Bughouse Square Debates Washington Square Park
When: Saturday, July 27, 2019, Noon – 4 pm
Where: Washington Square Park (a.k.a., Bughouse Square), 901 North Clark Street, across from the Newberry Library. This program is free and no reservations are required.
Join the Newberry Library for Chicago’s favorite annual free speech event. Food trucks include:La Cocinita, Gobble Doggs, Itsapop. Cheap eats Gold Coast Newberry Library Book Fair is going on across the street.
Noon: Music by Environmental Encroachment
1 pm: Welcome and Introduction to Bughouse Square
1:10 pm: Presentation of the 2018 John Peter Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award
- To be awarded to Derrick Blakley, longtime broadcast and print journalist, recently retired from CBS 2 Chicago.
1:35 pm: Mainstage Presentation/Discussion: The Legacies of 1919
- Natalie Y. Moore, South Side Reporter, WBEZ Chicago
- Charles Whitaker, Interim Dean and Professor, Medill School, Northwestern University
2:30 pm: Soapbox Speeches
- Soapboxes 1 and 2: Invited speeches.
- Soapbox 3: Open microphone speeches, curated by the Society of Smallness. Come one, come all!
- Soapbox 4: Youth soapbox, organized by students from the GCE Lab School.
3:45 pm: Dill Pickle Awarded to the Soapbox Champion
- Beaver’s Coffee + Donuts
- Gobble Doggs
- About two dozen local organizations and causes will set up information tables in the park, with volunteers to answer your questions. Would your organization like to be represented? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 312-255-3610.
This year’s Main Presentation is part of Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots, a year-long initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, engaging in public conversations about the legacy of the most violent week in Chicago history, organized by the Newberry Library and 13 other Chicago institutions.
History of Bughouse Square Debates (bughouse is slang for mental health facility)
- From 1910s through the 1960s Washington Square Park was Chicago’s boisterous and radical free-speech space for Bohemians, socialists, atheists, and religionists of all persuasions who mounted soapboxes, spoke to responsive, vocal crowds, and competed informally for attention and donations.
- During the 1920s and 1930s busloads of tourists joined the scene with thousands of people gathered on summer evenings.
- World War II and a post-war crackdown against socialists and communists led to Bughouse Square’s decline and, by the mid-1960s, it had all but ceased to exist.
- The Newberry and community activists officially revived the spirit of the park with the Bughouse Square Debates in 1986.
History of Washington Square Park (redacted from Chicago Park District website)
- In 1842, the American Land Company donated a three-acre parcel to the city for use as a public park. The donors named the site Washington Square, possibly after the park located in the New York City neighborhood.
- Chicago’s Washington Square was soon surrounded by many high end residences and churches. In 1869, the city began improving Washington Square with lawn, trees, bisecting diagonal walks, limestone coping, and picket fencing.
- By 1906 the park had fallen into ruin. Many old mansions were converted into flophouses and the neighborhood was downtrodden. Alderman McCormick donated a $600 fountain, and the city allocated an additional $10,000 to rehabilitate the park. Landscape improvements were planned by the renowned designer, Jens Jensen.
- In 1959, the city transferred Washington Square to the Chicago Park District. The 1906 fountain was removed in the 1970s. In the late 1990s, the park district, the city, and neighborhood organizations developed a restoration plan for Washington Square. Improvements include a reconstructed historic fountain, period lighting, fencing, and new plantings.