The building of the funeral pyre occupied eight men’s time during the greater portion of the day. When completed it stood 18 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 20 feet high. In addition to the members of the Whitechapel Club a considerable number of their friends from the city were present at the ceremonies, besides half a hundred country people attracted by curiosity.
The body of Collins, draped in a white robe, was taken from its casket and placed on top of the pile. The Whitechapelers lighted their torches and marched three times around the pile, singing a dirge. The fire was started. The club chaplain, W.C. Thompson, delivered a characteristic address, which was followed by other addresses by members. Mournfully the harp and zither played the sad notes of Ernst’s "Elegy," and a funeral sermon was delivered by Dwight Baldwin. At last came the ceremony of gathering the ashes. With trowels made and plated for the occasion, the few charred remains of the body were reverently placed in the temporary urn. Bearing this, the company returned to the city long after sunrise this morning.

Source: The New York Times, July 18, 1892

Omene and the Suicide Clubbists.

The Odalisque Tells the Tale for the First Time to a "Call" Reporter.


These words were written on a card tied to a small vase on a mantel in Omene’s room at the Langham House. Of course you have read of Omene, the famous odalisque. THE CALL reporter had gone to see her for an interview.
"Have you anything really sacred in that small vase?" he asked.
"Oh, thereby hangs a tale which I never tell any one; but I value that vase very much. I am very what you call "superstitious," you know, and I am sure that if I lose that vase or anything should happen to it I should meet with some great misfortune. Oh, it makes me shudder to think of it. It was so dreadful.
"Well, since you insist on it I’ll tell you. But it seems such a dreadful thing for a woman to do.
"Oh, I will relate it to you; but will you not take a cigarette? They are Turkish and very good. I will smoke one, too. I do so love my cigarette smoke."
Lighting the cigarette the fair Turk began:
"You of course know or have heard of the Whitechapel Club in Chicago – the suicide club, you know. Well, I must tell you I was the first woman to be entertained by them, or, I believe, to enter the club even; but they were so much pleased with my dancing that they invited me to be their guest, and requested me to dance for them.
"I went, not expecting to see the sight I did, and on being received – oh! it was so horrible. The whole furniture was coffins. I shall never forget it. I did so wish I had not come.
"The room I was ushered into was not only furnished with coffins but the walls were covered with frightful souvenirs of murdered men, ropes with which the existence of murderers had been terminated. Bloodstained knives adorned the walls. The instruments used by the Chicago dynamiters were also there, and many relics of Indian massacres.
"It was, in fact, a regular chamber of horrors – far worse indeed than anything I have witnessed before. But I must tell you the worst is yet to come. I had not only to sit down on a coffin but the table was made of coffins also, and the flowers were placed in the heads of the dead men – skulls, I suppose. Yes, skulls; there was nothing else but skulls and bones and coffins. Diablo! said Omene, shuddering.
"When I had to drink wine from the skull of a dead man, I felt quite overcome, it was so very, what is that you call that in English?
"Morbid?" suggested the reporter.
"Yes, that is the word. When the time came for me to dance I found a coffin had been prepared for the stage and I actually danced on the coffin, with a skull and bone in my hand.
"And then the presents they made me. Look here," she exclaimed, taking down the small vase. When Omene removed the lid the dusty page of an old newspaper was first scene. She carefully lifted this. Under it was nothing but some gray cinders and ashes.
"Do you know what this is?" asked Omene, observing a look of disappointment pass over her listener’s face. "These are the ashes of Morris Allen Collins, the president of the Suicide Club. When he committed suicide the Whitechapel Club cremated him with many ceremonies and placed his ashes in an urn. An ordinary urn of Egyptian shape. The lid lifts off, and every day the members of the club put their hands into the urn and filter the ashes through their fingers. By way of expressing pleasure at my dancing they ran and lifted the ashes in their hands and their president presented me with some of the ashes as the choicest gift he could bestow as a reward for the pleasure I had given them."
"Rather a curious gift for a woman, wasn’t it?"
"Yes, but I was very much afraid and did not dare to refuse. I am Circassian by descent, although born in Stamboul, Turkey, and you know we Eastern people have very much superstition, and I am afraid that evil would happen me if I should lose those ashes; but I want to get rid of them. I am going to Italy in a few months and shall place them in San Pedro’s cathedral, where they will be held sacred.
"I do not think I shall ever know peace until they are safely deposited, and to prevent people meddling with the vase, I have placed that card of warning in front of it. Always when travelling I carry the fatal vase in my own dressing-case.
"So now you have the whole story of the card, vase and ashes of the celebrated president of the Suicide Club.
"And the newspaper cutting? Oh, that contains the account of the cremation, and the weird ceremonies; they danced round the funeral pyre and did all sorts of strange things.
"One of the toasts they drank at my reception was actually, "Tears for the living, Cheers for the dead."
"Oh, I do not want to see the inside of that club again," said Omene, shuddering at the recollection, as she carefully replaced the ashes and newspaper in the vase.
Questioned as to her ideas of dancing Omene said: "Dancing should be a continual series of graceful movements without any apparent motion, or motion without movement -"
As she expressed it: "I cannot associate dancing with spasmodic jerks and convulsive jumps. There is no grace at all in that. High kicking! Bah! A monkey-on-the-stick movement! I like a dreamy, graceful movement that is soothing rather than exciting. I do not like your spring splits, your serpentine dances or your turning somersaults on the stage. That is not my idea of dancing at all."
"How did you learn to dance?"
"I suppose I inherited the talent from my mother, who was the most famous dancer in Stamboul and Constantinople. I have danced since I was 6 years old, and I love dancing still.
"No, I don’t wear tights or shoes and dance barefooted, at least all except the rings I wear on my toes when dancing. Those rings are all souvenirs – not from dead suicides, but all have a history."
"Pardon me," said THE CALL man, as he rose to take his leave, "but is that not a bone or some relic of poor Collins on the table by the vase?"
"Mon Dieu!" screamed Omene. "Oh, that is not a piece of Collins," said Manager Williams, who had just come in. "Its a bit of bone we picked up the other day on the plains."
"I forgot to tell you," said Omene, "that the president of the Suicide Club made me promise to tell no one in Chicago about my being entertained by the club, and you are the only gentleman I have ever mentioned the circumstance to."

Credit: The Morning Call. (San Francisco [Calif.]), June 10, 1893, page 3