A naked woman stood stock-still in a racquetball court, clenching a lit candle between her teeth. Three men and another woman, all naked and armed with small plastic squirt guns, surrounded her and took aim at the flame. Several squirts hit the woman’s chest, then her cheek. She laughed, struggling to steady the candle. Soon the entire group was laughing, and finally the candle went out.

The Chicago Sun Club calls this the fireman’s drill, and it was just one exercise in the nudist club’s annual Wacky Olympics, which drew about a third of the organization’s 120 members to the Southlake Club in Mundelein in March. Other Olympic events included nude volleyball, using a net covered in black plastic to make the game more challenging, and the balloon blast, a relay requiring participants to blow up balloons, run several steps to a chair, and sit on the balloons until they popped. For the popcorn carry, contestants got down on their hands and knees, scooped popcorn from a bowl with a plastic spoon held in their teeth, and carried the popcorn to a measuring cup at the end of a low table. Most team members–male and female–wore only athletic shoes.

Attracting nudists from Chicago, Indiana, Aurora, Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, and Saint Charles, the Chicago Sun Club meets twice a month from September to May. Half the time they come to the Southlake Club; when they’re not holding the nude Olympics, they play wally ball and soak in the hot tubs. And once a month they go buff bowling.

“These things [the Wacky Olympics] and bowling are nice,” said Bob, a man with an even tan, a weathered face, and a southern accent. Seated on a bar stool next to his wife, Judy, he sucked hard on a cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke. “We have a really good time. In summertime we go places in Indiana. In nicer weather we do our own thing.”

Husband and wife Carol and George Morrison have run the Chicago Sun Club for 15 years. They took it over when the previous operators moved away, George Morrison said. “We enjoy the lifestyle, and we have a lot of friends in the club. If we didn’t [take it over], there was the potential it would fold. There were a number of men who were willing to take it over, but it seems when a couple runs it, it’s likely to be more balanced and attract more women.”

Other cold-weather events the Morrisons have organized include an indoor “beach party” at the Southlake Club, where members built sand castles out of sugar cubes and glue. In the fall the Morrisons hosted a “turkey shoot,” in which contestants shot rubber bands at papier-mache turkeys. The club meets in the summer, too, once a month; July 14 and 15 they’ll travel to Indiana to celebrate National Nude Weekend. In August they’ll attend an antique car show in Cambridge, Wisconsin, where the cars are owned and shown by nudists.

Finding places for nudists to meet can prove challenging, said Morrison. “If we want to bowl, we have to rent the whole alley, so naturally we looked for a small one.” (The west-suburban bowling alley where they meet asked not to be identified. So did most Sun Club members.)

In the lounge at the Southlake Club, nudists sat on bath towels–club rules and nudist etiquette mandate that members bring towels to all club events, for sanitary reasons. They sipped soft drinks, beer, and cocktails and helped themselves to a potluck spread of lunch meat, veggies and dip, and poppy seed cake. Conversations ranged from salmon fishing and rising gas prices to vacation plans and college degree programs.

Ken Johnson, a grandfather from Chicago, has made friends all over the United States through his affiliation with the Sun Club and other nudist organizations; there are about 240 of them in the U.S. and Canada. Johnson serves as photographer for Sun Club social events and claims there’s a special camaraderie among nudists that comes with unabashed honesty. “If you dye your hair, everybody will know it,” he said. “Unless you dye all of your hair, if you know what I mean.”

When Johnson’s late wife was bedridden, he took over the household chores. “I’d get up in the morning, clean, do laundry, scrub the floors, and she’d say, ‘Goddamn it, put some pants on.’ I’d say, ‘I don’t want to get my clothes dirty.'”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re big or small,” said Roland, a man in his 50s. “One girl was big, and I thought she would have a bad self-image, but she came and nobody cared. You’re a soul here.”

“With clothing, you can tell people’s status in life, which puts some people off,” said Carol, a woman in her mid-40s. “But if you’re a nudist, you can’t wear a fur coat.”

“Oh no?” said the younger man next to her, who had a thick growth of hair on his arms and back. He smiled, waiting for her reaction. She finally burst into laughter.

The $50 Sun Club membership fee includes a monthly newsletter, “Barefacts,” which keeps members apprised of meetings and events as well as legislation that threatens their nude lifestyle. Club members are encouraged, but not required, to join two national organizations, the American Association for Nude Recreation and the Naturalist Society. Both provide listings for nude clubs and recreational locations through-out the country.

The admission charge for club activities is $30 for members and $40 for nonmembers. “We charge the same for singles or couples,” said George Morrison, so that male nudists are more likely to bring women. Members can bring their kids for no extra charge, though they rarely do.

“We were born this way,” said Johnson. “It’s a better way. If we had a war and we all had guns but no uniforms, well, how would we know who to shoot?”

“More than anything, doing this gives a sense of freedom,” said Scott, a man in his mid-30s. “Nobody puts on airs.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.