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» The Chicago Alderman Who Outlawed Tall Hats and Tried to Outlaw Football

1930 N. Cleveland, as soon as house to Alderman Plotke [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

At 1930 N. Cleveland St, a white Italianate cottage (above) stands as an ornate link to Nathan Plotke, a principally forgotten Chicago alderman and Illinois state legislator, who, in 1897 made national headlines with two articles of legislation.

He gained notoriety for his efforts to prohibit the sporting of tall hats in a theater, and later ridicule for his attempt to outlaw soccer in the city of Chicago. He was moreover remembered by his youngsters for making an incorrect prediction concerning the Nice Hearth in 1871.

Hardly a Better Man Recognized in his Ward

Nathan Plotke was a legislator and later alderman with a popularity as a sharp-witted lawyer and of excellent ethical character. He earned a wide range of endorsements from civic and governmental organizations as he transitioned from training lawyer to legislator.

Nathan Plotle bio, Chicago Inter Ocean, 1896

Born in Prussia (now Germany), Plotke immigrated to america at 17. Two years after his arrival, he moved to Chicago and labored at a cigar manufacturing unit. After a couple of years in the manufacturing unit, he pursued an schooling in regulation and admitted to the bar in 1871.

In 1880 at 39 years previous, Plotke turned a Republican congressman within the Illinois House of Representatives, the place he served until his election for Alderman of Chicago’s Twenty-First Ward in 1896. In saying his candidacy at the time the Chicago Inter Ocean famous: “Hardly a man is better known in his ward than Mr. Plotke.”

While his time as a state consultant was unremarkable, his time on City Council would put his identify in newspapers throughout the country for his legislative efforts.


From the article New types for ladies from Paris, Chicago Tribune, 1895

Plotke’s First Act: The High Drama of Excessive Hats

In the 1880s ladies’s style took an abrupt flip, notably for ladies’s hats. The modest bonnets well-liked in earlier many years gave method to a more conspicuous look:

All through the 1870s and 1880s, hats and bonnets have been on a trend par. Ladies who needed a more modest look typically most popular bonnets. Sadly for bonnets, this ultimately related them with a matronly look. Very tall hats of the mid 1880s have been often known as ‘3-story’ or ‘flowerpots’ and for excellent purpose. They soared atop the hair, showing as if a roof on the tower of a constructing. This type originated as a revival of a late 18th century lady’s driving hat. That in flip was a replica of a man’s type of the same interval.

Chicago Tribune articles on difficulty of excessive hats. September 1896, January 1895, March 1895

Let them abstain from the alluring temptations of the seven-storied headgear

With this evolution in ladies’s style got here vitriol from men in theaters and entertainment halls whose have been turned obstructed by the ‘flowerpots’ in front of them.

The front pages of newspapers in Chicago and across the nation spilled gallons of ink decrying the obstructed theater view, setting the stage for Alderman Plotke to take motion

In “It really must go” (above middle), an 1895 column steeped in drama and hyperbole made the following plea:

Allow them to abstain from the alluring temptations of the seven-storied headgear. […] Allow them to think of the guy mortals who occupy the seats behind them, and a threatening drawback will probably be solved without the invocation of pains and penalties, arrests, fines, and bayonets.

Men at the time seem incapable of a peaceable decision, as an alternative writing columns hinting at punishment and violence because of an obstructed view of the stage.

Composite of illustrations from article describing new “high hat ordinance” Chicago Inter Ocean, 1897

After an obvious damaging theatre experience by which Mr. Plotke’s view of the stage was obstructed by individuals sporting tall hats, he sought to legislate an answer with a bit of help from widespread damaging publicity in the press.

He drafted an ordinance that imposed fines on theater house owners who allowed patrons to wear hats that obstructed the views of others. His preliminary laws was vetoed by the mayor, however later handed with revisions that penalized the hat-wearing patron as opposed to theater administration.

The January 1897 edition of Metropolis Authorities journal proclaimed:

Alderman Plotke, of Chicago, deserves to have his ill-sounding, but maybe more honorable identify handed down to posterity. In the course of the centuries to come, when poor man may have his vision of the ballet unobstructed, the very Honorable Mr. Plotke can be gratefully remembered because the originator of “the theatre hat ordinance.”

A Hint for Theatre Managers, Chicago Tribune, January 18th, 1897

After the passage of the regulation in January 1897, Chicago newspaper accounts of the theatre hat difficulty utterly disappeared, although smaller cities took up comparable measures with diversified success. It’s doubtless that mere press led to a change in conduct and the regulation in Chicago was by no means formally enforced.


Bankers’ Athletic Membership Football Workforce. Chicago Inter Ocean, November 1897

Plotke’s Second Act: An Unsuccessful Prohibition of Football

In his first yr as alderman, Nathan Plotke brought himself and Chicago into the entrance pages of newspapers throughout the nation together with his legislation on theatre hats. In the months after, he picked up a new trigger which had also turn into a supply of nice debate: the newly rising sport of football.

Starting round 1896, the Chicago Tribune revealed a collection of scathing editorials about football, derisively calling it slugball.

But Plotke’s motivations for his bill to abolish football have been described as opposition to brutality, according to a quote in Chicago Inter Ocean:

My cause for introducing the ordinance is that I feel football is just too brutal for civilized individuals to play and that it isn’t a professional recreation and must be suppressed. I am not in search of notoriety, as said in a number of the city papers. […]

In fact if the individuals of Chicago want to see the sport, I can’t struggle for its suppression, however I’m satisfied that, apart from a comparative few who play soccer, there’s not much curiosity within the recreation.

— Ald. Nathan Plotke

The Tribune’s pages conveyed a profound sense of disapproval of soccer, however this wasn’t matched in public sentiment, notably when the difficulty came up in Metropolis Council.

As Plotke’s ordinance came up for a vote, chambers have been full of football golf equipment from around the city and audible jeers and boos greeted Plotke’s plan. A gaggle of aldermen from Irish-dominated wards who feared it will prohibit Gaelic soccer additionally confirmed up in pressure to protest.

Additional spelling doom for Plotke’s plan was Mayor Harrison who enjoyed watching football.

Chicago Inter Ocean, November 1897

Recognizing the bill’s unpopularity, Plotke attempted to transfer the difficulty to committee where it might die quietly. However other aldermen intervened, forcing a vote.

Not solely did the alders from Irish wards drive a vote on the doomed measure, one tried to “kill it by ridicule” according to the Tribune:

The amusing function of the game was a useless try on the part of Alderman Coughlin to get in an amendment meant to kill the ordinance by drive of ridicule. It included in the regulation on football all such games as pinocle, high spy, and checkers.

The amendment didn’t make it, but Plotke’s defeat in council was still humiliating.

He ran for alderman of the Twenty-First Ward once more in 1898, however misplaced to Henry Turner.


Nathan Plotke’s remaining residence, 1918 N. Bissell St. [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

The Last Act: Minimize Brief After An Lively Term in Public Workplace

After his re-election defeat in 1898, Plotke returned to his personal regulation apply as Plotke & Frazier, on Clark Road. Across the similar time, he and his spouse bought their house at 1930 N. Cleveland and moved to 169 Bissell St. (at this time 1918 N. Bissell).

Two years after leaving public office and shifting, Nathan Plotke succumbed to “congestion of the heart” and was interred in Rosehill Cemetery.


Chicago Tribune, June 1941

Chicago’s Oldest Twins and the Great Hearth Postscript

Long after Nathan Plotke died, he lived on within the imagination of journalists and historians due to his efforts in the theatre hat ordinance and failed attempt to prohibit football.

One of the final newspaper mentions of Plotke’s legislative fame came in a Tribune article documenting the life of the oldest twins in Chicago, Tillie Jacobs and Rose Levey. The twins have been Nathan Plotke’s nieces, and he and Ms. Plotke raised them from very early childhood.

Within the 1941 article, they recalled life in early Chicago and a singular occasion through which their uncle turned exasperated and having his view of a theatre present obstructed by tall hats.

But maybe most apparently, they recalled having slept by way of the Great Hearth:

Early within the evening of Oct 9, 1871, she stated, a neighbor dropped in to say there was a fireplace downtown and heading our means [on Erie St between Clark and Dearborn]. Uncle Nathan put his hand on the plaster, laughing and stated the wall was nonetheless cold, and soon afterward the household retired. Once we acquired up next morning all was confusion.

Our water provide was reduce off. My sisters, Sadie and Bertha, wandered throughout a nearby park in search of water and obtained lost. They have been found by Elias Greenebaum, the banker, who placed them at a refugee middle the place the family later discovered them.

–Tillie Jacobs in the Tribune, June 15, 1941

Nathan Plotke managed to achieve temporary nationwide fame via each successful and wildly unsuccessful bids to legislate what he thought was proper.

In the case of soccer, he was a poor decide of estimating public sentiment and response. In the case of the Great Hearth, his miscalculation brought on a quick emergency and household separation.

Some aldermen have streets named of their honor, or have honorary plaques, or chapters in historical past books outlining their place in Chicago’s history. Given his capacity to cross so many paths of city fame in such a short time, perhaps it’s time to give Nathan Plotke the entry in metropolis historical past he deserves–even when it’s solely a humorous plaque noting the nationwide drama of tall hats in theatres.