The year 1968 was a year of contradictions and conflict. The antiwar movement was at its peak. The assasssinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy affected everyone's mindset. The turbulence of the times was about to come to the forefront on many levels.
NOTE: In this special issue devoted to 1968 see personal stories of the year at the links below.
Being gay during this period was very underground. Most of the gay bars, although oppressive, served as "safe" places to gather. Any contact between individuals was frowned upon by the management. Sam's, located at the corner of Clark and Division Streets, and was popular among those that ventured out to meet others. The room was dark with a square bar set in the middle. The managers sat at two opposite corners to watch that the clientele would keep their hands above the bar and, of course, no one was allowed to show affection of any kind.
Other bars of the time located near Clark and Diversey included Shari's, Ruthie's and The Chesterfield. Roby Landers held court at the Chesterfield with her popular drag show. As the city prepared for the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention ( DNC ), any bars that featured drag was harassed, raided and finally closed. Other than the Halloween balls, drag did not return to the city for several years.
I found trying to find any community information depended mostly upon finding a copy of the Mattachine Midwest newsletter or the "underground" newspaper, The Seed. Word of mouth seemed to work the best.
During the 1968 DNC, demonstrators took over the city. A protest was staged in Lincoln Park across the street from the popular gay bar of the time, the Inner Circle. Amid the police riot and the tear gas, protestors from the park would take a break and head for the IC for a beverage. Poet, Allen Ginsberg and some of the "soon to be" Chicago 7 were seen there.
The politics of the time helped drive the activism that lead to the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of gay liberation the following year. Times were changing!
View the entire 1968 feature series at these links: