Brothels, babes and booze, in McHenry County? In Huntley?
Craig Pfannkuche, a volunteer researcher with the McHenry County Historical Society, recently spoke to the Huntley Senior Citizens Club on those salacious subjects, telling of the county’s most lawless era, the 1920s and early 1930s.
"McHenry County was a wild and dangerous place in the 1920s,” he said.
With documentation in hand, Pfannkuche told the group, “Everyone knows about the crime and corruption in Chicago, but just as much criminal activity took place in McHenry County.”
He told of Al Capone’s Fox River Grove hideout where Capone and his gang “entertained women.” Pfannkuche said he has evidence that some of those women were from Huntley.
He told of local men riding the Interurban trolley, which traveled between Elgin and Belvidere with stations at Huntley, Union and Marengo, making it easy to visit the notorious brothel in Union.
Pfannkuche said at that time Union “was a hellhole.” He referenced an article in the 1995 book “McHenry County in the Twentieth Century” which stated, “Union was a ‘hot spot’ for drinking and slot machines. Local prohibition task forces made many raids there.”
“You could drink yourself almost to death and visit the local brothel with its ‘scantily attired women,’” Pfannkuche said.
He said the building that housed the brothel was the old Northwestern Hotel and although it is no longer used, the building is still there.
Pfannkuche said prostitution also was rampant in Harvard in the 1920s. A large brothel existed there as well.
“Harvard was a railroad town with lots of transient men interested in sex,” he said. “There were women who would come out from Chicago, or local farm girls who wanted to make a few dollars, who were involved in this brothel. Six young men were arrested in 1923 in Harvard.”
Roadhouses and dance halls dotted the county at that time, and scandals abounded. Moonshine, cigarettes and jazz music influenced the activities in small towns across northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, Pfannkuche claimed.
According to the county history book, during the turbulent 1930s, a roving gang robbed dance halls and road houses. In September of 1933, The Crystal Lodge was one establishment struck by the gang, who made off with $500.
One of the most hellacious tavern/brothels in the county, according to Pfannkuche, was The Bubbling Over, located west of Woodstock on Route 14 on the way to Harvard.
“It was the worst hellhouse of a roadhouse in McHenry County,” the historian informed the seniors. “They brought in ‘sporting women’ from Elgin and Huntley to work there.”
An article in the January 17, 1928, edition of the Chicago Tribune reported the indictments of 16 young men, who lived and worked on farms in the Huntley area, for “contributing to the delinquency of young girls.”
The men were aged 16 to 21 and the four Huntley girls, who testified against them before a grand jury, where all under 18 years of age. One of the girls was only 13 and “about to become a mother,” the article reported.
The men had been “plying the girls with liquor” and the article said the men had made good money at this endeavor in Fontana, Wisconsin, before they set up shop in Huntley.
According to the article, the grand jury had been looking into juvenile vice in McHenry County.
Pfannkuche said the McHenry County State’s Attorney at the time, Vincent Lumley, turned a blind eye to the county’s vice.
“He didn’t enforce laws against prostitution, liquor law violations or slot machines because that activity brought a lot of people out to McHenry County to have a good time.”
Pfannkuche said Lumley also was protecting Al Capone’s forces in McHenry County.
The 1995 county history book said areas like Fox River Grove, McHenry and the Chain-O-Lakes also had reputations for being able to supply drinking, gambling and prostitution.
But the book does mention the other side of the story.
Apparently there was a strong temperance movement in the county at the time. The book noted that in September of 1928, Union’s temperance organizer Cole Peterson led a raid on a still on Lucas Road between Woodstock and Crystal Lake.