Washington Square

Park in Gold Coast

This plain-looking park across from the Newberry Library has quite a history. In the 1920s it was known as ‘Bughouse Square,’ where communists, socialists, anarchists and other -ists congregated and gave soapbox orations. Many supposedly lived in nearby 'bughouses' – cheap hotels – hence the nickname. Lawyer Clarence Darrow and poet Carl Sandburg are among the respected speakers who climbed up and shouted.

In the 1970s, when Washington Sq was a gathering place for young male prostitutes, it gained tragic infamy as the preferred pick-up spot of mass murderer John Wayne Gacy. Gacy took his victims back to his suburban home, where he killed them and buried their bodies in the basement. Convicted on 33 counts of murder (although the actual tally may be higher), he was executed in 1994.

Today the square bears little trace of its past lives – except for one weekend a year in late July. That’s when the Bughouse Debates occur and orators return to holler at each other.


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