Making Modernism

Dill Pickle Handbill, 1919

Like The Dil Pickle itself, this document brings together many individuals who were part of the literary and cultural life of early twentieth-century Chicago: the writer Sherwood Anderson; the founder of the Dil Pickle, Jack Jones; the Polish-born artist Stanislaw Szukalski, who created the woodcut of Jones; and the editor Henry Blackman Sell, who published the piece in the book section of the Chicago Daily News in 1919.

The Dil Pickle was a bohemian meeting place in Tower Town, or “Hobohemia,” the neighborhood surrounding the Newberry Library.  1917, the club moved nearby to 18 Tooker Alley, off Dearborn between Chestnut and Delaware, where it continued its existence until 1933.  The sign above the entrance read:  “step high stoop low leave your dignity outside.”  The club served coffee, tea, and light refreshments of dubious quality (and sometimes also served as a speakeasy); the main draw was always the conversation of the wide variety of patrons.  In addition to dances, and some of the earliest productions in Chicago’s “little theatre” movement, the Dil Pickle’s chief claim to fame was Saturday night lectures by prominent people, experts, or anyone Jack Jones deemed “a nut about something.”

Jack Jones had been a western hard rock miner, an organizer for the I.W.W., and briefly the husband of the labor activist and feminist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn before he moved to Chicago in 19xx.  Jones was missing several fingers—either from mining accidents or safecracking—it depended on the story.  The Dil Pickle, a “non-Profit to Promote Arts, crafts, Literature and Sciences” (spelled with only one l to prevent copyright conflicts), was Jones’s focus until his death in 1940.

Sherwood Anderson was a regular at the Dil Pickle, with the radicals, college professors, housewives and hobos.  Stanislaw Szukalski, who came to Chicago as a teenage artistic protégé, met his wife at the Dil Pickle, the wealthy heiress Helen Walker.  And Henry Blackman Sell—who published the collaboration between Anderson and Szukalski—was the editor of the Wednesday book review at the Chicago Daily News.  Sell persuaded the editors to create this section of the paper, supported by advertising, and he helped to promote American authors during his editorship from 1916 to 1920.

Lynne Adrian, University of Alabama

Link to the finding aid for this collection

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