Thursday, August 3, 2017

Scandals Tour, Part Two

During the BUS TOUR portion of our "Scandals" day -- we learned that, at the turn of the century, thanks to a corrupt police force, and proximity to the Mississippi River -- Davenport, Iowa had become a haven for gambling houses and brothels.
In 1903, the New York Times called Davenport, Iowa "The Wickedest City in America" because we had more brothels, (per capita) -- than any other city in the country.
In 1895, in the midst of a deep national economic depression, Davenport built an ornate new City Hall. The cost was about $90,000 — an astronomical sum at that time — and the City constructed the new building without issuing any municipal bonds.

Local legend has long suggested that the city retired the debt so quickly by taxing the city's brothels, but the fines levied against the brothels accounted for only between $7,000-$9,000 per year, just a portion of the financial windfall the city reaped in the mid-1890s. The bulk of the funds came from a new state law (the "mulct tax") which applied to the city's 150 illegal saloons and amounted to around $50,000 per year. This tax allowed for construction not only of City Hall, but also paved streets and a new sewer system, and from 1902–08, the city eliminated its property taxes altogether
We actually WENT INTO the buildings that used to be brothels. In this ornate mansion -- I'm taking my picture in the giant hallway mirror...As the girls walked down the steps, they could use to mirror to see what gentlemen/clients were waiting in the sitting room.
On the other side of town -- Karen Anderson is showing the audience where the most popular "Beer Garden" used to exist.
This building (still a bar) used to have a brothel upstairs.
It was a VERY HOT day...maybe 90 degrees...and the owner of the bar allowed us to go upstairs in this building. At first, I was excited about the prospect...I mean, it is always interesting to actually STAND IN THE PLACE where history was made, y'know?

But then this happened. The tiny little turning stairway at the back of the building was very claustrophobic...and when we got upstairs, there were four small little rooms where these young girls took care of the men. It was unbearably hot that day...and I could hardly breathe, thinking about the lives of those young girls...

Most of them were indentured servants...young German or Irish girls...who thought they were coming to America for a better life. And they ended up working as these dark, cramped rooms above the busy German Beer Garden.

These rooms never knew any other life. They don't have plumbing or electricity. Once the whorehouse was shut down, time stopped. I thought these are the windows through which they saw their new world... this is the wallpaper they looked at...

As we all got back on the air conditioned bus, the group was very quiet. Maybe it was just the heat of the day -- or maybe seeing those rooms had the same affect on everybody in the group. I was so sad for those young girls. I felt like I had a glimpse into their lives...even though it was over 100 years ago...and it was God-Awful. 

History is good.  Always.  Because sometimes, it's only when you are looking back that you realize  NOW IS THE VERY BEST TIME TO BE ALIVE...

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