When A Tattoo Goes Wrong, A Trend Develops

A spelling mistake has "Chi-Tonw" on skin all over Chicago.

April 9, 2007— -- Chicago is a city of many names. It has been called 'The Windy City,' 'Second City,' and 'City of Big Shoulders.' Currently some pop culture icons have given the city another name -- Chi-Town.

A similar nickname is popping up as a tattoo on skin all over Chicago. The tattoo says "Chi-Tonw," and while the spelling comes close, it isn't exactly one of Chicago's many monikers.

The Birth of "Chi-tonw"

The "Chi-Tonw" tattoo can be traced back to Sam Hacker, who has been a tattoo artist for 11 years. He remembers the day that a man first walked into his tattoo parlor asking for a tattoo that said "Chi-Town."

"I gave him the stencil and he said, 'Yeah that is perfect. I like that,'" said Hacker.

As he has done nearly every day for the last 11 years, Hacker routinely applied that tattoo with no complaints -- until later that day.

"[I] got a call probably around four," recalled Hacker. "It was two years ago. He said, 'My wife said -- she just saw it and she said you spelled it wrong.'"

The specific tattoo was on the chest of Michael Duplessis, and it was spelled C-H-I-T-O-N-W, which has no actual meaning.

"For Mr. Duplessis, the tattoo was an opportunity for him to make a statement," said Rafelson, lawyer for Michael Duplessis. "That he has affection for Chicago, his attempt to do that was completely undermined by Mr. Hacker's mistake."

"You're actually concentrating on the art, the work of it. You're not reading the tattoo," said Hacker, in defense of his actions. He says he would never describe himself as a bad speller.

"I graduated from high school with honors. I went to Carthage College. It's not a thing about spelling. I'm not spelling anything for anyone anymore. I'll tell you that right now."

A Spelling Mistake Caused Emotional Damage?

Maybe that is because Michael Duplessis filed a lawsuit against Hacker claiming negligence and fraud. In the suit, Duplessis also claims he suffered emotional damage.

"My client, Michael Duplessis is a gentleman during the summer who enjoys to take off his shirt working in the backyard or at a public pool," said Rafelson. "When people saw the tattoo… some of them would come up to him and politely point out to him there is a mistake in his tattoo and others would laugh."

But this isn't just a story about spelling, good or bad, or lawsuits, frivolous or otherwise. This is a story about friendship, solidarity, and bad spelling.

Hacker's friends, many tattoo artists themselves, decided to make a statement with their skin, all volunteering to get "Chi-Tonw" tattoos. It started slowly. One friend of Hacker's got the tattoo on his neckline. "And then a couple of other guys started getting it," said Hacker. "I can't let these guys do it for me without doing it myself."

A Poorly-Spelled Trend

Several of Hacker's friends all got Chitonw tattoos together, and Hacker himself did as well, but it didn't stop there. After the Chicago Tribune wrote several stories on what some jokingly call "Chi-Tonw-gate," there was a groundswell of support. Strangers started dropping into Hackers's parlor to get their very own "Chi-Tonw" tattoos.

"They want it spelled wrong," said Hacker. "They insist on it. They want it spelled the right way, now is what we're saying. They want it spelled C-H-I-T-O-N-W."

Now in Chicago, there are "Chi-Tonw" T-shirts. Hacker's parents even have affixed a bumper sticker on the back of their Mini Cooper, which reads "Proud Parents of the Chi-Tonw Artist."

Ultimately Duplessis had his tattoo altered to say "Chi-Town," though his lawyer says that is not enough.

"It doesn't represent the vision of the permanent tattoo he wanted on his chest for the rest of his life," he said. "So he is not a person who is whole."

As for Hacker, he hopes the lawsuit will go away. "I kinda of want to get back to normal and get back to doing tattoos and doing what I love to do," he said.

Doing what he loves to do, with a certain artistic license.