John Coughlin (alderman)

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John Coughlin
Bathhouse John Coughlin.jpg
Personal details
Born (1860-08-15)August 15, 1860
Died November 11, 1938(1938-11-11) (aged 78)
Residence Chicago, Illinois

"Bathhouse" John Coughlin (August 15, 1860 – November 11, 1938) was an alderman of Chicago's First Ward from 1892 until his death. He was the longest serving alderman in Chicago history until November 2014 when his record was surpassed by Edward M. Burke.


Coughlin was born August 15, 1860 in Chicago. He acquired his nickname as a result of working in a bathhouse as a masseur.[1] Eventually he was able to purchase a tavern and several bathhouses of his own. Coughlin was elected alderman from Chicago's First Ward on April 5, 1892.[2][nb 1] Coughlin and his partner, fellow First Ward alderman Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna, were known as the "Lords of the Levee", a district which was part of their ward. The Levee was known as being a vice-ridden section of Chicago and home to many saloons, gambling dens, prostitutes, pimps, and flop houses. The two also led the Gray Wolves of Chicago.[3]

First Ward Ball[edit]

Cartoons from the Chicago Tribune depicting "Bathhouse" John (left) and "Hinky Dink" Kenna (right)

Coughlin and Kenna were also the hosts of the First Ward Ball, an annual political fundraiser which brought together safecrackers, prostitutes, gangsters, politicians, businessmen, gamblers, and a variety of other types. The event raised more than $50,000 a year for the two First Ward aldermen until it was closed down in 1909 by Mayor Fred Busse. By the time it was banned, the ball was so large that it had to be held in the Chicago Coliseum, the city's major convention center. Besides its notoriety in attracting many unsavory characters it often ended with the police having to curb disorderly conduct bordering on rioting.

Later career[edit]

Later when Coughlin was accused of corruption, he demanded a retraction, not for the charge of graft, but for the claim he was born in Waukegan, Illinois.

Coughlin was re-elected 19 times and never defeated.[4] After 46 years as alderman of the First Ward, Coughlin died in office at age 78 of pneumonia at Mercy Hospital in Chicago on November 11, 1938.[1] Like his partner Michael Kenna, Coughlin is buried in Cavalry Cemetery, Evanston, Cook County Illinois[5]

Further reading[edit]

  1. Wendt, Lloyd; Kogan, Herman (2005). Lords of the Levee. Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0-8101-2320-7. 


  1. ^ a b Evans, Arthur (November 12, 1938). "Coughlin to Get Kind of Funeral That He'd Wish". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL: Tribune Co. p. 12. 
  2. ^ "All Down But Nine: Out Of 34 Old Aldermen 25 Are Retired". Chicago Tribune. April 6, 1892. p. 1. 
  3. ^ Maureen A. Flanagan. "Gray Wolves". Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  4. ^ Doherty, James (May 24, 1953). "The Story of Bathhouse John: Chicago's Fabulous First Ward Alderman Coughlin". Chicago Tribune. 
  5. ^ John Coughlin at Find a grave


  1. ^ Reference incorrectly states Coughlin's age at election as 35.