Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna (1858-1946) was born in a shack at Polk and Sholto Streets and left school at the age of 10 to sell newspapers. According to legend, Chicago Tribune publisher and 26th Mayor of Chicago, Joseph Medill (1823-1899), gave him his nickname because of his short stature. He later owned saloons and a hotel and in 1898 was elected Alderman of the 1st Ward. He teamed up with John “Bath House” Coughlin (1860-1938) in running the First Ward until 1920, which included the infamous Levee (a red-light district located near the intersection of Cermak Road and Michigan Avenue in the Near South Side. It was formed in 1893, during the World’s Columbian Exposition, but by 1930 the district had largely been demolished.), home to taverns, gambling dens and brothels. Kenna and Coughlin hosted the Annual First Ward Ball where all the guests were thieves, hookers, and cops.
Prohibition and the rise of Al Capone (1899-1947) weakened their control and revenues, but Hinky Dink remained First Ward Comitteeman until his death at age 89 in 1946. His estate was worth over $1 million and included $33,000 for a mausoleum. However, his heirs kept the money and bought him an $85 tombstone instead.
Originally published in the 2009 Founders’ Day booklet