HAS it ever struck you that our mental attitude toward famous men varies in this respect: that while we think of some of them as human beings with whom we might conceivably shake hands and have a chat, we think of others as legendary creatures, strange and remotebeings hardly to be looked upon by human eyes?
Some years since, in the courtyard of a hotel in Paris, I met a friend of mine. He was hurrying in the direction of the bar.
“Come on,” he beckoned. “There are some people here you ’11 want to meet.”
I followed him in and to a table at which two men were seated. One proved to be Alfred Sutro ; the other Maurice Maeterlinck.
To meet Mr. Sutro was delightful, but it was conceivable. Not so Maeterlinck.. To shake hands with him, to sit at the same table, to see that he wore a black coat, a stiff collar (it was too large for him), a black string tie, a square-crowned derby hat; to see him seated in a bar sipping beer like any manthat was not conceivable.
I sat there speechless, trying to convince myself of what I saw.
“That man over there is actually Maeterlinck !” I kept assuring myself. “I am looking at Maeterlinck! Now he nods the head in which `The Bluebird’ was conceived. Now he lifts his beer glass in the hand which indited `Monna Vanna !’ ”
Nor was my amazement due entirely to the surprise of meeting a much-admired man. It was due, most of all, to a feeling which I must have hadalthough I was never before conscious of ita feeling that no such man as Maeterlinck existed in reality; that he was a purely legendary being; a figure in white robes and sandals, harping and singing in some Elysian temple.
I experienced a somewhat similar emotion in Chicago on being introduced to Hinky Dink. In saying that, I do not mean to be irreverent. I only mean that I had always thought of Hinky Dink as a fictitious personage. He and his colleague, Bathhouse John, have figured in my mind as a pair of absurd, imaginary figures, such as might have been invented by some whimsical son of a comic supplement like Winsor McCay.
Now, as I soon discovered, the Hinky Dink of the newspapers is, as a matter of fact, to a large extent fictitious. He is a legend, built up out of countless comic stories and newspaper cartoons. The real Hinky Dink otherwise Alderman Michael Kennais a very different person, for whatever may be said against him and much ishe is a very real human being.
I clip this brief summary of his life from the Chicago “Record-Herald.”
Born on the West Side, August 18, 1858. Started life as a newsboy. “Crowned” as Alderman of the First Ward in 1897. Reelected biennially ever since. Owner in fief of various privileges in the First Ward. Lord of the Workingmen’s Exchange. Overlord of floaters, voters, and other liege subjects.
The Workingmen’s Exchange, referred to above, is one of two saloons operated by the Alderman, on South Clark Street, and it is a show place for those who wish to look upon the darker side of things. It is a very large saloon, having one of the longest bars I ever saw; also one of the busiest. Hardly anything but beer is served there; beer in schooners little smaller than a man’s head. These are known locally as “babies,” and, by a curious custom, the man who removes his fingers from his glass forfeits it to any one who takes it up. Nor are takers lacking.
“I ‘ll tell you a funny thing about this place,” said my friend the veteran police reporter, who was somewhat apologetically doing the honors. (Police reporters are always apologetic when they show you over a town that has been “cleaned up.”)
“What?” I asked.
“No one has ever been killed in here,” he said.
I had to admit that it was a funny thing. After looking at the faces lined up at the bar I should not have imagined it possible. Presently we crossed the street to the Alderman’s other saloon; a very different sort of place, shining with mirrors, mahogany, and brass, and frequented by a better class of men. Here we met Hinky Dink.
He is a slight man, so short of stature that when he leans a little, resting his elbow on the bar, his arm runs out horizontally from the shoulder. He wore an extremely neat brown suit (there was even a white collarette inside the vest!) a round black felt hat, and a heavy watch chain, from which hung a large circular charm with a star and crescent set in diamonds. Though it was late at night, he looked as if he had just been washed and brushed.
His face is exceedingly interesting. His lips are thin; his nose is sharp, coming to a rather pronounced point, and his eyes are remarkable for what they see and what they do not tell. They are poker eyesgrayblue, cold, penetrating, unrevealing. My companion and I felt that while we were “getting” Hinky Dink, he was not failing to “get” us.
Far from being tough or vicious in his manner or conversation, the little Alderman is very quiet. There is, indeed, a kind of gentleness about him. His English is, I should say, quite as good as that of the average man, while his thinking is much above the average as to quickness and clearness. As between himself and Bathhouse John, the other First Ward fixture on the Board of Aldermen, it is generally conceded that Hinky Dink is the more able and intelligent. On this point, however, I was unable to draw my own conclusions. The Bathhouse was ill when I was in Chicago.
In the ordinary conversation of the Honorable Hinky Dink there is no trace of brogue, but a faint touch of brogue manifests itself when he speaks with unwonted vehemenceas, for example, when he told us about the injustices which he alleged were perpetrated up-on the poor voters, who live in lodging houses in his ward.
The little Alderman is famous for his reticence.
“Small wonder!” said my friend the police reporter. “Look at what the papers have handed him ! I ’11 tell you what happens: some city editor sends a kid re-porter to get a story about Hinky Dink. The kid comes and sees Kenna, and doesn’t get anything out of him but monosyllables. He goes back to the office without any story, but that does n’t make any difference. Hinky Dink is fair game. The kid sits down to his typewriter and fakes a story, making out that the Alderman did n’t only talk, but that he talked a kind of tough-guy dialect `deze-here tings’’doze dere tings’all that kind of stuff. Can you blame the little fellow for not talking?”
I could not.
But he talked to us, and freely. The police reporter told him we were “right..” That was enough.
As the “red-light district” of Chicago used to be largely in the First Ward before it was broken up, I asked the Alderman for his views on the segregation of vice versus the other thing, whatever it may be. (Is it dissemination ? )
“I’ll tell you what I think about it,” he replied, “but you can’t print it.”
“Why not?” I asked, disappointed.
“Well,” he returned, “I believe in a segregated district, but if I ‘m quoted as saying so, why the woman re-formers and everybody on the other side will take it up and say I ‘m for it just because I want vice back in the First Ward again. I don’t. It does n’t make any difference to me where you have it. Put it out by the Drainage Canal or anywheres you like. But I believe you can’t stamp vice out; not the way people are made to-day. They never have been able to stamp it out in all these thousands of years. And, as long as they can’t, it looks to me like it was better to get it together all in one bunch than to scatter it all over town.
“Now I know there’s a whole lot of good people that think segregation is a bad thing. Well, it is a bad thing. Vice is a bad thing. But there it is, all the same. A lot of these good people don’t understand conditions. They don’t understand what lots of other men and women are really like. You got to take people as they are and do what you can.
“One thing that shocks a lot of these high-minded folks that live in comfortable homes and never have any trouble except when they have to get a new cook, is the idea of commercialized vice that goes with segregation. Of course it shocks them. But show me some way to stop it. Napoleon believed in segregation and regulation, and a lot of other wise people have, too.
“Here’s the way I think they ought to handle it : they ought to have a district regulated by the Police Department and the Health Department. Then there ought to be restrictions. No bright lights for one thing. No music. No booze. Cut out those things and you kill the place for sightseers. Then there ought 1.o be a law that no woman can be an inmate without going and registering with the police, having her record looked up, and saying she wants to enter the house. That would prevent any possibility of white slavery. Personally, I think there ‘s a lot of bunk about this white-slave talk. But this plan would fix it so a girl could n’t be kept in a house against her will. Any keeper of a house who let in a girl that was n’t registered would be put out of business for good and all. Men ought not to be allowed to have any interest, directly or indirectly, in the management of these places.
“Now, of course, there’s objections to any way at all of handling this question. The minute you say `cut out the booze’ that opens a way to police graft.. But is that any worse than the chance for graft when the women are just chased around from place to place by the police? Segregation gives them some rights, anyhow.
“Some people say `segregation does n’t segregate.’ Well, that ‘s true, too. But segregation keeps the worst of it from being scattered all over town, does n’t it? When you scatter these women you have them living in buildings alongside of respectable families, or, worse yet, you run them onto the streets. That ‘s persecution, and they ‘re bad enough off without that.
“Say, do you think Chicago is really any more moral this minute because the old red-light district is shut down? A few of the resort keepers left town, and maybe a hundred inmates, but most of them stuck. They ‘re around in the residence districts now, running what they call `buffet flats.’
Listening to the little Alderman I was convinced of two things. First, I felt sure that, without thought of self-interest, he was telling me what he really believed. Second, as he is undeniably a man of broad experience among unfortunates of various kinds, his views are interesting.
“I wish you ‘d let me print what you have said,” I urged as we were leaving his saloon.
He shook his head.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” I persisted. “I’ll write it out. Perhaps I can put it in such a way that people will see that you were playing square. Then I ’11 send it to you, and, if it does n’t misrepresent you, perhaps you’ll let me print it after all.”
“All right,” he agreed as we shook hands.