Touring “really ‘slummy’ places” with the ladies from Gary

Like other urban spectacles, the places and personalities associated with Bohemia were popular tourist destinations.  In this series of letters, a group of women from Gary, Indiana, arrange with Ben Reitman for a “sociological tour” of Chicago’s underworld.  By 1940, Reitman had been giving similar tours for at least 5 years. –TH

March 11, 1940

Dr. Ben L. Reitman
32 N. State Street
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Sir,

A group of Gary women want to make a tour of the slum district of Chicago.  We would like to visit some of the Bohemian places and also some of the really “slummy” places.  I wrote you some time ago but received no reply.

Please answer as soon as you receive this, so we can arrange for some one else if yo are not interested.  If you are, please give us suggestions as to where we may go have dinner etc. and the estimated cost of the tour.  I have attended some of your tours and found them quite instructive and entertaining.  I might suggest Won Kow’s for dinner.

I would like to have this information by Wednesday.

Signed,
Verain L.A. Dilley
Mrs. Harry Dilley

***
Reitman’s reply (carbon copy)

March 12, 1940

Mrs. Harry Dilley
125 East Sixth Street
Gary, Indiana

My dear Mrs. Dilley:

I will be very happy to take a group of Gary women on a sociological tour through Hoboland, Povertyville and Crooktown.  And also visit some of the studios in the Bohemian and Hobohemian district.  Won Kow’s is a very interesting place to dine.  Many of our sociological tour groups dine at the Hull House and some on West Madison street in the heart of Hoboland.  There are all kinds of places to eat–if you prefer Chinese, Won Kow’s is the place.  There are a lot of little West Side restaurants and several good Italian eating places.

Usually at the eating place I invite a few underworld characters–prostitutes, gangsters and beggars–to dine with us.  That all depends upon what you want.

As to my fee:  that depends largely upon the number of the group.  I usually get $25 and pay my speakers and the incidental expenses of the tour.  You can get a good meal for anywhere between 50 cents and a dollar.  We will expect that you will pay for the meals of the speakers that I bring.

I had no previous letter from you.  I can go any night except this Thursday night, when I hope to hear Eleanor Roosevelt.  You can call me up any time during the day at Dearborn 3837.

I have two hobo tours in the last weeks with University of Chicago students.  Today I speak at the Hyde Park YMCA to a Lions Club group.

Yours sincerely
[Ben Reitman]

*****

March 23, 1940

Dr. Ben F. Reitman
32 North State Street
Chicago, Illinois

My Dear Dr. Reitman,

Our group would like to make their tour on Friday, April 12th, if that date is all right for you.  We would like dinner at Won Kow’s around six thirty P.M. then a visit to Bug House Square, Raoul Josset’s Studio, a flop house, a black and tan, and any of the many places you may have in mind, that will give to us examples of the underworld.  This group of women is interested in social welfare work and are quite active.  They are interested in seeing the worst in order that they may work harder for the best.

Kindly let me hear from you by return mail.  By the way some of these women have gone on your tours and they expect great results.

Yours sincerely,
Verain L.A. Dilley
Mrs. Harry Dilley

*****
March 25, 1940

Mrs Harry Dilley
125 East Sixth Ave
Gary, Indiana

My dear Mrs. Dilley:

I was very glad to have your letter, and Friday April 12th, will be satisfactory. We will have a great tour, and visit the flop houses and the dives, the police stations and the homes of the “men that God forgot.”

We’ll have a great time and I’m sure the ladies of your group will have their fill with many a thrill. I’m not too sure that we can go to the artists studio that you suggest–Jossuet moved from his lovely big studio and I don’t know whether his new studio will be large enough for a crowd. But rest assured that we will visit an interesting studio. And if your crowd like it we will go to a studio party, and see some of the artists and the intellectuals, thespians and Lesbians and androgynes.

Tell me, will you make reservations at Won Kow, or shall I do it? Also about how many ladies will be in your group. What will be your means of transportation–are you coming in by bus, the train or auto.

Anticipating a happy, instructive evening and with best wishes, I am,

Yours sincerely,
Ben L. Reitman

*****

March 28, 1940

Dr. Ben L. Reitman
32 North State Street
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Sir,

We shall come by bus, arriving at Won Kow’s Restaurant as nearly at six thirty P. M as we can, and we prefer that you make arrangements for the Chinese dinner that costs around $0.85 the same as we got before, which consisted of a full dinner with dessert, for around that amount. I cannot give you the exact number but there will be approximately twenty-five or thirty.

We are interested in seeing only the slummiest slums and the nicest Bohemian places, dives, police court etc. We have made a thorough study of Gary conditions and we are coming to Chicago to learn more about conditions in the underworld.

We are not interested in visiting the piers or buildings or things of that sort because most of these women are very familiar with the city and want to visit the places they are unable to see without a guide.

The date is April 12, 1940. Your fee I believe is $25.00.

Will you please let me know the cost of the dinner, so I can make out the cost of tickets accordingly.

Yours sincerely,
Verain L. A. Dilley
Mrs. Harry Dilley

###

From the Ben L. Reitman Papers, Supplement II, Folder 93, University of Illinois at Chicago Special Collections. Thanks to Chad Heap for alerting me to this set of correspondence.  You might like to read his book Slumming:  Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940 (University of Chicago Press, 2007).

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