the challenge 2 * the rise of samsy dwellings
Samuel Dwellings was born in June 1964 – in Chicago. He was an only child. His father deserted the home the same year leaving Samuel (Samsy) and his mother to fight for their own survival. Elspeth, the mother, worked as a stripper by night and a hotel maid at the La Salle by day.
The hardest part of the job was convincing the customers that prostitution was not included in the door cover – some nights Elspeth was left to fight off the men alone as the clubs’ owners and the door muscle were absent playing baccarat in the large upstairs room that catered for them and members of the Chicago Mafia.
‘Handsome’ Johnny Roselli often came by to buy a girl and play the tables, Paul ‘ The Waiter ‘ Ricca also visited regularly before he moved to Detroit but he would never sit at the tables. Many of the men wore guns, discreetly. Disagreements were settled in an alley behind the club and the local garbage collectors disposed of any waste that resulted from such meetings. This was the standard arrangement of the times. The inner city waste industry was run by the Mafia, as were the municipal dumps.
Elspeth’s shift was for five hours from six pm to 11 pm six nights a week. She had to provide her own costumes, clean them, pay for her hairdresser and pay the rent for her time at the make-up table. All in cash and all before her shift, failure to pay meant her shift was cancelled and another girl was put up.
Samsy had a place inside the make-up room, his bassinet was set up in a corner behind a rack of dresses and all the girls looked in on him while Elspeth was on the deck working. He was a quiet boy.
Worked with ‘ Diamond Joe ‘ Esposito in Cuba.
Worked in Chicago with the ‘ The South Side Gang ‘ – Al Capone
Worked with Frank Nitti after Capone was imprisoned.
Suspected in taking part in over 24 murders.
He slipped in and out of Chicago society like ‘ Cashmere on a Leper ‘ (John W Tuohy)
The La Salle Hotel.
Built in 1908 with 1,000 bedrooms.
61 lives lost in a fire in 1946. Rebuilt and finally demolished in 1976 for office towers.
Elspeth commenced her six-hour shift at 11am, check-out time. She was expected to clean fifteen rooms in the shift, without assistance. Floor nine. The Floor Super was the only one with a master key and he would only allow the maids in after he had swept the room for forgotten valuables or clothing. These he would keep.
On those days when there was nothing to be found in the rooms he would sometimes demand favours from the maids, often on the already soiled beds. There was no union for the women to appeal to, no representation anywhere. Any complaint and they were out of a job. Payment was only made after the rooms were inspected and if the Super had a grievance with one of the women he would not pass all her rooms for payment.
The lost time was theirs to make up, there were many women were on the job lines and 5 star hotel work was very hard to find.
Samsy was left alone in the one bedroom tenement during the days. Elspeth arranged for a neighbour to change and feed him during the day.
This is where the abuse began.
In later years Elspeth moved from strip clubs to pole bars and the older she got the darker they had to be – Samsy, now about ten-years old, took menial work in the kitchens when it became available and once again he weathered the almost constant attacks and abuse from the older men. Nobody protected him.
Elspeth taught Samsy how to read at an early age and as a result the boy grew into a voracious reader, mostly magazines his mother bought back from the La Salle – The Saturday Evening Post was his favourite. He coveted the Norman Rockwell covers.
One afternoon she bought back a copy of John Severson’s Surfer Magazine.
November 1974 Issue.
Samsy read it from front to back a dozen times a day, he memorised the names of the surfers pictured in its pages and the breaks they were surfing. This was a world completely foreign to him, boys just a little older than himself living on the beaches, travelling across the Atlantic to France, the Pacific to Australia and Hawaii. Boys with money and free time.
The idea of being part of such an easy going society occupied his mind so much he decided to prepare himself for the day he would look like a Californian. He practiced holding his breath and although only ten years old he began to exercise on the tenement floor. His mother made him up a pair of surfboard shorts from an old American flag souvenired from a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and where others looked for shade in the sweltering summer days Samsy would hope for a Californian tan. He burnt himself crimson on the tenement roof many times. His pale skin no match for the sunshine.
He had a dream.
Until now his life had been confined to the world his mother’s employment – and as she grew older her opportunities grew fewer, the only bars that would hire her catered to the worst tastes yet she persevered with the work for the boy’s sake. She began to sicken.
Samsy grew up and filled out – he took a job at a local print shop as a rack-runner and by the time he was eighteen he was the sole money-earner as his mother was now seriously ill and could no longer work.
When Elspeth finally succumbed to the pneumonia bought on by her syphilis in 1992 he was a lay-out senior on the design floor of a prestigious Chicago printing house and a vociferous member of the UGWTU in Chicago, he was also a charter member of The American Union and an avowed Socialist.
He came out in 1993.
Samsy came to California in 1999 and commenced work in the local print trade where he soon established himself as a marketeer and fashion visionary – he made his home in The Castro in San Francisco, where he celebrated his sexuality; he became a proud participant of the San Francisco Pride movement.
Every year since 2004 his company ‘ Transworld Surf Streetwear ‘ stages a gay professional surf competition in the San Francisco area and every year, in memory of his mother and his love of the USA, Samsy uses the popular venue to throw himself into his signature pole-dancing routine. This is his catharsis.
The Wikipedia Common.
The Chicago Chamber of Commerce.
Cashmere on a Leper. John W Tuohy.
The La Salle Hotel Preservation Society.
The UGWTU in Chicago.
The Hotel Workers Association of America.
The American Union.
The Ricca family.
The Saturday Evening Post.
The Rockwell Foundation.
San Francisco Pride.
The American Print Union.