“Secret Historian” is a biography of Sam Steward, who has surely earned his place alongside Captain George Streeter and Big Bill Thompson as one of the most intriguing characters in Chicago history.
To call Sam Steward gay would be to mislabel him. Steward enjoyed having sex with men, but he came of age in a time before the word gay had found its modern meaning.
When Steward moved to Chicago in the late 1930s to teach at Loyola, homosexuality was still very much illegal in Illinois.
But rather than shy away from his sexuality, Steward embraced it.
By day Steward was an English professor at Loyola and later DePaul, who had published a well-received first novel. By night he was drinking to the point of blackout, seeking out dangerous sexual encounters and keeping detailed track of his sex life for Dr. Alfred Kinsey.
As he wrote and traveled, Steward encountered the likes of Thornton Wilder, Thomas Mann, and Oscar Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas.