Location: Internet Archive Date: 1892
They called her “the Paris of America.” If a visitor couldn’t find a recreation or diversion to satisfy his or her taste, it was their fault, not Chicago’s.
In 1892 all eyes were on the city as it prepared for the Columbian Exposition to open the following year. Guide books galore were published to entice the visitor to not only the Fair, but the fair city. Chicago had a lot to offer and she boasted her wares. One such guide was Chicago By Day and Night and it paints a vivid portrait of life in the city – for those who were able to pay the price or willing to take the chance. (Note: the author of the book is not listed, but is thought to be Harold Richard Vynne. Vynne died in the Cook County Poorhouse Hospital in 1903 of “alcoholic dementia.”)
There are the usual guide book offerings – suggestions on where to stay, recommended restaurants, theaters, etc. But, there are also survival tips for the urban greenhorn. You just don’t see this in today’s Chicago guidebooks…:
PERILS AND PITFALLS
IT is nor insulting the intelligence of the stranger to warn him against the unscrupulous persons who will beset his path,for they are so numerous and make their appearance at such unexpected times and places that the very smartest of us ,all are occasionally in danger of being victimized. There are probably more “crooked” people in Chicago at the present writing than any other city in the Union, and it is altogether probable that this number will be largely increased during the progress of the Fair.
The criminal classes who infest Chicago at all times are extremely varied. The common tough, whose exterior and manner of comporting himself proclaim his worthlessness, is not very much to be feared. Such gentry will be well cared for by the police during the great rush to the Fair. Indeed, it is quite probable that all suspicious or known disreputable characters will be spotted at once and given a chance to leave the city, a failure to avail themselves of which, will result in their imprisonment until the Fair is over. But there are other gentry who are infinitely more dangerous. The term “bunco-steerer” perhaps best signifies their calling. The term bunco-steerer originally meant a decoy, or “capper,” who led or “steered” the confiding stranger against a bunco “lay-out.” Lately, however, its meaning has broadened. By “bunco-steerer” is now meant the oily, genial gentleman who approaches you on the street corners and politely inquires after your health, supplementing this query with another as to whether you would not like a chance to get into any sort of game whatsoever. The bunco-steerer will turn his wits to almost any scheme to make money at the expense of his more honest fellow-creatures. He belongs to the great army of confidence men who prey upon mankind in general and upon gullible strangers in large cities in particular.
The confidence man! Ah, beware of him if you value your peace. He may make his appearance at any moment and in any guise. The very suave and polished gentleman who sits opposite to you at the table in the dining car and chats so delightfully with you as you ride into the city together may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, with designs on your purse. The very clumsy confidence man who walks up and slaps you on the back with a cordial “How de do, Jones, how are all the folks?” and immediately tries to scrape up an acquaintance, is not to be dreaded except by very green people who have never been in a big city before. It is the polished villain, the polite, well-dressed person who, while preserving a dignified demeanor, nevertheless tries to scrape up an acquaintance and then proceeds to divulge as he will sooner or later a chance by which a little easy money can be made, who is ‘to be feared. A very good rule to go by is to preserve a polite manner to all strangers, but not to enter into confidential relations with any man who hasn’t been introduced to you by some one whom you thoroughly know. The pleasures of a chance acquaintance may be great but they are accompanied by dangers to your purse. If you go into a quiet little game of cards at a hotel it is a “cinch” that you will lose your money, because the men who invite you into it are cheats and will not give you a fair show. They are confederates and the money they show cuts no figure, because they have entered into a combination to fleece the stranger.
The rhapsodical gentleman who rushes up to you and proceeds to tell you glibly of all the people who live in your town has spotted you for a victim. Look out for him. It is easy to account for the knowledge he displays. Such people make a habit of hanging about the hotel and studying the history of every guest. That is how this sleek gentleman succeeded in ascertaining so much about you, my friend. The hotel people watch very closely for such gentry and when one of them is caught he is never given an opportunity to repeat his offense.
There are two bits of advice which if followed closely will probably save the unwary stranger from all harm. In the first place never enter a place you would be ashamed to have your family at home know you entered; and in the second place never sign any papers or lend any money or valuables at the request of strangers.
Among the devices for snaring the wayfarer’s honest dollar is the “snap” auction sale. Passing along a leading thoroughfare one encounters a big shop flanked on the outside by two well dressed young men who are doing all they can to attract custom. Inside, a red-faced auctioneer is expatiating on the magnificence of the plate and jewelry he is offering for sale. Don’t be deceived by the plate and jewelry. It would probably be expensive at $5 a ton. Nevertheless, the auctioneer is eloquent. It is possible,too, that he may exhibit for a moment a really valuable watch or ring, only to deftly conceal it and substitute a worthless one for it as soon as somebody shall have made a bid. Scattered about among the spectators are numerous “cappers” who, whenever an article is put up, bid a few dollars against each other. As soon as a stranger makes a bid of any sort the article is promptly knocked down to him and handed over. When he gets away he discovers too late that he has been duped.
One has not space at command to cite all the methods by which the unwary are fleeced out of their wealth. Besides, new and treacherous schemes are constantly being invented. It is impossible to tell what plot the genius of the confidence man will strike next. These shrewd geniuses have even gone so far as the selling of banana stalks to farmers for seed. It must not be supposed by this that all Chicagoans are dishonest, although many foolish people who contrive to get fleeced generally go home uttering loud cries at the greed and dishonesty of the big city by the lake. But as long as there are geese to be plucked there will be rascals looking out for the chance to do the plucking. Take reasonable precautions and you stand in no danger. But make merry with chance companions in questionable resorts, and, unless Providence has taken you under its especial charge, you will go home a sadder, wiser and poorer man.