Sukie De La Croix

Sukie De La Croix stands under a fire escape at 20 East Goethe St. Many years ago, people escaped through there from a police raid of a private party (Carolyn Van Houten, Chicago Tribune / May 27, 2013)

Stand on any corner. Close your eyes. Listen. So urges journalist and historian St. Sukie de la Croix in the introduction to his book, "Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall." You'll hear, he writes, the "rat-tat-tat-tat of Al Capone's machine guns, the Haymarket Rioters and the screams of the passengers on the SS Eastland capsizing into the Chicago River of 1915."

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"Stand on the corner long enough," he adds, "peel away those cries of the past like the layers of an onion, and underneath you'll hear the whispering of ghosts as they tell their untold stories. These voices belong to lesbians and gay men locked in the closet of Chicago's past. Men and women who lead double lives, lying to the world by day, then turning up their collars to hide their frightened faces as they dart down litter-strewn alleys into unmarked bars at night."

De la Croix, inducted in 2012 into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, started listening to these "Chicago Whispers" in 1997, six years after arriving here from Britain. He spent years compiling and researching the stories found in this book, which traces LGBT men and women from the Native Americans who lived here before there was a "Chicago" up through the city's founding and explosive growth to Stonewall, the 1969 police raid on a New York City gay bar and subsequent demonstrations that is considered the spark of the modern gay rights movement.

"No one had every asked these people about their lives before," says de la Croix of those he interviewed for the book. "You don't realize until you talk to them that there was this incredible gay and lesbian life."

De la Croix is scrupulous about listing addresses that existed at the time, citing newspaper and magazine articles and offering a detailed bibliography of his sources. He's done this because he wants others to go out and find great LGBT stories for their own books, plays and movies.

Need inspiration? Start by walking — and listening.

Check out the tour by clicking here or on the interactive map below.

View Map: An author's tour of LGBT history in a larger map

Stop 1: 105 E. Walton St.

Then: K-9 Club
Now: 900 N. Michigan retail/residential complex

"PaLeeze!! Why Should I be Mannish?" asks a hankie-carrying cartoon character shaped like a question mark in a 1934 newspaper ad for the K-9 Club, which boasted of "the oddest night club revue in Chicago." The club, which appears to have been located on the south side of the Gold Coast street, somewhere between where Bloomingdale's and Gucci are now, was a drag speakeasy. De la Croix gleefully notes in his book that the "girls" fled down a fire escape during a raid and the cop who tried to stop them was bopped in the head with a beer bottle.

"Everything has been written about Al Capone and the speakeasies, but there was another side,'' he says, explaining why the K-9 Club is on his personal LGBT history tour. "Gay and trans people were involved, too. We were a part of everything that was going on."

The K-9 Club tried to go legit after Prohibition — de la Croix wonders if that advertisement was a sign of "false confidence" — but it didn't last long. The city shut the club down in December 1934.

Stop 2: 909 N. Rush St.

Then: Diamond Lil's
Now: Ugg Australia store

Diamond Lil's offered "real Southern cooking" from 5 to 9 p.m.; same-sex dancing came later, according to de la Croix. A product of the short-lived "Pansy Craze" of the late 1920s, Diamond Lil's was operated by a man who called himself "Diamond Lil" after the character in Mae West's play. "Lil wears a red tie with a huge imitation diamond stick pin,'' wrote University of Chicago sociology students, who visited the club shortly after its 1928 opening."He makes no attempt to conceal what sort of place it is, in fact, by the use of such a name, he advertises it."