Bughouse Square #1 – The Bird Woman

Bughouse Square, the park formally known as Washington Square on Clark Street just above Chicago avenue, was known for decades as Chicago’s Free Speech Park. People used to gather nightly to make speeches and heckle other speakers – up to 3000 people per night would show up when the weather was good. It was THE place to be for Chicago area weirdos for nearly a century up until about 1960. Today, we launch a new series that will feature some of these historical Chicagoans individually, beginning with…


While not known to make speeches, the Bird Woman was a familiar site in the park around the 1930s and 40s. She was sort of like the “Feed the Birds” woman from “Mary Poppins,” with one major difference: she was psychotic!

During this time, Bughouse Square was pretty generally thought of as a real dump, littered with drunks, bums and garbage. But the little old bird woman would stake out a spot early each day, asking “have you fed the birds today, dearie?” to anyone passing by.

If you were so foolish as to say you had not, she would work herself into a fever pitch with a tirade that the Tribune quoted at length in 1942:

“And the life of man who walketh upon the Earth is not worth one cent!” she would rail, “while the life of birds who fly in the air transcends all! And you, you transgressor who feedeth not the birds, your life is not worth half of one cent! I am the one appointed by God to feed his birds! God in heaven smiles at me, but you, but you….”

At this point, according to reporters who dared not quote her further, the speech would descend into a mix of religion and profanity as she chased the poor people through the park.

For more on Bughouse Square, see here.

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