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New 'Political Corruption' Walking Tour In Chicago Has Plenty Of Material

By David Matthews | April 26, 2016 5:22am | Updated on April 27, 2016 10:49am
 Tour guide Paul Dailing (right) along with corrupt pols Rod Blagojevich, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and
Tour guide Paul Dailing (right) along with corrupt pols Rod Blagojevich, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and "Big Bill" Thompson.
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DNAinfo/David Matthews; Getty Images; Wikimedia Commons; DNAinfo/Ted Cox

DOWNTOWN — A new walking tour dedicated to Chicago's political corruption is a lot more than laps around City Hall. 

Hatched by a local journalist, the new "Chicago Corruption Walking Tour" takes a long look at the city's most outrageous political scandals and packs them into an afternoon stroll Downtown. With a lens ranging from 17th century fur trader Louis Joliet to the convicted Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the tour has no shortage of material. 

"The problem was editing it down," tour guide Paul Dailing said. "This could be a five-hour tour." 

Dailing, an assistant editor at a local trade publication and head of the 1,001 Chicago Afternoons Blog, said he spent months researching for his new tour kicking off May 1. By the time Dailing finished the work, his girlfriend thought "Harold Washington Library exploded on her apartment," he said. 

The result is a few hours of tidbits that might have escaped even the most hardcore political buffs. But that's not why Dailing, a onetime riverboat guide, started the new tour. 

"A lot of times people in Chicago talk about corruption like it's something cute," Dailing said. "It's not cute, it's awful."

The tour starts at the site of the former Workingman's Exchange bar on South Clark Street, where Aldermen Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna and "Bathhouse" John Coughlin traded free beer for votes at the turn of the 20th Century. 

The tour then heads to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where gangsters were held after mob lawyer Robert Cooley volunteered to wear a wire for the FBI. The investigation led to the 1993 conviction of former Ald. Fred Roti.

And to Dirksen Courthouse, where disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich stood trial. Nearby at the corner Dearborn and Adams streets, you can see four different gerrymandered congressional districts.

But the favorite story Dailing unearthed is about former mayor William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson, who after his first term kept his name in the paper by announcing an expedition for a tree-climbing South American fish. Instead of South America, Thompson "went to New Orleans and got drunk," Dailing said. 

The tours start May 1, with subsequent tours on Sundays through June 26. The cost is $15 for a shorter, 90-minute tour, and $25 for the full three-hour stroll into River North. Half of Dailing's tips will benefit City Bureau, a news startup focused on training young journalists from the city's South and West sides. 

There's a lot more Dailing will talk about on the tours, but he can't reveal all his material. He does promise to share stories that would normally be overlooked, though.

"Like John Oliver says, 'You want to do something evil, put it inside something boring,' " Dailing said. "Those are the stories I want to tell." 

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