|Copyright ©Chicago Billiard Museum. All Rights Reserved.
|In early October of 1871, a devastating fire broke out in Chicago.
But luckily, quick thinking folks all over town were scrambling to
save important items and documents from destruction. And as
you might expect, the people over at City Hall were also thinking
quick when they heroically boxed up all the City Council records
and proceedings to save them from the fire.
There was only one problem. After the fire, it was determined that
all of the records had disappeared anyway. And no explanation
ever emerged, so it was presumed that everything must have
been lost to the fire.
This was a tragic loss of a great deal of information. All of the City
Council proceedings were hand written and maintained by the
city clerk - and served as the council's working papers, the
primary documents written by or presented to the council. They
included virtually every letter, ordinance, election return, permit
and scrap of paper that the Chicago City Council ever received or
But in 1983 an amazing thing happened. The complete collection
of City Council records (from 1833 all the way up to 1940) was
discovered intact, in an old municipal warehouse at 3150 South
It's at least a little bit ironic that the records had indeed survived
the fire,only to be lost again. Darn the bad luck.
These long lost records are chock full of interesting and
historically significant information on a wide variety on topics. But
these records also provide a unique glimpse back in time, to an
underlying (and presumably forgotten) struggle between the
keepers of billiard rooms - and the City of Chicago.
Although they were initially banned by The State, in the late
1830's Chicago was permitted to enact ordinances, allowing
billiard table licenses and permits. But everything didn't go quite
as smoothly as the city had hoped.
The license fees for each table, per year, were set relatively and
perhaps unnecessarily high. This caused billiard room, hotel,
and tavern owners to repeatedly petition the city for lower fees.
When that didn't work, they would sometimes outright refuse to
pay. More room owners eventually joined in the miniature revolt
until the whole mess finally boiled over...
The Mayor in 1857, "Long John" Wentworth, got fed up and
decided he was going to fix the problem once and for all. He
issued a stern public statement in the newspaper threatening to
indict every billiard room owner and every billiard player in the
city if all licensing fees weren't promptly paid !
He was going to have them all arrested by the state if they didn't
comply with the city's ordinances. A controversial and bold move
to say the least. But that is exactly how John Wentworth operated.
Big and bold. (document #269 below)
Needless to say, future protests of billiard licensing fees were
executed in a slightly more professional manner. With polite
letters to the City Council, cosigned by all interested parties, no
indictments necessary. But the battle was far from over.
In 1870, a written appeal was again made to city hall to reduce
license fees.(see document #1111) And in 1884, Brunswick
actually filed a lawsuit to prevent the fees from being collected.
|Included below are a few select examples from the lost City Council records.
(These are photographs of the original documents)
Document #1737 July 10, 1843
Petition of City in relation to ball alleys & billiard rooms.
(request for reduction of license fees or "penalties")
Document #2036 May 23, 1844
An ordinance to amend an ordinance concerning billiard tables and ball alleys.
(no more billiard playing after 8pm ! )
Document #269 April 27, 1857
Communication related to billiard table keepers presented by the Mayor.
(aka: the Mayor's big threat)
Apparently Michael Phelan is dealing with the same fee issues out east, so he also
sends a letter of protest to the powers that be.
1862 Letter from Micheal Phelan protesting high billiard fees.
(not from the lost document collection)
Document #1111 Aug 15, 1870
Petition for reduction of fines, for running billiard tables.
(notable signatures on this page! Including Tom Foley)
Document #2096 Nov 14, 1870
Ordinance regulating issue of licenses to billiard saloons.
The fight continues...
1884 Brunswick files a lawsuit against the City to stop the collection of billiard
(not from the lost document collection)
|The Lost City Council Documents of Chicago