Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna
Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna was a Chicago politician who was elected alderman of the First Ward on Chicago’s south side in 1897. He got his nickname from Joseph Medill, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, because he was only 5 feet and 1 inch tall.
Kenna was born on 20 Aug 1858. He left school when he was 10 and started selling newspapers. At the age of 12 he borrowed $50 from a barkeeper and purchased a newsstand at the corner of Monroe and Dearborn. He paid back the loan in a month.
Kenna, and his companion, “Bathhouse” John Coughlin (at the time each ward had two aldermen), found support in the seedier side of Chicago: the brothels, saloons and dance halls of the city’s Levee District. Together they were known as the “Lords of the Levee.” In return for their support, the proprietors gave him a gold badge. It was a six-pointed star, with diamonds on each point as well as a large one at the center. In the center, around the diamond, was a circle around the edge of which read “ALDERMAN FIRST WARD.” The reverse is engraved: “Presented to Michael Kenna by his friends and admirers of the First Ward. April 22, 1897, Chicago, ILL.” It was given to him at a banquet where he said, “My aim in life has been to do what is right; to labor with earnestness, to win on my merits. My efforts have met with success, and in this grand souvenir I recognize my crown of victory.”
To raise financial support Kenna and Coughlin hosted an annual event known as the First Ward Ball. The party brought together gangsters, safecrackers, prostitutes, politicians, businessmen, gamblers, etc. The two raised about $50,000 per year before being shut down in 1909 by Mayor Fred Busse. By this time it was so large that it was held in the Chicago Coliseum, the major convention center. Often, because of the nature of the attendees, disorderly conduct bordering on rioting required the police to curb it.
Kenna also ran a saloon called Workingman’s Exchange which was located on Clark Street.. He used it to reward his supporters with free or, at least, cheap beer. He also bought the votes of the poor residents by giving out free meals in return for their votes.
In 1923 Chicago changed the city council so that each ward had only one alderman. Kenna pulled out to become a Ward Committeeman, leaving the First Ward to Coughlin.
At the time of his death due to diabetes and myocarditis, Kenna had accumulated wealth of over $1,000,000 as well as other luxuries which his heirs inherited.
- Chicago History Museum Blog: “A Star with a Storied Past”
- Encyclopedia of Chicago: Era of “Hinky Dink” and “Bathhouse John”
- Wikipedia: Michael Kenna
© 2018 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.