Waiters’ Revenge (6-22-1918)

One hundred years ago today, Chicagoans heard the shocking news.  More than 100 local waiters had been taken into police custody during raids on union headquarters.

Over the past week, nearly two dozen people, including Mayor Thompson, had become violently ill after dining in downtown restaurants.  The Hotel Sherman had then hired a detective agency to investigate why several of its guests had gotten sick.  The detectives found that the victims had been given a “Mickey Finn cocktail”—a concoction used to induce vomiting.

Victim Thompson

The world was in turmoil in June 1918.  While the Great War dragged on and on, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and were promoting other revolutions.  Chicagoans remembered the anarchist poison outrage at Archbishop Mundelein’s installation banquet a few years earlier.  So now those 100 waiters were rounded up, to see if they were involved in some larger conspiracy.

The police later determined that the Mickey Finns were not part of a dastardly plot.  A few waiters had simply been using them as a revenge on “tightwads” who didn’t leave big enough tips.

The emetic powder had been packaged in envelopes and sold to the waiters by a man working in union headquarters.  Each envelope was labeled “Mickey Finn Powder—12 doses triple strength.”  Only the uninitiated believed the further text that said the powder was an “antidote for drunkenness.”

In the end, despite the efforts of grandstanding politicians, no conspiracy was proven.  A few people got off with a little jail time.  Whether Chicago restaurant patrons began leaving bigger tips was never determined.



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